Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Saying "yes" to Christmas

After the last few years of being immobilized by my dislike for Christmas, I've decided to be on the offensive and take the snowball by the horns. Or something like that.

Someone recently asked me, "How can you not like Christmas?" Uh, the forced socializing, the inability to quietly opt out of consumerism like I manage to do the rest of the year, the availability of sugar and the headaches that accompany it, the increased demands and expectations coupled with the decreased time in which to fulfill them. You can see why it's tempting to stay under the covers until mid-January.

Not this year!

I woke up one day and realized that many people actually like and look forward to Christmas. Why can't I be one of them? Well, this year, I am.

Or at least I'm pretending to be.

So, on the day after Thanksgiving, I welcomed Christmas into my home. I figured I would start with the traditions that I truly enjoy.




We set up the nativity scene (what a relief that my daughters no longer feel the need to take Baby Jesus all around the house, as in previous years).

The tree will come later, when Music Man is free. But that's no reason to keep the tree skirt boxed up!

I've not done any actual shopping, but that will come. For now, I'm still making my list and checking it twice.

Monday, November 22, 2010

I'm supposed to be simplifying.

I'm supposed to be simplifying. You know, eliminating, streamlining, getting simple.

This was all going really well until I received my December (and final) issue of Everyday Food. That magazine makes everything look so outrageously easy. There ought to be a warning on the front: The simplicity of this magazine is an illusion.

So when I saw the recipe for Puff Pastries, I thought, "no problem, just a few ingredients, just bake, then fill, no problem."

And mostly it went like that. Sort of.

First you preheat the oven to 425 degrees, line 2 or 3 cookie sheets with parchment paper. Then bring 1 cup water, 1/2 cup unsalted butter, and 1 teaspoon sugar to a boil over highish heat. Immediately remove from heat and stir in 1 cup all-purpose flour. Keep stirring until the mixture pulls away from the sides and looks like really yucky playdough. Don't bother tasting, you'll wonder why you did.

Next add 4 large eggs, one at a time, stirring after each addition until the batter comes together again. You'll have really egg-y looking paper mache paste.

Transfer the batter into a large ziplock baggie and snip a 1/2-inch hole in one corner. Finally, pipe the batter into little blobs onto the parchment paper.

The recipe claims you can get 110 small puffs, or 40 large ones. I ended up with about 75 of random sizes. With a wet finger, smooth out the pointy tops. Bake for 10 minutes, then reduce temp to 350 and bake for 25 minutes longer, until puffs are golden brown and feel hollow inside. So far, so good.

When the puffs are cool, poke a hole in each one with a chopstick or skewer. Fill at will. I choose a melted chocolate and butter filling.

Maybe that was my problem. When I tried to pipe it from its own little plastic baggie into the little puffs, the bag kept ripping open and warm chocolate kept spilling onto my hands. I know, there are worse things in life, but I was racing the clock because I had to drive the carpool that afternoon. Maybe next time I would fill a squeeze bottle with the chocolate and squirt it in that way (another tip learned from organized people).

Anyway the filling choices are endless: frosting, tuna salad, slice and make mini BLTs, whatever you have a taste for. The end result was fun and cute, but I'm not sure tending to 75 pastry puffs is in line with my new simple and complain-free lifestyle.