Stillness

I was the first one up this morning, a rare luxury. This afforded me both the time to indulge in some morning meditation, and the chance to go outside and savor the still, frosty beauty of the morning.

In the morning light of winter, everything is dormant. But beneath the surface is a quiet, indomitable vitality. I was looking at bare limbs and frost-rimmed leaves, but for some reason this morning everything speaks to me of growth.

Slow and Quiet… Relatively

We had no social obligations this Christmas. No parties, no get-togethers, no nearby family to visit. There are definitely family and friends I would like to visit, if we lived a little closer to them, but we don’t. And so far our vision for our Christmases has been one of quiet, of slow traditions unfolding within the family.

This is, to be sure, a long-term plan. Right now we have a three-year-old and a one-year-old, and the idea of traditions, of a quiet Christmas rhythm, is a bit foreign to their nature. Nathan is now old enough that he remembered Christmas lights from last year. (Actually, he’s been bugging us intermittently all year long to put up Christmas lights again.) So the Putting Up Of The Christmas Lights had a very festive air to it, infused with the excitement of long anticipation. He may have also remembered us bringing our little potted tree into the house, although I’m not certain of that. Otherwise, though, I’m not convinced that he had any idea of what to expect for Christmas.

(His understanding of holidays in general is delightfully fuzzy right now. When he would see Christmas lights at a neighbor’s house, he would say “They have Christmas!” Any tree wrapped with lights is a Christmas tree, regardless of its type. I’m still not sure that he understands that Christmas is a day. Then again, his understanding of time in general seems to divide it into “right now,” “very recently,” and “everything else.”)

We had only a few gifts to open on Christmas morning, which suited us perfectly. We’re going to avoid making gifts the centerpiece of the holiday as long as possible. One of the best parts of the holiday (for me at least, and I think for Nathan) was instead our Christmas Eve walk around the neighborhood to look at Christmas lights. Given his general fascination with them, I’d been meaning to do such a walk for a while, and it seemed an entirely slow and appropriate thing to do with our evening on Christmas Eve. I hope that we’ll be able to do that walk again in the coming years.

There are many other things that I hope to do in the coming years, as they become appropriate. But for now we are rolling with our kids’ interests, trying to find the right kinds of activities that they can participate in and enjoy.

Reading Together

Nathan can now read some of his favorite books. In particular, he can read Blue Hat, Green Hat all the way through, and can do most of Doggies, although he likes a little help with some of the later dog sounds. (We got them both from Bob and Amy, who have never failed to give us really awesome kid stuff.)

These books also happen to be some of Ryan’s favorites. Nathan will occasionally read one of them to Ryan, which is approximately the cutest thing ever conceived, not to mention being very convenient for the parents.

The types of books he likes continues to expand. Several times he has become interested in Winnie-the-Pooh, and has let me read him some of the stories before he takes a break from that for a while. He also likes The Tale of Peter Rabbit right now. The more complex and interesting our books get, the more excited I get to read him all of the fantastic stories that I loved as a kid. It won’t be that many years before he’s ready for chapter books, like the Narnia stories… and I intend to try him on a Roald Dahl well before that. I love this!

Marshmallows: A New Christmas Tradition?

When I made my first batch of marshmallows, they were good, but I couldn’t help thinking that they needed something more. Something other than plain-vanilla-flavored puffiness… something that would make you say “Oooh!” as you put one in your hot chocolate.

Yesterday I did a couple more batches (half-batches, really), and this time I jazzed them up a little. One batch was peppermint, complete with crushed candy canes lining the bottom of the pan. The other batch was orange. I wanted to drizzle the orange ones with chocolate, but since they had a layer of powdered sugar on them, I was pretty sure it wouldn’t stick. And the effort to fully enrobe them in chocolate wasn’t what I was looking for on a laid-back winter solstice.

These are good. The orange ones, admittedly, taste a bit like orange Runts; I think I need to use a natural orange flavoring instead of the artificial one that I found in the bottom of my extract bag. But they are still pretty tasty, and Ryan prefers them to the peppermint ones. These latter pack quite a punch. I probably only needed to use four candy canes instead of eight. Still, I think they worked out well as a proof-of-concept; the candy softened slightly from contact with the marshmallow, but still provides a satisfying chewy-crunchy layer next to the softness of the marshmallow.

I packaged a bunch of them up in little half-pint jars to give out to neighbors. I’ve no idea how well they would travel, but my experience with the last batch was that they were best in the first few days. (This is why I didn’t send any to you, family members!) They were fun to do for Christmas gifts because they’re a bit unusual, very easy, and (on a highly practical note) dirt cheap to make. My go-to quick-gift candy before was truffles, which are delicious and very easy, but which also depend on the quality of the chocolate used to make them — not exactly the cheapest option around.

