This year I first noticed the Christmas displays beginning in late September.
Well before Halloween not to mention Thanksgiving!
While I was still occasionally jumping in my favorite Minnesota lakes!
Every year I face this season with mixed feelings. Some of those feelings are based on the darkness that claims the late afternoon. I do miss the sunlight.
Mostly though, my grumpiness is about the headlong and heedless plunge into unconscious excess. The ones who have so much glut themselves with even more and go a little cuckoo in the process. People get stressed out, spend money they don’t have and carry on traditions that may have lost their meaning years ago. There is a whirlwind of social obligations and the tendency to eat and drink way too much. And now there is bizarre movement about “the war on Christmas” that drives its adherents to blurt “Merry Christmas” to everyone as a kind of political statement. Sheesh. As if this time wasn’t hard enough on Jews, Muslims and other non-Christians.
I do have friends and family members who come alive in this season. You know these people – and you may even be one of them. They cherish the traditions, bake ten kinds of cookies and thrive in the busy-ness. Some even enjoy Black Friday sales. I am sincerely happy for them and enjoy their joy.
Truth be told, I am grateful that my holiday season has become so simple. I make my “miracle five-spice almonds” by the bucket load. They make my house smell divine, contain only wholesome ingredients and make my friends shudder with delight when they see them. The recipe is below….and you’re welcome!
I sing the old carols, preferably in harmony with a bunch of red-cheeked people outside or in hospital rooms. I play my three seasonal CD’s with great relish – Sting’s “If On a Winter’s Night,” Peter Mayer’s “Midwinter” and my now-deceased friend Hiram Titus’s amazing piano renditions of carols. I go to a few parties that dear friends throw every year. See the same sweet people. Eat the caramel rolls. Walk the spiral under the night sky. Christmas Eve is with Mom – the two of us having a quiet feast and playing Scrabble. Christmas Day I fly to Atlanta to spend a few days with my brother’s family. And then it’s over.
I breathe a sigh of relief and turn my attention toward the returning light and a fresh new year.
Here is a gift you don’t need to unwrap, return or even open: my little seasonal anthem, Simple Season.
Feel free to pass it along to friends and family — with a few of these almonds….
Barbara’s Miracle Almonds
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Ovens vary and this stuff burns quickly.
1 cup real maple syrup (no fake stuff…..)
4 T. butter (1/2 stick)
2 tsp. Chinese five-spice powder
6 cups raw almonds
Melt the butter, maple syrup and five-spice powder over low heat until it’s combined.
Measure out the almonds in a big old bowl — blue is good. Pour the melted stuff over the nuts and stir until everything’s coated nicely.
Put a piece of aluminum foil over a cookie sheet with edges. Spread half the coated nuts evenly and pop them into the oven. Set the timer for 10 minutes.
Gently stir the nuts around a bit, being careful not to disturb the foil if you can.
Pop them back in for 10 more minutes OR SO.
Did I mention these burn quickly? Keep your nose awake and watch to make sure that the nuts stay toasty brown and not wicked black….unless you like them like that.
I did without the foil for years and spent a lot of time scrubbing even the non-stick surface. This way, you can make lots of batches with only one pan. Just allow the batch to cool for a few minutes, then pick the whole thing up and put it on a platter. Put the next sheet of foil down on the cookie sheet and you’re ready for the next round.