Christmas Senses: The Smell of Oranges and Cloves

KerryCan:

It’s time! Go get yourself some oranges and cloves, and create the most beautiful, holiday fragrance in your home!

Originally posted on Love Those "Hands at Home":

IMG_4089I like my Christmas to smell.

Yes, I want to see bright lights and colors, as well as snow on the ground. I want the taste of peppermint and the feel of flannel PJs but mostly I love the smells I associate with the winter holidays.

You probably know the smells I mean. Evergreen boughs. Cookies baking. A wood fire. Caramel and chocolate and mint.

And the best smell of all, to my way of thinking—oranges studded with cloves.

Every year at this time, my husband gets a big bag of oranges and a big jar of whole cloves and makes pomanders while he watches football on TV.

He has done this for many years and, because the cloves dry and preserve the oranges, we probably have pomanders around here that are older than some of you!

Pomanders make a wonderful addition to holiday decorating.  They are natural and rustic…

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Friends, Indeed: Kit, Liz, Jan

IMG_2963Have you ever been in a place where kindness means a whole lot to you, more so than usual? Feeling a little overwhelmed, a little harried, but then shored up by someone else and their kindness to you?

I have been on the receiving end of a lot of kindness lately. For starters, while I was off selling candy at holiday boutiques this past week, my husband cleaned the entire house, from top to bottom! How’s that for nice?!

I can, and have, thanked him in person but I want to thank three other kind people more publicly.

First I need to mention my totally cool sister, Kit, who was my right-hand gal, yet again, while I sold candy at the boutiques. She helped last year and I will not EVER accept an invitation to one of these boutiques if she is unavailable or unwilling to help. My sister is mellow, even-tempered, and methodical about helping so I can just flap around and talk to customers! It doesn’t come as any surprise that I depend on her for this sort of help—she has been by my side, often literally but always figuratively, my entire life.

I knew I could count on my sister’s kindness this past week but I was blind-sided by kindness from two other people, too—the antidote to feeling stressed and exhausted is nice people!

Let’s take the kindness of a blog friend, Liz, who writes the blog, “food for fun.” Not only did Liz, a professional foodie, give me some great business and buy lots of candy from me, she wrote a really, REALLY nice blog post about the candy and shared some of her stash with others in the food industry. It is so reassuring to hear this kind of feedback from someone who is truly knowledgeable about food and the fact that she gave me the kind feedback so publicly . . . well, it doesn’t get any better than that!

I saw Liz’s blog post at the end of a long and intense day of selling at one of the holiday boutiques. Those events are fun but exhausting for a hard-core introvert like me. However, when I saw what Liz had written I felt new again and ready to go back the next day, for the second boutique, with a spring in my step!

I know you’d enjoy Liz’s blog as much as I do. It does what you’d expect a food blog to do—provide recipes and talk about food trends—but Liz writes with an honesty and humor that I find lacking in so many food blogs. Other food bloggers can make me feel like a schmo in the kitchen but Liz keeps it real and really fun. Plus she writes frequently about bourbon . . . and that means a lot to me!

Liz had me flying pretty high but then I had another long day of selling and a five-hour drive home. Another low-energy period, begging to be buoyed by kindness! I got home to an envelope from Jan, the author of “The Snail of Happiness.”

Jan is interested in sustainability—with a Ph.D. in ecology, I guess that’s not surprising. She recently finished an advanced program in permaculture and, as part of that process, made a masterpiece blanket that included her own crochet work, as well as crocheted and knitted blocks from blog friends around the world. When I whined to Jan that her mailbox must be a lot more fun than mine, she took it upon herself to change that! This is her modus operandi it seems . . . .

When I returned home from my downstate selling extravaganza yesterday, I had an envelope from Wales waiting for me. Jan had crocheted me a cotton ray of sunshine, some ever-blooming roses, and a big and beautiful cloth that she says is a dishcloth but that I can’t imagine ever using on dishes! I am pondering some ideas about how to use it, even as I write.

