That's what I said when I saw the deer in our backyard on Christmas Day and gathered the children to see. Husband threw a sharp glance my way, as if to say it was no wonder I never landed a children's book deal. Santa abandoning one of his reindeer? A lost and lonely reindeer that can't find his way back to the North Pole? Kids love that kind of plot tension. They love it so much that they cry themselves to sleep at night. Or worse, they can't sleep at all. Then Santa never gets the "all clear" to come down the chimney at night so when the teary-eyed children finally slump their way downstairs at sunrise and turn their bloodshot gaze toward the tree, they'll find no presents under it at all. Well done, Tammy. Thanks for ruining Christmas for years to come!
Dude, reindeer totally know their way back to the North Pole, I tried to convey to Husband telepathically in my return glare. They do this thousands of times. They have mad homing skills.
Thousands of times? Husband wants to know what I think the average life expectancy of a reindeer is. Especially reindeer with off-the-charts occupational hazards.
I have no idea what the average life span of a reindeer is, but I figure the sky's the limit for "magical, flying reindeer." Flying reindeer that surely have GPS capabilities. And let's not underestimate the effectiveness of dead reckoning. There was still plenty of snow on the ground to bang out some quick calculations with its hooves.
Husband made a strong mental suggestion that I not use "dead reckoning" and "reindeer" in the same sentence in front of the children on Christmas Day. Sounds like some kind of reindeer apocalypse.
But then the 11YO interrupted our silent staring contest to say, That's not a reindeer, it's a white-tailed deer.
Yeah, Mommy, said the 8YO. That doesn't even look like a reindeer.
I shot a smug look at Husband as if to say, See, everything's fine! Which, judging by his look of disgust, he must have interpreted as, Reindeer, white-tailed deer—either way it's venison for dinner!!
Oh well. At least I got the last word.
Candy canes are the perfect Christmas tree ornaments. The red and white stripes are always festive, they're light enough not to weigh down the branches too much, and they come with convenient built-in hooks. Also, they're cheap! I caught on to this fact when I was just out of college with not a lot of money and a whole lot of empty tree. For a dollar, you could get a box of 12 to 15 candy canes. That's 12 to 15 ornaments for the price of one. Twenty years later, those numbers still look good and candy canes continue to grace our tree.
Inevitably, though, with cats or kids or simple gravity, some of these candy canes will break. When that happens, don't throw them away! Make ice cream!
The kids love this old-fashioned peppermint stick ice cream. Tastes like Christmas, they say. I have to agree. This recipe got cut from my cookbook on account of space, so the book's loss is your gain. If you like, you can top a minty scoop with more crushed candy canes and perhaps a drizzle of bittersweet chocolate sauce (WINTERSWEET, page 81). Or maybe let some melt into your hot cocoa? I'm just thinking out loud here. But do yourself a favor and keep your peppermint stick stash on the DL. Santa's been known to leave empty containers in the freezer.
Peppermint Stick Ice Cream
Needless to say, be sure to use peppermint candy canes, not the gross fruit-flavored ones.
2 large eggs
3/4 cup (150 g) granulated sugar
2 cups (500 ml) cups heavy cream
1 cup (250 ml) milk
1½ teaspoons peppermint extract
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
4 to 5 peppermint candy canes
In a large bowl, whisk the eggs for 1 to 2 minutes. Whisk in the sugar a little at a time, then whisk for 1 minute more. Pour the cream, milk, peppermint extract, and vanilla into the egg mixture and whisk for another minute until the sugar is dissolved. Freeze in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions (usually spin for 25 minutes).
While the ice cream is churning, put 4 to 5 peppermint candy canes into a resealable plastic bag and zip it tight. Smash them with a can into pieces 1/4-inch (6-mm) or smaller. During the last five minutes of churning, add the candy pieces. Spoon into a freezer-safe container and freeze until scoopable, at least 6 hours.
Author's Note: I make my ice cream the old-fashioned way: with fresh, local, raw eggs. You are under no obligation to do the same. If you're worried about salmonella, your options are many: Use pasteurized eggs instead. Or leave out the eggs entirely for a perfectly good Philadelphia-style ice cream. Or pull out your favorite cooked custard-style ice cream cookbook (like David Lebovitz's The Perfect Scoop) and modify this recipe using egg yolks and a thermometer. Or pull out your favorite cornstarch-based, egg-free ice cream cookbook (like Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream at Home) and modify her base. It's your kitchen after all.
Reader Don sent me this recipe for Dan Dan Mian, a spicy Chinese Sichuan noodle dish made with ground pork and chiles. I took the spicing way down for the kids so what we end up eating around here isn't exactly authentic, but the whole family loves it regardless. Warm and satisfying, it reminds me of an Italian Bolognese, but with Asian flavors.
