Tag Archives: holidays

MATZO TOFFEE

Last year, I was asked to be in charge of desserts for a renegade Seder.  Such is the path by which I discovered Matzo Toffee, which is what baby matzo hopes it will grow up to be someday and what you, once you make it, will be unable to stop eating.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.


You don’t have to be Jewish to appreciate the combination of all good flavors—the richness of bittersweet chocolate, the butteriness of toffee, the earthy snap of almonds, the crunch of matzo, & the edge and texture of quality sea salt—but if you are Jewish and observing Passover next week*, it might be exciting to discover that matzo can actually be delicious.

What is a renegade Seder, you might ask?  Well, consider that our hostess was a Jewess whose Twitter bio claims she is a “kosher pork authority.”  Her sweetheart is a Muslim and for Halloween, they dressed up as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (she taped settlements to his shirt as the night wore on).  For the reading of the Haggadah, we had gift bags full of “plagues” represented by various craft-store-acquisitions, including red foam cut-out boils.  There were Red Sea cocktails with drowned Egyptian ninja figurines.  (Please note: we love Egyptians.  We do not wish them any violence.  We were just going along with the Bible story).

And I, the Hindu, was unable to eat the desserts I had made for the Seder because I had given up desserts for Lent.  Heh.  But the toffee went over so well with the rest of the evening’s guests that they convinced me to save a bag for Easter Sunday, upon which occasion I promptly devoured what was left.

Before we dash off on vacation, I’ll be making up a batch of this good stuff in solidarity with my Jewish friends and students.  Now that I’m back from the 8th grade Washington, D.C. trip—a whirlwind, exhausting and unbelievably fun four days—I’m relishing the spring break life but already kinda miss my students.  Just don’t tell them that!

*To make this recipe kosher-for-Passover, ensure that all the ingredients are certified kosher-for-Passover and that the kitchen you’re cooking in and utensils you’re cooking with are as well.  Since this recipe contains a large amount of butter, serve it with a meatless meal or make it with kosher margarine.  You may need to omit the vanilla.

MATZO TOFFEE
Adapted slightly from David Lebovitz

You can also make this recipe with Saltines or another plain cracker, omitting the sea salt.  You might want to double the recipe, while you’re at it—it’s incredibly simple to make and very, very satisfying.

6 sheets unsalted matzo

1 cup unsalted butter, cut into pieces

1 cup packed light brown sugar
1

½ cup bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped or in chips

½ tsp. vanilla extract

a pinch of salt

optional toppings:

1 cup almonds or another nut, toasted & chopped

a few generous sprinklings of coarse sea salt

oven: 350˚
pan: Baking sheet(s) lined very well with foil, then top the foil with parchment paper.  Yes, this is necessary.  Toffee is messy business, you know.  Delicious, but messy.

Place the matzo along the bottom of the baking pan, breaking it up to cover the whole bottom.

In a big, thick saucepan, melt the butter and brown sugar together over medium heat.  Bring up to a boil, stirring regularly, for about three minutes, as the mixture thickens.  Remove from heat and stir in the salt & vanilla.  Pour over the matzo, distributing the caramel mixture evenly and quickly.

Move the baking sheet(s) to the oven and bake for 12-15 minutes, watching to make sure that the caramel doesn’t burn.  (If it begins to get too dark, remove from the oven & turn down the heat to 325˚.)  Once everything is nice and golden brown, remove from the oven and immediately sprinkle the matzo with the chocolate.  Wait a few minutes, then smooth out the now-melted chocolate with a spatula.  See how you just made the recipe work for you?  Love that.

As the chocolate is cooling, sprinkle with the toppings of your choice—in my case, some almonds & good sea salt.  Let the matzo toffee cool completely before breaking into pieces and devouring it.  If there’s any leftover, it will keep in an airtight container for up to a week.

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NICE TO SEE YOU, 2010

Welcome, 2010, I think I love you.

Symbolic and completely arbitrary as it may be, I am grateful for a New Year.  Myself, I like ritual.  I am a fan of tradition, keeping old ones and making up new ones.  I enjoy lists and assessments, taking stock and measuring up.  I appreciate the chance to simultaneously look back and look forward, with only my imagination and the truest version of myself.

Passage of time can give us pause, incline us toward regret or doubt, cause us to question choices or rethink past decisions. Sometimes we need to get our proverbial asses kicked.

