Archive for December, 2007

Should old acquaintance be forgot….

December 31, 2007

…then I’ll probably have a photo here to remind you.

I’m back, after some H & W holiday madness and a little blogging break. The short version of this year’s Christmas story is that Will stayed asleep until 7 a.m. on Christmas morning, AND he wasn’t sick. I guess there really is a Santa Claus.

It was all terrific, and I hope it was the same for all of you.

And now that we have somehow found ourselves at the end of another year, I will close it out the best way I know how—I present to you, my loyal and wonderful readers, the Hank & Willie Year in Review.

Enjoy. And here’s to a great 2008 for all of us.

Merry, merry!

December 24, 2007

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So it’s Christmas Eve at Casa Hank & Willie.

We’ve finally peeled Will off the ceiling and stuffed him under the covers where he’ll stay until probably, oh, three a.m.

And I am not above going in there and telling him that Santa won’t come if he doesn’t stay in bed until the sun comes up.

Like that will do me any good.

Wish us luck, and a very, merry Christmas to all of you.

P.S. Thank you all for your wonderful, thoughtful, heartfelt comments, phone calls and emails about my last post. It means more than you know.

The days, they get longer now

December 22, 2007

The short days, the long nights, the cold—sometimes I feel like I’m just surviving in these waning days of the year. Especially as the calendar winds around to today’s date, December 22. Today is the fifteenth anniversary of my mother’s death.

It’s hard to write this in the midst of so much holiday gaiety (cue record scratching sound). For so many years, all of December rang hollow for me, a month to simply get through. I used to wonder where I could go that would feel completely unlike December, and where I could find a place without Christmas, which was now so indelibly linked to losing her. It is no accident that my babies were born in the lightest time of the year—I couldn’t imagine the load my heart would be forced to carry if I had a baby in the darkest days of winter.

But the years, they do march on. It tugs on my heart to know I am so far from the person my mother last knew, that 21-year-old college senior. That Maggie, Matthew and Kate, my three siblings, have now, in reverse birth order, each spent more of their lives without her than with her, and my heart aches for that loss.

It wasn’t in her plan, that’s for certain. Diagnosed in April 1992 with metastatic colon cancer, my mom bargained for life with everything she had. Disregarding her terminal diagnosis and her doctors’ urges for quality of life, she said, “Nothing? I have to do something. I have four children.”

Just 50 at the time of her diagnosis, she pursued treatment at New York’s Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, followed a macrobiotic diet and underwent experimental liver surgery at Yale before entering a study at New York’s Maimonides Hospital. She set goals, adjusting them as the cancer moved in. First, to see her eight-year-old daughter become a teenager. Then see her fifteen-year-old daughter graduate from high school. Then see her twelve-year-old son get his dream fulfilled—a dog. And finally, with the window closing on her, she hoped to at least see me graduate from college. She missed it by exactly five months to the day.

And now the thing I didn’t understand fifteen years ago, is all the years we have without her. It wasn’t just the self-absorbed 21-year-old that would miss her. I didn’t understand how much the 25-year-old scientist-turned-writer would miss her when there were career choices to make. And how much the 29-year-old bride would wish she could be there for a day filled with joy, yet one that underscored her absence more than any day so far. And how, when the 32-year-old first-time mother would shed tears, they wouldn’t all be because of post-partum hormones. And then again with another baby, this time a sick one, that the 34-year-old mother would mourn her absence so deeply again.

My heart clenches when Will asks me my mother’s name, or why she isn’t here. I wish she could have met my husband and held my boys. I wish, political junkie and presidential historian that she was, that she could be here to see that the once portly governor from Arkansas is now campaigning for his wife. I wish, techie before her time that she was, that she could live in this age of the Internet, instant information and blogs! I wish she could explain why I can’t get the snowflake cookies from her cookie press to come out properly. But most of all, I just wish she was here.