Serve with pickled radishes or oil-cured ginger-sesame carrots on the side for a quick, crunchy veggie infusion.
This is the original recipe with notes for how I modify it for the kids (I omit the chili oil entirely and use only 1 teaspoon of Sriracha). But some of you enjoy super-spicy food and/or intense facial pain, so have at it.
1 pound ground pork
2 tablespoons soy sauce, divided
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons minced/grated fresh ginger root
2 tablespoons peanut butter
1 tablespoon chili oil (I omit)
2 tablespoons Sriracha chili sauce (I use 1 teaspoon)
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 cup chicken stock
2 scallions, sliced
Mix the ground pork with 1 tablespoon of the soy sauce. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat and brown the pork. Remove to a plate and set aside.
Add the remaining vegetable oil to the pan and sauté the onion over medium heat until tender and translucent, about 4 minutes. Add the ginger and garlic, and let cook for 1 to 2 minutes. Add the peanut butter, remaining 1 Tbsp. of soy sauce, chili oil (if using), chili sauce, sesame oil, and chicken stock. Simmer uncovered over low heat for about 5 minutes or until the sauce reduces and thickens. Add the ground pork and cook until you reach the desired consistency.
Remove the pan from the heat and serve over noodles (udon or rice). Scatter chopped scallions on top. Serves 3 to 4.
Ground pork, chicken in chicken stock: Chestnut Farms, Hardwick, MA
Onion, garlic: Waltham Fields Community Farm, Waltham, MA
It's also where we keep the booze. If I was a bat and it was as cold and icy outside as it was yesterday, I'd hit the nearest liquor cabinet, too.
We've never had bats in the house before (at least, not in this house). The kids were very excited to get to see it because they were asleep during the previous bat episode in New York over the summer.
After much discussion, the leading hypothesis for how the bat got inside was not the chimney (recently capped), or the basement (I scoured it with a flashlight), or the attic (not a single bat to be found in our lonely rafters), but burrowing in the walls and coming in through one of the larger cracks in our aging house. The past decade of neglect has seen various manner of unwanted wildlife find its way inside.
But there is one other possibility I hadn't considered, as Neighbor Husband suggested, which is that Bartholomew the Christmas Bat hitched a ride into the house on our Christmas tree. The very same densely branched tree we were decorating not one hour before I came face-to-face with said bat in the next room. Remember the squirrel scene from National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation? It was kind of like that except the bat was just calmly hanging there peering wistfully at barware instead of terrorizing everyone. That is, until I came at him with a Tupperware container.
I will say that capturing a squeaking bat while he bares his sharp teeth at you through the transparent plastic is a little bit stressful. Husband did the honors of flinging him outside where he flew back into the night and hopefully not back into our house. Guess we'll find out tonight.
Needless to say, there were fewer tears shed during that goodbye than for previous pets.
If I post another smiling photo of me holding up my book on Facebook, my friends are going to block me. I'm just so excited that people are actually reading it. And cooking out of it. And drooling all over its thick, absorbent pages.
I fully expected my book to be ignored by the press. After all, who am I, and how dare I assert my laissez-faire approach to baking on the general public? But then Edible Boston ran something and then The Boston Globe Magazine ran something and then USA Today ran something where my book was in the company of such chef-authors as Daniel Boulud and Giada De Laurentiis.
That is completely ridiculous(ly awesome)!! It's clear that somebody knows what she's doing publicity-wise, and it sure as hell isn't me. Quick, someone bake my publicist some cookies! (That's your cue, Tammy.)
I literally couldn't believe it when I saw WINTERSWEET take its first tentative steps onto the Amazon Best Sellers list. Don't be too impressed: This was a subcategory of a subcategory of the Cookbook list. If you took all of the cookbooks and eliminated everything except books on Entertaining and Holidays and then eliminated everything that wasn't Seasonal, THEN I was on the list. I swear, if you go down the rabbit hole deep enough, you might find an old fourth grade book report you once wrote. But still! It was there. I have proof.
I don't want to bombard you with book stuff on this blog, but my ability to keep writing for a modest living instead of taking a job I hate is directly proportional to how well this book sells.
Book sells well, future paid writing gigs likely, house not foreclosed upon, computer not pawned
Book does not sell well, future paid writing gigs highly unlikely, stagnant resume cannot compete in stagnant marketplace, forced to take job bagging groceries at local supermarket, house foreclosed upon, computer pawned
Look, there's nothing wrong with bagging groceries. I will bag the SHIT out of your groceries. It's just that, in Scenario 2, I'd be writing this post on the nearest paper bag in between customers, and it would only be a matter of time before someone complained about the unladylike commentary coming home with them.
