Category Archives: Tradition

Vegetarian Friday: Mom’s fruitcake

NOTE: I managed to let the entire Christmas season get away from me without posting the holiday blogs I’d planned, so this recipe is either too late (seriously: Don’t make it today and plan on eating it Sunday, or you’ll be terribly disappointed) or impressively early. If you assume the latter and make it now, it should be spectacular by December 2017.

People who regard fruitcake as a punchline are miserable souls who have probably spent their lives eating the wretched commercially prepared alcohol sponges that pass for fruitcake in those gift baskets you buy for people you don’t really like.

It is entirely possible to make fruitcake that tastes good. I know because my mom has been doing it for decades.

Before we start, I need you to understand three important principles concerning fruitcake.

Principle 1: Candied fruit has no place in a fruitcake. People who think it does probably drink flavored coffee and approve of the designated hitter.

Principle 2: Green-tinted maraschino cherries are a Communist plot to destroy humanity. They are little green balls of mint-flavored poison, to paraphrase Patrick. Never, ever put them in a fruitcake for any reason.

Principle 3: Booze has a legitimate purpose in fruitcake, but that purpose is not to get you drunk. If you’re making fruitcake to hide your alcohol consumption, click here.

Now that you understand the basics, you’re ready to make fruitcake the way God intended: Using my mom’s recipe.

Ingredients
1 c. cider or apple juice
1-2 c. dried apricots*
1 pkg. whole dates (10 or 12 oz.)
1 c. raisins or currants
16 oz. red maraschino cherries, drained
1 c. English walnuts
1 c. pecans
1 c. hazelnuts or Brazil nuts**
3 c. all-purpose flour
1 c. butter
1 c. sugar
4 large eggs
1/4 c. orange juice or maraschino syrup
1/4 c. apple juice
1/4 c. molasses (NOT blackstrap)

Chop fruit coarsely. (Mom says poultry shears work well for this.) Boil 1 cup apple cider or juice and pour over dried fruit. Mix. Dump nuts on top of fruit and set aside.

In mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.

Combine liquid ingredients. Add to batter alternately with 2 cups of the flour, blending thoroughly after each addition. Add remaining cup of flour to fruit, which has been soaking in the juice, stirring to lightly coat fruit.

Add fruit to batter all at once, blending well so fruit is coated with batter.

Pack into greased and floured loaf pans so that each one is 3/4 full.

Bake at 275 degrees until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean and cakes are a medium brown (at least an hour and 15 minutes; probably longer, depending on your oven).

Let cool in pans, remove, wrap in clean towels moistened with cider or hard liquor (Mom swears by Southern Comfort for this; I’ve gotten good results from Kilbeggan’s, but any decent whiskey is probably fine), then wrap tightly with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator in a big ziplock bag.

About once a week, check the moisture level and re-moisten the towels as needed to keep them damp. Mom says to alternate between booze and cider for this or the fruitcake will end up tasting like whiskey, which is NOT what you want. Your goal here is just to keep it from drying out or getting moldy while it ages.

As long as you keep the towel moist and the bag sealed between snacks, fruitcake will keep indefinitely in the refrigerator. The longer it ages, the more the flavors will blend, so I wouldn’t even touch it for at least two weeks.

I like to keep fruitcake in the refrigerator and eat it after hard workouts. The nutritional content is just about ideal for refueling after a long run.

Emily

*You can substitute other dried fruit for some of the apricots. Mom has had good luck with dried pears and dried pineapple. Check the comments, because she’ll probably weigh in with suggestions.

**Black walnuts are also wonderful, but don’t use more than a half-cup, as their flavor is pretty strong, and you don’t want them to overpower everything.

Eco-Saturday: Christmas shopping

I’ve never quite understood why Madison Avenue expects us to celebrate the birth of Jesus with an orgy of gluttony and avarice. It runs completely counter to Christ’s mission, and buying boatloads of excess junk — most of it packed in plastic and cardboard — and then wrapping it in paper we’re just going to throw away is spectacularly awful for the environment.

I’m not going to pretend I don’t participate in holiday gift-giving. It’s tradition, and my friends and family would be hurt if I didn’t. But I try to be responsible about it.

Here are a few ways to minimize the ecological impact of your holiday shopping:

1. Keep it local. Locally produced goods save fuel, and they’re better for your local economy, because more of the money you spend stays in town.

