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Friday, December 23, 2011

Beacon Bits -- Simple Gifts

This year, more than ever, I'm convinced that the 12 days of Christmas should come before December 25; there are just too many things to do before the official festivities begin. There are guided candlelit tours of the local mansions and estates (Boscobel, Mt. Guilian, Locust Grove, Vanderbuilt); holiday concerts (Bardavon, Howland Cultural Center, The Beacon Theatre) and local shopping along the river towns from Cold Spring to Beacon, and north to Rhinebeck and Hudson. All of this plus the usual food and gift shopping, trimming of the tree, baking, wrapping, caroling and visiting family and friends. It's all about the choices we make since it is impossible to do it all. I'm reminded of the wise saying about life -- that it's more about the journey and less about the destination -- and I am trying to heed the advice.

This year's journey included an acute reminder about enjoying simple gifts of the season: the gifts of music and creativity. What a joy to go to the Beacon Sloop Club last Friday for their annual holiday sing-a-long with our local musical talent including Pete Seeger and the Rivertown Kids. Walking into the warmth and coziness of this space with an intergenerational and multicultural 100+ crowd of choristers was like stepping into a staging of a holiday TV special in the 1960's with the Smothers Brothers or Mitch Miller. No need for HDTV or 3-D glasses, just real people getting others to raise their voices in harmonious song.
Following on the heels of the revelry of the sing-in came the "ravelry" of a knit-in with a festive holiday gathering of 14 knitters who frequent an onoing group that's continued for years after the Cold Spring specialty yarn shop, known as Knittingsmith, closed its doors. Other than wonderful food prepared uniquely by each attendee, there was a grab bag of knitted gifts such as snowmen, lace baskets, mittens and snowflakes, all handmade and crafted with love for this annual tradition. Amid the 'oohs' and 'ahs' as each ornament was unwrapped was much appreciation for the generous gift of time and creative spirit within each row of knit and purl.

As if that weren't enough creativity for one weekend, the day came to a close at Hudson Beach Glass where you can blow your own holiday ornament (with help and technical assistance from one of the master glass artists/owners). It's such a popular event that you can start to sign up now for next year's month-long schedule of appointments.
Some food for thought: The traffic and crowded stores can be left behind during the pre-Christmas rush if you choose to participate in the unique offerings around the Hudson Valley. You may need to give up some of the 'have to do' things on the list for the 'will nourish my spirit' choices: an hour of listening to favorite holiday music without it serving as background for doing something else; a few hours of working on finishing a hand-made ornament, scarf, socks or hat for a special someone; experimenting with a new cookie recipe to add to the mix of one's childhood favorites; mindfully selecting each decoration that is placed around the house, day by day, rather than trying to rush and do it all in one fell swoop when tired, hungry or cranky. This frame of mind was affirmed when I became frustrated with putting the tree stand together the other night. Rather than continuing to fight, after a full 30 minutes, to line the pieces up so that the long screws could engage correctly, I just happened to turn the stand on its side and it fell into place. It served as a reminder that we can shift our perspective when we look at something in a new way, by accident or by choice. You may just want to accidentally choose to "unplug the Christmas tree" this year and focus on savoring the simple gifts of the season. It just might turn Christmas upside down for you; I don't think you'll regret it.

Simply the Best Rice Pudding
A Norwegian Tradition
Aunt Fanny's Rice Cream

1/2 cup arborio rice
1/2 cup sugar
1 qt. whole milk
1 tbs. pure vanilla extract
1 cup heavy cream
1 egg yolk

Put milk, rice, sugar and vanilla extract into a large pot (I get the milk to room temperature first and start to heat it before I add rice and sugar); heat on medium flame. You'll need to stay nearby because you'll be stirring often, otherwise the rice sticks to the bottom of the pot and the sugar burns. You'll cook this for about an hour on a medium to low flame; eventually you'll see the rice thicken -- keep stirring frequently at this point. When you get to about 70 min. of cooking (you never bring it to a boil but it could boil if you raised the heat), take pot off the stove and then add the 1 cup heavy cream and 1 egg yolk (i.e. whisk the egg yolk with some of the cream in a small bowl, add the cream to the mixture in the pot first; then slowly add egg yolk mix while stirring constantly so the egg yolk doesn't cook.) Return to heat and cook for another 10 min. - you could test if it's done by raising the heat: if it boils vigorously while stirring furiously, then it's ready. Remove from heat and pour into a bowl. After it cools down for about 10-15 minutes, cover the top with wax paper -- this keeps it from forming a skin -- and then place in refrigerator overnight. (The recipe can easily be doubled; you can top with cinnamon when serving, but the Norwegian way is to put some whipped cream on top and raspberry or red currant syrup; serve in a glass like a parfait. Or you can put fresh berries or lingonberry jam on top. I've even used warmed local maple syrup of good quality.) I never put raisins in this rice cream, but on on Christmas eve when it is served in a Norwegian home, we put a whole almond in the rice pudding -- whoever gets the almond 'wins' a marzipan pig as a prize for good luck for the coming year. It's hard to find the marzipan pig these days unless you go to a specialty import store, but I did find the raspberry syrup (“Marco Polo”) this year at Adams Fairacre Farms.

1 comment:

  1. If we truly treasure the simple gifts of life, we can unload the angst of yearning for what we cannot have at this time.

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