Holiday Delights

We celebrated Christmas with Sackett Man’s family. In total we had thirteen people in our home over the weekend before Christmas (fourteen if one counts my soon-to-come baby boy), and I couldn’t have had a nicer time.

I LOVE playing the hostess. I love getting the house ready. I love putting the air fresheners in various rooms (apple cinnamon is the best scent). I love making up the beds with fresh, crisp sheets and warm blankets, setting out clean soft towels in the bathrooms, putting up the finishing touches of Christmas decoration so that the atmosphere is warm and full of the holidays. Most of all, I love to cook. Molasses cookies. Fudge. Artisan bread. Bowls of dried fruit and almonds and cashews for snacking. Scrumptious beef roast with gravy, mushrooms, and onions, roasted in garlic and rosemary and red wine. Mashed potatoes made creamy with milk, sour cream, and butter. Green beans cooked to bright green al dente and tossed with chopped, crispy bacon.

My mother-in-law brought her own delicacies. She made a ton of Christmas cookies, and brought her delicious caramel rolls. My sister-in-laws brought cranberry fluff, homemade punch, english toffee pudding, vegetable trays, ham-and-pickle roll-ups, pecan pie, pickled herring, cheese and crackers, lefse… I’m sure I’m forgetting something… Needless to say, we did not go hungry!

A huge thanks to my wonderful In-Law Family, for coming to visit us and celebrating Christmas in such a special way. 🙂

One thing I tried making this year that I’ve never, ever attempted before, was good old fashioned candy (yes, that you need a thermometer for as you carefully cook the sugar). I made Turkish Delight.

I wasn’t sure about it. I and my family love the Narnia series; our young boys really enjoy the original BBC Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe movie. There’s been curious interest regarding the sweet that was Edmund’s favorite for a while now, so I finally researched and found a recipe and tried my hand at it. Turkish Delight can be made in many, many flavors (lemon, orange, pistachio, chocolate, etc) but the most common is Rose. Yes, Rose flavored candy. I assume this is the flavor Edmund enjoyed, because in every single movie the candy is a soft pink color. To that end I ordered my rose water (Rose Flower Water by Cortas), and— because some reviews said it was a very strong brand— I sampled a teaspoon of it in a glass of water (the recommended amount is 1-2 Tablespoons in a glass of water), and I couldn’t drink it. It was so strong! The scent was like putting my nose smack dab into the middle of the strongest bouquet of roses ever. And then drinking that bouquet. So that made me concerned that the flavor of the Turkish Delight was going to be too much.

I forged ahead anyway.

I used the recipe from this lady’s blog: http://titlisbusykitchen.com/recipe/turkish-delight. Not only does she have the recipe written out, but she has a step-by-step video to go with it. It made the whole experience so much better; there’s nothing that takes the fear out of an new recipe than watching someone with a sense of humor show you how it’s done!

The ingredients are:

  • 4 cups sugar
  • 1 cup cornstarch
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp rosewater
  • 1 tsp cream of tartar
  • Few drops of food coloring
For the dusting
  • 1 cup powdered sugar (confectioner’s sugar)
  • ¼ cup cornstarch
  • Extra powdered sugar (on hand if needed)

The only modification I made to the recipe, at all, was I halved the amount of rose water. I put in 1½ tsp instead of 1 tbsp. For our American tastebuds, unused to the taste of roses, it made all the difference! It flavored the Turkish Delight delicately, without overpowering it.

My husband and I, used to the scent of roses as being connected to bouquets, soaps, or face wash, like the flavor but are still getting used to attaching it to a food. Our kids, on the other hand, have no such preconceived ideas, and love it!

January Note: One thing to keep in mind: this is an old fashioned candy, made the old fashioned way. There are no preservatives or additives to keep it in perfect form for weeks (*cough cough* months YEARS *cough cough*) on end, so it will sweat and the powdered sugar it rests in will turn into a glaze around it. For the best results, eat the candy within the first five days. If the sweating really bothers you, switch out the powdered sugar/cornstarch every 2-3 days.

