A Very Walton-esque Christmas

Just press pause.

Just for a minute.

Before you hit ‘complete order’ on that T-Rex Fingerling or tap in your pin number at the mall for one of Oprah’s favorite things, take a breath.

It continues to astonish me that Oprah doesn’t comprehend how utterly revolting and shameful this annual display of bloated consumerism is…Or maybe she does, and just doesn’t care.

I know you’re trying to knock out your gift list, but I have a crazy, subversive suggestion.

Make like Ma Walton and make some of those presents.  I don’t mean a corn cob dolly or a new Sunday dress from a flour sack; unless, of course that’s your jam, and there are people in your life who have always wanted said dolly or Sunday dress. Is there someone on your list who’s tough to buy for?  So, don’t.  If you know them well enough to give them something, you know something they’ll like.

Maybe your recipient’s that guy that returns everything.  They probably won’t have the chutzpah to turn around and give back to you something you created with blood, sweat and tears.  And if they do, take that ingrate off your list.  They’re going to be difficult no matter what you do, so do nothing and they’ll be just as upset as usual.Maybe it’s a secret Santa gift, or you want to give something to someone who surprised you with a gift.  A treat from the kitchen, or something useful that you’ve made is nonspecific yet personal.

And, I can promise you that a gift you made will be unique until the end of time.  They will never, ever receive an exact duplicate.  Scout’s honor.So, Gentle Reader, you’ve decided to take the plunge and rock a homemade holiday.  The inevitable next question—make what?

I’ve got a few ideas, Bunky.  Really though, when have I not had some ideas?  Have you met me?Kitchen gifts: Everybody loves a food gift.  Not sure?  Think about the last time somebody brought some unexpected grub to your place of work.  Grown responsible adults turn into gleeful children at the appearance of a box or tray of goodies.

Is there some food or drink that you make that friends or relatives have spoken about with longing?  There you go.

me and bo

Bo and me (dark hair), about a million years ago (around 1989).  This is the same night I cold-cocked a guy in a bar for grabbing my ass…

My best girlfriend, Bo loves my brown sugar pound cake.  Every year I’d make her a dozen mini cakes, well wrapped, labeled, and suitable for freezing.  One day in June she called me, delirious with happiness.  She was cleaning out the freezer and had found one she’d overlooked.  She planned on digging in after everyone had gone to bed so she didn’t have to share.Do something crafty: Do you knit or crochet?  Are you a woodworker?  Sculpt barnyard animals out of chewing gum you find under bus seats?  Make it!

One of my favorite things to make is a personalized mirror.  I buy a plain, flat wooden frame and get a mirror made to fit (your local glass company can cut mirrors to size).  Once I decide on a theme to fit the recipient I get every picture pertaining to that theme I can lay my hands on.  I decoupage them onto the frame.  I give it a coat of shellac, then insert the mirror.

Or maybe, you know…a nice gift certificate.

Words and music: Write them a poem and/or a song.

Everyone’s going a million miles an hour these days.  Nobody’s got a spare second left.  Store-bought things are a dime a dozen.  Storage facilities aren’t a growth industry because we don’t have enough stuff.

So, if you take the time, and make something unique and personal, it’s worth way more than cash.

Because no matter what anybody says, there actually are some things left in this life that money can’t buy.Thanks for your time.

Hot Cha-cha-colate

I told Petey the other day it doesn’t matter who you are, or how much experience you’ve had, making marshmallows is a messy, sticky, sticky business.  Did I mention it’s sticky?All you can do is try to minimize damage.

Because I have more time than money, I make many gifts in my kitchen.

Our cocoa mix is easy and delicious.  Stirring in a small handful of chopped chocolate will make it crazy rich.

Special Dark Cocoa

In a food processor, mix until texture is powdery and homogeneous:cocoa

¾ cup powdered milk

¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

¾ cup sugar

½ cup Hershey’s Special Dark cocoa powder

Then add:

4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

Store in airtight container.  To make a cup, mix ½ cup cocoa mix into 1 cup milk.  Makes 4 cups.And here are the marshmallows that go with the cocoa.  It’s a recipe adapted from Alton Brown. The response you get from people is worth all the heat and mess.  Most people don’t even realize they can be made at home.

Homemade marshmallowsmarshmallows-2

3 packages unflavored gelatin

1 cup ice cold water, divided

1 ½ cups granulated sugar

1 cup light corn syrup

½ teaspoon kosher salt

1 vanilla bean, scraped, reserving pod

½ cup confectioners’ sugar

Nonstick spray

Place gelatin into bowl of stand mixer with ½ cup water.

Prepare pan:

Put confectioners’ sugar into a small bowl. Lightly spray a 13 by 9-inch metal baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. Cover it with a piece of oiled foil.  Add the sugar and swirl to coat bottom and sides.  Save remaining sugar for later use.

In small saucepan combine remaining water, granulated sugar, corn syrup, salt, and empty vanilla pod. Place over medium-high heat, cover and cook for 3 to 4 minutes. Uncover, clip a candy thermometer onto side of pan and continue to cook until mixture reaches 240 degrees. Immediately remove from heat and take out vanilla pod.Using whisk attachment, turn mixer on low speed and slowly pour all the sugar syrup down side of the bowl into gelatin mixture. Once added, increase speed to high. Continue to whip until mixture becomes fluffy, white, and increases in volume approximately 500%; approximately 10 to 13 minutes. Add the vanilla bean caviar during last minute of whipping.

When ready, pour mixture into prepared pan, using oiled spatula for even spreading. Dust top with enough of the remaining sugar to lightly cover. Reserve the rest again.  Allow marshmallows to sit uncovered for a few hours before cutting.Once the candy is set, place a piece of parchment onto large cutting board.  Turn the marshmallows out and peel off foil.  Dust bottom and sides with more powdered sugar.  Using powder sugar dusted pizza cutter, cut the candy; 6 pieces wide and 8 long.  As you cut, place into a zip top bag that has some confectioners’ sugar in it.  Gently shake to coat, and place onto parchment to fully set.

Make sure you have everything out and organized.  Once the candy is ready to go from mixer to the prepared pan you have waiting, don’t fool around.  Move deliberately, but with a sense of controlled urgency.

Even if you do everything right, there will still be a mess.  During both the cooking and mixing stages you’ve got time room to load the dish washer and wipe down the stove, the counters, your dog, and mischievous family members.

I leave you with three simple words: Hot.Soapy.Water.

But then hand the out marshmallows and bask in the praise that will fall upon your genius shoulders like warm summer rain.Thanks for your time.