2. Keep it practical. I live in a 730-square-foot bungalow. Anything that comes in this house has to be small, useful or both, because we don’t have room to store a lot of random shiny objects. We’re particularly fond of consumables. I’m always glad to get cookie or cocoa mix in a jar, handmade soap, hand lotion, candles and the like. Gifts for the garden — such as this grow-your-own morels kit — also go over well. (Yeah, that was a shameless hint.) And some gifts truly “keep on giving”; for instance, LED lightbulbs, power strips to help eliminate phantom loads, shrinkwrap window insulation kits, draft stoppers and so forth may not be traditional presents, but they all save the recipient boatloads of money over time. Know a runner who drinks a lot of bottled water? Give him a faucet-mounted water filter and several reusable bottles. Does someone on your Christmas list love microbreweries? Buy her a home-brewing kit. Is a friend spending half his paycheck on K-cups that go straight into the landfill? Get him a reusable filter and a pound of locally roasted fair-trade coffee.

3. Recycle. Antiques, vintage clothing, vinyl records and used books all make great gifts for people whose tastes you know well. As for wrapping: Packages look cute wrapped in newspaper and tied with colorful bows, and sturdy gift bags can be reused year after year.

4. Give your time. The coupon books I made last year for the children in my life were a big hit, and I’m betting the memories of the time we’ve spent together this year will last far longer than any toy. For adults, consider offering to do chores such as mowing the yard, babysitting, steaming the carpets, weeding the garden, etc.

5. Make your own gifts. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
Homemade seasoning mixes.
Herbal tea in a jar. (Instructions for drying your own herbs are here; when giving loose tea, be sure to include an infuser. I use this $3 model, but I’m considering an upgrade.)
The aforementioned coupon books.
Sock monkeys. (Pattern here.)
Draft stoppers.
Home-canned treats such as salsa, pickles or hot sauce.
Homemade soap.
Collections of heirloom seeds saved from your own garden.
Beekeepers, you know what to do.

6. Make a donation. We’re big fans of Heifer International, which allows you to donate sustainable gifts — such as farm animals, irrigation pumps or biogas stoves — to people in developing countries. (I bet you can guess our favorite item in that catalog.)

Emily

Random question

Why is it that the macaroni you get in prefabbed boxes of mac and cheese is straight, but the kind you get by itself is curved? Is this a cost-saving maneuver? Like, does it cost extra to curl it? Or will the straight kind only breed in captivity? I’m truly baffled.

Yeah, I have no idea why I thought of that, either, but I bet you can guess what kind of high-quality dinner I made for myself this evening.

Lunch: frozen pizza.
Dinner: mac and cheese out of a box and two leftover pigs in blankets.
Dessert: Franken Berry and a big glass of grape Kool-Aid, prolly.

It’s like I’m not even pretending to be an adult any more.

Speaking of Franken Berry, today’s BlogHer prompt was: “Tell us about your favorite autumnal treat.”

Until last fall, I’d have said caramel apples, but then I found out General Mills waltzes out the monster cereals (Franken Berry, Count Chocula and Boo Berry) for Halloween. I have no idea why anyone would want blueberry-flavored anything, and as much as I love chocolate, I don’t really want it in my cereal, but I have developed an inexplicable fondness for Franken Berry. It’s pretty much the only thing I find tolerable about fall, and it certainly beats the hell out of these pumpkin-spice abominations that have flooded the market lately.

I can’t decide what irritates me more: Ruining perfectly good beer and coffee by lacing them with squash extract, or giving indecisive twentysomething girls who don’t like coffee one more excuse to tie up the line at Starbucks. (If I haven’t had my coffee yet, and you’re the only thing standing between me and it, it’s probably in your best interest to hurry up. Just sayin’.)

Anyway. Franken Berry. Getchu some.

Emily

March madness

I have no idea why, but for as long as I can remember, the middle of March has been insanely busy.

I think it started with junior-high science fair, continued into high-school musical rehearsals, grew into magazine design projects of epic proportions, and snowballed from there.

This year, after the Oklahoma Route 66 Association president earned my undying loyalty and affection by constructing a beautiful, shimmering Somebody Else’s Problem shield around the Trip Guide for the first time in nine years, I assumed I’d get to find out what March looks like to normal people.

Yeah, I don’t know what I was thinking, either. I know better than that.

With a reporter out on maternity leave and staffing issues reaching critical levels, I volunteered to cover for a designer who’s out on vacation this week … right before my editor decided to move up the deadline on a largely hypothetical project that of course began spinning wildly out of control the second it became real … and just when I thought I might be able to reel that all in and keep things from getting too complicated, I remembered I had a murder trial to cover this week.

The upshot of all this is that by 11:30 p.m. Tuesday, I had already worked nearly 40 hours this week, and I’ve got another 40 or so ahead of me before the week is out.

After all these years, I’m not even pretending to worry about it, because an 80-hour week full of utter madness is as much a sign of spring as the crocus blooming next to the front porch, the flat of tomato plants growing in the dining room and the ballplayers warming up in Arizona and Florida. I don’t know why or how it happens, but I’d probably freak out if it didn’t.

As soon as I get through this week, I’m going to treat myself to some new lawn ornaments. I’ve got an utterly hilarious idea for a little garden tableau involving a handful of concrete angels and a lawn gnome in pinstripes and Chucks….

