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Honey Lime Beet Salad

Honey Lime Beet Salad

Honey Lime Beet SaladI can feel the weight of winter lifting. The daylight stretching. What joy it is to watch the winter wonderland melt away, as green blooms subtly at every roundabout. Alarmingly, someone said something about swimsuits the other day….eek, what? No. Not ready for that. The trotting in of Spring alone will captivate me for an endearing amount of time before I have to think about bathing suits and heat stricken days!

Although I haven’t been thinking about bikinis, I have been thinking about beets. Roasted beets drizzled with a light honey lime vinaigrette served on a bed of crisp baby arugula or a mix thereof. This salad is inspired by a recipe I saw in Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table. Although there are many ways to eat beets, roasting them is sure to bring out their richest flavors.

How to Roast BeetsGolden Beets

I thought I would finish out the winter season with this salad that is perfectly colorful and upbeat for the coming tulips. I used golden beets, which are, perhaps, slightly less sweet than the more commonly found red beets, but either one will work fine in this recipe. Look for beets with their stems still attached and lively.

Roasted Golden BeetsRoasting beets brings out their rich earthy undertones, however, I have also peeled the beets with a vegetable peeler and finely julienned them for a raw salad when pressed for time. Both ways are delicious, but differ in obvious texture. If you try the raw method, let the julienned beets marinate in a small portion of the prepared vinaigrette before tossing into the salad (the amount of marinading time is up to you).

Honey Lime VinaigretteHoney Lime Vinaigrette

The honey lime vinaigrette can be spiced up with some red pepper flakes, which adds a nice punch to the sweet tang aspect of the dressing. Either way, the sweetness of the honey compliments so much in this salad from the earthy beets to the peppery arugula. I’m just sayin’. It is GOOD.

Honey Lime Beet Salad

If you choose not to use pecorino on the salad, then substitute it with another salty cheese. All of the individual ingredients are playing their big part well here, including the salty pecorino.

Honey Lime Beet Salad

HONEY LIME BEET SALAD

Although root vegetables are traditionally thought of as a winter vegetable, beets are generally available all year round. When tossed with a light dressing concocted with honey and lime juice, you will not have to twist my arm very hard to convince me that roasting beets moving into any season is the right thing to do.

If pressed for time, this salad can be made raw, by peeling and finely julienning the beets (or grating them on the large holes of a box grater) and then marinading them in a small portion of the vinaigrette before tossing with the greens. My preference is roasted, but this is a nice alternative when in a pinch for time.

Inspired by Dorie Greenspan
Makes 4 large, or 6 small salads

Salad:

3 golden or red beets, peeled and cut into 1 1/2 inch pieces
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt
Fresh ground pepper
7 ounces / 200 grams arugula, washed and dried
1/3 cup pepitas
1/3 cup red onion, small diced
½ cup pecorino romano shavings

Honey Lime Vinaigrette:

Zest of one lime
¼ cup / 60 ml lime juice
2 tablespoons champagne vinegar
2 tablespoons honey
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
Pinch of salt
1/3 cup olive oil

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Toss beet pieces with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Lay in a single layer on a parchment lined baking sheet and roast for 30 minutes, or until fork tender and slightly crisp on their edges.

2. Meanwhile, make the vinaigrette. Combine all of the vinaigrette ingredients, except the olive oil in a small bowl.  While whisking, drizzle in olive oil and continue to whisk until vinaigrette is completely emulsified.

3. Toss arugula, pepitas, red onion, pecorino, and roasted beets together with the vinaigrette and serve immediately.

Photo Note: beets photographed were roasted with skins on, but after testing recipe, I decided I preferred the flavor and texture better using the above described roasting method, which renders a crisp golden outside and tender inside.

Blood Orange Prosecco

Blood Orange Cocktail

Blood Orange Prosecco

Prosecco, in my tongue’s mind, is like the Italian’s masculine version of the French’s feminine champagne. It is a balance of dry white wine with apple-ess sweetness, bearing a sparkling and crisp nature. Not as bubbly as a glass of “bubbly,” but certainly enough to add interest.

