Merry Christmas, My Children

It’s Christmas morning, but the house is quiet, except for the sounds of a hungry cat trying to wake us for breakfast.  Sleepily I walk to the kitchen, two felines on my heels.  I try not to trip over them as I pop cans of food open and portion it out.  Mercy cries when she smells it, and Pixel runs to check on her, making sure it’s only the lack of food that disturbs her.  The three of us walk back to the bedroom as we do every morning.  Sassy, Pixel and Mercy are chowing down on their morning meal, but the house is quiet.

Our tree is still packed away from last year.  Mercy would have had it torn down in minutes if we tried, and you’re not here for it anyway.  All of the decorations are still in their boxes.  A couple of packages wrapped in the same paper sit by my computer, ready to bring to Grandma’s house in a little while.  The room where you would have slept is cold and empty, even though there is furniture inside.  A twin bed.  Some toys for the cats.  A window to the outside that only Pixel and Mercy sit and look through.  There is no sign of you anywhere.

This morning, the house looks like it does every other morning.  It’s too small for us but it’s where we are for now.  There is no inkling of activity anywhere.  Even the cats, with their bellies full of chicken and liver, are not making a peep.  Mercy is on her furniture taking a bath, Pixel is watching out the window and Sassy is probably under the bed.  The house is quiet.

It’s 8:00am. Around the world, children like you are eagerly anticipating Christmas morning.  The yearly visit from Santa.  You would have been good children this year, I bet.  Then again, you were going to be good kids anyway, even without Santa.  It is how we would have raised you.  You would have been kind and courteous, with giving and loving hearts, but knowing boundaries so you wouldn’t become a door mat.  I am in Grandma’s kitchen making cinnamon rolls.  There is enough for all of us, but you’re not here.  Daddy and I take a second roll each, because they are awful warmed up later on.

It’s 10:00am, and Christmas morning is over.  Presents were opened, but somehow it’s not the same without you here.  I wanted to see the look of wonder on your faces, the excitement of new stuff!  I wanted to get you that one special thing you wanted more than anything in the whole world!  To hear the sounds of laughter and yes, even play arguing. Maybe especially the arguing, because that would mean there was a brother or sister for you.  You wouldn’t have been an only child.  Yes, I would have wanted that for you.

Now it’s 2pm, and dinner is ready.  It’s only your Dad, Grandma and me today. The kitties are home safe, guarding the house. We are having your favorite for dinner.  Swedish meatballs and that yummy gravy with real mashed potatoes.  I made it myself for you, but you weren’t here.  Would you like green beans like me, or Brussels sprouts like your Dad?  Or maybe you would have liked them both.  I would have gladly made more if only  you were here.

At 5pm, it’s starting to get dark already, but it’s warm outside.  Maybe you would have spent your afternoon riding your new bike.  Or maybe inside playing with Legos with your Daddy.  He loves those things just as much as you do.  Maybe that’s why you love them, too.  Maybe you would have read your new book to Grandma as you tried so wonderfully to explain to her the nuances of the story.  She would have loved you to the moon and back, just like we do.

The clock chimes 6 o’clock.  I’ve been working to clean up after dinner while you would have been playing.  But now it is time to go home.  We pile all of our gifts into the little red wagon we bought, and it doesn’t even fill the bottom.  It should be filled to overflowing with all of your new favorite toys, that one special doll or stuffed animal that you would go to sleep with tonight.  You would be pretty tired by now, after a full day of excitement and play.

There is still time to catch a movie when we get home, but there is only two of us.  I could see one of you snuggling with your Daddy, and one with me.  Mercy might be licking the butter from the popcorn off your fingers, and trying to steal a kernel or two from your bowl.  Be careful!  All of us cuddled together on the floor, or maybe a sofa, laughing and pulling our last moments of joy from a perfect day.

It’s 9pm, and time for bed.  Daddy and I are tired, and even though I don’t go to sleep this early, I’m going anyway.  The kitties are fed for the night and happy.  They are the only ones in the bed with us.  Your room is still cold and empty.  The echo of your laughter fades from my imagination.  And I realize I miss you more than I can express, but I have never met you.  Tears come, and they’re hot and stinging the skin on my face again, probably for the tenth time today.  I was trying so hard to make this a special day for everyone, even through the tears.  Because even though I’ve never known you, I have loved you anyway.  And days like today only serve to remind me that you’re not here, and will never be.