Another side note: the recipe says it will keep for a week. That doesn’t mean you have to throw it out on the eve of day seven. It just means that the texture will become softer and less candy-chewy, and it will sweat more and more. I’m nearing the end of week two, beginning week three, and I’ve taken to using a fork to separate the pieces (the best I can) and eating it that way.

My prep for candy making.

My prep for candy making.

Mixing, mixing, mixing as the sugar SLOWLY rises in temperature.

Mixing, mixing, mixing as the sugar SLOWLY rises in temperature.

You can't see it here (sorry), but it has reached temp: 240˚F.  * note: turn off the heat immediately when it reaches temp!!!

You can’t see it here (sorry), but it has reached temp: 240˚F.
* note: turn off the heat immediately when it reaches temp!!!

This is the water/cornstarch mixture. Once this has cooked you add the sugar syrup and cook low and slow to a glowing gold color. KEEP THE HEAT ON LOW! AND MIX CONSTANTLY!

This is the water/cornstarch mixture. Once this has cooked you add the sugar syrup and cook low and slow to a glowing gold color. KEEP THE HEAT ON LOW! AND MIX CONSTANTLY!

After adding the three drops of red food coloring and the Rose Water, I poured (scooped) the mixture into the wax lined/oiled pan. I used this handy icing spatula to spread it out even.

After adding the three drops of red food coloring and the Rose Water, I poured (scooped) the mixture into the wax lined/oiled pan. I used this handy icing spatula to spread it out even.

This is what you will need to finish the Turkish Delight: a cutting board sprinkled generously with powdered sugar. you turn the Delight out onto the board and cut it. 1"x1" is the perfect size.

This is what you will need to finish the Turkish Delight: a cutting board sprinkled generously with powdered sugar. you turn the Delight out onto the board and cut it. 1″x1″ is the perfect size.

So sorry I don’t have a picture of the finished product, all cut and dusted. Just imagine your favorite picture of Turkish Delight from the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe… it really is just that pretty!

Call Me the Dancing Panda

I’m a mother of three. Soon to be four. I’m short. When I picture myself (aka my body, not my face) I see Rachel Luttrell— short but fit and hard, curved and slender, and then I walk past a mirror and go “AARGH!!!”

I do yoga and bollywood. My 3 year old giggles. (I choose to believe this is because he’s 3, and not because I look like Po the panda trying to do kung fu.)

I used to be a dance teacher during my college years. I weighed 124 pounds of fit muscle when I got married at age 18. Then I did full-time college plus worked two jobs. My time to devote to staying that physically fit dwindled to nill. Then I began struggling with polycystic ovarian syndrome (which played havoc with my weight), and THEN I started having kids.

In today’s day and age it’s really hard to maintain a good self image. Even during my dancing years it was hard; I have curves where most dancers don’t. I’m curvy up top and generously endowed in the back. My thighs have never, ever had a gap between them and I’ve never been able to wear boots that go higher than my ankles; my calves have always been too thick. Being around stick-thin girls with bird-bones and barely-there curves made me feel big, even though I wasn’t.

I wear size 12 pants. My stomach has stretch marks running up and down from my ribs to my hips. My hips and legs look like Chel’s from “El Dorado.” I’m a 38D. I have Eyelid Inflammation (Blepharitis), so I always seem to have bald spots or thin patches in my eyelashes.

My toes are stubby.

But you know what my boys tell me? That I look like a princess. My daughter loves to hold my cheeks with her little 18 month old hands, and after looking at me with large, shining eyes, she kisses me and says “Uv U” and “P’tty.”

Sackett Man thinks it’s the best thing ever when I decide to do bollywood. Sweat, tangled hair, Po the panda doing Dancing Goddess and all. He usually reserves a seat on the couch for the 45 minute show.

Why am I writing about this right now? Because of this blog right here, by Nicole Jankowski, which hit me right where most women feel the most vulnerable. Our self image.

Everything telling us we’re not pretty enough, or doing enough to take care of ourselves? Doesn’t matter. Yes, be healthy. Yes, take care of yourself. And listen to those who live with you and actually SEE you. Every day. That new beauty article can’t see you. Your computer doesn’t care. Those big-time designers, whose clothes almost no one can wear, can’t see you and don’t know you.

