Monthly Archives: November 2006

Gently Bucking Tradition

My husband’s family has a holiday tradition of serving plum pudding at every Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner.

Before I met Husband, I had never experienced a plum pudding beyond the pages of a Dicken’s novel. His family’s tradition holds that, after a holiday dinner, the dark, dense-looking mass is brought out on a plate, doused in something very alcoholic – usually V.S.O.P – and set on fire.

Seriously. They light the flippin’ thing on fire.

Being ignorant of the stuff, and eager to make a good impression on the family of this guy I was crazy about, I eagerly accepted a plate of the dessert when it was offered to me at my first attendance at a holiday dinner. I then proceeded to scoop on a huge blop of what I thought was slightly over-whipped whipped cream, and dug in.

You know that feeling when you go to eat or drink something, and you think it’s one thing, but it turns out to be something else? That happened to me once at my grandparents’ house – I came upon a lovely, tall glass of something that looked all the world like chocolate milk that turned out to be iced coffee. BLECH! Well, that’s what happened when the plum pudding hit my tongue.

Let me point out here that there aren’t actual PLUMS in plum pudding, and the assumption that this dessert would be something sweet and fruity was my first mistake. It’s really a bread pudding made with raisins and currants, orange marmalade, a bunch of spices, and a good slosh of bourbon (Julia Child made this recipe famous in Husband’s family, if that tells you anything). The whole thing is put into a bowl and steamed for however long it takes to congeal into a solid mass. Then, like I said, more booze gets poured over and the whole thing is set alight. Sometimes, more than once in a sitting. Seriously.

Oh, and that stuff that looked like whipped cream? Hard sauce, which is, essentially, butter, confectioner’s sugar and….wait for it….more alcohol! About as unlike whipped cream as something can be.

Not being a big fan of spice cakes in general, and expecting something fruity and, well, pudding-like, I found that my first shocking experience with plum pudding was enough to ruin it for me forever. Though it IS fun to watch them do their pyrotechnics at the dinner table.

ANYWAY! Husband and I are hosting Christmas dinner at our house this year, and we’re taking advantage of that fact to sort of nudge the plum pudding off the table in favor of something a little less….harsh. We’d first thought we’d do the whole yule log thing, but then I stumbled across a couple of recipes for chocolate steamed pudding. CHOCOLATE! Now THERE’S something we can get behind! Hell, we could even douse it in Grand Marnier and set the thing on fire, if it comes down to that!

I made this tonight, a recipe from Martha Stewart, as a sort of test-run to see if it satisfied the requirements of a good plum pudding replacement. It LOOKED good, and it TASTED good, but I’m not quite sure it’s “it.” It’s a little too airy and light (yes, despite how it looks like a solid chunk of chocolate, it’s actually quite fluffy inside), and I’m not sure it’s dense enough to not soak up whatever we’re pouring over as accelerant. I’ve got a couple more recipes to try – including one that’s a steamed chocolate bread pudding, which I suspect will be best in the texture department.

When I find a winner recipe*, I’ll share.

(*if you have a winner recipe, point me to it, please!)


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You’d Better Watch Out!!

A post in which I come off smug and holier-than-thou….

So, here’s the scene:

I’m standing in line at a local mega-mart, returning some things I bought this morning after taking them home and realizing that they were either defective or outright broken. Next to the return counter is a branch of a local bank, and a mom is standing in line waiting for the next teller. Her son, a lad of about five or so, is crying. Loudly. About something he wanted but didn’t have (I couldn’t figure out what, exactly, he wanted: my Mommy-filter has long since been turned off to such communication as that).

This, in itself, is not blog-worthy. Kids cry when they don’t get what they want. Mine did it, and I’m betting, if you have (or had, or will have) kids, yours do (or did, or will), too.

No, what I’m writing about here is how the mom chose to deal with this particular fit. After a few attempts at getting her child to quiet down, she pulled out this little gem:

“I’m telling Santa!”

Now, Ms. Cornelius just wrote an insightful piece about parenting and her experiences, as a teacher, with all sorts of different ways in which people go about raising their children, and I’ve got to add this bit to hers.

Did this mom stop to think, for a second, that she’s putting more power in the hands of an imaginary being than she herself has as a living, breathing MOTHER?! Has she no other means of putting a stop to this kind of behavior and, if not, what does she use as a threat during the off-season? Seriously, what did the mom think this is going to get her? Because I can tell you what it DID get her – a kid who, horrified that he was going to get ratted out to the guy in the fuzzy red suit, only refocused his screaming from wanting something to NOT wanting something.

Sometimes I think that parents get from their kids exactly what they deserve.


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Other People’s Stuff

I spent this morning with Organic Mama, helping her begin work on sorting through the enormity that is her study/office.

I had made the offer to help her with this several times before, but she was never quite ready to take me up on it. Last week, she’d finally worked up enough gumption to square her shoulders and plow in, and I’m happy to say that we made some significant headway in the process this afternoon.

Her office had deteriorated to the point where she simply didn’t know where to begin and I, recognizing her plight because I’ve been there oh-so-many times myself, assured her that it’s MUCH easier to tackle an enormous task with a trusted girlfriend by your side. Having an emotional distance from both the chaos and the actual items that comprise it, an outsider is far more able to look at things with a critical eye, and far less likely to keep things that will only kick around until the next purge / reorganize cycle. Trusting that outsider when she says “seriously, do you NEED this three year old copy of the LL Bean catalogue?!” makes it that much easier to let go of all the familiar crap that makes you crazy, but that you can’t seem to throw away. I know this because WeedWoman helped me purge my wardrobe a year or so ago, and I ended up with three bags full of donatable clothes. I haven’t missed a single item, and felt so much better when it was all over.