Emily

Daybook for Nov. 30

For today…

Outside my window… the silence of Red Fork after midnight.
I am thinking… that I really like working out on the Wave bag at kempo.
From the classroom… prefix quizzes to cut apart for tomorrow.
I am thankful for… my woodstove.
From the kitchen… a bowl of Malt-O-Meal to warm me up.
I am wearing… gi bottoms and a T-shirt.
I am reading… The Physics of Baseball. If I ever have free time to pick it up again.
I am hoping… my classes behave well for the sub on Friday.
I am creating… algebra tests.
I am praying… to know that my kids are capable of making wise decisions, despite their tendency toward youthful impetuosity.
Around the house… a fidgety rat terrier and a busy cat.
One of my favorite things… the availability of Pop-Tarts in the vending machines at school.
A few plans for the rest of the week… lots of grading and lots of decaf cappuccino.

Here is a picture thought I am sharing with you…

This is a Christmas ornament I made when I was about Jamie’s age. I was very proud of it. It’s supposed to be a star, but Mom just calls it the “whizzy thing.” I got the idea from a Romper Room bit in which the kids on the show cut out paper ornaments and colored them. I used Crayolas from a box of 64 and paper from an Academie sketch pad to make my own version. I don’t know why I remember that.

Emily

More candy

I made a double batch of truffles tonight, which turned out very well, and a single batch of divinity, which failed when my candy thermometer went on the fritz. (Long story, but the thermometer has serious problems that will necessitate replacement before I attempt another temperature-sensitive project.)

I also boiled a can of sweetened condensed milk for two hours and let it cool. If I felt ambitious, I’d nuke a bag of miniature Hershey Kisses and start in on my turtle project, but I’m starting to run out of steam after too many consecutive hours in the kitchen. I’ll just pick up a thermometer tomorrow and do another batch of divinity along with the turtles. I’m going to cheat and just chop the pecans and sprinkle them into the caramel this time. Arranging the pecan pieces to make the turtle’s head and feet results in a cute finished product, but I’m not sure it’s cute enough to be worth the time involved. 

Emily

UPDATE: I went ahead and made turtles, cut some of the peanut-butter fudge into little heart shapes with a cookie cutter (it finally set up last night … just took longer than usual to do it), and formed the rest of the peanut-butter fudge into little balls, which I dipped in dark chocolate. Now, if I can just get a new candy thermometer tomorrow, I can make another batch of divinity and have my Christmas candy project all finished.

Oh, fuuuuuuuudge!

Oi. What a night. I had a meeting right after school today, followed by another meeting at 7 p.m. In between, I wrote the study guide for the final exam I’m giving next week, and when I got home from the second meeting, I wrote the exam itself.

Various and sundry claims of illness and other problems had left me feeling pretty run-down the past couple of weeks, but I finally reclaimed my rightful energy level tonight: When I finished writing my exam, I felt strong enough to make two batches of fudge — one peanut butter and one chocolate-walnut. Despite the fact that I did everything exactly right, the peanut butter batch wouldn’t set up. I am attributing this to the oil content in the peanut butter, which seemed a little high. I think I used a different brand last time.

Oh well. I’m planning to do truffles, turtles and divinity this weekend. While I’m in the kitchen, I think I can mix the failed peanut-butter fudge (which tastes awesome, even if it isn’t quite the right texture) with some powdered sugar, roll it into balls, and dip it in chocolate. I couldn’t remember how much chocolate I actually needed, so I bought about five bags of Hershey’s Special Dark chocolate chips and three bags of mini-Kisses. I figured anything I didn’t use for candy would be just fine in cookies or Hello Dolly pie. At least two bags of chocolate chips are destined to become truffles this weekend, and a bag of Kisses will end up coating the turtles. I may dip some divinity in chocolate just for giggles. I think we have established that I have no compunction about gilding any available lily within an inch of its life.

Part of me really wants to make fondant this year, but I need a set of metal candy bars and a marble slab, neither of which is available at Target. I’m sure Williams-Sonoma has what I need, but I can’t seem to muster the enthusiasm to brave the crowds at Utica Square just so I can add one more candymaking project to the umpteen I already do every year. I suppose I could start with a batch of the no-cook butter fondant from the Wilton candy book. I look at that recipe every year, and I wind up getting tired before I get to it every year. Maybe this will be the year I try that and the sparkly dishes made of hard candy.

Hope your evening was productive….

Emily

Chocolate recipes

As promised, here are my Christmas candy recipes. When I say “butter,” I mean butter, not margarine, and when I say “chocolate chips,” I mean chocolate, not “chocolate-flavored pieces.”

Turtles

Labor-intensive, but worth the trouble if you or someone you love is crazy about turtles.