Good as our lives may be, I suspect we’re often holding back.  Something we want to try, to create, to imagine or reinvent.  Someone we want to kiss.  A baby we’d like to have.  A degree, a business, a goodbye long overdue.  Forgiveness, for ourselves or another.  An ambition we’ve charted out in our minds but never out loud. (I’m speaking to myself here, in case you couldn’t tell.)

Look, I don’t know if you’re scared, but I know I am.  I can talk myself out of so many things, distracting myself with dishes that “need” to be washed, telling myself it will all happen “later,” cramming too many things into my schedule as a very clever way of assuring none of it will get done.

But I’m getting to the point where I think, either I do this thing already or I need to shut up about it.  And all of the plans I’ve made up to this point CLEARLY HAVEN’T WORKED, so I’m guessing some new strategies are in order.  It may get a little radical around here, and radical totally makes me nervous.

(Sharpen your knives, folks. We’re in for a big year.)

My manuscript has been “in progress” for the better part of the last three years.  I’ve devoted a part of two summers to the work of it and grabbed small snatches of time here and there during the school years that intercepted.  It’s been “nearly finished” for much too long now.

I started this blog in May 2009, having little to no idea what I was doing and unsure if anyone but my mom would read it.  Not only have I had a blast, I have made friends, gained readers, and surprised myself by managing to post twice a week, every week.  So there’s really no reason I can’t get this damn book written, except that I’m pretty sure I’m standing in my own way.

This blog will be a year old on May 5.  And what I can promise 2010 is, by that date, my book will also be finished.  So, Happy New Year’s, ya’ll.  If you’re interested in declaring something before God & internet, too, feel free to go for it in the comments.  The more butts in gear, the merrier.

As for food, I recommend you whip up a batch of Bloody Marys and be sure to eat some black-eyed peas for luck.  Some traditions are worth hanging onto, no doubt.  But the rest of it,  I think we have to make up as we go, even if we’re terrified the entire time.

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CHRISTMAS 2009

par·a·dox (noun) etymology: Latin paradoxum, from Greek paradoxon, from neuter of paradoxos contrary to expectation, from para- + dokein to think, seem

As a literary term: paradox, a statement that initially appears to be contradictory but then, on closer inspection, turns out to make sense.

Life does not do us the courtesy of avoiding Christmas where sickness, death, & other unhappinesses are concerned.  I’d need more than one hand to count the friends who are dealing with some really shitty business as I type this.  Families are unkind to each other.  Parents die, slowly, painfully.  Even losses decades-old pinch and scrape like new.

And there are points of light: the sound of neighborhood kids testing out their new tricycles and bicycles with abandon, the smell of the Christmas tree, the stories your father-in-law tells, the feel of yeast dough between your fingers and the satisfaction of it rising in a buttered bowl, just as it’s supposed to.

Surrounded by people but feeling utterly alone.  Happy to be on vacation but befuddled by the free time.  Knowing the holidays aren’t really about “stuff” but coveting it nonetheless.  Accustomed to indulging every whim & desire, but relenting when the family’s movie choices do not match your own.  Feeling down in the holiday dumps, then feeling like an obnoxious spoiled brat because, you know, your life is REALLY GOOD.

We humans are complex beings, full of paradoxes which make themselves especially apparent as the year winds down to a close.  I find myself tangled up in thought—desire, confusion, nostalgia, regret.  I could easily paralyze myself with the attempt to figure it all out, but instead I think I shall paint my fingernails red, sneak some leftover ham out of the fridge, make myself a cup of really good hot chocolate.  Then sit in a chair and read a book.  Call my mama and tell her that I love her.  Think of my father and cry.

We’re not going to get it all figured out today, or probably ever. Let’s do our best to be good to each other (and ourselves) in the meantime.  Merry Christmas, ya’ll.

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APPLE TART

For today’s post (and I hope you won’t mind), instead of writing something new, I’ve reprinted an excerpt from an essay called “Playing the Goddess” that I published a few years ago.  At this time of year, my memory and nostalgia work overtime and I find myself longingly and gratefully thinking of my school’s Christmas pageant and the year I got to be Brown Mary. (St. Mary’s girls, if you’re out there, know that I’m thinking of you & sending much love this holiday.)

