Maybe this post is only minimally about a recipe – but in searching for a last bean dish of the year (before making black-eyed peas for New Year’s and coming full circle), I realized that in spite of all the red in the kitchen this season (pomegranates, pears, persimmons, and peppers), I hadn’t thought of cooking red beans.
Mark Bittman’s recipe for “Red Beans and Rice” calls for coconut milk and hot spices (an appropriate taste of Thailand added to our holiday). I’ll start the kidney beans – then cook onion, pepper, and celery in olive oil until softened, and add thyme, bay leaves, allspice (or chili powder to taste), and two cups chopped tomatoes. When the tomatoes break up, add to the bean mixture, and cook until the beans are very tender.
Add a cup and a half of long-grained white rice (we bought Thai rice) and three cups canned coconut milk to the beans, turn heat to low and cook till the rice is tender and the liquid absorbed.
Ah beans: flexible, resilient, dependable, interesting, desirable.
Beans have been one of the many joys of this year’s experience with “Her spirits rose….” I’m tempted to ask my readers about going forth. I do think about that a lot – but maybe I need to go beyond thinking to a plan.
The schedule mattered to me this year – but maybe I needn’t keep so closely to that? Maybe if the blog continues, it could be once a week – day uncertain, longer or shorter. Maybe trusting myself enough to allow a little randomness – perhaps not so frequent or sometimes more frequent when called for.
I have loved the discipline and the routine, loved the exchanges around writing with the wordsmith (generous with her time and expertise) and my husband (always good-natured about his “first reader” task). Thank you both.
And I’ve loved “having” to think about illustrating each week – making new or using my archive – often working fast and always with pleasure.
It was fun to make a cast of characters from the important people in my life. From the young writer to the mother of my young friend, I have shamelessly appropriated your quirks and stories to share. Thank you.
I have appreciated hearing from readers, in comments and in extra emails – even in lovely, paper letters – about what this effort has meant in your lives. Those missives did much to support this year’s output. Thank you all.
My relationship to food and cooking has grown and sustained me also. Now it seems obvious that if one is concerned with the art of daily life – food looms large.
Back to the red beans. A reader in London told me in an email that in cultures where rice is the most important staple (like his native Japan) beans are for special occasions. He writes: “especially the red bean is for a festive occasion (white rice and red bean makes an auspicious combination).”
Instead of halcyon days – the seven storm-free days – said to occur on either side of solstice, we had storm days alternating with days of peace. Windy, rainy days followed clear wintry days with calm sea, when welcome light lingered in the afternoon sky.
I begin to long to be outdoors beyond our morning walk on non-downpour days, but the garden isn’t inviting. I stand at the kitchen window and picture myself cutting back the slimed crocosmia, but manage only to quickly clean the overflowing birdbaths.
When we walk these winter mornings at Fort Worden, high tides often keep us off the beach. The other day we began to explore a narrow strip of sand, but waves crashed and stopped us around the first headland. Those days we re-route up the hill under shelter of big trees.
I’ve been wanting to talk about the poet Stanley Kunitz before the year ends. A few years ago, a friend sent me a wonderful book compiled by Genine Lentine with Kunitz, subtitled “A Poet Reflects on a Century in the Garden.” That’s right, a century – written, compiled in his 100th year. It’s about his two great loves: poetry and gardening. I had in mind these lines: “In the woods, one loses the sense of time. It’s quite a different experience from walking in the streets. The streets are human creations. In the woods what one finds are cosmic creations.” Houses, too, are human creations – and I’ve been much inside ours.
But then I found this, perhaps partial answer to my burning question these days about the blog. Kunitz writes: “When you look back on a lifetime and think of what has been given to the world by your presence, your fugitive presence, inevitably you think of your art, whatever it may be, as the gift you have made to the world in acknowledgment of the gift you have been given, which is the life itself. And I think the world tends to forget that this is the ultimate significance of the body of work each artist produces. That work is not an expression of the desire for praise, or recognition, or prizes, but the deepest manifestation of your gratitude for the gift of life.”
In a holiday phone call with my brother I found myself telling him that I feel more like our mother all the time. I could never see why she was so cheerful in the years she lived here (though she was always an optimistic person), but she was so old, how could she be so light-hearted and happy about her ordinary day? I get it now, and Kunitz articulates it.
She was grateful. As our younger son would have said when he was little: “so me too.”
