Sunday, December 23, 2012

A Milestone

I'm up on the New York Times Motherlode today talking about the things I always talk about: parenting and cake, the crapshoot that is either of these complicated, multi-step endeavors. You have to both butter and flour the pan? Good god.

The buche de noel the kids and I made for Christmas is chilling in the frige, and it looks like a felled log, just as it should, and the mess we made in the kitchen is evidence of team work, and evidence of my having crossed a threshold as a parent, of not just catering to their whims and needs, and carpooling, but of introducing them to what I love.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Fruitcake

Fruitcake means fruitcake, a cake with candied fruit in it, and also someone who is a little nuts. I saw a t-shirt that said, "Respect the fruitcake" and I really like that, because I do.

My grandmother on my mother's side made stollen, German fruitcake, dry as a bone, and up to its ears in chartreuse-colored bits of citron that made you think of a thin spinster aunt in a Great Plains novel, something by Willa Cather, but, when toasted, transformed into this fragrant, buxom, bitter-sweet Christmas experience. The icing pleasantly caramelized, the citron got Italian. I looked forward to it.

Now I'm candying my own pummelos. No euphemism. They're in a reducing sugar syrup in a big copper pot as I write this. It's a fruitcake thing to do, sure, but one of the joys of adulthood is knowing exactly what kind of cake you are.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Buche de Noel, But I Cannot Stop Talking About #GunControl

Translated into English as "Christmas Log Cake" a French Buche de Noel is a rolled cake, cylindrical, filled (apricot jam, marshmallow fluff, iPads, despair at our inability to control firearms, whatever you want, this is America).

And then it is frosted look like birch log in an old-country winter forest. The kind you might hunt for boars in with a semiautomatic rifle.

You can add "moss" made of spun sugar, "mushrooms" of Italian meringue, which I need no permit to eat right out of the pastry bag, because this is America.

I recommend control, when slicing what I have come to call "the Buche" because if you do it right it can look like the beautiful rings of a young sapling, or like the bullseye of a target. Your choice. Like in Westerns cowboys call guns "peacemakers," and today the private citizen fearmongers, and makes the implausible argument they need an Uzi to protect their own. 

We're banning sugary drinks before a complete ban combat-grade assault weapons. But, this year, I'm writing to in my letter to Santa that it's only thing I want.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

German Christmas Cookie, or Foul German Curse Word?*




Kipferl 

Springerle 

Weihnachtsstollen

Lebkuchen

Spritzgeb├Ąck

Pfeffern├╝sse

Dominosteine

Schweineohrchen

Butterplatzchen

Zimsterne





* They are all German Christmas cookies.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Crow Among Swans

Crow amongst swans. Cat amongst the pigeons. Pearls before swine. To even think there is an explanation. 

Holocaust survivor and 7th generation Hasidic rabbi, Abraham Joshua Heschel said when he marched with Martin Luther King he felt that his feet were praying in Selma.

Non-violence and peace is nothing less than culture change. Stricter gun laws, more accessible mental health care, and do not for a minute doubt: it makes a difference, where you put your feet and especially your dollars in the cacophonic, consumerist violence of this country, down to the camo gear, and skull and crossbones footie pajamas marketed in Target for little boys.

Do something with your fear besides buying a firearm. I have a dream that people don't kill kindergarteners. "Never forget that you can still do your share to redeem the world," said Heschel, who lost his family to the Holocaust.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Meringue

I only do this once a year so bear with me as I dive into egg whites fluffed up so perfectly they form, as Julia Child would say, "soft peaks."

How lovely is that phrase, "soft peaks?"

I'm going to wax on, wax off about Italian meringue, the kind you have to boil sugar and water into a thickish syrup (the "soft ball stage" if one must be technical, and another great phrase.) The syrup you then combine with the "soft peaks" to form this glossy, sheen-y, almost beyond reason good thing.

I like to mound it into a pastry bag with a rosette tip, and then pipe it directly into my mouth, as a winter-fluffed mother bird might feed her very favorite, extremely deserving baby bird.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Advent

We who grew up Episcopalian but are now (                        ) are in the season of Advent, or, if you are a child, the season of Waiting Impatiently for Christmas While Poking At Every Wrapped Gift Under The Tree In Hopes Of Finding Out Information.