So, please indulge me as I share a few more links related to the book, many of which include recipes:
Also, just a reminder that I have a cooking demo at the Trident on Newbury St. in Boston this Wednesday evening 12/11 at 7pm. It's free. Come support an independent bookstore! I'll also be signing books at Front on Friday 12/13 from 5 to 7pm, and at Concord Cookware on Saturday 12/14 from 11am to 2pm.
(If you simply cannot get enough of all this book talk, feel free to "like" the new WINTERSWEET Facebook fan page for the latest news and events. This is separate from the FOOD ON THE FOOD Facebook fan page, which enables you to get new posts directly in your newsfeed.)
The day before we left for Disney World, I had to complete and deliver a homemade wedding cake for my friend's reception. There were two flavors, pumpkin and pistachio, and the whole thing was to be adorned with pinecones and sugared cranberries from my book. I had already made several test cakes over the past year, so I was feeling okay about it. That is, until I realized there was no time or refrigerator space to make the eight extra cakes I needed as backup in case an unforeseen calamity should occur during delivery. Calamities such as:
According to my statistical analysis, at least one of these things was guaranteed to happen. A frantic plan was thusly construed:
Reviewing this plan after the fact, I can see several flaws. Thank god it never came to that.
Last week, I got a new pet. Two actually. We had just returned from Disney World and I was craving some real food after my 100% funnel cake diet. I got right down to cooking.
Suddenly, something was casting large fluttery shadows over my workspace. I looked up and saw what appeared to be a giant moth circling the kitchen lights. I did my best to ignore it, but it was very distracting. A few minutes later, a second one joined in, just as large, flapping away. WTF? Did the pantry moths supersize in my absence? Did they finally locate the wholesale basmati rice? I was a little annoyed, but eventually they got bored with those lights and moved on to other lights in different rooms that perhaps seemed brighter. Out of sight, out of mind. I forgot all about them.
The next day around lunchtime, the 10YO found one of the insects under the kitchen table. A search party was assembled and the other one was found in the dining room. Upon closer inspection, they turned out not to be moths at all but cabbage white butterflies. (Butterflies tend to hold their wings up at rest while moths either sit with wings flat or angled down. Examples: moth, moth, butterfly.) Their wings were cream-colored on the tops, yellow on the undersides. One of them had two black spots on each wing while the other had only one, so it was easy to tell them apart. We dubbed them Callie and Dan.
The day before had been unseasonably warm, but then the temperature plummeted. To set them free outside would have spelled instant death. Would it be more or less humane to have them bide their time in an unnatural, albeit much warmer, environment with a bunch of noisy giants? I wasn't sure, but I couldn't send them to their icy doom. I also couldn't have them flapping around while I was trying to cook, or getting underfoot, so we pulled out the kids' little screened-in bug house. The boys outfitted the habitat with sticks and leaves from outside.
Butterflies normally sip flower nectar through their straw-like proboscis, but, in the absence of flowers, I figured fruit juice was the next best thing. I put a little apple cider on my finger and tried to coax them to eat a little. To my surprise, they did, each unfurling its proboscis to take a few sips. I did this several times a day. Despite my efforts, Dan did not thrive in his new foster environment. He died within 24 hours. Callie on the other hand seemed willing to give it the old college try. I looked into her green compound eyes. Was she just going along with it out of sheer kaleidoscopic terror? I'll never know.
Soon afterwards, I read online that sugar water is what people use to feed butterflies, so I switched over to that, soaking a cotton swap. It took some trial and error to get the concentration just right so the syrup wouldn't be too sticky. At one point, it seemed like her proboscis had gotten stuck to itself, so I found myself swabbing it with water to dilute the syrup and then gently unfurling it with a toothpick. That's when I recognized that I was maybe getting a little too attached. The life span of a butterfly, I learned through my research, is about two weeks. She's going to die any day now, Tammy, just take it easy. But as long as she was alive and still eating and not dead, I was happy.
By Day 3, we had a routine. Multiple times a day, I would blow on her gently to see if she was dead. Right on cue, she would uncoil her proboscis and start feeling around for food. She'd crawl onto my hand and sip the sugar water from a Q-tip. Same with Days 4 and 5. By the evening of Day 6, I noticed that she wasn't looking too good. Her antennae were droopy. When I blew on her, she moved a little, but her proboscis remained coiled. I blew a little harder: no response. She was dead by morning.
The kids were fine. I, of course, burst into tears. Husband rolled his eyes. I know what he was thinking: "Girls." I buried her by the raspberry bushes, Dan at her side. It seemed like a good place for a butterfly.