Three years ago I heard an NPR piece about figgy pudding, Christmas pudding. Curious about the carol’s lyric “bring us some figgy pudding,” the host prepared the pudding with cookbook author Dorie Greenspan. The link still works: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=17356371)
The NPR piece included a little history – plum pudding might date back to Shakespeare’s time, and for sure it was around in the 1600s when the English Puritans banned it (along with Christmas). Beliefs held that “fruits, spices, and spirits inflamed passions.”
Listening, I kept seeing the cover of our old copy of “A Christmas Carol” – Tiny Tim on his father’s shoulders with what looks to be a figgy pudding tin in his hand.
So a day or so before Christmas that year, I bought a tin just like Tiny Tim’s – fluted with a lid, shiny silver – and made sure I had all the ingredients. The instructions recommended everyone take a turn with the stirring – that’s considered to bring good luck.
The Christmas pudding promised to cook for hours “filling the house with fragrance,” so I wanted to make it Christmas day. Beyond contributions to Christmas dinner we had no tradition of cooking special food on Christmas day, but I always loved (and missed when we moved), the Christmas Day offerings of friends. My painter friend made tiny cinnamon rolls in a wreath shape I will forever associate with little children and early Christmas mornings – a sleepy sugar buzz – pre-Christmas tension finally broken by Santa’s visit.
The first year of pudding preparation my enthusiastic invitation to share in the mixing wasn’t well received, my saying it was a tradition was met with: “Whose tradition?” I persevered and last year got a little help – who can resist simply stirring to bring good luck for the new year?
Dried figs are snipped and cooked with water. You add cognac or brandy, rum and raisins, and then set the alcohol afire (carefully). Cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and nutmeg are mixed with breadcrumbs, flour, and sugar, dried cherries and cranberries to make a thick batter.
The pudding pan, nestled in a big pot surrounded by boiling water, rattles gently as it cooks for two hours or so, and the fragrance of spices fills the house.
This year we will show our visitor from Thailand some Christmas traditions – cutting and frosting shaped cookies, stockings hung by the chimney (including a pink one for her), Christmas Eve dinner by the fire, gift opening in the morning, a walk in the woods, and a drive to Bainbridge for Christmas dinner (taking the figgy pudding along in the hot water).
The pudding really is delicious – cake-like, fruity, fragrant and still warm and cut in generous pieces (or it will fall apart). Someone will find the lucky token (wrapped in wax paper) tucked into the batter. By last year we got good at flaming the pudding for presentation – the trick is to warm the brandy – the pudding flames a festive blue and gold glow.
A renewed tradition – some figgy pudding to wish you a Merry Christmas!
Here in Washington, we will have eight hours and 25 minutes of daylight on the solstice tomorrow. Then we turn around and reach for the light. If the sun is out, it will really shine. Compared to Anchorage, where the sun barely clears the horizon or the house next door for a few hours, the quantity and quality of light should suffice. But when it’s dark here, it’s really dark.
The morning dark is easier – a stretched out time (before we can walk by half past seven), time at my desk, writing cards – or blogs – Frances in my lap. But by 4 p.m. when darkness descends, my energy will flag.
In Anchorage the old house, city house, has streetlights and neighbors, and for years I sat at my workroom desk in the early morning and watched winter weather in a nearby streetlamp. Glittery snow or thick snow, snow driven into a swirl by the north wind, or falling straight and blanketing fences and roofs. Small, suspended particles of frost identified really cold air, even without a thermometer.
On our Alaska visit last week, I was so glad to see seedling spruce aglow with colored lights. The new (and beautiful) kitchen in the old house has many more windows, and at dinner I could watch snow slant through the streetlight. Perfect snow fell all one day and into the night, and the temperature read 3° the morning we left.
Here dark, not cold or snow, most defines our season, and the decorations and lights of all the winter holidays help combat it. The dark also sets off those efforts. (Like in the wordsmith’s comment – her tale of lamplit Christmas cards – the shining and glow happen best in a setting of darkness.)
This year book group meets on the solstice, and I’m making wassail to take. My herbal desk calendar calls wassail an “herbal mulled beer” (the word wassail comes from an Anglo-Saxon blessing that means “be in good health”), a hot beverage of ale, apples, and spices, taken to neighbors this time of year as a blessing of friendship.
Or a celebration of the Winter Solstice!
Before leaving for a quick December trip to Alaska, my husband asked if it made any sense to go to Anchorage in December. And of course it makes no logical sense, but I said I wanted to see our older son and his wife and my friends in their holiday settings. For me the trip is part of what my old friend calls “learning gracefully to share families,” and part of adapting to change.