I remember it well, this infuriating season for seven year olds. Even the chocolate Advent calendar, one chocolate every day, like the tick tock of a very slow clock.

This morning my son, 7, told my daughter, 5, "We're finally in December's teens!" The way he said it--yelling, basically levitating in the hallway, his face elf-red with excitement --  he  could not have more enthusiastic about the passage of time.

He said into my pale, pre-coffee face, "Why are you not pumped, Mom?"

I like the carols, the lead-up to Christmas, not the taking down of the tree and the clean-up and being cast out from the twinkle of the holidays into the bleak wilderness of January and February.

"Don't you want to see the billfold I made for you in shop class!?!" he said, eager to unwrap the thing right now and show me. That I, overcome by my new billfold, would allow him to open one of his presents.

He said, "I want to know right now, if that package over there is a skateboard. When I squeeze it I feel like it has wheels and could possibly be a skateboard! Is it a skateboard? Is it? Mom? Give me, like ten hints. Is it some kind of transportation? Is it edible?" We have 12 more days of this. But who's counting?

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Abandon Hope

"You could even put 'Abandon Hope' on your refrigerator door instead of more conventional aspirations.
- Pema Chodron


Abandon hope? Wha'? Didn't Emily Dickinson, the recluse of Amherst, say: 
"Hope" is the thing with feathers -/ That perches in the soul -/ And sings the tune without the words -/And never stops - at all -

My bird ain't doing so well. My bird feels more like an albatross. I'm thinking of setting myself free from hope, as one might cut the lines of a foundering boat and just let 'er sink. I imagine watching it sink down, down, fathoms down, through the clear tropical water and come to rest on the sand in azure lagoon like a pirate ship heavy with the weight of Spanish silver.

I, then, kick with my flippers and burst up into the air! And take a deep breath of hopelessness, which, if Pema Chodron means what I think she means, is freedom from wanting things to be a certain way. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Parallel Universe

If there are parallel universes, in one of them I'm pretty sure I am blond. Those are the so-called, good outcome universes.

In another I live in a slum outside Mumbai, breathing the toxic fumes as I melt down your old model cellphone for the precious metals inside.

In another, I died at eleven, from an asthma attack, instead of being saved (as I was in this one) by a neighbor who told my mother before she started CPR, "please don't sue me if this doesn't work."

In this universe I have two children. In another, perhaps ten, and we live on a farm, during the Dust Bowl, or I am an Orthodox Jew.

I'd like in one universe to be a good-looking 30 year old man, who is aware, but not arrogant about his looks.

The universe I'm really interested in is the one in which I'm not sick. I don't feel like I have the flu all the time, and muscle spasms in my face, one in which I don't feel like molasses. One in which, if I am sick, the doctors know what's wrong with me, and because this is a future universe there's an app for that. 

I'm in an alpine field, rejoicing at all the little faces of the flowers.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Yule Laugh, Yule Cry

As you know, I'm a lapsed Episcopalian, Pagan, with Buddhist inclinations, and inclinations toward the pastry cart when it comes around.

At Christmas -- which I call Yule -- anything goes. I have knit slippers in the shape of reindeer and the reindeer have silver bells on their knit antlers, you know what I mean? You might find me in the punch.

What I like about this season is that we're tilting toward the light, away from the darkness, all together, as a planet, without any of us working that hard. Now, usually I'm a Puritan and like hard work, and banging my head against the stocks, sinners-in-the-hands-of-an-angry-god style, but how awesome is it not to have to singlehandedly bring back the sun, to light and heat the Earth?

It's effortless, all you have to do is wait for 3-4 months.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Salutations of Holiday Letters That I Refuse To Read



Newsflash. This just in: 

Salutations,

Sister in Christ,

Bretheren,

Prodigal,

Behold, for I bring you great tidings: 

Dear Aunt _________ (but the blank has not been filled in)

Greetings and salutations,

Salve, puer, 

All:

Friends:

Cheery Little Elves: 

All beings near and far, 

People,

Earthlings:

Yo:

VIPs: 

Fear Not! this letter won't be that long.