Short and sweet

A couple weeks before Christmas, I set about to whip up some holiday goodies. I started by making a batch of peanut butter and chocolate chip cookies. They tasted delicious, and I should know because I sampled oodles of them.

Next, I made Christmas Chex Party Mix. I’d been hankering to do so for years. Every holiday season – after hearing my nieces rave about Chex Mix for the entire expletive year – I’d share my plans to stir together Chex Mix, only for them to inform me they don’t like Chex.

This year, though, I decided to make Chex Mix, whether they wanted it or not. I’m glad I did, because it tasted delicious and I’ve received rave reviews. By the way, making the mix wasn’t a difficult task. You wouldn’t know that from a commercial that used to air on the TV. It featured a grown woman reminiscing about holidays of yore when her mom toiled in the kitchen to make Chex Mix for her family. From the way she carried on, one would think the chore took several days to complete and left her mom so exhausted she passed out on the floor.

That was not the case for me. Indeed, it was so quick and easy to complete that I then made a half batch of shortbread cookies. I know what you’re thinking. Multiplying and/or dividing a recipe is fraught with danger because it involves math. But math didn’t cause a problem.

Instead, shortening caused a problem.

Specifically, old shortening caused a problem.

I rarely use shortening in recipes, so I wasn’t surprised that the shortening in my cupboards was older than my 17-month-old great-nephew. I was, however, surprised by the smell that filled my nostrils and my kitchen when I removed the lid to the shortening.

Still, I persevered, mixing together the ingredients, including the aged shortening. When mixed together, the cookie dough looked like it was supposed to, so I sampled it.

It tasted like failure.

As regular readers should know, I’m on the cheap side. I abhor waste. But there’s no way I was going to serve cookies that tasted like lard smells. That would have ruined my reputation as a baker of some acclaim. So, I dumped the dough, as well as the old shortening, and started over. Consulting the Internets, I found the ratio for replacing shortening with butter, did more math, and made the dough.

With my nerves frayed, I sampled the second batch of dough and it tasted fine. Of course, the butter rendered the dough more difficult to roll, but I was up to the task. I worried, though, even after tasting the delicious cookies. I said to myself, “Self, what if it’s like muscle memory? What if your taste buds only remember how the cookies should taste? What if this batch also tastes like failure?”

Nonetheless, I shared the cookies with families and friends. The next day, I received a message from a friend advising that the shortbread cookies didn’t have the right taste or texture.

My heart sank, but I quickly recovered and formulated a plan. I would track down every cookie that remained and erase the memory of said cookies from the unfortunate folks who had endured eating them.

But then I read the rest of the message. She was joking. She went on to give the cookies five out of five stars.

Shew.

I learned three important lessons from that batch of cookies – don’t use old shortening, always consider using butter, and math can be tasty.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

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The Christmas Chronicles

Last weekend I watched the new holiday movie, “The Christmas Chronicles,” on the Netflix. The flick follows the exploits of a brother and sister who accidentally cause Santa’s sleigh to crash on Christmas Eve.

While Kurt Russell, who plays Santa, makes the movie worthwhile, it is not without flaw. For starters, the title doesn’t evoke feelings of heartwarming, holiday fare. In fact, when I heard that Russell was attached to something called “The Christmas Chronicles,” I figured he was narrating a documentary that chronicled the holiday through the centuries.

What’s more, the elves are downright scary and annoying. They’re a combination of the demonic Chucky doll and the irritating Ewoks with a dash of Smeagol added to the mix.

Anyway, after the sleigh crashes, Santa and the younglings head to a crowded restaurant looking for help. You read that right. The restaurant is crowded – on Christmas Eve.

As Santa goes from table to table, calling skeptical diners by name and mentioning gifts from their childhoods, I’m sure the filmmakers were trying to make a point about how we lose our belief in the magic of Christmas as we age.

But I couldn’t stop wondering why these families weren’t home, opening presents and shoving homemade goodies into their mouths. Of course, I’m sure some of the characters don’t celebrate the holiday due to religious and/or cultural reasons. Could that be true of all of them, though? I don’t think so.

Then again, I’m always surprised to learn that, unlike my immediate and extended family, not everyone starts their Christmas baking early in December for their various pre-holiday spreads. One year, I asked a former coworker of her plans for Christmas Eve. She told me that, as they do every year, she and her husband planned to spend a quiet evening at home. I also learned they don’t do much for Christmas Day, either. Another former coworker complained to me that her husband’s family did nothing for Christmas.