The trip reminds me of the way movies often have a Christmas scene or are set at Christmas. (And aren’t there some great ones? I’m eager for my niece to come home, so we can do our traditional viewing of “Love Actually.”) The holidays have great visuals – I even like the airports – the bustle and the greetings.
I will be thankful to be here making ready for the younger son and his sweet friend, but before that, it’s a privilege to see Christmas, and its trees, in favorite Alaska houses. A visit does what texts and videos and emails cannot (grandparents must really feel this way). I want to replace the last sighting with a current one and stir up all the memories – just briefly.
In 1993 I got to be part of a Limner Press series of Christmas books. They printed and hand bound a little letterpress book, setting the type by hand and making my illustrations into engravings for printing. In the book called “Seedling Spruce,” I told the story of a tiny spruce seedling that planted itself close to our front fence.
(Then only inches high it reminded me of the tiny Christmas trees my sister and I would bring indoors when we were little and living in the woods of British Columbia. We’d nail them precariously between two boards or stuff into a tin can – and they were ours.)
One year, thinking the spruce was too big for where it was, I proposed cutting it to be the indoor tree. My young friend was aghast. She wouldn’t come to see it cut, and I feared she wouldn’t decorate our tree – a task she accomplished with expertise for many years (from the time she was three and stood on a stool to hang the star). I left the spruce in place.
Now, in a changed tradition, I help her decorate her tree. She and her family put lights on – but wait till I am there to festoon the tree with ornaments. Her cat will sit with that cat-beneath-a-tree anticipation while we work. When I visit, my painter friend will have a tiny tree with lights in a window box outside her living room – and I’ll be glad to sit there and have tea.
When we left Alaska, the spruce had become a good-sized tree, but still easy to reach around and string with colored lights. I don’t know about those lights now or a Christmas tree in our old house – but there is a new kitchen – and a new dog named Cora.
I am grateful to go – it feels like a holiday tradition!
Recently on a sunny Saturday, after the farmer’s market, I stood in my kitchen and began to make soup. While I chopped and sautéed, the Trinity Church chorus and orchestra performed Handel’s “Messiah” in my living room, which is the same concert hall as my kitchen.
We take our technology for granted. We can download and listen to “A Christmas Carol” while driving to Christmas dinner; “Messiah” can accompany travel on an airplane or soup making in the kitchen.
I suppose every age is awed by its technology – a steam engine, yes – but a computer in one’s pocket? I cheer all the possibilities, in spite of my fondness for the flavor of old-fashioned life.
And we can also hear “Messiah” in person, like we did on Sunday, presented by 100 voices and an orchestra in a local high school auditorium. I smiled at the sight of my Gop friend in the chorus, the librarian with angel voice and a look of joy on her face as she sings. No matter the form, I always cry with the beauty of the music.
With so many holiday foods and sweets about, substantial, savory things are critical also – hence the soup. And here’s where we get to pot pie.
At Thanksgiving my daughter-in-law and I had a look at Deborah Madison’s “Winter Vegetable Pot Pie” recipe. We didn’t manage it in the crush of that holiday, but I’m going to try now.
The recipe reads like a CSA delivery: butternut squash, shallots, a small celery root, parsnips, turnips, and carrots. Thanks to the farmer I have all those sturdy, storage vegetables on hand. Deborah encourages adding the “oddballs” of winter’s vegetal world like salsify, parsley root, Brussels sprouts, or fennel.
I might use one of Deborah’s alternatives to traditional Béchamel sauce and her “Yeasted Tart Dough” instead of puff pastry. (The wordsmith told me about a pie dough with cheese added – that would be tasty.) I like the idea of preparing the vegetables (some par-boiling, some sautéing) for this “pot pie with a lid.” It can be prepared ahead, making it a good possibility for a close to the holiday meal.
Deborah describes the pie when it comes from the oven – sauce bubbling, top brushed with egg, golden and puffed. Fit for a king – a dish George II might have eaten on a winter night.
With luck we’ll have more pastel blue winter days – sun strong but early to set. I will play Messiah again while I cook, and watch the sky pink and darken to a chorus of voices, singing hallelujahs and amens.
A Christmas tree defies the dark time, the year’s nadir. Flip a switch and a dim corner transforms into splendor, and each year brings a new opportunity for tree splendor. Everyone has a different definition (that’s part of the magic).