A close family friend of ours said my mother’s funeral mass on December 26, 1992.  His words offered me perhaps the only comfort I have ever found in the wrong that is the mother who was taken away from her four children. Over the sounds of my eight-year-old sister sobbing in church that day, I heard him say, “She stayed with them through the darkest days of the year. She stayed, until it began to grow light again.”

And I do take comfort in that still. Because while I am still without her, and in the words of poet Dylan Thomas, I can rage all I want at the dying of the light, the days are getting longer now, and the light is coming back.

And I have a little boy who says, “Tell me who your mom is?” And I can hold him tight and say, “Her name was Carol, and she would so have loved being here with you.”

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…

December 17, 2007

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So you know what I love more than Christmas cookies?

Christmas cards. LOVE them.

I love that I have cards from some of my oldest friends in the world, now featuring some of the newest babies in the world.

I love that I have cards from my sister addressed to me and my husband, plus one each to Will and to Henry.

I love that Jen in New York and Susan in Maine can always be counted on to be first out of the gate and into my mailbox.

And that the rest of you can be counted on to dribble in throughout the month, guaranteeing glee each time I open the mailbox.

I love that cards from Mike and Molly came on the same day—still a perfect team, guys, even if you aren’t working together anymore!

I love the gorgeous winter scenery from Maine, the hand-drawn sea otters from Oregon, the glowing fireplace from Massachusetts and the handcrafted photo card from Oklahoma.

I love clever sayings, like the one from triplet-to-be mama Amily and her husband Tyler that says “May you have multiple blessings in 2008!”

I love ones full of news and ones that don’t say anything at all.

I even love the card my husband gets religiously each year from the NYC diamond district vendor that collaborated with him on my engagement ring and the diamond studs that graced my first Mother’s Day. Their faith in us as future diamond buyers is touching, if unlikely anytime soon!

And I love sending out our cards to you.

And while I always mean to get them in the mail sooner each year, I just don’t, and I have one thing to say:

Who ARE you people that already have your cards hanging in my home when I haven’t even received mine from the printer yet?

Just wondering.

Thanks for your cards, we all LOVE getting them.

And while you’re waiting for ours, a few shots that we didn’t use in our card this year. And even though I didn’t take these shots myself, I’m posting them for Best Shot Monday.

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And like you have nothing else to do a week before Christmas, some more of those shots, set to music. Merry, merry!

Photos by Nicki Pardo, thanks, Nicki!

For the love of Christmas cookies

December 15, 2007

So, I love Christmas cookies. LOVE them. And I plan to enjoy them wholeheartedly this year, because last year? Was Christmas with no egg, no dairy and no soy. And while my family came through with AMAZING substitutions (email me if you need help in that department), I still will be enjoying a healthy, if you will, dose of butterfat this year.

But anyway, that is where you come in, dear readers. I want your cookie recipes.

Please post a favorite Christmas cookie recipe in the comments, or on your site and post the link or if you scavenged it from out there in the interwebs, then share the love and post a link to that. PLEASE.

Consider it your little Christmas present to Hank & Willie, and think of the amazing cookie resource we can create. Bakers of cookies like Granny Annie’s Bourbon Balls, Jayne’s Toffee and Shannon’s Rum Balls, I’m talking to you.

Because I NEED those recipes this year.

Here’s a few on my list:

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Photo by Smitten Kitchen

Homemade Oreos from Smitten Kitchen. I’ve had the exquisite priveledge of enjoying these baked by TWO Hank & Willie readers, Clink and Lorraine. Send ’em along if you want me to taste YOUR version. I’m a very appreciative audience.

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Photo by Milk & Cookies

Double Chocolate Cookies, originally by Martha, as adapted over at the delicious food blog, Milk & Cookies. I agree with the adaptation, because I don’t find much call for milk chocolate in my life.

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Peppermint Checkerboards by Julie, via Cookies Unlimited.

Peppermint Checkerboards, as seen in Cookies Unlimited. Version here made by Julie at A Little Pregnant who says, “I modified Malgieri’s vanilla sablé recipe by replacing half of the vanilla with peppermint extract, and then dyeing the holy Christmas shit out of half of the dough.”