The house is quiet.  All I can hear is Pixel purring at my side.  And I fall asleep thinking of you, my dear children.  My children.  The ones my heart misses and loves, but will never know.  I don’t know if you would have been a boy or a girl, or maybe one of each.  That is what I wanted most; a boy and a girl.

Christmas is gone.  The house is quiet.  Good night, my children. Merry Christmas.  I love you….

The Great Cookie Kerfuffle of 2016

Well, before I start out with this story, I want to wish my reader(s) a very blessed Christmas season!  I hope your family is close and your joys are many!

This year hubby and I decided not to pull our Christmas tree out of hiding and set it up.  There are two reasons for this, mostly:  Pixel and Mercy.  Last year, Pixel took great joy in stealing most of the ornaments from the bottom third of the tree and playing with them.  We use cat safe McDonald’s Teeny Beanie Babies to decorate the tree, and I do admit it is quite adorable, but Pixel always chooses one toy in particular to play with from the tree.  Last year, it was one of the lion toys, its name escapes me.  I have no reason to believe that Mercy, in all of her kitten-y goodness, would not be a terror when it comes to having a 6 foot climbing obstacle loaded chock full of toys to play with.  So no, we’re forgoing the tree this year.

One of the other things I usually do to make it feel (and smell!) like Christmas is baking cookies.  It is one of the things I actually don’t mind baking, and the recipes I usually use are foolproof (meaning I can make them with little problem.)  Unlike most folks who have holiday specific cookies they make on a fairly consistent, annual basis, I  have two recipes that I use no matter the time of year.  I have to like the cookies in order for me to make them, and I don’t necessarily enjoy the pressed cookies that come from the old “super shooter” type of press, or ones that I have to spend a lot of time decorating.  I’ve never baked a gingerbread cookie, and sugar cookies are too blah for me.  So my go-to cookies are usually shortbread, because I love it and it’s too expensive to buy in the store, and a variation of a chocolate chip recipe I got from Food Network some years back.  They may not scream Christmas or be terribly festive, but they are good.

I started sometime last week with the chocolate chip cookies.  These are adapted from a recipe from Alton Brown, called “The Chewy.”  I have made these many times before and they are just such a wonderfully decadent and chewy cookie.  I didn’t have the recipe written on a card or my book like I usually would, so I checked the Food Network website for it.  It looked a little strange, as I didn’t remember the dry ingredients being measured by weight instead of cup measure.  But I didn’t mind, because I had gotten a nifty digital kitchen scale over the summer and this would be my chance to try it out.  However, when I got to the brown sugar part of the dry weights, eight ounces looked like a LOT of brown sugar, so I went back and re-checked the video, which was taken from the episode of Good Eats where this cookie recipe was featured.  That is when I figured out that the video measurements were so much different from what the written recipe noted, so I started all over with fresh flour (because I had already sifted 12 ounces of flour with the salt and baking soda,) measuring out 2 1/4 cups instead, 1 1/4 cups of brown sugar, which ironically turned out to be 8 dry ounces, and the other measures in the video.

The cookie dough turned out good.  It was full of chips and nuts for the amount of batter I had, which is good.  Usually, when I make chocolate chip cookies, my last few cookies have very few chips in them because the batter to chip ratio is terrible.  So, following the directions on the written recipe, I baked one tray of cookies at a time, having only one cookie sheet, for the fifteen minutes noted.  Everything was smelling wonderful halfway through, and I switched the sheet from the top rack to the bottom third like I was supposed to.  But at the end of the baking time, the cookies were almost not recognizable as cookies.  By the way, if anyone is looking for some last-minute coal for stockings, message me.

Not deterred, I put my second tray of cookies into the oven and reduced the time for baking from fifteen to twelve.  Again, the aroma of baking cookies filled the air and at twelve minutes, they were almost as charred as the first batch.  A little frustrated at myself for not being able to bake these stupid cookies, I put my third batch into the oven, this time for 1o minutes.  The last batch was still over done, but better than the first two, and spread out like melting ice cream on the sheet.  Not wanting to waste any more dough, I gave up baking that night.  The rest of the dough sat in the fridge for a day while I sulked.  I thought I was losing my touch.