These marshmallows are pretty good simply eaten as a candy (in small quantities; after all, they’re pretty much pure sugar). But their highest and best use is undoubtedly to be put into hot chocolate. I tried a cup today with the peppermint ones, and was very pleased with the results: the marshmallows melted slowly into the hot liquid, adding just a hint of peppermint to it, but leaving a little island of peppermint candy bits (since I’d put them in candy side up) to be slurped down with the dregs of the chocolate.

I’ve been pondering other flavor options all day. Butterscotch? Cinnamon? Raspberry? A quick Google search suggested lemon, mango, maple syrup, sweet potato, lavender, and, of course, chocolate. I also saw a suggestion for cutting them into interesting shapes. Hmmm… I have a little snowflake cookie cutter that I indulged in a while ago. I may have to start drinking more hot chocolate.

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S’mores

I forget now what led me to it, but a while back I found this recipe for homemade marshmallows. And on the same site, another for homemade graham crackers. Also, Dave cleaned out the wood stove last month and we’ve been building fires on particularly cold days.

You are now thinking the exact same thing that I was.

I had to try it. The marshmallows came together almost effortlessly; the graham crackers were a little more work. But on a recent Sunday afternoon, there they were: the makings of some (almost) entirely homemade s’mores. There is just something exceptionally cool about making something by hand when you’ve always gotten it from a store before. At least, there is for me. To be fair, I come from parents who once (willingly!) made head cheese from pigs they’d raised themselves.

Here are my marshmallow and graham cracker findings:

  • Homemade marshmallows are indeed better than store-bought, particularly in the first couple of days. Maybe it’s just the freshness, but I found these babies to be tender and tasty. I had never considered marshmallows to be a candy in their own right, but these were good enough that I am tempted to make some variations of them for giving out to neighbors for Christmas.
  • Being softer, they didn’t roast well over the fire. They wanted to drip off the stick before getting nice and toasty. S’mores made in the toaster oven, though, worked wonderfully. (Ah, the skills gained during a college education!)
  • Homemade graham crackers are tasty. Dave found them to have “all the good qualities of ginger cookies, but without the nasty ginger flavor.” (He and I differ on this point, as I adore ginger cookies.) He has encouraged me to make them again, and in particular to make them instead of ginger cookies anytime I get the urge for the latter. Also, making them by hand makes it obvious that they are a cookie.
  • Both recipes made a lot. Especially the marshmallows.
  • Because of that, I made a simple bark called Dark Chocolate-Mint Rocky Road Squares with some of the excess. It’s really good, too.

A note on the graham crackers: I made mine almost entirely whole wheat (part whole wheat pastry flour, part white whole wheat flour). They were still very good; definitely denser than store-bought, but tasty and pleasantly crackery. I hadn’t actually intended to do this, but when I went looking in my cupboard I found that I only had a scant half cup on all-purpose flour to my name. Turns out I’ve switched over to white whole wheat flour so completely that I simply don’t buy white flour anymore.

Except for croissants. There’s no way I’m messing around with a recipe that takes two freaking days. But that’s another story.

Brothers

Yes, there are times when it seems like the entire afternoon is spent helping to mediate their interactions. “Nathan, please don’t trap Ryan under the laundry basket.” “Please don’t run him over with the stroller, either.” “Ryan, Nathan was playing with that truck; will you give it back, please?” “Do you hear how he’s screaming? That means he’s unhappy with what you’re doing.” Sometimes it seems that it only takes me focusing my attention on one of them for the other to desperately need me. All day.

But there are other moments. “I give Ryan gentle kiss!” Nathan reports to me occasionally. Or, seeing Ryan straining to reach the kitchen counter, “You want drink, Ryan? Here you go!” As Ryan becomes capable of more sophisticated play, and Nathan becomes better able to understand and match Ryan’s abilities, they sometimes play together seamlessly. Granted, the games they can both enjoy often involve throwing things, or exuberantly unpacking the laundry basket of clean diapers, but it’s worth a little mess to me.

Bed Head

Ryan has had two little swirlies on his head ever since he was born. This means that his hair rarely lies flat; even on tame days he tends to have a little rooster’s tail on top of his head. And it also means that he can have absolutely phenomenal bed head.

I’m enjoying it as much as I can. Eventually he’ll get his first haircut, and this sweet baby hair will be shorn away.