My parents sent me to St. Mary’s Episcopal School because it was the best girls’ education money could buy in Memphis, Tennessee. Unlike some immigrant parents, they were unconcerned by the school’s religious affiliation; my mother herself was educated by Roman Catholic nuns, and taught at a parochial school before she was married. And both my parents appreciated the incredibly diverse and tolerant religious landscape of India. Their friends, festivals, school holidays, symbols, and rituals ran the gamut from Hindu to Buddhist to Sikh to Christian; the lines of observance between these faiths were blurry. As my parents had discovered, so they passed on to me: Hinduism is a big umbrella; there’s a lot of room underneath.

So I was free to delve into the cool, quiet landscape of Anglican Christianity. Ever the eager student, I paid close attention in Mrs. Williams’ third-grade Bible class, sitting right in the front and peering up at her through my thick glasses. She would sit in the “teacher’s chair,” with us on the floor, and place her soft, framed felt board up against the chalkboard. Felt figures of Moses or Jesus appeared, with baskets of fish or the burning bush. Naturally, I had more questions than anyone else. Each story was new to me, and I was hooked. An avid reader, I discovered that the Bible was full of wild, fascinating stories that seemed more grownup than anything else I was allowed to read. The heartbreak and suffering of Jesus held me tight. In my mind’s eye, I saw him as a kindly, loving, sad man. And I began to notice that all the girls around me wore crosses around their necks, connected to him in a way that I wasn’t. While I sat behind, they walked up to the altar to receive communion. These were the limits of my belonging.

At the same time, I relished being different. Christianity was my exotic, but I was exotic to everyone else. My friends and classmates started asking me questions about what I believed, how my religion was different. I stopped taking for granted the Sanskrit prayers my family and I said and started asking about their meaning. My parents found books in English that re-told the stories of the Ramayana and the Mahabarata, Hinduism’s great epics, full of murder, intrigue, sex, and miracles to rival the most fantastic parts of the Old Testament. As my connection to my own religion grew, so did my fondness for high-church worship, the pomp and circumstance, traditional liturgy, and booming organ. The sensory onslaught of an Episcopalian church service is somewhat tamed-down in comparison to that of my birth religion, but both know how to put on a good show.

At times, I struggled with just how far to join in, whether it was alright to say “in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” when I didn’t actually believe in him. No doubt, many of my fellow classmates were also skeptical or uncertain in their beliefs, but they had the luxury of habit and belonging. If their internal landscape didn’t match the external, no one was the wiser. But from the outset, I looked like a non-believer and I weighed my participation very carefully. As a Hindu, I was frustrated by the way my culture and religious traditions were often appropriated and mishandled by outsiders. It was important to me not to commit the same crime against Christianity.

Of course, I felt like an outsider in Hinduism too. Connected through my parents and centuries worth of traditions, my own personal stake in Hinduism was never as grounded as I thought it should be. Church was more interesting than temple; at least I could understand what everyone was saying and singing. The guilt I felt over my half-hearted engagement was tempered by a desire to protect and uphold my heritage, a duty which was important to me. Some first-generation kids push as far away from the “home country” as possible; I didn’t want to be one of them. Still, I knew that my main tie to Hinduism was nostalgic, not immediate. And as was the case with Christianity, my personal affiliation had everything to do with the group in which I wanted to belong. In both religions, I felt equally at home—that is to say, halfway like an intruder in both cases.

Over time, the splitting of theological hairs became less important to me, and the power of community, worship, and tradition took over. Whether I believed in the stories or not, they were good stories, powerful ones which had lasted for thousands of years. The cost of separating myself out from either group seemed too big a price to pay. So I bowed my head and heard myself repeating the same words as a church-full of people, the Apostles’ Creed, which I learned by heart. After I was asked to speak in chapel during Religious Diversity Week, I became known as the “Indian Oprah” for the way I had weaved my way through the pews with a cordless mike, answering students’ questions about my religion. At home, I enacted and absorbed what my parents placed before me—no eating meat on Tuesdays, wearing new clothes on Diwali—trusting that it was all somehow important for continuity’s sake. I felt to myself like a believer, if a loosely defined one. And there were always two creeds which I never had a problem saying, or meaning: the first from the Bhagavad Gita, modern Hinduism’s most sacred text, the second from St. Mary’s daily chapel service. In the first, Lord Krishna is instructing one of his faithful, Arjuna, about the proper way to live one’s life. Any man who acts with honor cannot go the wrong way, my friend. The second ended each chapel service at St. Mary’s, Monday through Friday, from my fifth grade to my twelfth grade year. Our chaplain said, Go in peace, to love and serve to Lord. And we responded, Thanks be to God.