And then finally, the mother lode of Christmas cookies, here at Food Blogga — a collection of Christmas cookies from readers around the world, updated daily. You even have a chance to win a dessert cookbook, Desserts by the Yard by Sherry Yard. So AFTER you post your recipe here, head over to Christmas Cookies Around the World to post yours and enter to win this yummy-looking cookbook. Mmmm….

Here’s what I’m entering over there:

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(Recipe and illustration by Susan Branch, Christmas from the Heart of Home)

I’ve been making these delicious, easy butter cookies for YEARS, and if you make no other cookie, make this one. It can be anything—twist this dough into candy canes, roll it out (chill it mercilessly first) and use your cookie cutters, put it in a pastry bag and squirt it through a # 2 star tip, or roll it all into one giant snake, roll it in sprinkles or mini chips or coconut and slice and bake into perfect rounds….you get the idea. The dough does need to be really well chilled to work with, though. All that butter, you know.

Annie Hall’s Butter Cookies

2 cups unsalted butter, slightly softened

1 1/2 cups sugar

4 egg yolks

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

4 1/2 cups unbleached flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350. With an electric mixer, even the hand-held kind, cream together butter and sugar. Add egg yolks and vanilla, mix well. Suft flour and salt together and beat into butter mixture until well mixed.

When ready to bake use an ungreased cookie sheet (I use my Silpat liners, but not required.) and place cookies about one inch apart. Bake for about ten minutes, but do not brown them. Remove cookies from cookie sheet while still warm and cool on sheets of waxed paper.

Get thee to a kitchen and start baking, folks! But not before you post what you’re baking here.

Food Friday: Christmas cookies and candies

December 14, 2007

I just peeked at my stats, assuming you had ALL LEFT ME for good after not posting all week, but surprise, you have been here checking for something new every day. Your faith in me is touching, if undeserved. At least I left you with something good to look at all week.

But anyway. It’s just that I’ve been doing all this freelance work for Santa this week, and he is an absolute BEAR on the deadlines, so my blogging life suffered a bit. But I make it up to you with not one but TWO recipes today, both diligently tested at my house in the last 24 hours.

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Mine is only dark chocolate this year. Because I’m simplifying.

Peppermint Bark

You do know you don’t have to buy this only at Williams-Sonoma for $20 a tin or Trader Joe’s for slightly less, right? Because you can make it in your own kitchen, and you get to use your favorite kind of chocolate, too.

This recipe is infinitely adaptable (white chocolate! dark chocolate! layers! peppermint extract! or nooo!), but here are the basic ratios:

Crushed candy canes, to yield one cup

One pound chocolate (I like bittersweet or sometimes I layer dark and white)

(A word about chocolate: Callebaut, Valhrona are excellent choices for this confection and sold in big chunks at places like Whole Foods, but not to worry— you can also use grocery store chocolate chips like Ghiradelli or packaged squares like Bakers. Just stay away from the milk chocolate. Because that is wrong.)

1/2 teaspoon peppermint flavoring, optional

Place candy canes in a plastic bag and smash away into 1/4-inch chunks or smaller. Melt the chocolate in a double boiler, and stir constantly. Combine candy cane chunks/dust with chocolate, but save some of the biggest chunks to press into the top after you pour it out.

Add peppermint flavoring at this point, if desired. Chocolate will separate a little at this point, but just keep stirring.

Pour mixture onto a cookie sheet (with edges, to contain the river of chocolate) lined with parchment or waxed paper, add big chunks of candy cane on top and place in a cold spot for 45 minutes or until firm. (Don’t use your Silpat liner here, as I learned—your bark will be etched with the Silpat pattern.) Remove from cookie sheet and shatter into cookie-sized pieces.

Supposedly this will keep for several weeks in the refrigerator, but I wouldn’t know. (Plus, if you put it in the fridge, it will get that unsightly white cocoa “bloom”—just eat it, for God’s sake, or give it away.)

I promise to add the cookie recipe later today, but Santa is cracking the whip right now.

Like you were going to make cookies before breakfast anyway.

