Christmas Candied Presents

This year, my husband and I took one look at our budgetary bottom line and sadly shook our heads at each other.

“It’s going to be another bleak Christmas this year,” I said apologetically. With only one full-time paycheck coming in paired with paltry adjunct pay, our holidays looked not so merry and bright at the outset.

But then I graduated. And, as it turns out, when you take six years to get that damned degree already, people are sometimes eager to shower you with money. At least, in my case, I felt showered. (Particularly when the $20 check came from my mom’s long-distance cousins who have been living on an extremely fixed income for most of my adult life. I wanted to burst into tears when I deposited that check, knowing full well what it meant for them to give it up.) Because of the generosity of so many at my graduation, we were able to do some Christmas shopping.

In an effort to save money, we decided to make Christmas treats this year. Turns out that we probably would have spent about the same amount on small gifts for our family members, but, eh, at least this comes from the heart.

For weeks I flipped through Food Network Magazine, Real Simple, and Southern Living. I dog-eared pages upon pages of potential candy candidates, unsure of my culinary prowess, wary of terms like “hard crack” and “candy thermometer.” And then one day, while lazily flipping through the channels after a particularly grueling round of grading final exams (and dealing with the immediate fallout of student panic), I saw Trisha Yearwood not crooning but cooking! I was surprised, confused, but also curious enough to stick it out.

“Today we’re making food as gifts!” Trisha chirped while simultaneously drawling.

Why, I thought, that’s exactly what I want to do, Trisha!

In thirty minutes, Trisha Yearwood taught me how to make and package peanut brittle, chocolate candies from a crock-pot, and raisin bread in a can. I copied down her speedy instructions as quickly as I could (forgetting for a moment that there is such a thing as the Internet that preserves these sorts of things…you know…permanently). And then I was settled.

“We shall make peanut brittle, crock-pot chocolate, and raisin bread in a can!” I announced to a man who really just wanted to change the channel to something less cooking and more sporting.

I have not baked the raisin bread in a can yet because I am a bit unsure about letting it sit for a few days before I can give it to my family. I have made the crock-pot chocolate candy and the peanut brittle, which I have uploaded in the Recipes We Love section of the blog. So, please, try out these recipes. They are about as simple as they could be (without, you know, buying the candy pre-made), and believe me…if I can manage to make these taste good, then you can with great ease.

Enjoy!
~A.Hab.

The joy of holiday cookies

Ginger. Cloves. Cinnamon.

Flour dust. Sugar sprinkles. Butter smears.

Teaspoons. Tablespoons. Cups.

These are the technical tools of the baking season. The holidays. A time to unleash my inner baker and create deliciousness to share with friends, family, and my love, J.

Upon gobbling another orange-glazed cookie this past weekend, he looked at me and said, “You bake a good cookie.” Delivered with all of the seriousness normally reserved for more serious subjects, this warmed my heart. He has talked before about what a good cook his ex-wife was, and although I know he dislikes her immensely, his praise of her cooking stung just a touch. So weeks later, when he praised my cookies, I felt we had passed another threshold of sorts.

Twenty-two months and going strong. Our second holiday season together. More importantly, our second cookie-baking weekend.

J and I share cookie baking duties, dividing executive and sous chef responsibilities, moving around one another like two people who have known each other much longer than 22 months. This ease and comfort of being together, working together, talking and laughing together, continues to be evidence of the lasting nature of our relationship, or at least our confidence in this idea.

The harmony we feel as a couple is poured into the seven different kinds of cookies that we work together to create: Oatmeal Raisin, Chocolate Chip, Bourbon Date Bars, Holiday Biscotti, Orange-Glazed, Walnut Balls, and Ginger Snaps (recipe listed in the “Recipes we love” section of this blog).

As we pack up and deliver boxes of these delectable treats for friends, co-workers, and family, the reviews start. “Love the little spice cookies!” “What’s the recipe for those date bars?” “Oh, that biscotti! Yum!”

These affirmations of the cookies resonate with me in a more personal way, simply because I know of the work, effort, and time we put into their creation. “Baked with love” is such a cliche, but in this case, it is a positive reminder that the energy we put into whatever we create will spill out into the world in equal measure, making it doubly nice when that energy is driven by compatibility, kindness, and love.

Happy Holidays to one and all!

– AMo