My painter friend’s trees are always a reasonable height and a certain shape and look the way she would draw an icon of a tree, narrow at top, but spreading to a generous width in the bottom branches. Our trees are tall and skinny – tall because I always wanted the tree to be taller than the boys. I still try for that – the old, gold satin star often bends at the ceiling. Small living rooms make skinny a necessity.
Three, well four, times, we’ve actually cut trees. One long-ago year, with my painter friend and her family, on a day stormy with snow, we drove to Turnagain Pass south of Anchorage. The roads were icy, the visibility bad, and our cars marginal for such conditions. We trudged through deep snow and quickly cut a couple of small spruce. The needles fell soon after decorating in our warm houses – pitter-patting like raindrops – on presents below.
For years after that we bought our trees from an indoor fragrant-for-the-season warehouse at a garden center – an early December, Saturday morning ritual. Lovely firs – cut in Minnesota and trucked to Alaska – after hydrating in a bucket of water in the basement for a couple of days, they came upstairs for bedecking.
Here, for two years, we thinned a clump of Doug fir on the south forty and fashioned a tree. Three slender and wispy saplings (little trunks splinted and duct taped together) suggested a pleasing tree shape. But the trees in that clump already grow too big for our house.
Year before last, on a return from Alaska, we stopped at one of many tree cutting farms. We checked in at a warm barn (wood fire and hot cider) and got our saw. We walked through dusk and snowflakes to cut one of the widely planted firs – a difficult choice – a beautiful tree.
Last year, again returning from a trip, I suggested a tree from the grocery store parking lot in Winslow. We loaded it inside the station wagon and drove home with its top, smelling of pitch and sap, between us. Quickly before unpacking, we put the tree in its stand and added lights.
I used to know exactly where decorations belonged in our Anchorage house (like an old garden), but this house was new to Christmas. (Though I asked our designer early on, “Where would the Christmas tree go?” We put it in front of the glass door to the deck, and I like to wonder what the big and serious firs across the bluff think about this twinkling and gussied-up indoor fir displayed inside).
Now I know where things go – my painter friend’s handmade cards across the top of the stairway bookshelves and my old friend’s Swedish straw stars on a thread across the kitchen window. The felted Obama ball ornament, made by the mother of my young friend, still gets pride of place.
Maybe people divide into “early getters” (we saw many cars with trees tied atop when we drove to the ferry after Thanksgiving) or “keepers.” I’m clearly in the latter category – can’t bear to take the tree down till the desperate need for its light and color is lessened.
But I’m ready for the getting now!
Heavenly choirs, harp strings and angel voices have lately filled my little room – setting the scene for the season’s tasks.
Snow falling out the window works also, but snow came early this year with too much “eve of a holiday” discombobulation. It draped the rosemary, decorated railings, slid off the Buffalo’s new roof – and iced the roads for arriving visitors – then abruptly melted. Maybe we’ll have another storm, a non-threatening snowfall, just in time to change the light and lift the spirits for card writing or making.
Snow stirs up excitement and memories (maybe that’s why WordPress lets it snow on blogs this month), but Christmas cards do, too. Requiring stamps and envelopes and effort, Christmas cards are an artifact of Christmas past, a visual delight – a tiny gift exchange. I love to get cards from the people we have known forever, with tales of children grown, a new generation born.
I’m a sucker for cards when they include any glimmer of the personal – a handmade card, a handwritten note, or the sometimes-mocked Christmas Letter (not mocked by me – I enjoy this Christmas ritual).
When we moved I recycled 30 years of cards, but saved some. Looking through the box, I noticed repeating and telling themes: my mother always chose scenes of fireplaces with cozy chairs, my painter friend’s mother sent countless depictions of sleighs through a snowy landscape.
Sooner or later, but inevitably, a store-bought card arrives in the mail, usually small, often involving gold, maybe a Madonna or some simple Father Christmas, and I’ll think, “Why don’t I buy cards?”
But tenderness accretes to homemade cards from many years, and soon I will hang all our Christmas cards up a wall by the stairs. They begin in the 70s, and the photos and drawings reveal a slow motion growing up of our sons.
In the old days I’d screen-print them, sometimes the kids drew the picture, and often the cards depicted our cats or the dog. Events some years required an accompanying newsletter. One year, in exasperation with me for complaining about how much I had to do, my husband drew (in a few seconds) what seemed to me the best card ever.
Next to reading to little children by the Christmas tree, best is to settle with a pile of cards and a cup of tea. The cards are little records of the luck and miracle of surviving – and the richness of accumulating life stories.