There is a certain attitude that one has to take when dealing with rooms or drawers or closets or any spaces, really, that have taken on a life of their own. I learned this from my beloved mom, who approaches seemingly Herculean tasks with a matter-of-factness that I admire. She’s practically brutal in her attack once she sets her mind to it, and it’s from her that I developed my ability to divide, process and conquer even the most overwhelming of closets:

Pull everything out.

Separate into: “need and use all the time,”
“need, but use only occasionally,”
“never need, but love for whatever reason (sentimental, ornamental, etc.),”
“never need and don’t particularly love,”
and “oh, Dear God, WHY do I still have THIS?!”

Put each category into its proper place – the first three groups get cleaned, reorganized and put away, items in the second two groups are either chucked or set aside to give away.

There are a few places where I need to do some serious purging and reorganization – my basement and my linen closet being the two most urgent. Mom was the last person to tackle my linen closet – she managed to reorder the entire frightening mess while baby sitting Punkin’ Pie many years ago – and I’m proud and a little stunned that it’s taken this long to get back to a point where I’m afraid to open the door anymore. It’s reached that point, though, and I’m just realizing that denial is no longer a viable strategy for dealing with it. Organic Mama has offered to reciprocate and come by to help me.

I’m totally taking her up on it.


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The Mall Decorations Went Up in October…

I’m still not quite into holiday mode.

I mean, sure, I’m thinking about the holidays; planning menus (at least, in a preliminary sense), thinking about what gifts to get for which loved ones, making sure I know where the holiday movies and music are, but I haven’t kicked into full-blown holiday posture just yet.

I know people who see the day after Thanksgiving as the gateway to Christmas-land. The tree goes up on the third Friday of November; the Christmas carols CD gets popped into the car stereo (my sister does that one), and all the holiday sweatshirts with the santas and stockings and festive snowmen are worn with abandon (my grandmother and mother-in-law do THAT one).

Me? I’m not a “rush headlong into the holidays” kind of gal. I’m not a scrooge, by any sense of the word, but I’m not all that eager to rush to – or through – the holidays. I sort of approach it the way I do good, expensive chocolate. Take a tiny nibble off the corner and savor it.

I went into the basement the other day and brought up the poinsettia spray that I hung on the front door, replacing the autumn leaf wreath that’s been there since school started. That’s enough, for now. The Chili family will go a tree-huntin’ sometime around the second weekend in December, and that’s when it will really start to feel like Christmas to me. We get an ENORMOUS tree every year (we can, thanks to the high ceilings in the great room). It’s right around that time that I’ll agree to play the movies and the music that go along with the holiday, and I stop rolling my eyes at everyone ELSE’S decorations that have been up for almost a month already.

Everyone has their own way of approaching this time of year, and I certainly don’t begrudge someone else’s enthusiasm for the holidays, I just prefer to take mine slowly, and to enjoy it a lot for a short time, rather than a little for a long time…


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Trying To Take My Mind Off the Water Bottle…

We took our girls – ages 7 and 9 – to see Happy Feet last Wednesday. Later, we asked them which was their favorite part.

Get this answer from the seven year old:

“I liked the part where Mumble went off on his own. Even though all his people – well, his birds…well, whatever – even though no one wanted him to go, he said “I don’t care. I need to do this, and I’m going to do this.” I like that he did what he thought he had to do even when no one thought he should do it.”

Seriously. This kid blows my mind on a regular basis. I’d love to take parenting credit here, but I really don’t think I deserve it; she came to us this way.


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If You’re Not Outraged…

This has rendered me nearly speechless. How would one go about finding – and punishing – the people responsible for this?

Truly, I cannot begin to adequately express how visceral my reaction to this is. I am ashamed, yet again, to be an American.

And we wonder why the world hates us….


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Thinking Ahead

I’m always moved by stories of people who put things aside for children. Not long ago, I heard a story on NPR about a mom who had written letters to her daughter at fairly regular intervals through her childhood. The mom died when the daughter was about 11, and the dad presented the letters to the girl when she graduated college. I was weeping in the car.

I haven’t done anything like that, and I’ve been trying, long before I heard the Public Radio story, to figure out a way to honor the spirit of the idea without stealing someone else’s technique. I think I’ve come up with something that will be meaningful to my children not only because of what it is in the “big picture” sense, but also because of what it’s actually comprised of.

I love to cook. I sometimes joke that there are only three things that I’m reliably good at – I am a true and loyal friend, I am a fantastic mother, and I kick ass in the kitchen. My idea of the heirloom keepsake for my girls incorporates all three of these things, I think.

My plan is to ask people who are important to my daughters – aunts and uncles, grandparents and cousins, family friends and family-related-by-love – to write their favorite recipes. I want the recipes in the handwriting of the people submitting them – that part is important – and I will scan them and have them made into cookbooks for the girls. I love getting recipes from people who love me; the connection I’m able to make not only to the process of cooking, but also to the end product, seems to always leave me feeling warm and well-loved. My hope is that these books will not only offer the girls a good foundation of culinary knowledge, but will connect them to those who love them in a very real and tangible way.

I’m not sure when I’ll give the books to them – I suppose a lot will depend on when I actually finish collecting recipes – but I’m thinking they will be given to mark a momentous event; a graduation, a first apartment, a wedding, something like that. I began the process this afternoon by asking my grandmother, who’s currently undergoing chemotherapy, to write out some of her favorite recipes. I got a lot of my kitchen standards from her, and I want to keep that connection strong in my daughters.


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