Jan’s blog is another I’m confident you’ll love—in fact, I know many of you do follow it and are contributors to her masterpiece! If you haven’t checked The Snail of Happiness out yet, do so—Jan loves that which is handmade and she brings an intelligent, down-to-earth voice to her blog.

All of this is an excellent reminder, at this time of year when we’re urged to buy big to show people we love them, that it is often the small, unexpected gestures that really matter and will brighten a day, lighten a load. I’ve been reminded of this important lesson by Kit and Liz and Jan, by being on the receiving end of their kindness.

And I resolve to do more on the giving end as well.

It’ll Be Our Secret: Putting the Cordial in the Cherry Cordial

gooeyDid you ever wonder how the liquid gets inside a chocolate-covered cherry?

Whether or not you’re a big fan of chocolate-covered cherries, or cherry cordials, you have to admit they have a special place in the pantheon of the gods of chocolate candies. They are unremittingly sweet and gooey and have that liquid stuff in the middle that is messy, fun, and sort of mysterious.

How did it get there?

I used to imagine someone, maybe an elf or an Oompa Loompa, with a syringe, injecting each and every bonbon with a little gooey syrup.

The truth is both simpler and more magical than that. And I am prepared to share that secret with you.

You are being invited into the inner sanctum of sweets, the cabal of candy, to join the chosen few who know how they put the cordial in the cherry cordials.

Last week, when my fellow Americans were roasting turkeys and stuffing them with stuffing, I took a day off from candy making . . . and made candy.

At our friends’ annual Christmas Eve party last year, while in the throes of holiday cheer and good red wine, I indulged in a little self-aggrandizement and bragged about being able to make cherry cordials.

One of the other guests at the party allowed as how he loved chocolate-covered cherries better than almost anything and I, in my warm, cheerful haze, promised to make him some, to be delivered at this year’s party which, it occurred to me, is soon!

So, I took Thanksgiving Day off from making candy to sell and made candy to keep a promise. Such is the price of self-aggrandizement.

Making chocolate-covered cherries is a multi-step process. It involves making fondant, coating each cherry with the fondant, and then dipping the cherries in tempered chocolate.

Oh, and the most important step—waiting, waiting for the syrup to appear, like an alchemist’s dream, within the chocolate shell.

First, I made fondant, really just cooked sugar syrup, which stayed creamy while I dipped maraschino cherries into it but then hardened to a white, opaque shell. The fondant would stay hard, white, and opaque forever (which would make for a really unsatisfying chocolate-covered cherry experience) except . . . for the secret.

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Shhh . . . come closer.

The secret is invertase.

Invertase is an enzyme that changes sugar to liquid or, in plain terms, it “catalyzes the hydrolysis of sucrose.”

A tiny bit of invertase, added to the fondant, will turn that hard, white, opaque shell to sweet, sticky syrup, syrup to dribble down your chin as you gobble one cherry cordial after another.

The switchover from solid to liquid is a bit of a delayed reaction. I had plenty of time to dip the cherries into the fondant, let the fondant harden, temper the chocolate, and dip the cherries into the chocolate before the transformation began.

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In fact, my recipe for these candies says that the cherries will need to sit for 10 days to allow the magic to happen.

Luckily for me, and my burning desire to start snacking, the change really occurs much more quickly than that. Within a half hour of dipping the chocolates, I could start to see a bit of sugar syrup oozing, already, out of a tiny break in the chocolate shell.

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Abracadabra! Magic in the making!

And it continues. By the Christmas Eve party, I should have a couple of dozen chocolate-covered cherries to take along, to fulfill my promise.

I would never make these candies to sell. Making the fondant is too unpredictable, at least for me. In honesty, I screwed up the first batch I made last week and had to start all over again!

The process is even more laborious than other candy making with more waste, since even a tiny air bubble in the chocolate shell will become a weak spot from which the syrup will ooze. Trust me, if you end up with a syrup-less cherry in an empty chocolate shell, it simply isn’t magic any more.

And, while leaving the stems on the cherries, those sweet little handles, makes dipping the cherries so easy, it makes packaging the finished candy impossible—just ask the people who have, in the past, received ooey-gooey packages of exploded candy in the mail from me.