St. Mary’s has many long-standing traditions (they’ve been educating young women since 1847), but my favorite has always been the Christmas pageant. This event has two sets of participants: little girls and big girls. The little girls are the second-and-third graders, who dress in red cassocks and white cottas and stand on risers to sing the evening’s program of Christmas hymns. The big girls are the seniors, who are grouped to form living tableaux, displayed while the little girls sing their songs. Each tableau is modeled after a painting of the Annunciation, Nativity, or Adoration done by one of the French or Italian masters. A shadowbox, about the size of a walk-in closet, was built long ago for this purpose, and is placed at the top of the red velvet stairs which lead up to the altar of the church. Christmas trees, left plain, are brought in to block the rest of the altar from view, so that big girls can hide behind, getting ready for their turn.

For seniors at St. Mary’s, the Christmas Pageant is second in importance only to graduation. To be part of the tableaux, seniors have to have been at St. Mary’s since at least the first grade. That makes eleven or more years during which the little girls have grown into big ones, watching the Pageant every year, sitting in the dark of the church, watching the beautiful seniors sit very still against the bright lights of the shadowbox. Each year, the senior class and high school faculty elect six girls to play the part of Mary. It is an honor which carries weight. The girls playing Mary should be worthy of their role, should have demonstrated love and compassion and sacrifice during their time at St. Mary’s. The school motto, “light and life,” should be exemplified in them. I feel lucky to be able to say my class took that vote very seriously, beyond a popularity contest. Even though we were big girls, there was still something about the idea of Mary, full of grace. She who gave birth to the Savior of Men. She who raised the Son of God.

With this in mind, we voted, and I became the first non-Caucasian, non Judeo-Christian Mary in school history.  “Brown Mary,” my friends and classmates called me, lovingly. It felt like a victory, one in which we all shared, injecting new life into an old tradition, scandalizing the church ladies a little bit. “Your skin color is probably more historically accurate than anyone else’s,” my high school history teacher said, and we arranged for my fellow Hindu, Amrita to be my Joseph. Behold the holy family, dark-skinned and authentic. Me, the mother, vehicle, and proud.

I got very sick the night before the pageant, amidst the swirl of exams and college applications which came with Christmas that year. It was bronchitis, and the doctor at the minor medical clinic warned me that it could get worse. “You need to rest, young lady,” he told me. “I know you won’t mind if I make you stay home from school tomorrow,” winking, thinking he was doing me a favor. “You don’t understand,” I protested. “I have to go.” We went back and forth like this for a while; I think he thought I was crazy. It isn’t easy to explain in five minutes what twelve years has built inside you. “Okay,” he relented. “I’ll give you a strong antibiotic and a painkiller. You’re going to have to try to break your fever—otherwise, you’re still contagious, so no go.”

I slept that night, exhausted and upset. The next morning, I hovered around 100 degrees, but was adamant that the fever would break. I had to be at school by noon—that much leeway my principal would give—the pageant started at two-thirty. My mother wrapped me in blankets, brought me warm liquids, lemon and honey for my aching throat. She chanted for me in Sanskrit from the prayer room down the hall and took my temperature every half-hour. “I know better than to argue,” she sighed. But we were both surprised at how hard I was trying. This ritual, this honor I had earned, this seeming contradiction, I wasn’t about to let go. Goddess, mother, Mary, someone. Please. Make me the vessel, give me your strength. I want to do this.

At eleven-fifteen my fever broke.

My mom walked me into the church where twenty-nine other girls were rehearsing their scenes and posing for photographs. The handful of girls standing in the shadowbox at the time caught collective sight of me and called out. “Nishta!” The room turned and I was flooded, overwhelmed with gladness, their gladness; that I was okay, that I was there. “You are supposed to be here,” they said. “You have to be our Brown Mary.”

Immediately, girls went to work on my transformation. It’s all a bit of a medicated blur—I felt woozy and weepy and wholly grateful. I sat on a hard pew in the bright and sunny side-chapel while they took care of me. Sarah, da Vinci’s Mary, dashed out in her silver Volvo to buy me chicken noodle, tomato, and cream of mushroom soups, because she wasn’t sure which one I would like. Kemper, da Vinci’s angel Gabriel, took charge of my makeup. “Now close your eyes, sweetie,” she said in her sweet, round, Southern voice. I felt the cool, black pencil against the edge of my warm eyelid, heard the second- and third-graders rehearsing in the background.