On a dark and stormy night that calls for a spicy meal, you can pull chili out of the pantry using canned beans. But “Black Bean Chile,” from the “The Winter Vegetarian” by Darra Goldstein, is only slightly more complicated and so good – in part because of the real beans. (Real black beans, once a revolution here, are now a staple.)
Goldstein has you soak two cups of beans overnight (hard to turn loose of that, in site of Bittman’s lecture). So I did, then rinsed and put them to simmer with a bay leaf. In the meantime, I sautéed onion, a red pepper (greenhouse grown, last beauty from a farmer’s stand), and garlic for about 10 minutes.
When the beans are tender, but still a little chewy, Goldstein says to add two tablespoons of tomato paste and a can of whole tomatoes with juice (I chop the tomatoes roughly against the wooden spoon). Then add the onion mix along with spices. Goldstein uses cumin, paprika, cayenne, chili powder, dried oregano, salt and pepper, and a tablespoon of dark brown sugar (never having that, I added a little molasses to a little sugar). Simmer for an hour.
For cornbread I’ve used Bittman’s most basic recipe forever – but this time I noticed he offers alternative fats to butter. Loving olive oil above all others, I poured it into an 8×8-inch glass-baking dish, or you can use a skillet (and this is where I wish I had my mother’s old cast iron skillet – the one I never wanted to see again since she mostly used it to cook bacon).
Heat the oil and turn off the burner. (Do turn it off – I misread this once and put the glass pan with butter in the oven and it broke – not recommended.) Mix the dry ingredients and fold gently into the wet. Then pour the mixture into the olive oil in the baking dish. Bake till golden. The result: velvety cornbread.
Served with a salad (we’re getting terrific winter spinach from the CSA), and maybe a little grated cheese, green onion, and avocado for topping the chili – candles, action – a winter meal!
A little class in bookbinding at my children’s school, 20 years ago, first exposed me to the notion of making books. A son came home one day and said, “You should come tomorrow – you will like this.” I did and was hooked. A little research led to the University of Washington’s book arts and rare book curator Sandra Kroupa, center of a book arts universe, then and now.
On a rainy November Wednesday a couple of weeks ago, I left here in the morning dark, grabbed a muffin in Winslow and caught the 8:45 ferry. Passengers, wearing rain gear in shades of black and gray, stood like mourners when waiting to disembark in Seattle, and looking the same, with hood up and sturdy shoes, I climbed the hill to the bus tunnel.
I walked sidewalks scattered with fall leaves – oak and maple, red and gold – across the campus to the library. The University of Washington’s Book Arts Collection, used to be housed in the Suzzallo Library – “collegiate gothic” in style, fairy tale in appearance. Now the Collection resides in the modern Allen Library next door, but I remember old wooden tables and natural light, a nook at the side of a beautiful reading room.
On my first visit Sandra presented a cartful of wondrous handmade books – and I was inspired thinking about possibilities (including the thought of being collected in such a place). But most of all I loved meeting Sandra. She nurtures artists – she listens, she commiserates, and she’s realistic.
Often we speak of binding or paper possibilities. This time I asked about text in artists’ books. (I thought of that Anne LaMott essay when she spoke about structure in life being the key – goals and planning).
We talked in her office – she calls it cluttered, but I think it feels like a treasure cave. The computer glows, surrounded by carts of books in their archival storage boxes. She showed me an intriguing artists’ book – a doll bed at first glance – with quilts, flannel sheet, and pillows made from antique textiles. Taking off each piece of bedding (that familiar motion) reveals text from the life of a 19th century woman.
Sandra deposited me at a library table with a cart full of books which present an interesting possibility (books made with original art, but also affordable multiples of the same book), and left to present medieval illuminated manuscripts to a Latin class.
On my way out I saw richly colored pages (she calls them fragments) arranged on a classroom table and wished I could sit in on the class. But the afternoon grew dark. I rode the bus back downtown, walked through city bustle (display windows bright with color), and bought a huge bouquet of orange dahlias and ornamental kale at the Pike Place Market.
On the ferry I sat in the very front near the big windows. I kept seeing those manuscript fragments, but then I looked on the iPad screens of fellow travelers – at illuminated words and images. More accessible than manuscripts in their time, but full of possibility for beauty and interest.
Brain full I drove home in the dark – spirit refreshed.