This was candy making simply for pleasure and that’s its own kind of magic. It was nice to make candy just for the fun of it, just for the challenge, with little pressure, and to make people happy. And it gave me the opportunity to share this particular secret of the universe with you.

But, remember—it’s a secret. Just between you and me.

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Imperfectly Perfect

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I am not perfect.

I know that must’ve come as a shock to you, when I revealed it last month, but it’s true. And you know what? People love me, in spite of my imperfections! No, really, they do–they think I’m good enough.

The imperfect dishtowel I told you about is finished and it’s still imperfect. In fact, I had threaded my loom in such a way, with a long enough warp, that I am now the proud maker/owner of three imperfect dishtowels.

And, you know what? I love them, in spite of their imperfections! No, really, I do! I think they’re perfectly good.

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I learned a lot from making them.

I learned new things about weaving and the possibilities. The loom is threaded one way but, by pressing different treadles in different orders, I could weave three different patterns. It shows up most clearly in the striped colors but is also really pretty in the texture of the white.

I learned that it really is important to fix mistakes when you notice them. I made at least three threading errors in my towels. I knew one of them was there from the start and thought it wouldn’t be noticeable. Now I know better!

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I learned I really like this fiber. It’s called Cottolin and it’s a mix of cotton and linen. I’m told linen, by itself, can be difficult to weave but mixed with cotton it was very satisfying.

I learned that cotton and linen shrink a lot, especially in length. I had intended, and thought I had planned for, these towels to measure 26 by 18 when finished but the biggest one ended up 22 by 20 . . . Hmmm, and I’m just now learning that I must’ve done something very wrong from the start, if I thought the towels would be 18 inches wide and they ended up 20. That can’t be explained by shrinking!

I guess I’ve learned that I need to pay more attention to the math aspects of the planning stages!

I learned, or realized again, that weaving feels like a certain kind of magic. You start with thread, just endlessly long, boring thread, and create a web of fabric that is full of possibilities.

 

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I made dishtowels but I could’ve made cloth for a dress, a blanket for a baby, a coat for my cat, placemats and napkins for my table, a tapestry to celebrate a victory, a christening gown, a shroud . . .

And the fabric I wove makes me appreciate fabric like I never have before. Weaving anything gives you a sense of why, historically, fabrics were treasured and treated with care and patched and re-used. This is an appreciation that gets lost when all our fabric comes from mills in foreign lands.

My towels are imperfect but they will accomplish, perfectly, the purposes for which they were created. They have already taught me a great deal. They will be absorbent and will hold up to rough treatment. They will stand up to a hot washer and dryer and be ready to serve again. They will age beautifully and last long and make me smile when I use them.

And they offer an important reminder to us all—we don’t need to be perfect to be perfectly good!

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It Pleases Me

working handsA folklorist, traveling in rural America, meets an elderly farmer. The old man is tired, from hard work with his herd and his land, yet works in the evening to make chairs he needs for his home.

The chairs he has crafted could be considered finished—they are strong and sound—but the old man continues, with weary hands, to carve flourishes and curlicues into the wood, to decorate his utilitarian creations.

The folklorist, a specialist in material culture, asks the man, “Why? Who do you take the time to decorate the chairs when they are perfectly serviceable?” The old man is silent, thinking, perhaps for the first time, about his motivation, his desire. And then he answers:

“Because it pleases me.”

I heard this story, told by folklorist Henry Glassie, many years ago as an undergraduate when Glassie came to visit my college. Since then, I have thought often of the story, the old farmer, and his desire to create beauty and to please himself.

The fact that this story, and none of the others Glassie undoubtedly told, has stuck with me suggests to me that it touched a nerve with me, even as a young person just starting to make things with my hands.

It seemed, and still seems, so profound to me.

In my painting classes, I was taught to follow rules of perspective and color theory. In my jewelry making classes, I was taught design principles and told that my designs were too predictable. In my communication courses, I was taught that good speeches are audience-centered. As a teenage girl in the 1970s, I was taught to please others.

