Saturday, December 31, 2011


Today my husband Jim and I celebrate our 35th anniversary. Legally we have been married for 35 years, but I don't know for sure if I should say 35 because I have evicted him twice. Once for almost three years and once for almost two. Nevertheless, three decades is a long time to live with someone who is your polar opposite, so I feel somewhat proud that we've weathered our lives together. Whenever I ask Jim why he wanted to marry me or why he was attracted to me, he says the same thing: "Because you were so funny." Needless to say, this is not exactly what a romantic wants to hear. You may wonder why I ask Jim about these things that couples who are in normal relationships converse about easily. I ask because if I do not, Jim would never talk about anything. At all. Really. One of Jim's mottoes is - never volunteer any information. I kid you not, we were married for thirty years before I learned that he does not like beets, and the most amazing thing I learned about a year ago is that he actually had a dog when he was a kid. A german shepherd. Prince. That's all I got out of him about Prince, but I am fascinated. You see, Jim was raised in an orphanage where he was deposited at around age nine or ten. Since he was 21, I've been his family. Just me and our three children. And Jim remains a mystery man. But we have developed a relationship that works most of the time. I've learned not to expect emotional intimacy from Jim, although he says, and he may have a point, that guys who do that well are not sincere. Hmmm, I say. Very interesting observation from a stoic fellow like Jim.

I could write a book about this odd relationship we've had for so long, but it's our anniversary, and I thought our conversation first thing this morning kind of summed up our odd couple partnership. Here's how it went...

I was in the kitchen, everything clear, just starting to make more candy. (Yes it's becoming an obsession.) In scuffs Jim in his perpetual slippers, holy tee shirt, and his nod to the holidays, his candy cane pajama pants. Any other time of year he would be wearing Cubs pajama pants.

I said: "Hey, get outta my way, I'm making candy."

Jim replied: "Hey you, get outta MY way I'm making my coffee."

I said: "Dammit Jim you always do this stuff when I'm cooking."

He said: "Hey I see your tumbler came in the mail."

I began to dance and sing, "I'll tumble for you, I'll tumble for you, ...."

I said, "Did Boy George sing "I'll tumble or I'll stumble?" (I'm hearing impaired - for years I thought Eric Clapton was saying, "Captain Midnight" instead of After Midnight.)

He replied, "It was 'stumble.'

"Oh," I said, and began singing "I'll stumble for you..."

Then I saw his shoulders shaking - when Jim laughs he shakes all over silently - and I knew he had messed with me. I believe at this point I told him that he was an ass.

He got his coffee stating that I was going to have to turn off my Pandora mix of Patty Griffin as he was going to watch TV. (Do you know how much I hate TV - he loves it of course.)

I said, "Jesus Jim, I turned on my TV this morning since it's a holiday, flipped through the channels and turned it off. I've never seen such a bunch of trash. It's disgraceful. How do you watch that? I hate America. I'm moving to Great Britain."

I heard Jim muttering about how I wouldn't really get good health care there, it's damp, and the Brit-ish aren't funny, and then he became one with his idiot box.

I shouted as I finished a beautiful batch of toffee for my favorite pharmacist at the local drugstore, "FINE! I will send you a LETTER from there!"

A singsong voice came through the television blather, "O.K."

Jim and I have grown up together. We have very few like interests other than our children, grandchildren and our two dogs. He is my rock and a perfect counterpoint to my fly by night ways. And I am his personal jester and the one person who never bails completely on him. We have supported each other through sickness and in health. We have held each other up through the nightmare of losing one of our precious children, our son Nicholas. We've also spent some time apart. But guess whom I called every time I had a problem, or needed to tell one of my funny stories? So I think it's fair to say that we've been married for 35 years. I still crack him up and he still shows his affection by doing things like filling our freezer with way too many bags of brussels sprouts because long ago I mentioned I like them. Geez I get sick of those damned sprouts. But I won't tell him because I know that those silly little cabbages are love letters from the Mystery Man.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Last Candy

All of my custom orders are done so I'm making candy all day today. In my old age I've learned to be more moderate, of course except when I am completely out of control. It happens. With much less frequency now. Which leads me to bring up our greedy little culture... My daughter Chris and I discuss the lack of "special" in our society, you know--even children have seen it all, and done it all, and have it all by the time they are nine or so.