One might think of this cocktail as an evening mimosa-like drink, only better, perhaps. More complex with sweet tartness from the blood orange juice and zip from limes.

Blood Orange ProseccoBlood Orange Prosecco

A small detail, such as crusting the rim of a glass with the zest of fresh oranges and crystals of sugar really should not be overlooked. Of course, it is optional.  But really, such a simple step truly makes this drink feel special, not to mention the added compliment the sweet bitter rim adds to the crisp, citrus liquid that follows.

Blood Orange ProseccoBlood oranges are not always easy to come by. I generally only see them at the store during peek citrus season, so feel free to substitute them with Navel, Cara Cara, or Valencia oranges.

This drink was sort of a late impromptu Valentine’s toast. By late, I mean a week or so thereafter. Valentine’s day fell mid-week, and was swept away comforting sick little ones. Oh, the brute of winter and the catching of every cold and flu in season. My sweet husband gallivanted across town that day over the lunch hours to dine, cafeteria-style, with each of our older daughters at their respective schools. He hand delivered a rose to each of them–blessed man.

With kids on the mend, there would be a date night somewhere on the horizon for us, but in the meantime it never hurts to connect over an unscripted happy hour at home.

Cheers!

Amanda

Blood Orange Cocktail

Blood Orange Prosecco

This crisp cocktail is a beacon of citrus light in the haze of winter. It is effervescent amongst rich, hearty meals, and even slight enough to serve as an impromptu happy hour at home. The cocktail amount is for a single serving so increase amounts accordingly; however, the orange sugar is enough for 4-6 rims. If you cannot find blood oranges, another sweet variety, such as Navel, Cara Cara, or Valencia will do. This is best when the Prosecco is heavily chilled, so do not overlook this step.
Ingredients
  • Orange Sugar for Rim:
  • 2 tablespoons cane or turbinado sugar
  • Zest of 2 blood oranges
  • Cocktail Contents:
  • ¼ cup / 60 ml blood orange juice (about 2 small oranges)
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • 2 teaspoons cane or turbinado sugar
  • 8 oz / 236 ml chilled Prosecco
  • Orange or Lime slices for garnish (optional)
Instructions
  1. Combine the orange zest with sugar on a plate. To rim each glass, rub the rim with a wedge of an orange or lime, then gently work the rim of the glass in the zested sugar until evenly coated. Whisk together blood orange juice, lime juice, and sugar until sugar is dissolved. Pour juice into rimmed cocktail glass and top off with measured Prosecco. Serve immediately.

 

 

Creamy Cauliflower Cannellini Soup

Creamy Cauliflower Soup

White Velvet Soup

This time of year my belly just aches for soup. The only trouble I have, is deciding which route to go–chunky and hearty or smooth and velvety. With cauliflower, I don’t know that it is really up for debate, although that is an interesting thought: chunky cauliflower soup? Nevertheless, I stayed a bit more traditional and opted for smooth and velvety.

White Velvet SoupCauliflower Soup

Cauliflowers are gnarly and a little beautiful, in an organic sort of way. I love how the leaves are hugging at the base.

I have made cauliflower soup many times before, and could never quite master the texture. It was in need of heavy cream, perhaps? More cauliflower, less broth was another attempt, but still not quite the end result I had desired. My husband, nor I were ever completely satisfied. With an overstocked pantry of cannellini beans, I found my resolve.  The addition of fiber and protein was merely a bonus, as it ultimately was the texture that I was after (well, and my husband’s approval because I like cauliflower soup).

Read more…

Meyer Lemon Cornmeal Muffins

Meyer Lemon Cornmeal Muffins

Cornbread Muffins

Citrus season has cast its twinkling light in the gloomy days of winter. We’ve un-apologetically inhaled eight mouth-watering pounds of oranges each week for the last three weeks straight. And my baby is curled on my lap as I pitter patter on my keyboard sucking her very own slice of meyer lemon. I can hardly blame her for wanting her own, for meyer lemons are sweeter than their counterparts. Most days she stands at my feet in the kitchen waiting for a finger dipped in batter to be outstretched in the direction of her mouth, but today her begging hands were curiously greeted with a golden slice of citrus.  There is something very special indeed about these sunshine jewels peaking in the the dead of cold winter months–such a lovely splash of brightness amongst hearty stews and grey skies.