When it was time for my tableaux, I scrambled into place along with Amrita and our three friends, playing shepherds. We had a few moments in the dark before the next song began, and I remember being afraid that I was going to accidentally move; blink my eyes too much, scratch my nose, or, worst of all, pass out. I still didn’t feel very well, and I was afraid it might show. But then I felt Amrita’s hand on my shoulder from behind, where she stood as my Joseph. And that blue velvet curtain opened, and the lights came on, from either side of box, incredibly bright and incredibly hot. The whole thing felt a little bit ridiculous, sitting in a pine box, dressed up like an unwed Jewish mother from two thousand years ago.

I tried to quiet my mind and focus on the rows of hushed and darkened heads that watched me in the distance. Out of the corner of my eye, the little girls, standing oh-so-politely on metal risers, their stocking feet tucked into pair after pair of black Mary Janes. I heard their baby gasps for breath as they tried to make it all the way through the “Gloo-ooo-oooo-oooria” and into “excelsis Deo.” In that moment, I realized that thin line between the ridiculous and the magical is governed by belief. An opera is only successful if its audience is willing to suspend its cynicism for a little while and dive in. Ritual works the same way.

After my turn, I joined my friends, huddled down in the darkness, hidden behind the strategically placed Christmas greenery. The cool, plush carpet was a relief; the girls had even sneaked a ginger ale onto the altar for me. Eyes sparkled all around as we, with muted voices, began to sing along with the little ones, who, in a handful of years, would take our place.

The holly bears a berry as red as any blood;
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
To do poor sinners good.
O the rising of the sun,
The running of the deer,
The playing of the merry organ,
Sweet singing in the choir,
Sweet singing in the choir.


APPLE TART

for the crust:

1 cup all-purpose flour
½ cup unsalted butter at room temperature
½ cup sugar
1 egg
½ tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt

for the filling:

4 apples (I used McIntosh), peeled*, cored, & thinly sliced
2 T. sugar
2 tsp. cinnamon

for the glaze (optional):

½ cup apricot jam
juice of half a lemon

oven: 350˚
pan: 9- or 10-inch tart pan (preferably with a removable bottom) OR pie pan

Butter the pan thoroughly & set aside. To make the dough, cream the butter & sugar together in the bowl of an electric mixer at high speed. Reduce speed to medium and add the egg. In a separate bowl, stir the flour, baking powder, & salt together—then gently add to the mixer bowl.

Press the dough (which will be soft) evenly into the tart pan, being sure to go all the way up the sides. Arrange the apples on top of the crust in any pattern that pleases you. Combine the cinnamon & sugar, then sprinkle generously over the apples.  Dot the apples with a few extra tablespoons of butter.

I find it’s easiest to place the tart pan on a baking sheet and to place the whole thing in the oven. Bake the tart for 45-55 minutes. Look for a lightly browned crust and set filling. Cool slightly on a wire rack.

A glaze is certainly not necessary but is easy to do and adds another level of flavor. To make the glaze, simply combine the jam & lemon juice in a small saucepan over low heat. Use a spoon or spatula to break up any clumps, bringing the glaze up to a boil. Remove from heat and brush or dribble over the tart.

Listen, this tart needs NOTHING (no. thing.) to be delicious, but it certainly won’t hurt the tart’s feelings (or mine) if you decide throw a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top. Myself? I like to top with homemade, lightly-sweetened whipped cream that’s also been spiked with Amaretto. Hey, it’s the holidays!

*As you can see, I did not choose to peel the apples this time around, just to see what would happen. No one complained–in fact, it was promptly devoured-but it’s more traditional to peel the apples, so do whatever feels best to you. Note that the peel will add texture.

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ALFAJORES

You know how, once you learn a new word or buy a new car, you’re suddenly seeing incarnations of them everywhere you turn?

Back in November, Gemma Petrie over at Pro Bono Baker posted a recipe for alfajores and I knew I had to make them.  She has been a long-time blog crush of mine, with her spare aesthetic and sophisticated taste, and I have yet to try a recipe of hers that didn’t become a favorite.

During a trip to Argentina, Gemma and her boyfriend Nick fell for these soft, dulce-de-leche filled cookies and, lucky for us, Nick set about creating his own recipe for them when they returned.