To be clear, the aforementioned folks do not shy away from Christmas due to religious and/or cultural reasons. They’re not orphans. They have loved ones. So, it took all my resolve not to tell the first coworker she could spend a quiet evening at home on the eve of Christmas Eve and ask the second coworker if I could share some recipes with her husband’s family.

Back to the movie. A couple times in “The Christmas Chronicles,” Santa produces vintage presents from the characters’ childhoods in an effort to prove he’s who he says he is. At least one of the characters doesn’t seem to care. Once again, I was shocked. If Santa were to ask me for help, I’d tell him to produce a fully-stocked 1980’s-era Barbie Dreamhouse and I’d drive him anywhere he wanted to go. But those creepy elves would have to find their own ride.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

The gift you keep on giving

Tis the season of peace on earth, goodwill toward men, and warm and fuzzy holiday car commercials that make me so angry I could snap a candy cane. And not just a regular candy cane, either, but one of those that weigh a couple pounds and could cause a concussion if wielded the right way.

You’ve seen the commercials. A man, or a woman, rushes outside on Christmas morning to find a shiny new automobile wrapped in a bow and parked on a snow-lined driveway. There are variations on this theme including one where a husband upstages the two-for-one fitness trackers his wife purchases by buying two trucks.

That’s right. Because one truck wouldn’t have put them in enough debt.

You might be asking yourself, “Self, what could she possibly have against their fictional joy? After all, these people, who don’t even exist, have nothing to do with her.”

Well, once the commercials started airing on the TV inside my house, they became my business. So, it’s my business to comment on how ridiculous they are.

For starters, I’m fairly certain that if a spouse purchases a big-ticket item like a car – or two trucks – without the other spouse’s knowledge or permission, the second spouse has immediate cause for divorce. For example, if a wife runs into a judge at the dollar store and mentions that her husband plopped down approximately 20 grand on a new vehicle for Christmas without consulting her, I believe the judge has the authority to grant the wife an immediate divorce, right there in the household cleaning supplies aisle.

What’s more, I’ve also spent a considerable amount of time obsessing over who pays for these vehicles. Indeed, I’ve concerned myself with the matter since the first Lexus December to Remember commercials started airing nearly 20 years ago. From the way I see it, there are only two scenarios. In the first one, a spouse robs a bank or goes into heavy debt to purchase the vehicle outright, thereby establishing cause for divorce. (See above.)

In the second scenario, the spouse provides a down payment. And you know what that means? Spouse two is on the hook for five or six years of monthly payments, not to mention the skyrocketing insurance premiums.

Maybe I’m the only person in the universe who struggles to comprehend how this works. But it has always been my belief that the recipient does not pay for the gift. If the recipient does pay, then it’s no longer a gift. It’s a bill. Or, in this case, car payments.

Now that I’ve offered this explanation, you might have a better understanding of why these commercials trigger me. And why it’s not safe to leave candy canes in my presence.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Seize the day

I enjoy baking. One of the desserts, pronounced as zerts by my late father, I most enjoy baking – and eating – is white cupcakes with chocolate buttercream frosting.

A couple years ago, however, I decided to mix it up and make chocolate cupcakes with white chocolate buttercream frosting.

The cupcakes turned out splendidly and, in the end, so did the frosting. It’s just that it never became white chocolate frosting.

Indeed, as I mixed together the frosting, I multitasked by melting the white chocolate baking bars. But the bars didn’t actually melt. Instead, they appeared to scorch and form into puffs.

Assuming I had made a mistake, I expressed gratitude that I hadn’t mentioned the white chocolate aspect of the frosting to my family. Frankly, I feared they would accuse me of using outdated baking goods. And we all know what a ludicrous accusation that would be.

So, my pet army and I made a vow to never again speak of the incident and I scraped the brownish-looking white chocolate into the trash.

Flash forward to last December. As we gathered at my mom’s to prepare Christmas goodies, my sister tried to melt white chocolate chips. Although she frequently stirred them and added copious amounts of oil, the chips turned into scorched puffs. She noted that white chocolate is dern-near impossible to melt and lamented our lack of almond bark.

She might have felt forlorn, but I became so giddy I dern-near skipped down the road.  (I also once again questioned the origin of almond bark. Is it literally the bark of an almond tree? And how does bark come in more than one flavor?)

