27 December 2010

That Does It

Just when you think you can't lift another shovel of snow, when you begin to whine that you've made no progress despite your hours of toil in the driving snow and blizzard winds, when you curse yourself for never having made friends with folks who own plows, one sweeps into your driveway.

This is one of the many reasons why I love Vermont and Vermonters.

There I was late this morning, standing a few feet deep in snow, not yet realizing a true plan of attack for where, exactly, I was going to push and heave all this snow, blinded by the white wind. I plugged away with my sad little shovel for a long, long time when, in front of my wondering eyes did appear, a bright blue pick-up with orange snow-plowing gear. (Sad, huh?) The gentleman who disembarked from said shiny vehicle asked if I would like some help, if he might plow the driveway. He and his family live a half-mile up the road, he explained, and he saw me (pathetically) shoveling and thought I could use a hand. For the record, there was no hesitation on my part. Oh, please, thank you, thank you, thank you. I'll just stand over here, out of your way. Have at it. Thank you, thank you, thank you. 
We chatted when he finished. He wouldn't take any money, or cocoa, but smiled broadly as he waved goodbye. Little does he know he made my day. My Christmas, for that matter.

20 December 2010

Mom's Ginger Cookies in a Snap

This is my mother's recipe, simple and economical. Not really a snappy cookie but chewy, spicy and delectable. I'm a butter girl, but my mom sometimes substituted vegetable shortening. No one ever complained.

1 1/4 cups butter, softened, OR vegetable shortening
1 cup sugar, plus more for rolling
1 egg
1/4 cup molasses
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease baking sheets (I use nonstick cooking spray).

Combine flour, soda and spices; set aside. Cream butter (or shortening) and sugar until fluffy; add egg and molasses to combine. Add dry ingredients to wet. Mix until fully incorporated.

Using your fingers or a small (say, 1-inch) scoop, form dough into balls and roll in sugar. Place on cookie sheets and bake for 10-12 minutes. The cookies will flatten and crinkle as they bake, and fill your house with the scent of holiday spices. Remove from sheets to cool on wire racks.

The Tree

Complete with its homemade tin-foil star.

I inherited my love for the Christmas tree from my mother, who would spend at least two full days perfecting its glory. This involved fully decorating it in one corner of our living room only to take everything down and start from scratch in another corner. Because she thought it would look better.

She was a lovable maniac.

It wasn't only the tree which garnered her enthusiasm. She loved all things Christmas and always came out with the big guns, despite the fact that it had to be tough as a single mother of five who worked the third shift as a nurse's aide. She made dozens of Christmas cookies not only for us but for our classmates, her co-workers, our neighbors, and just about anyone else willing to be stuffed with butter and sugar.

And I, brat that I was, oh ye of little faith, doubted her ability one year. I remember lying in my bed, about 2 a.m., worrying that my mom wouldn't be able to whip out her famous gingerbread cookies in time for me to take them to school to share with my fourth-grade class. You see, she was still at work, in the middle of her shift, and I couldn't fathom how she would get home, make cookie dough from scratch, chill the dough, roll and cut out cookies, let them cool, decorate and package them (not that I really comprehended all the steps involved) in time for my school party.

But she did. And threw in some finger sandwiches for my classmates as well.

This is the fifth Christmas since she died. I miss her every day, but even more so at Christmas. The cookies I bake —gingerbread and sugar cookie cut-outs, snowballs, black-eyed susans, rugelach, pecan tassies, bittersweet brownies — I bake for her. It doesn't matter that our household of two couldn't possibly down all these cookies without going into cardiac arrest. My mother taught me that everyone loves a cookie, so we share.

19 December 2010

My Second Vermont Christmas

It's been nearly two years since my somewhat spur-of-the-moment move to Vermont.

I called many places home during my 20s, from Florida to Connecticut. But I didn't really mean it. Like many 20-somethings, I was searching for myself, my dream job, on occasion my dream man, but never really getting it together.

Until now.

Only now do I feel at home. Even when the temperature has plummeted well below zero and the pipes freeze. Even when it takes endless hours to shovel the driveway. And, yes, even when I quit the job that originally brought me here because I realize it's not what it's cracked up to be.

It's been non-stop nesting since January 2009. When work doesn't get in the way, I bake. Then bake some more. Then maybe make dinner. And bake again. I will talk about all of this earth-shattering stuff here, on my blog, a diary of sorts giving voice to my Vermont life, scraps and all. If you like to bake, if you like to cook, if you like to eat, if you like snow, if you like tales of folks blindly starting over in life in their 30s, I hope you will stick around and let me know what you think, what you bake, what you cook for those you love, what model shovel you have. I really want to know.