Monday, December 17, 2007

Why We Live Here: Reason # 114

I was sitting up in my work loft this afternoon, when I noticed some movement outside the living room window on the floor below. Sure enough, about a dozen white tailed deer were rummaging for a meal in the frozen snow. Of course, being the sucker animal-lover that I am—and never knowing who might be helping pull Santa's sleigh this coming Monday night—I tossed my foraging friends out an armload of apples, and a handful of carrots to help get them through this unpleasant December freeze. Hey, if a few measly apples helps to get Daniel Craig under my tree on Christmas Day, it's a small, small price to pay.

A Study in Contrasts

It's 7:22 a.m. in New York, and I swear I just saw an Emperor penguin waddling down our driveway. Well, I might be wrong about that (or, not), but it's certainly cold enough that if there was an Emperor penguin marching across our front yard, he'd certainly feel right at home here. It's 21 degrees outside, with the real feel temperature at 5 (for those of you in sunny California, or balmy Miami, yes, that means 5 degrees). Our driveway looks like the Olympic bobsledding course, our cars are entombed in thick, unyielding ice, and the wind is howling through the trees at a branch snapping and lip chapping 30 miles per hour. And winter's not even officially here yet!

But inside our home, it's a whole different story. The woodstove has been cranking for two hours now, so the house is delightfully warm. And we toasted thick slices of homemade raisin bread for breakfast, so there is a soft, sweet, yeasty smell throughout the house that would make any mouth water. And, of course the Christmas tree is lit, so there is a lovely glow being cast across the entire downstairs space. I'm still in pajama's + slippers (and there is a very good chance I will remain in this state until dinnertime), on my second cup of Awake tea, and happy beyond belief that the only place I need to be today is here, working on my book, stopping only to heat up some soup for lunch, and perhaps to toss a herring or two to the penguin out front.

This is a basic (but still really good) cinnamon raisin bread recipe. If you are looking to bring it up a notch, use sherried raisins for the filling. To make sherried raisins, combine equal parts raisins and sherry in a saucepan, bring to a boil, remove from heat and allow to sit for 5 minutes, then drain.

1 cup whole milk
1/3 cup shortening
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup warm water
2 pkgs. yeast
2 cups flour
2 tsp. salt
2 cups seedless raisins (I like to use a mixture of dark and golden, or sherried raisins)
1/3 cup sugar
4 1/2 to 5 cups flour
2 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

Scald milk in a saucepan, set aside and allow to cool to lukewarm temperature.

In a mixing bowl cream shortening and 3/4 cup sugar.

In a separate large mixing bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water, then mix in milk and creamed sugar mixture. Add 2 cups of flour, beat until well combined. Cover dough , place in a warm spot, and allow to rise (around 40 minutes, or until light and bubbly).

Add salt and raisins to the dough and combine. Stir in enough of the remaining flour to the dough to form a soft ball of dough that comes away from the sides of the bowl, then knead with your hands until the dough becomes smooth and elastic.

Place dough in large bowl, oil lightly, then cover with a cloth and let rise until it doubles in size (around 40 minutes).

Combine 1/3 cups sugar and cinnamon in small bowl and set aside.

When dough is ready, punch down in the center, then remove from bowl and roll into two rectangles, approximately 20 inches long x 8 inches wide. Sprinkle each with sugar and cinnamon mixture.

Roll both rectangles of dough (from the narrow end) like a jelly roll, then pinch the ends together to seal. Place each into a 9 inch loaf pan, then cover with a cloth and allow to rise once again, until double in size (about 40 minutes).

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. When ready, bake loaves for about 40 minutes, or until light golden brown. Allow to cool on a wire rack before slicing.

PS. Try this toasted with my homemade apple butter.

Friday, December 14, 2007

4 Months to 44

Holy Smokes!...I somehow just realized that in four short months I will be forty-four years old. 44 YEARS! I don't know about you, kind and patient reader, but I find that unbelievable. I certainly don't feel forty-four, and hopefully I don't look that age either (if I do, please do me the favor of keeping it to yourself), but the cold, hard, sobering truth is, I've suddenly become (gasp) middle-aged.

Where did the time go?

Gone are the days of missing the last train home from New York City and wandering the streets of Gotham until sunrise (it sounds romantic and Audrey Hepburne-esque, I know, but trust me, when it's 36 degrees outside, it's not). Behind me are the crazy nights of drinking ten too many tequila shots with my chums, then hopping the fence to the community pool to go skinnydipping. Long past are the madcap road trips, the midnight junkets to the supermarket for snacks, the late night visits to Big Joe's & Sons Tattoo parlor, the fun and crazy antics. I know it sounds like a cliche, but time really does pass too fast.

I think if I could instill one thing in my beloved nieces and nephews, it's to embrace youth with a big, open-armed hug. I want them to take hold of the springtime of their lives and love it, and spoil it, and indulge it, and not squander one millisecond of it. Because that is how I have lived my past forty-three, and three quarter years; welcoming any and all craziness into my life, with open arms.

I have four more months until I turn forty-four, and although I may have given up tequila shots for pinot grigio, late night munchies for early-to-bed, and tattoo's for...well, maybe I haven't given up tattoo's just yet...I still have a few tricks up my sleeve. Because if there's one thing I've learned in my 43 years and 8 months of living (and from watching my ninety-seven year old grandmother still beat her pals at poker) it's that fun, and spontaneity, and adventure are timeless. And that an occasional skinnydip on a sultry moonlit night can make you feel like you're twenty-two all over again.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Got Wood?

Being practically the number one fan of down time, I can't help but be a bit curious as to what the other citizens of planet earth do when they get a free afternoon to indulge themselves: a workweek-erasing trip to a day spa? a rejuvenating six mile run around the reservoir? a tranquilizing hour or so settled in on the sofa with a glass of wine and stack of juicy gossip magazines? Ahhh...I've certainly done all of those things over the course of my lifetime when handed a clean afternoon on a silver platter, but sweet, gentle fall has finally yielded to mean spirited winter in the Northeast, and so more and more of my precious free time is spent dealing with Mother Nature, as opposed to mothering myself. Take last Friday for instance: Jerry was out of town on business, and my clients were uncharacteristically quiet. That unique combination—the perfect storm of idle time, so to speak—would normally result in a welcome afternoon of delightful pampering. But snow was in the forecast for our weekend, two cords of wood were piled like modern art in the backyard, and a shiny new wood stove in our living room was itching to get busy. And so, instead of getting my pores steamed clean on a free Friday, I rolled up my sleeves and began stacking wood. Now, I doubt there are many of you out there who fully appreciate what it is like to stack two cords of wood on your own, but suffice it to say that it is not the sexiest of chores; when you're done your nails look like you dug your way out of a grave, your hands are two aching, gnarled claws, and your back feels as though you fell from a two-story rooftop (I'm understating it all, of course.)

But after a week of pretty much nonstop griping about aching muscles, starting fires, and lugging wood, the fruits of my labors are finally paying off. The first big snowstorm of the year is expected (oh, wait...I just peeked out the window; make that arrived), I have no place to go except perhaps down to the kitchen to get myself a tasty snack, and the house is so warm, and toasty, and delightfully Christmas-ey, that I can't possibly imagine any place more cozy. It seems like I'm going to get my free, lazy day, after all.