We cope now with what the weather delivers – a wind storm with gusts simultaneously from north and south, short days dressed in thick gray with bursts of sun like the flash of a jewel quickly hidden.
We turn inward. The young writer told me she got out her colored lights and strung them about in defiance. I got out my Early Christmas Box. It’s an old Red Wing boot box containing the artifacts from Christmas past. I only peek to begin with – thumbing through the cards and unwrapping objects I’ve saved.
Some of the treasures are from Joanna Isles, my English illustrator friend. A long time ago, to celebrate completing the images for a show I called “Tea Treasures, Tea Pleasures,” I bought her book “A Perfect Tea.” The next summer, having a look at it while sitting outside on a wooden picnic bench with a cup of tea, I did a little drawing of my Alaska tea scene and sent it to her.
And so began a long correspondence and friendship.
In those days Joanna illustrated in her quirky, unique style, colorful children’s books. She’d send glittery, charming invitations for special previews and book “launches.” She created designs of gold for china in the Buckingham Palace gift shop – and labels for their jam jars. I still have those jars (minus the jam) because of her wonderful watercolor strawberries on the label.
We met when I stopped for a layover at Heathrow. Joanna brought her daughters – the girls tiny, Joanna blonde in a black cape. Her life always seems so completely about creating things – bringing magic to illustrations, her travels, and to everyday life.
Now she owns a shop in Oxford called “The Powder Room,” and she buys and styles clothing with her special flair. I wish I could see the shop window – she calls it her “weekly illustration.”
We’ve been friends since faxes were exotic. When she published an illustrated “Nutcracker,” I sent her a three-foot long drawing of her nutcracker by fax. (I imagined it rolling out into her tiny studio.)
Getting the Joanna things out of the early Christmas box reminds me of the phone call from the New York greeting card publisher I worked for (by long distance). The art director was interested in an English artist named Isles and she noticed one of her books was dedicated to “Katy in Alaska” – “That couldn’t be you could it?”
Joanna always addressed her letters to me that way. But now our correspondence is a casualty of life’s complexities – our paper exchanges not well replaced by the electronic. I have only a couple of letters to “Katy NOT in Alaska.”
Soon I’ll use some of the contents from the early box to hang my red and green and gold wall – scraps of wrapping paper, particular cards, a long ago magazine ad with a Milton Glaser watercolor Pan piping in liquidy red and green. It looks effortless and inspires me every year to paint with more immediacy – to enjoy. Like every year, I’ll set out the small wooden Father Christmas, a snowman, and a painted tree and draw them in my journal.
In January I’ll put the others away, but an angel from Joanna stands guard by my workroom door year around – she inspires in all seasons.
The first of December! This time of year brings winter storms and wintry light we combat with age-old ceremonies – Yule logs and fragrant wassail, bedecked halls and holly berries. Posts this month will be unabashedly about the season of joy and beauty.
I admire a friend of a friend who was described as “not thinking at all about Christmas presents until a few days before the holiday,” and our younger son who arrives in Port Townsend, spends a couple of hours walking down Water Street, wraps his findings (usually using the bags), and ceremoniously deposits them under the tree. (They are always great presents).
But I have to plan. Which doesn’t mean I have thought, considered, or fretted yet, but the time is nigh.
Nigh and comestible. Two words I just looked up. Nigh – near in time. And comestible – a noun that means edible. For a couple of years now I’ve thinking that comestibles are some of my favorite gifts. (It took a while to attach the word.)
A present the recipient wants makes a good gift. Something to delight works also. Homemade comestibles can be both. I admire people who make jam in August, or special liqueur. My old friend makes terrific fruitcake (delicious with real fruit and nuts) – I think she does it in October so the brandy soaks in well by the time it’s delivered, wrapped in a new tea towel and tied with a ribbon, in time for solstice tea.
There is still time for many such gifts (and the making can be accompanied by the Christmas music I keep back till now – it stirs up emotion and energy). Our beekeeper recently left a little jar of honey granola – that would be a special treat. My daughter-in-law makes delicious spiced nuts.
Cookies are perpetual favorites. I’ve never forgotten the little rectangular straw box full of an assortment of delicate and perfectly cut cookies brought to a winter tea by the mother of my young friend in Alaska. She chuckles when I bring it up now and says, “Oh yes, baking before life with a baby!”
But it must feel great to select a jar or a bundle from a stash and hand over a delectable comestible, and I am writing this to get me thinking. Prime the pump a little with inspiration, gather materials to hand, and set a time to do. Ole!