No one ever suggested that it was okay, a legitimate undertaking, to make something a certain way just because it pleased me.

And the idea that an old farmer, a man of practical considerations and hard work, with his feet firmly planted on the ground, would find pleasure in making beauty was also a revelation. I knew old farmers; I was genetically bound to old farmers! Did old farmers feel things like that? Might I?

Since I heard this story, it has informed my understanding of other makers and my understanding of myself. True craftsmen are pleased with what they create, with the skill it takes, with overcoming the difficulties of the task, with the mastery and the creating, not just of a thing but of some thing, beautiful to their eyes.

So, I’ve thought hard about what pleases me and sought to make things accordingly.

I’ve made a lot of different sorts of things in my life, from embroidering on my jeans as a teenager to majoring in metalsmithing in college to calligraphy to spinning to weaving. I’ve worked in polymer clay, beads, yarn, paint, silver, linen, and chocolate.

Along the way, there have been many other creative outlets that moved me not at all. I’ve tried some and moved on. Others . . . just never spoke to me.

These are the things I’ve been thinking about as I’ve been tempering chocolate and packaging candy these last few weeks. I’ll write more about my thoughts in the next couple of weeks, I’m sure, as my schedule calms down and my thoughts become clearer.

I’m hoping, right now, that you are thinking about what you make and how it pleases you. I imagine that what pleases you is different, in some ways, than what pleases me. And yet we share the deep satisfaction of feeling fulfilled, in important ways, by the making.

What aspect of your work, your craft, do you do simply because of the pleasure it brings to you?

I’ve Got Rhythms

metronomeDo your days have a rhythm? Is there a predictable tempo to your hours? Or are your days spontaneous and varied dances of delight?

At this time of year, my days have an undeniable rhythm, a driving tempo. Much of the day is filled with an insistent, relentless beat, as I work to make the candy I sell.

The winter holidays bring busy times—people are willing to splurge on handmade candies for Thanksgiving, for Christmas, for gifts, for parties—so I’m always pretty busy in November.

But this year, I’m also doing two holiday boutiques, two selling shows, where people walk by my table, taste a sample of chocolate, and buy.

Last summer, when I agreed to these shows, on two consecutive days in early December, it seemed like a great idea!

Right now, I can’t help but wonder what I was thinking. I know people will want to buy candy but I can’t predict just exactly which candy they will want or how much to have on hand.

So, I spend my days piling boxes of chocolates up, and working obsessively to make more. The tempos of my life right now are staccato, presto, agitato.

But not first thing in the morning. I am committed to start my day, early, early, at a different pace—this is the calm before the candy.

I am an early riser, usually up by 4:30. I have my ritual to begin my day. It is set to adagio and, certainly, pianissimo.

I feed the cats. I give the diabetic cat an injection. I make a cup of coffee, black. I visit a set list of websites, in a set order—NBC News, the National Weather Service, the local newspaper. I write in my personal journal and have another cup of coffee, black.

I take some time to visit with you, to see what you’re saying and doing. I read your thoughts and respond, as much as possible, before the rhythm changes and the day demands my participation.

I love the calm before the candy. My husband sleeps a few rooms away. The cats go back to bed, too. I am alone with my thoughts.

I plan what needs to be done, and everything seems possible! I know I can get so much accomplished because the day stretches out in front of me, full of open hours and promise.

About 6:00, the rhythm switches to accelerato, allegro, animato. If, by this time, I haven’t taken a shower, written a blog post, finished reading yours, it probably won’t get done today.

The chaos of the candy takes over, the cacophony, the movement toward crescendo.

Happily, for me, this fast-paced rhythm lasts only for a month or two. January will bring a quieter time, slower tempos, with fewer demands for quick-step dancing in the kitchen.

I’ll return to the rocking rhythm of hand quilting, the soothing back and forth of throwing the shuttle, and the warm, comforting slide of the iron over vintage linens. I may even fit in a spontaneous dance of delight or two!

I’ll have more time for me, then, and for you.