1 can sweetened condensed milk
Three 12-oz. bags chocolate chips
About 2 tbsp. canola oil
About 3/4 c. pecan pieces
1/2 stick of butter

Boil the unopened can of milk in a pan of water for two hours to turn it into soft caramel. While it boils, toast the pecan pieces in butter over a low flame until butter starts to brown. Remove from heat and let cool. Mix chocolate chips and oil in a microwave-safe dish and microwave until chocolate is melted, stirring every 30 seconds.

Line cookie sheets with waxed paper. Use a teaspoon to make puddles of chocolate 1 1/2 to 2 inches in diameter on the cookie sheets. Arrange six pecan pieces on each puddle to make the legs, head, and tail of the turtle. Chill until the chocolate hardens.

When the caramel has cooled, open the can and place a spoonful of caramel in the center of each turtle. Chill for a few minutes, then spoon melted chocolate over each turtle, completely covering the caramel, and chill until chocolate hardens. Store in sealed containers in the refrigerator. Makes about 50 turtles.

Stained-glass windows: Use this recipe, but sprinkle the waxed paper with about a half-cup of chopped nuts or coconut before wrapping up each log. Not my favorite candy, but quick, easy, and great for adding color to gift baskets and whatnot.

Ribbon fudge: Make two batches of Fantasy Fudge — one peanut butter, one chocolate — and layer them in a greased 9×13 pan. To make peanut butter fudge, substitute a cup of cheap peanut butter (NOT all-natural — it’s too oily!) for the chocolate chips. Also, I recommend using a large jar of marshmallow cream instead of a small one for each batch. My all-time favorite fudge recipe.

Black walnut fudge: Stir a cup of black walnuts into a batch of Foolproof Chocolate Fudge. Not the world’s best fudge, but worth the five minutes it takes to make it. I suspect a small jar of marshmallow creme would improve it.

Truffles

This recipe is basically an easier-to-measure version of the one in the Complete Wilton Book of Candy, which I highly recommend. Time-consuming but very easy, and great for impressing people. Best with Ghirardelli chips, but Nestle will do in a pinch.

About 3/4 c. heavy cream
18 oz. chocolate chips (about a bag and a half)
Sprinkles, chopped nuts, coconut, powdered sugar, cocoa, whatever

Bring cream to a boil over low heat, stirring constantly. Remove from heat, stir in chocolate chips, and set pan in the fridge for half an hour to set up.

Drop teaspoonfuls of chocolate onto waxed paper and return chocolate to fridge until it’s the consistency of stiff playdough. Form chocolate into balls and roll in something nice (nonpareils, chopped nuts, coconut, cocoa, powdered sugar, etc.) Store in the refrigerator. Makes about 50 truffles.

Emily

On a roll

So. I’ve been up since 8 o’clock yesterday morning, and I am feeling GREAT. So great, in fact, that after lunch at Ike’s with some friends of ours from Chandler, I headed over to Reasor’s and bought (hopefully) all the ingredients I’ll need to do my Christmas candy this year.

Most years, I go all-out making candy to give to friends and take to holiday parties. I haven’t really been in the mood to mess with it in a couple of years, but with the tree finally up and my pretty little LEDs hanging above the window today, I feel good and Christmasy, so I think this evening, I’ll attempt ribbon fudge, chocolate fudge, chocolate truffles, turtles, stained-glass windows, and candy dishes.

I’d like to make some divinity, but I think I’ll wait, as it’s a bit temperamental in damp weather, and between today’s misty skies and the 15 years that have elapsed since the last time I made a batch, I don’t feel quite up to the task.

The candy dishes are a new one for me. I’ve looked at the recipe — which is quite simple — a zillion times, but I never quite worked up the nerve to try it. We’ll see how it goes. Recipes and photos forthcoming when I finish these projects….

Emily

UPDATE 1: As of 5:24 p.m., the ribbon fudge and black walnut fudge are done and cooling in the fridge, the truffles are on their second cooldown, and I just finished making the caramel for the turtles. I hope the black walnut fudge turns out well. I tried a new recipe. Based on the spoon I licked, I think it will be passable … not spectacular, but certainly edible. Next up: melting the chocolate and toasting the pecans for the turtles and making the stained-glass windows.

Oh, and P.S.: I’m still not tired. 🙂

UPDATE 2: The truffles are finished, the fudge is all finished and cut into bite-sized pieces, and the turtles are in the refrigerator so the chocolate can set up. I also decorated my gumdrop tree, which is a truly dreadful bit of kitsch I picked up at Vintage Holiday a couple of years ago but never got around to using. It’s perfectly awful. I’ll photograph it later. Right now, I have to pick up more chocolate chips, as I’ve run out and still have to make stained-glass windows.

Thirty-six hours without sleep, and I’m still going strong. My teacher is awesome. 🙂