(By the way, they will not play in this. They would rather have their own boards, nails, saw and hammer to make things up over and over again. It's the process not the product. When you give them these things you have inadvertently robbed them of their chance to imagine.)


I decided that I too was guilty of overindulgence. So I've cut back on frivolous spending and minimized my poor eating habits. I drink a heavily-loaded protein powder shake each morning, have a healthy snack in afternoon, and a reasonable dinner. But...on special occasions my rule is I can go nuts. And this does make the indulging in special foods, well, special! Really - if we immerse ourselves in these pleasurable things each and every day, they cease to bring delight. Perhaps they are just more like an addiction...

But today? The start of the New Year's weekend - so more toffee, and Heather's incredible peppermint bark. I eschewed peppermint bark for many years because I thought it was just that fake white chocolate and peppermint. Oh, but there is the good stuff. Better than you can imagine. Her bark is painfully delicious; I shall make today and if mine turns out I'll post recipe.

Returning to special, I hope you are reading several good blogs. One is my daughter, Christina's blog: Thinking Out Loud. (I came up with that name by the way - what would she do without me?) Some time ago, ahem, (Have you been writing much Miss?), she wrote a piece called "Killing Special." It appeared in several magazines. Could not find on her blog--why is that Chrissy dear?

Take a look, it's good.  Here's the link:Killing Special by Christina Sanantonio

Finally, I keep forgetting to post any jewelry work. I am making jewelry continuously! Here are two recent custom pieces in fine silver. (Pure silver!)

You need a custom piece. You deserve it. Indulge! heh heh

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Sweets for My Sweets

I was only going to consume sugar on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. To be safe I got rid of the cookies, fudge, candy, and the 20 pounds of English toffee that I made for the holidays. I've not been terribly bad the last few days, but I'm off work for heaven's sake, and the pantry is here. Yesterday I remembered one of my favorite things that I only allow myself once or twice a year--say during the holidays, or on the bleakest and coldest days of winter. The Butter marshmallows!!!

In the past I've had their vanilla marshmallows that I always buy for my grandsons who are hot cocoa lovers. I've had cinnamon, raspberry...good. But this year I broke out and bought the Gingerbread ones, and all I can say is throw a couple, or four of these lovelies into your cup and then pour in your cocoa. Truly as the scent of fresh warm gingerbread wafts up, you might moan. Specialty foods stores carry these, or they can be purchased from Butter Baked Goods website. I've made homemade marshmallow and they are not as good. This little bakery makes it completely unnecessary and silly to make your own. They have it down. Oh, and when I say your hot cocoa I do not mean some powdered junk you get from a package. Make it yourself - it's easy. The only hard thing here is for me to write down measurements as I rarely measure anything. Here goes...

Throw a tablespoon or two of Hershey's or better cocoa into a saucepan. Add sugar, honey, or Truvia to taste...if using sugar probably about 3 teaspoons. You must add about 1/4 teaspoon of salt and I like sea salt. Add a couple of cups of milk, maybe spike it with some cream and whisk till very hot. Of course then from there you can spice it up with other things like a couple of pinches of cinnamon and cayenne pepper. Kahlua, Grand Marnier, or almost any other booze or coffee is great in cocoa as well. Lactose intolerant? Do the same recipe with rice milk, soy, or whatever. But do get these marshmallows, or if in a pinch whipped cream on top is awfully good too. (And not the tub 'o wip, the real stuff.)

On to toffee. Why, you might say, would anyone need to make 20 pounds of toffee? My answer is, simply, the entire process if really fun.

You need: A very heavy bottomed medium saucepan. All Clad would probably be best, but mine are Cuisinart and work great. And a good candy thermometer. I don't care for the glass ones with the red ball, as they slide around during the boiling making it hard to stir. They also steam up and you can't read them, and then you are in trouble. Get a good metal candy thermometer with a large dial and a clip to hold it to the side of the pan.
1 pound unsalted butter
1 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 Tbsp. corn syrup
1/4 Cup water
2 cups raw almonds with skins
2 tsps. vanilla extract (real!)
1 tsp. salt
Fleur de sel
Melted chocolate (My friend Marianne feels this is not enough information...) O.K. I'll admit it, I am not ashamed - I use at least 32 oz. of good milk chocolate. Callebaut is good, but if you don't have use good old Nestle's milk chocolate chips. I've done semi-sweet, it's good, but I think the milk chocolate enhances and the semi-sweet overwhelms the toffee a bit...

