Archive for December, 2013

ImageIt has been a longish time since I produced a tract. The original piece, which explains the reason for the series, is here. Today’s tract is for those of us who have perhaps waited a bit late in the day to rustle up a Christmas gift or two and are feeling a tad desperate, but it is also aimed at those smug persons who have completed their Christmas shopping and are sitting back with upper lip curled at everyone who has not. Because shopping has very little beauty in it, whereas a homemade gift is always merry and bright.

Tracts for the Pleasant Life #3:  Homemade Christmas Gifts

Chances are, if you are participating in the holidays to any extent, you have already made cookies for the office, or the traditional family fruitcake. The treats that you make each year would be a perfect gift for someone, assuming that you know that person’s food allergies and tolerations.

If you don’t have your own recipe to share, here is a simple recipe for homemade fudge. The list of ingredients is short, the amount of time required is minimal, but the result is a wonderfully heavy tin of delicious chocolate.

One 12-ounce package (2 cups) semi-sweet chocolate chips

One 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk

1-1/4 cup chopped nuts

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Combine the chocolate chips and the sweetened condensed milk in a microwave-safe bowl and heat for about 1 minute. Stir, and if it is still not smooth give it another 30 seconds and stir harder this time, like you really mean it. If you had stirred vigorously after the first minute you would have been fine. Stir in the vanilla and nuts and glop it into a wax paper- or parchment-lined 13 X 9 pan (or a 9 X 9 pan, for slightly taller fudge). Leave the ends of the paper hanging over two of the sides to use as handles when lifting the fudge out later. I also like to put a piece of parchment or waxed paper on top and press it down to smooth it out before placing the pan in the refrigerator to chill. Once it’s firm, use those nifty handles to lift out the block of fudge, peel off the top paper if you used it, and cut the fudge into reasonable portions and package as desired.

To make Rocky Road Fudge, follow the recipe above, using walnuts and adding three cups of mini marshmallows. I also made a batch using dark chocolate chips with chopped dried cranberries (about half a cup) and 1 cup of pistachios. I made some of that last night, and it is good and rich in antioxidants.

I did say that the amount of time to make the fudge is minimal, but be warned that the clean-up is sticky. You will certainly have to wash the can opener. Why doesn’t condensed milk come in a pop-top can?

If you are unwilling to add to the caloric load of the season with a gift of food, then I have another idea for a homemade gift:  Write a letter to your gift recipient. The power of  written communication is mighty. If you need a recipe for your letter, here is a simple one addressed to Joe. Please change “Joe” to the name of your recipient.

            Salutation:  Dear Joe

            Paragraph 1:  Wish Joe a happy holiday season.

            Paragraph 2:  Tell Joe that you are grateful to know him, and give at least one reason why.

            Paragraph 3: Recall a memory that you share with Joe, and why you recall that memory

            with fondness.

            Paragraph 4: Express your desire to experience more happy times with Joe in the new year.

            Closing:  Sign your name.

It isn’t difficult, and it is a great deal less sticky than making fudge or even cookies. Don’t worry about perfection in spelling or punctuation, because perfection is not the goal. I made a batch of Rocky Road last night, and realized as I was cutting it this morning that I had forgotten to add the vanilla. But it doesn’t really matter. I sampled it, and it tasted delicious.

That’s the magic of Christmas. Our gift offerings, even when they are flawed, are valuable.

Merry Christmas!


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Cutting Christmas Trees in the Forest

Hans Andersen Brendekilde (Danish, 1857 -1942): Cutting Christmas Trees in the Forest

The writing process is often a matter of piecing together the interesting flotsam and jetsam that twinkles past in the normal flow of life. What with painting and moving the household to Redbud Lane and preparing for Christmas and trying to find the belt that goes with my brown dress I have had no time for the piecing process, so this is a collection of various items that have floated past in recent weeks, unretouched. It’s not really a piece of writing, it’s more like a glimpse inside my mental cabinet of curiosities.

Designer Castoffs

NPR had a story this week about how clothing donated to Goodwill in America may end up in a bale of clothing shipped to Africa. Having just dumped a load at Goodwill myself, I can certainly understand how that would be necessary; there is no possible way that, with all the good will in the world, any organization could actually process and resell all the crap that gets dumped on their doorstep. Most times I’m ashamed to accept a receipt for what I donate.

Once these bales of truly terrible clothing arrive in Africa, a whole new economy springs up around them. Some of the clothing is sold as-is, but many more pieces are salvaged to create new garments. Plus-size t-shirts are generally too large for most African people, so the shirt will be recut to a smaller size. But the restyle doesn’t end there—the t-shirt may also get colorful new sleeves from a different shirt, or a contrasting collar for visual interest. The result is an original handcrafted design. I think that’s wonderful. You can read about it yourself here.

Reading Trees

I read about a xylothèque in a book called Landscape and Memory, by Simon Schama. I’ve only gotten as far as page 175 (401 pages to go, not counting notes) but the book is a marvel. Schama captures the magic of forests and their importance to all of us who live, if we are fortunate, among their leaves. The xylothèque was, if I have understood correctly, invented during the German enlightenment. It is literally a library of wood, a way of chronicling the trees of the forest. Each book about a particular tree is made from the tree itself. Similar to those faux leather-bound boxes for hiding valuables, when you open one of these books you find a hollow cavity for stashing things. A volume in the xylothèque about an oak, for example, would have a cover fashioned from slabs of oak bark, and the hollow inside would hold oak leaves, acorns, and information about the oak tree and the stages of its long life. I love this idea.

I wish that the trees at Redbud Lane came with doors on their trunks that I could open to find similar information. Then I would know if the redbuds need to be trimmed and, if they do, should it be done in spring or fall? We have hickory trees, too, and I am certain that there must be secrets about how to harvest the nuts and when to gather them and how to thwart the squirrels. Those would be wonderful secrets to have.

Speaking of trees, isn’t the painting at the top of this post, Cutting Christmas Trees in the Forest, wonderful? I am grateful to Tail Feather for that one, by way of Parabola. Here are some of our own trees, mostly not suitable for Christmas (although that plump little fir tree on the left has possibilities). Isn’t the light in the woods wonderful (or can’t you tell from where you are)?

Trees at Redbud Farm

Trees at Redbud Lane (October)

Things Truman Capote Said

Truman Capote said a lot, and I enjoy almost all of it. Here are two particularly nice quotes that I stumbled across recently.

The wind is us—it gathers and remembers all our voices, then sends them talking and telling through the leaves and the fields.

Capote also said this at some point, though I’m not sure where or when: “Well, I’m about as tall as a shotgun, and just as noisy.”

I wish I’d said that.

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