Of course, once I made a batch of alfajores, they began to appear in every corner.  At my nine-course-birthday-dessert-tasting.  At our first holiday party of the season.  In my dreams the night after the first batch had all been eaten.  These gentle cookies are perfect with tea or for an after-dinner alternative to a heavy dessert.  If you still have room in your holiday baking agenda, I urge you to give these a whirl, or at least bookmark them for the future.

Regarding the dulce de leche required for this recipe, I point you to another blog crush of mine, Ashley Rodriguez of Not Without Salt.  Her luscious photography is a match only for the creamy milk caramel that results from her almost stupidly simple method of making dulce de leche: simmer a can of sweetened condensed milk in a large pot for three hours.  No, seriously.  It’s like magic.  Tasty, tasty magic.

I’m copying the recipe exactly as it originally appeared, but there are subtle variations you can make with these cookies .  Size, for example—the first batch I made were much larger than the ones pictured here, as I cut the rounds using a water glass.  I also sprinkled sea salt on the caramel layer before sandwiching the cookie pieces together.  For the second batch (pictured here), I employed a small biscuit cutter and dipped the cookies in powdered sugar before sandwiching and omitted the sea salt.

This week I’ll make a third batch for my in-laws, who are headed into town to share Christmas with us.  Jill’s father always has a hankering for something sweet, and I think he’ll like the way that these pillowy cookies go with his coffee. Here’s hoping you all have houses full of loved ones, good eats, & joy this week.

NICK’S ALFAJORES
Recipe from Gemma Petrie of Pro Bono Baker, posted with permission

ingredients:
1 ¾ cup flour
½ cup sugar
1 tsp. baking soda
1/8 tsp. salt
8 T butter, room temperature
4 egg yolks, lightly beaten
1 T milk
1 tsp. vanilla
15 oz. dulce de leche*

method:

Combine flour, salt, sugar and baking soda in a bowl.  Mix in the butter and then work in the egg yolks, milk and vanilla. Shape the dough into two separate balls, wrap in plastic wrap and chill for about two hours.

Preheat oven to 325˚.  Roll out each ball of dough on a slightly floured surface to 1/4 inch thick. Cut using a two-inch cookie cutter and transfer cookies to baking sheets covered with silpat mats. Bake for about 15 minutes, until the tops of the cookies appear dry, but not so long that the cookies brown.

Allow the cookies to cool on a wire rack.  When cool, spread half the cookies with dulce de leche and top with the other half.  Serve with a café con leche for an irresistible treat.  A traditional way to serve the cookies is to roll the sides in shredded coconut.  We’re not big coconut fans, so we left ours plain.

*We used dulce de leche that we brought back from Argentina.  Feel free to use store bought or make your own.  There are plenty of traditional recipes out there, but I was extremely intrigued to find this recipe from the lovely blog Not Without Salt that calls for simply cooking a can of condensed milk in boiling water.  Brilliant.

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ALMOND COCONUT BARS

[Inspired by this blog, which you ought to check out.  Rachael’s writing is addictive & she’s rather swell in person, too.]

This post is a little behind.

Normally, I post on Fridays.
But that was not to be this week.  The confluence of
end-of-the-semester business,
start-of-holiday-season events,
and the regular to-do list
did me in.

Of course, I recognize
that the problem
of not posting your blog
on the day to which you (and your readers)
are accustomed
is a first-world problem.

I think all of my problems
(if you can really call them that) fall
into that category.  I am committed
to being cognizant of that
as close to
all-of-the-time
as possible.

It’s easy to lose perspective in this mad-cap world.

My parents’ anniversary was also this week.  Or would have been.  Or something.
Verb tenses get so messed up
when someone dies.

December 8, 1967.
That was a long time ago.
My mom was twenty.
My dad was twenty-five.

They were little.  Younger than I am now
and so good-looking.

Weren’t they just?  If they don’t look
very excited to you,
there’s a good reason for that.

It was only the third time
they had ever met.
I know, right?
Arranged marriage & whatnot.

There’s actually a very fascinating
longer version
of the story
in which my mom
rejected some other dude

(and thank goodness she did, or
somebody we know
would not be sitting here right now)

but I am saving the longer version
of the story
for my book.
So you’ll just have to wait for it.

There are a lot of things
I miss about my dad.

The scariest thing about losing someone
when you least expected it
is that you live in fear
of forgetting
what they looked like
and smelled like
and the sound of their voice
saying your name.