See you later—it’s good to be back!

Evidence that newborns really do smile

December 10, 2007

So it’s Monday and time for pictures.

And while I have The Outtakes of the Christmas Card Photo Shoot to share this week, today I have a delicious newborn to share.

Say hello to beautiful Lily, ten days old.

And look at her sweet smile in the last frame.

Makes you believe in something really good when you look at that little face, doesn’t it?

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As usual, for more Best Shot Monday, head over to Picture This!

Food Friday: Chocolate Croissant Pudding

December 7, 2007

Since I, apparently, am still recovering from a month of daily posts, my sister and her husband have taken matters into their own hands to be sure you all get what you come here for, whatever that is.

So today I bring to you a few historical Christmas tidbits and a recipe for Warm Chocolate Croissant Pudding, four words you and your thighs NEVER KNEW could be used in the same sentence.

And a few more Food Friday details: Shannon has asked for some input on pot roast, and I have a line on that, but need to do some cooking to check it out first, and besides, HELLO, this is December and our chance to ingest as much butterfat as possible. So Shan, we’ll do that in January.

Also, in the brownie department, I have tested the third recipe, and it will be revealed to the H&W readers in due time. Once I see what Casey comes up with to mentor me into making her brownies the right way. We’ll be testing them all at Christmas time at Casa Hank & Willie, so hold off on those January 1 diets for a little bit.

So here you go, from the historians in my family, a few Christmas dinner suggestions from the person who brought Christmas trees into fashion. (Queen Victoria, not my sister).

It is interesting to note that in 1899, Her Majesty Queen Victoria had the following amongst other items for her Christmas buffet:

Baron of beef

Boar’s head

Game pie

Woodcock pie

Brawn roast fowl

Tongue

MMMMMMMMMMMMMM…….

And now to wipe that from your palate, without further ado, I present to you Comfort in a Ramekin, also known as

DZ’s WARM CHOCOLATE CROISSANT PUDDING

8 stale croissants, cut into cubes
8 squares (1 ounce each) bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
5 cups heavy cream
1 ¼ cups sugar
5 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
Vanilla ice cream

Grease eight 10-oz glass or ceramic ramekins and place on rimmed baking sheet. Divide cubed croissants among prepared ramekins. Sprinkle chopped chocolate over and around croissants. In a large bowl whisk cream, sugar, eggs and vanilla. Divide egg mixture among the ramekins, using a rubber spatula to push croissant pieces into liquid so they absorb the mixture. Let stand for 30 minutes. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Place baking sheet on the top rack and bake for 40-50 minutes, or until the top of the puddings are browned and puffed. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream.
Supposed to serve 8 people, but they better be very, very hungry!

What I really want to know is: who has stale croissants? There might be a fatal flaw in this recipe, but I’m willing to try and make this work.

See you next week for Christmas candy and cookies, yum!

 

 

Sorry ladies, he’s taken

December 4, 2007

When I dropped Will off at nursery school the other day, a darling little diva of a girl—resplendent in red velvet active wear, chestnut curls springing over her shoulders and shoes I would die for—made a beeline for Will and said to him, “Will! I am going to marry YOU!”

You can see why, can’t you?

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Maybe I should have offered more candy

December 3, 2007

This was this week’s lesson in my photo class, or at least my execution of it. I don’t think it is quite what the instructor had in mind, but it is what it is.*

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“Capturing a range of emotions” or as portrayed here, “Capturing silly faces until your child falls and cries and then add a frame of that into the assignment.” I wonder if I get bonus points for tears?

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Bring on the critique, though I can see so much wrong with the processing and other stuff that we might as well just play I Spy…digital haze! color casts! soft focus on face and sharp focus on hat! Distracting background on chair!

Sigh. I think I need to switch to photographing bowls of fruit. Because they DON’T MOVE.

For more Best Shot Monday, head to Picture This!

*Little known fact—phrase may well have been coined by Mike. Last heard used by Tila Tequila on her train wreck of a TV show. Or so I’ve heard.