Meyer Lemon Recipe Lemon Cornbread Muffins

It may sound ridiculous, but I stood photographing these lemons and began to admire their symmetry and beauty. I imagined rays of sunbeams bursting from their centers, or placing stems of sage at their base to make happy yellow, poppy-looking flowers. They play a cheerful and subtle role in these honey-kissed muffins.

Meyer Lemon

As mentioned before, I have never been one to balk at winters dark nights and chilled days. They entitle me to recoil and reflect in the comfort of my own home. In addition, they send me into fits of baking and soup making, to which I would hardly be so unkind as to not share my oven successes with you.

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Classic Hummus with Extras

How to make hummus

How to make hummus

Hummus is one of those genius culinary concepts from ancient times. I applaud the humans that thought to paste sesame seeds, and the humans who thought to cook garbanzo beans to the point of unrecognizable mashability, and last, but certainly not least, the machinist who invented a food processor which makes my life ridiculously easy at times. Through their brilliance, mankind has benefited from a complex and satisfying dip, spread, topping, nibble and nosh we call hummus. The variations are endless–roasted garlic, roasted red pepper, kalamata olives, herbs galore, and more. All whipped into a finger-dipping fluff.

Classic Hummus

Sometimes I just want to appreciate a good thing for what it is. No tampering, no messing, no-techno versions of Christmas classics, please! Just straight up traditional. Boring? Hardly. Sometimes the prettiest girl at the prom isn’t the one in red boasting that bold is more beautiful, but rather the one draped in a simple gown played down to accentuate her natural beauty.

Classic Creamy Hummus

Classic creamy, fluffy hummus teeters on the branding of comfort food in my book. Drizzle with good quality olive oil, a dusting of fresh ground pepper, and perhaps some toasted pine nuts. This makes a perfect wrap spread, fresh veggie dip, and is excellent with toasted pita wedges and kalamata olives on the side. I contemplated whether it was sufficient to categorize hummus under appetizers and snacks alone on this site, and ultimately I resisted the temptation of labeling it a main course despite its possibilities of standing alone for a small lunch.

Wait, there is more regarding this, dare I call it by such a humble name, “bean dip”… always more. Why? Because I just can’t leave well enough alone, as sometimes I ought to, but in this case, I believe I am excused…

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Black Bean + Green Quesadilla with Lime Sour Cream

Black Bean Quesadilla

Black Bean Quesadilla

Every week, I am sure to throw a couple quick and easy meals into my game plan. Mostly because I am certain there will be at least one night where I don’t feel like cooking, and another night where I lost myself in creativity or child play only to peer at the clock which reads 5:34 p.m. and nothing has been started in the direction of feeding my tribe. I carry no shame in cutting cook time to spend the extra half hour of my life curled on the sofa with my children nestled on both sides reading And Then It’s Spring (a new favorite) as we pine for a season that brings budding leaves and sprouting tulips. Still, despite how I let the hours slip by, our grumbling tummies tell us we must eat. And soon.

Although, I love a good slow roasted cut of meat or simmering stew in the winter months as much as the next bloke, I am equally satisfied by the melding of simple seasoned chicken, a slathering of refried black beans, bits of greens, and oozing melted feta. Especially when I know it will act as my redeemer to such a late start at preparing dinner for the starving vultures (a.k.a. my children) that circle my kitchen as the dinner hour rapidly approaches.

These blessed black bean quesadillas can be on the table in less than half an hour.

Black Bean Quesadilla

When layering the ingredients on the base tortilla, leave a good inch for the ooze factor that occurs upon cutting the finished good. A couple pinches of ground cumin for flavor depth. Of course you could stir a teaspoon or two into the black beans to ensure even distribution, but really, sprinkling is so much more fun and simple.