Your husband, your kids? They know you. They see you. And I’ll bet they wouldn’t want you any other way than just the way you are.

The Excited School Child vs. The Opinionated Adult

There is such a thing as a child’s age-appropriate lesson being derailed and confused by an unthinking, loud-mouth adult.

Christopher Columbus discovered America. My son Roman was thrilled, soaking in a ton of new knowledge like a sponge. He was fascinated with how they sailed back then, with no electronics whatsoever. No gps, no phones, no internet or google maps or anything. Using hand-drawn maps, of only that part of the world that had been explored so far, and hoping the maps were accurate? Using only a compass (and a few other tools) and your knowledge of the stars to tell where you were on the big, open ocean and hoping you didn’t make a mistake? Setting out to cross an ocean there is no map for and hoping to find land? Roman was fascinated, in awe, and excited to learn all of this. Studying the map that Columbus had and comparing it to one of today’s maps blew his mind. His understanding of continents and where they were and how people traveled was like discovering a new world. His confusion as to how Columbus could mistake the Americas for India morphed into wonder and then glee as his mind suddenly connected the dots and he got it.

We visited some extended family the week after; a somewhat large gathering. Roman couldn’t wait to share what he’d learned with them; surely they’d find it as amazing as he! Who wouldn’t? So he began to tell them, his big eyes shining and a grin on his face. He barely got beyond saying “I learned how Columbus found America…” before one of these extended family members, one whom Roman looks up to and loves a great deal, interrupted.

The man exploded out with a scoff and declared loudly: “Yeah, and then he murdered more than half of the Indians.”

Roman froze. The joy fled from his face to be replaced with confusion, doubt, and mortification. He was wrong? This man who he’d thought was brave to cross the ocean was really a murderer? He’d been about to share his excitement over a guy who was actually horrible? Roman clammed up and refused to share anymore.

I took a step closer to my son, and said, politely but clearly: “He’s in kindergarten. We were just learning about how the continents were discovered, and how people explored back then. Columbus put the Americas on the map. That’s all.”

There was this long, uncomfortable pause.

Conversation soon flowed again onto other topics, but Roman stayed back, hardly smiled, and barely talked (he’s usually a talker). I, for my part, was furious. Yes. Furious.

I don’t know much about Columbus as a human being; his character, his morals, etc. There are too many figures in history to study every single one of them in such great detail, and for my part he didn’t make the list. There were other men whose character intrigued me more, so I’m not going to talk about whether or not Christopher Columbus was a stand up guy or a butcher.

Roman is six. Six. When he’s fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, he will be old enough and mature enough to learn about some of these issues, how some people we credit with great things in history also did morally questionable things. He will be mature enough to struggle with it, ponder it, think about it. Even debate it.

But right now he’s six. At age six: “In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue.” That’s it.

This man, who I’m learning has a very, very low opinion of America and American History (much of which I take issue with, because a lot of it seems to be his perspective and opinion rather than research or fact), was more concerned with making a loud statement for everyone to hear than he was in listening to this little boy’s excitement for learning. He didn’t actually care about what Roman was saying. He just nabbed an opening to spout his own opinion and squashed my son under his soap box.

I wish adults wouldn’t do that. We’re at a point, obviously, where we know so, so, so much more, and understand or at least recognize the different complexities and contradictions and grey areas that make up history and life, but we have to remember that for a young child there is: right, wrong. Yes, no. Up, down. Day, night. They are still learning the basics. Sometimes, too often, an adult forgets that and says something that turns, for the child, everything they’ve just learned upside down because they’re not ready for it. They will be, in time. But not yet.

We need to remember that. When a kid is sharing with you something they learned— unless it’s glaringly wrong (misinformation), just be quiet and listen. This is how the love of learning is nurtured, not just by teaching them things, but letting them share what they’ve learned. Listen to them. Bask in their wonder with them. Be excited with them as they talk.

So I will teach my kindergartener that Columbus was brave enough to sail into the unknown, and that he found the Americas, and because of him this great land is now known and on the map.

We’ll discuss his status as a butcher and murderer a different time.