Anyway, my happiness stemmed from the realization that I hadn’t goofed. It wasn’t me. It was the white chocolate. Flash forward to last week. After I purchased half a flat of strawberries, I decided chocolate-dipped strawberries would improve my quality of life.

As it turned out, I had some white chocolate baking bars in the cabinet. Where did they come from? How long had they been in said cabinet?

None of that matters. All that matters is that I said to myself, “Self, you’ve got nothing to lose. You might as well melt them and see what happens.”

I guess you know what happened. The bars turned into scorched puffs. I’m sure I didn’t help matters by adding milk instead of oil, but I think they were already beyond salvaging.

Fortunately, I had some chocolate baking bars, which I melted. In case you’re wondering, chocolate-dipped strawberries did improve my quality of life.

Yet, due to my thirst for knowledge, I had to know more about melting white chocolate. Was it simply something we Goff sisters struggled to accomplish? Is there an easy remedy?

There’s not.

In fact, based on everything I read, my sister followed the standard operating procedure vis-a-vis melting white chocolate.

My research also resulted in the discovery of a new term – seized chocolate. Surprisingly, this does not refer to confiscation of a bakery’s assets. It’s the term for the scorched puffs created when one unsuccessfully melts white chocolate.

Maybe someday I’ll learn the term for what happens when one successfully melts white chocolate.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

The Homecoming: A Christmas Story

For the most part, I think people who grew up in the ’70s and ’80s can be divided into two camps – those who prefer Little House on the Prairie and those who prefer The Waltons.

I’m definitely in the Waltons camp, so every holiday season I watch The Homecoming: A Christmas Story.

Broadcast on Dec. 19, 1971, The Homecoming opens with snowy scenes of seven children – and a cow – marching in single file across a field. The narrator – author Earl Hamner Jr. – explains that the Depression has forced family patriarch John Walton to find work miles from his home, nestled in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. On this day, Christmas Eve 1933, John has yet to make his way home. Later that night, when family matriarch Olivia Walton learns the icy roads have resulted in a bus crash and the death of an unidentified person, she sends her son, John Boy, out to find his daddy.

The Homecoming was so popular that CBS ordered a full season of the series that would become The Waltons. The only actors who would reprise their roles on the show, however, are the ones who played the children, including Richard Thomas as John Boy, and Grandma Walton.

Kentucky native and Oscar winner Patricia Neal plays Olivia in The Homecoming. Her interpretation of Olivia is harsher than the warmer version Michael Learned would make famous through her award-winning performance on the series.

Neal’s Olivia frequently unleashes her fury at John Boy. She yells at him when the young’uns misbehave and accuses him of smoking cigarettes and bringing bootleg whisky into her home. (The Waltons love pronouns. It’s never just Daddy or Mama or the children, but always my Daddy, your Mama, my children.)

Anyway, when confronted with the truth, Olivia shows a softer, supportive side. She loves her children, but she’s basically a single mother managing a house full of seven young’uns in the dark days of the Depression. It’s no wonder she derives such pleasure in simple things like finding her Christmas cactus and making applesauce cake.

Olivia’s characterization isn’t the only difference between the movie and the series. The movie is much more realistic in general. I love The Waltons, but as much as they carry on about never having any money, I don’t buy what they’re selling. Maybe it’s because, in the depths of their struggles, they invariably find an antique in the attic or a job with some stranger who happens to wander into Ike’s store.

But, in The Homecoming, when Olivia explains to John Boy that the scarves she’s knitted represent the only Santie Claus they’re going to have this year, I buy her every word.

Of course, it turns out that multiple variations of Santie Claus visit the Waltons that Christmas. The most disturbing is a missionary who hands out presents to children gathered at Ike’s store. This part both infuriates and confuses me. Although the missionary insists the children recite a quote from the Bible and also tells them their Sunday school teachers must be proud, she still refers to them as infidels. She comes across as a mixture of ignorance, stupidity, and condescension.

Although it’s clearly spelled out in the opening credits, I didn’t know The Homecoming was based on a separate Hamner novel until last month. I had always assumed the movie, like the series, was based on his book, Spencer’s Mountain. Thankfully, our awesome library district had a copy of The Homecoming, which is now in my possession.

I’ve never read any of Hamner’s work. On the other hand, I read the entire Little House series as a child. Maybe I’ll enjoy The Homecoming. Maybe I won’t. But at least I know I can keep coming home to the movie every Christmas.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.