Black Bean and Green Quesadilla

Be generous with the cilantro. Jalapeños are optional, but highly recommended. I removed the seeds and none of my itty bitties complained about their dinner being too spicy. A quick assembly, brush of the hands, and onto the hot griddle.

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Kale Hazelnut Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette

Kale Salad

The sun is shining today after several cloud loomed afternoons. It is warming and has put a slight spring in my step. The ability to take in fresh air with my kids has been the biggest benefit after weeks of colds and humidifier-filled nights. I do love winter for its hibernation qualities. There is something enchanting about burrowing deep into one’s own nest and spending evenings with board games and popcorn, but the need to explore nature eventually summons us out the door. If nothing else, just to breathe a little.

I didn’t want all of these winter months to pass without sharing this salad with you. It has certain rustic, earthy qualities I don’t find in other salads per say. It’s hearty enough to classify as a meal with the right extras.

The beauty of this kale salad lies in the depths of its flavors and myriad of colors. Truth be told, it has hidden perks as well. Besides the obvious health benefits, its crisp bite lingers long beyond a typical lettuce under the dousing of oil and vinegar, largely in part to the fact that kale belongs to the cabbage family. It will keep its crunch for several hour. Completely appreciated.

Kale Salad

Curly leafed kale is perhaps the more commonly sold kale, but for this I really prefer the nutty, less bitter quality of Tuscan kale (also called dinosaur kale, lacinato, cavolo nero, black kale, or Tuscan cabbage). Not impertinent, but definitely enhancing to remove the thick ribs from the kale leaves. They are very bitter and can overpower the other flavors happening in the salad. The easiest way I found to do this, is to use the point of your knife and run it along both sides of the rib.

Kale Salad

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Pan-Seared Salmon with Lemon Dill Sauce

Salmon with Dill Sauce

The annual children’s museum new year’s eve party had reached its climactic point when everyone shuffled their way to the atrium for the midnight (really 8 p.m.) “balloon drop.” After self-delegating myself to stand guard of our beastly double-stroller, I watched as my husband and children were swallowed into the crowd. A few minutes passed before I could see them on the other side of the transparent wall. Our eyes met, but the movement of their lips towards me were completely silenced by the wall that divided us. I stilled myself to take it all in. Their emotion-filled expressions, their hand-holding, their excitement for life, and reckless abandon to dance and jump at the thrill of something beautiful without even the tiniest ounce of care for whom might be watching them. In fact, the absence of embarrassment was filled with pride and the hope that they could look up between their joyous, celebratory jumps and see the eyes of their mother and father watching and sharing in their delight. We did.

How to cook salmon

Salmon, pan-seared salmon

In that moment, as the countdown began, I embraced a new year of adventure with my loved ones. I recognized that despite any goals I may set for myself, I ultimately do not have control over the universe. I permitted God’s guidance in a world of uncertainties. I gave thanks for a warm home, a consistent income, and boutiful food that meets our table. I dedicated another year of living with intention and to stewarding my resources even better than the year before–with experience comes wisdom and the ability to improve.

I have learned with five children at home not to overwhelm myself with concrete goals that will easily frustrate me when I see my lack of accomplishment due to the every day thwartings of motherhood. Rather to embrace it as an adventure and see the beauty in the moment at hand, whether it is my children dancing gleefully at 2,000 ballons tapping their heads and bursting at their feet, or it is comforting the smallest of humans because of their own life’s growing pains, or making my house a place of respite from the bustle of the world outside of its walls, or deliberately ignoring the pile of dishes to linger over a glass of wine with my spouse. I suppose an entire life-time mathematically is the addition of millions and billions of these moments, and ultimately with the next one never being a gaurantee. No pressure.