Luckily I have that.
In a forty-second clip
from our trip to India
which we took
a month before he died.

Sometimes I just listen to it
over and over again
and cry.

And then I usually cook something—
(that’s my solution to every problem, really)
something he would like
something he would want to eat
something he would be proud of me making.

These almond-coconut bars were his favorite.
He had a knack
for waking up from his nap
(he used to take the most epic naps)
just as these suckers
were ready to come out of the oven.

He liked to eat things
PIPING
hot.  I don’t know how he did it.

I wish he were here
to sneak some now
and say, “Don’t tell your mother”
while winking conspiratorially.

I keep waiting
for him to show up
even though I know
he won’t.

ALMOND COCONUT BARS

1 ½ cup graham cracker crumbs*
1/3 cup butter, softened
2 T sugar

1 egg
¾ cup light brown sugar
½ cup shredded coconut (recipe calls for sweet, if substituting unsweetened, bump up the sugar)
½ cup chopped almonds
¼ cup flour
1 T. cream or milk
1 tsp. vanilla

pan: 9 inch square
oven: 400˚

Combine the first three ingredients to make the crust—press into the bottom of the pan and bake for 5 minutes.

While the crust is browning, beat the egg until foamy, then beat in the brown sugar.  Stir in the remaining ingredients and spread the mixture over the hot graham cracker layer.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the center is firm to the touch.  One caveat: check the bars at the 15 minute mark.  Because ovens vary so much, the tops of your bars may brown before baking time is up.  If that’s the case, simply cover the pan with foil for the remainder of baking.

* Yes, you can buy them pre-made but they vaguely resemble sawdust.  If you have a food processor, it couldn’t be easier to make your own crumbs.  Second easiest: sealable plastic bag, rolling pin, energetic child.

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FEELIN’ KINDA SNOW DAY: PECAN TASSIES

It snowed.  Squee!


Blame my students, who came to school restless as all get-out, with visions of snowmen dancing in their heads.   Poor kids, you’ve got to understand—those of you who live in a northerly direction and are laughing at my picture, saying “You call that snow?”—we don’t see much winter around these parts.  So, I really can’t blame them for being so hysterical today, even though I was a total meanie and made them discuss To Kill a Mockingbird anyway.  Snow or no snow, we’re still having a test next week, punks!

[I call them “punks.”  They feign offense.  It’s funny.]

Of course, once we dismissed school early and released the squirrely kiddos to their parents, I got kinda excited about the snow myself.  Quick trip to the grocery store, rescue of the last of the garden lettuce, generous scatter of birdseed, haul of wood pile hearth-side, & sweater on the very cute dog.

Now Rebecca is here now for a snow slumber-party; yes that Rebecca, my freshman college roommate whose late mother was the motivation behind my recent haircut.   There are few more valuable things in the world, I think, than the presence of a friend who knows pretty much everything about you and loves you for all of it, not in spite of it.

Rebecca has been my confidant and cheerleader through bad relationship choices, the inception of my writing career, the days I first fell in love with Jill, and other milestones I’m less than proud of.  We have shared Pop Tarts in early-morning freshman Psychology class, an unfortunate amount of cheap vodka (with cinnamon Altoid chasers) one night in San Antonio, the burden of grief, and ridiculous amounts of candy.  I can be more all-out goofy with her than I can with almost anyone else; I have never known her to judge.  She is hella-talented, fiercely loyal, and deeply invested in compassion.

Oh and the girl can eat.  I’m talking put-away-serious-quantities-of-food-eat.  I love that quality in a woman.

This is all very nice, Nishta, you say, and I’m happy to hear you’re having such a lovely evening, but where is mah RECIPE, Blue Jean Gourmet?

Don’t fret.  It’s here, I promise.  Well, not here, exactly, but close by.  The nice folks at The Superior Nut Store asked me to share a favorite nutty recipe to feature on their blog. The Pecan Tassies I chose originally hail from my family’s annual holiday cookie plate, and proved their magic once again as they disappeared within minutes when I took a batch to work.

Need other ideas for your holiday baking?  I’ll be posting more goodies in the next two weeks, but don’t forget about: lemon squares, caramel corn, Chex mix, or these molasses cookies.

Last but not least, we have a little news!  Eating Our Words, the food blog of the Houston Press, gave last week’s Mexican Rice & “Grad School” Black Beans post a very kind shout-out.  Thanks so much to them, and to you, for your readership.

Stay warm, punks!