NOTE: I like grey sea salt or Pink Himalayan sea salt for the finishing.
              I like Callebaut milk chocolate or Nestles milk chocolate chips (2 bags)

Marble slab, steel prep table, pizza pan, or big sheet pan that has been buttered

Toss your almonds in a food processor for a few seconds. They should be in various sized chips, not too large, not too small, but some will powder up too and that's O.K. as it makes a nice finish. Now set 1/2 cup of the chopped raw almonds by the stove so they are at the ready. In a 375 degree oven roast the other 1/2 cups chopped almonds for about 10-12 minutes for the finish.

Melt the four sticks of unsalted butter over medium heat in saucepan and add 1 cup white sugar and one cup brown sugar. Add 1/4 Cup water and stir in 1 Tbsp. corn syrup. When melted crank the heat to medium high. (My stove has number 6 before HIGH and I use 6, so it is pretty hot, but the heavy bottom on saucepan prevents it from scorching. You don't want to scorch the mixture. Tastes bad.) Have your vanilla and salt measured out next to your raw almonds so everything is at hand. Stir the bubbling candy mixture constantly with a wooden spoon until your candy thermometer reads 240 degrees. (This takes 10 minutes on my gas stove.) Immediately add your 1/2 raw almond chips. Keep stirring without splashing yourself till thermometer reads 300 degrees - mixture will be bubbling hard and should be golden brown and caramel-y looking. At exactly 300 degrees - don't go too soon or it won't reach "hard crack," turn off heat. Add the 2 tsp. vanilla and the 1 tsp. salt stirring it in. It will steam and bubble so don't be afraid. Now pour this mixture right out onto your buttered surface. I don't smooth it out because it's so hot it will spread on its own to about 1/2 inch thick. Let the mixture cool while you melt the chocolate. I do it in a plastic bowl in the microwave, but if you want to be proper use a double boiler. I hit it for 30 seconds and stir, repeat until melted. After the mixture has cooled for 10 or 15 minutes pour on the melted chocolate and spread to edges. Now take handfuls of your roasted almonds and sprinkle all over the chocolate till covered. Finally sprinkle the almonds with your Fleur de sel or Himalayan pink salt. Let cool completely. When cool I poke in random places to begin the cracking, breaking the candy into random size chunks. The toffee may be stored in canning jars, or a tin, or just a large freezer bag.

A warning...this stuff is completely addictive. My friends call it, appropriately, "Christmas Crack." Makes a great gift and is just satisfying as can be to make your own great candy!

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Best Costume For The Day

 From Grey Gardens - Little Edie Bouvier
The best costume is, I have decided, not having to even think about what one is going to do tomorrow. I've rarely actually done this. My family will tell you they are in the habit of asking me to "light." I'm trying to learn to just be with them and it's hard for me. If I'm not involved in something for the Montessori school, I'm doing housework or making jewelry or doing something. I do, and I do and I do till I drop at night. And when I go to bed I'm always planning the next day. But this year has been different in that I've made a conscious effort not to worry about the mess, or other things to catch up on. This has been my favorite part about this particular holiday. It was scary at first, but it's starting to feel pretty good.

My daughters and grandsons came over. We ate like there would be no tomorrow, we played games, we talked. The next day my youngest daughter Tess and I watched: "Crocosaurus vs. Mega Shark." What a spectacularly terrible film - I adore it now. Usually I'm a Mothra fan, but this film is so fabulous. Steve Erkel stars, all the science is wrong as if written by fourth grade boys. My favorite line: "Well then, you'd better bring those hydrosonic balls of yours." Excellent. We also watched "Love Actually" - light, romantic, funny, delightful. Then we made jewelry and left the house a mess. (Leaving the mess would have been unthinkable for me in the past.)

Today my friends Timmy and John dropped in - usually I would have been uncomfortable because of the messy house - but instead there was more eating and laughing and merry-making. And, thanks to these two sillies I now have a leopard coat from the props department of an old theater. I wore it out to do chicken work and Timmy photographed me with his new I Phone. It's not a mink, but I like to think I look like Little Edie Bouvier in it. I do need a turban though... So that's it, I think. Not thinking so much about what one HAS to do is the best outfit for the day. And tossing on a leopard coat is a perfect finish to happily relaxing...the cat's pajamas.