How to cook Salmon

How to cook salmon

Some things are ever progressing and never reflect a final result. Raising a family is one of those things. The development of a child is so subtle and discreet that often its progress is unrecognizable. It takes strength deep within me to remember this when evaluating the lack of check marks on my to-do list.  Measuring the goal of parenthood against other goals in my life can be hazardous to the health of my perspective. So for now, I am dedicated to my goals but with loose and forgiving strongholds. Amongst those goals is the intentional effort of maintaining balance in our home–trimming the fat on our schedules, so to speak. Upsetting the equilibrium in our home to “hit” a goal is certainly not in the best interest of myself or any of the poor souls I live with. God bless them for tolerating me some days!

Salmon

Pan-Seared Salmon

I am also commited to another year of intentional cooking. Including every facet of it, from food knowledge, to meal planning, to grocery shopping, to preparation, and finally (yes!) to consumption. I promise to share what I learn along the way. Starting with this pan-seared salmon that my 3 year old claimed was the “best pink chicken” she ever had. I tried my best to explain to her that it was salmon, but now she just thinks that the chicken’s name was Salmon. I need to work on that. And clearly, I need to serve fish more often in my house. It is pricier for a larger family, but I have learned that smaller portions of more satisfying foods fit the bill (literally) the same.

Lemon Dill Sauce

Lemon Dill Sauce

Pan-seared salmon results in a crisp exterior and tender, moist center that fork-flakes off of the skin. The dill sauce is infused with the smell and bite of lemon juice, making it a refreshing partner to the warm fish. You can serve it on a bed of couscous, quinoa, or greens with the dill sauce easily doubling as a dressing.

Happy 2013! Hope your year is filled with inspiration, healthy perspective, and balance…and, of course, good food!

Amanda

Pan-Seared Salmon with Lemon Dill Sauce

 Included is my recipe for garlicky parsley coucous, but it would be just as well to serve it with quinoa or greens, using the lemon dill sauce as a double for salad dressing.

Serves 6

Salmon:

2-2.5 pounds (1-1.1 kilos) fresh salmon filets with skin on
Olive oil
Kosher salt
Fresh ground pepper

1. Heat a 12-inch cast iron skillet (or other large skillet) to medium heat. Lay out salmon filets, pat them dry, and brush generously with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper on both sides. Once skillet is hot, lay filets in skillet skin side up for 3 minutes or until golden brown. Flip salmon over and allow to cook for 3-5 more minutes (depending on how thick the filets are). The filets are done when inside temperature reaches  135 degrees in the thickest part, or when separated with a fork a small ribbon of raw pink remains.

2. Remove filets from skillet and let rest for 5 minutes before serving; this allows the salmon to finish cooking through without overcooking in the skillet.

Note: It is important to brush the filets with oil, rather than heating the oil in the pan, so the oil does not burn before the salmon has seared properly.

Lemon Dill sauce:

1 cup (240 ml) plain non-fat yogurt
½ cup (120 ml) reduced-fat mayonnaise
2 teaspoons lemon zest
2 tablespoon lemon juice
3 tablespoons scallions, chopped
1 garlic clove, chopped
1/3 cup chopped dill
1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon fresh ground pepper

In a food processor, combine all of the ingredients and puree for 5-10 seconds until all of the ingredients come together and no large chunks remain. Do not over-puree; you still want to see flecks of the herbs in the sauce.

Garlic Parsley Couscous (not gluten-free)

2 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup shallots, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 ½ cups (360 ml) chicken stock
2 cups (170 grams / 6 ozs) whole wheat couscous
Kosher salt
Fresh ground pepper
2/3 cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped

1. In a large sauce pan, drizzle in olive oil and set to medium heat. Add shallots and cook until translucent and tender. Then, add garlic and cook for another minute. Add chicken stock and bring to a boil. Add couscous, salt and pepper. Remove from heat and cover with lid for 5 minutes until all of the liquid is absorbed.
2. Fluff couscous with a fork, gently folding in flat-leaf parsley and taste for seasoning. Serve immediately.

 

Espresso Cherry Almond Bark

Espresso Cherry Almond Bark

Espresso Cherry Almond Bark

Sometimes I’m afraid I am gonna get busted.