The next day, I decided to give my shortbread cookies a try.  Those are REALLY simple, and only have five ingredients.  I couldn’t screw these up, right?  The dough came together very nicely and after turning it out onto my floured counter, I wrapped the dough in plastic wrap and set it in the fridge to stiffen a bit.  While that dough was resting, I gave the “Chewy” cookies one more shot.  This time, I decided to measure the ingredients using the scale and not let the amounts spook me.  Twelve weighed ounces of flour.  Eight ounces of brown sugar.  Two ounces of granulated sugar.  Like the last batch of batter, it came together nicely but had a bit more body, for lack of a better word.  I’m guessing this was the extra flour, because 12 ounces does not even remotely measure to be 2 1/4 cups.

I was getting tired and bit achy from so much standing, so I decided to just bake the shortbread cookies that night.  The chewy chocolate chip cookies would have to wait at least one more night.  The shortbread turned out beautiful, as I had hoped.  Finally!  A good result.  But it was Thursday night, and I really wanted to have some cookies to bring to John’s therapists on Friday.  But I was pleased that the shortbread baked up nicely.  As luck would have it, we never made it to the therapist on Friday before Christmas.  Achy muscles and cookie burnout were the culprit.

Tonight we went to my Mom’s for dinner and what was supposed to be church services online.  I brought the cookie dough and sheets to her house so I could hopefully finish these cookies, which by this time have become a real thorn in my side.  While our dinner was baking in her counter top convection oven, I worked on the cookies in her big oven.  This time, I lowered the oven temp to 350 from the recommended 375, and checked them at 10 minutes.  They weren’t quite finished at 10, and another two minutes made them a nice golden brown.  Perfection!  I could have cried, but honestly the cookies had plenty of salt in the batter already.

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Finally!  Chewy cookies that actually LOOK like cookies!!

So, here are my recipes, adjusted for what made them work in my kitchen and how I made them.

Shortbread Cookies

  • 3 Sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature*
  • 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup white granulated sugar**
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

In the work bowl of your mixer, mix together the butter and sugar until it is just combined.  Add the vanilla.  In a separate bowl, sift together the flour and salt.  Add flour to butter and sugar mixture; mix on low-speed until the dough starts to come together.  Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and shape into a flat disk.  Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Roll the dough 1/2 inch thick.  Using a pizza cutter or cookie cutter, cut cookies into rectangles approximately 3″ by 1″.  Place cookies on a baking sheet, lined with parchment paper and bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes (I found they were perfect at 20 minutes, but watch the cookies from 20 minutes on) until they begin to brown around the edges.  Remove to a cooling rack and allow to cool thoroughly before storing.

*Use real, unsalted butter for this recipe.  Substituting Crisco or margarine will not give the shortbread its classic buttery flavor.  Some things shouldn’t be skimped, and this recipe is one of them. You’ll be happy you didn’t skimp.

**I used fine granulated brown sugar, sometimes called turbinado or raw sugar.  Despite the different color, this does not carry over to the color of the cookies.  So if you don’t use regular white sugar, don’t hesitate to use the brown granulated (not regular brown sugar) in this recipe.  It will turn out as if you had used white granulated.

 

The Chewy (Courtesy of Alton Brown, tweaked by me!)

  • 2 sticks unsalted butter
  • 12 ounces (by weight) all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 8 ounces (by weight) light brown sugar
  • 2 ounces (by weight) granulated white sugar
  • 1 large whole egg
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 2 tablespoons whole milk
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons real vanilla extract
  • 12 ounces (one bag) vanilla chips (white chocolate)
  • 1 cup macadamia nuts, chopped (optional)

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over low heat until fully melted.  Remove from heat and let cool slightly.  Sift together the flour, salt and baking soda; set aside.  Pour the butter into the mixer’s work bowl and add the sugar.  Mix on medium for two minutes, using the paddle attachment (or on medium with wire beaters on a hand-held mixer.) Lightly whisk the egg, yolk, milk and vanilla together; add slowly to butter and sugar mixture.  Turn the mixer speed to low, and mix until smooth.  Slowly add the flour, scraping the bowl down as needed.  When the flour is incorporated into the batter, turn the mixer speed to “stir” (or fold in by hand) and add the white chocolate chips  and macadamia nuts.  Chill the dough in the bowl for one hour.

Spoon cookie dough by rounded spoonfuls onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes.  Allow to cool thoroughly before storing or devouring!

 

From my family to yours, Merry Christmas!  Buon Natale!!