I could hear the beat of my own heart in my head and feel the pulse of it in my finger tips. Building excitement turned into mad nerves. Such pressure hung in the balance. With gift bag handles hanging from elbow to wrist on both limbs, I reached for the stack of glittery wrapped boxes of “sugar” cereals. The kind that only a jolly fat man would permit my children to start their days with.

Ever so quietly with fuzzy-socked feet, I slid my way down the long corridor  meager hallway, past the baby’s room. I paused to regain composure as the greatest feat lie ahead. The Stairs.

Let me preface.

I once (okay, maybe 157 times) considered making all teenagers in my house sleep upstairs, for they’d never be able to sneak out in the middle of the night with…The Stairs. The 1923 built creaky old things would blow their chances lickety split. And I, the mother standing in a beam of radiant light with praises being sung by choirs of parent cheerleader angels, would gallantly hold my chin high as I smirked at my teenager and eloquently proclaimed, “Ha, busted you are, doll face! Can’t pull one over on this broad!” I would then be crowned with the Mother Has Eyes on The Back of Her Head Award. Pretty much brilliant, I know.

But now…well, now the pendulum has swung, and ’tis I that was under the watchful eye.

Bugger! I had only the gifts in hand. I would have to go back for the stocking stuffers. One mis-step and my cover would be blown. Deep breath. Amanda, you can do this! I considered waking my sleeping giant of a husband to help with the Santa duties, but then I recounted that his steps are not exactly…err, gazellish.

I pressed my chin down against the stack in my arms to secure the packages and began my descent. Creak. Crock. Crickety, creak. Upon reaching the base of the mountain, I again paused to see if my journey downward had spawned any children to jolt from their beds and pitter patter their way living-room bound to confirm their all along suspicions: that Santa Clause was, indeed, the real deal.

Not a peeping sound. Whew.

I felt extraordinarily nervous at this point and wished I had reapplied deodorant for this task. Like a deer in the meadow’s center with the nearest tree line being a bit too far, I longed for the cover of my bed sheets. Deep breath. Soon enough. Soon enough. Stay focused.

With a bit more determination on my worried face, I worked quickly. Placing each gift under the tree, stuffing the stockings with socks, mango flavored chapstick, bits of chocolate and candy, and packs of watermelon Bubblicious. My mission was almost complete.

Doesn’t the man in red also own up to job of eating cookies at each house? Or, is it true that he really prefers Espresso Cherry Almond Bark instead?

It was lying there, innocently displayed on a plate, so I figured I should probably partake in effort to keep with the consistency of the Christmas fairy tale. I wouldn’t want my non-partaking to dispel any childhood fantasies that some burly man in a red jump suit with a white beard, a jingling roof-top sleigh, and a heard of nine flying reindeer whom grants the wishes of children all over the world doesn’t actually exist. Or worse yet, that my children might think St. Nicolas himself doesn’t like chocolate bark. Tsk, tsk, tsk. I couldn’t let this happen.

I left a few crumbs as evidence…

Espresso Cherry Almond Bark

A pound (16 ounces) of good semi-sweet chocolate. Seriously.

Espresso Cherry Almond Bark

Chopped.

Espresso Cherry Almond Bark

Melted over a double broiler (or make-shift double broiler, which consists of a glass bowl atop a pot of boiling water…just make sure the bowl isn’t actually touching the boiling water). Flavored with rich smelling espresso grounds, then poured onto a parchment-lined baking sheet and spread evenly leaving a 2-inch border. The melty goodness should be about 1/4-1/2 inch thick when spread.

Espresso Cherry Almond Bark

Studded with bits of crunchy, salted almonds and shrivels of tart, crimson cherries. Then rounded out with a moderate strewing of sea salt.

‘Tis compensations such as this, that makes the whole staying up until 2 a.m. wrapping gifts, sneaking around, playing the magical Santa role completely worth it. Even if I do end up getting busted, at least it will be with a mouthful of Espresso Cherry Almond Bark!

Hope all you mums and dads got the job done right.

Love,

Missy Magpie

P.S. May you be delighted with a spirited New Year celebration amongst those you love.

 

Espresso Cherry Almond Bark

Serves: 40 pieces
A dark chocolate would work for those who prefer its rich bitter flavors. Also, do not underestimate the addition of the sea salt. It really pulls all of the flavors together when the chocolate melts in your mouth.
Ingredients
  • 1 pound / 454 grams good quality semi-sweet chocolate
  • 2 tablespoons finely ground espresso beans or instant espresso powder
  • 3/4 cup whole salted dry roasted almonds, hand chopped
  • 3/4 cup dried tart cherries, chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
Instructions
  1. Melt chocolate in a double broiler or a make-shift double broiler (a glass bowl atop a pot of boiling water…just make sure the bowl is not actually touching the boiling water). When completely melted, stir in ground espresso or instant espresso, until thoroughly combined.
  2. Spread chocolate on a parchment lined baking sheet, leaving a 2 inch border (or so the chocolate is 1/4 inch thick).
  3. Evenly sprinkle on almonds, dried cherry bits, and sea salt. Let set in refrigerator or freezer before breaking into pieces of bark. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
Notes

Do not use chocolate chips, as they will clump when melting because they contain stabilizers. Hand chop almonds; do not use a food processor as it will create too much almond dust.

a Christmas tree & winter songs

Christmas Tree

Alright, well, the tree is up. Sigh. It looks homely, but it is up.

006 A Christmas Tree

I put on my garden gloves, fluffed every flattened branch on my eight-year-old artificial blue spruce, and strung half the amount of lights that I usually do because I was too lazy to run out to the store on my Sunday evening at home to buy more. Before the task at hand was even half done, I granted myself permission to just let it go. The whole darn thing. The uniformity of bulb placing, the color coordination of garland with the bulbs, the straightening of crooked fake branches, the extra fluff that hides the metal trunk, all if it….none of it matters anyway. Not this Christmas, or any other for that matter.

On another note, I hit 30 and my equilibrium has completely gone to pot. I really cannot comprehend this phenomenon, but this I know: the physical disposition I once had to swing at the park or circle a Christmas tree to lace it with lights and ribbon, is completely gone.

Containers of plastic, colorful bulbs I relinquished to my middle daughters to hook wherever their refined decorative eye saw fit, with the only direction being not to hang too many at the bottom where Sephina baby could pull them off. They heeded my advise without taking any chances, and refrained from placing ANY bulbs on the lower half of the tree. So my lower half is naked. Well, not my lower half, but the lower half of my tree. Whew!

Within two hours, my five-pound pouch hit spaz-thirty and bucked like a bronco under the tree, conveniently knocking off all of the lowest level branches, which are completely unreachable should a person want to reattach them to the lovely fake metal trunk (I didn’t). Perfect. It was as good as putting the star on the tree. A nice final touch. Almost.

In the storage room, I rummaged through my organized tubs until I found it. A two-and-a-half foot long strand of garland made up of random beads, buttons, and other “teensy tinsy” paraphernalia that my oldest three daughters strung together and be-gifted us the Christmas before they moved in. It isn’t even long enough to wrap around the narrowest part of the tree, but the thought of those tiny fingers doing such heart-felt work to string this particular strand of garland for their soon-to-be parents makes it mandatory decoration.

003 A Christmas Tree

001 A Christmas Tree

Alas, I count the blessing of being surrounded by all of my family this holiday season, save but one. I miss her treacherously in moments like these. Too sacred to store with the other tree ornaments in plastic tubs, I fumbled through my top desk drawer until I felt the black velvet bag that enclosed it. I pulled at the draw string to widen the mouth of the bag, then slipped the contents into the palm of my hand. A silver frame, engraved with her name. Fiona. I pulled the glass to my lips and kissed her photograph gently, then wiped the smudge with my thumb. I slipped my finger into the red ribbon by which it hangs and strategically placed it at my eye level. There. Done.

The tree didn’t matter. Not really. The profound significance of one solitary birth that changed the course of eternity itself was all I could think about. Today I am grateful and left standing in awe of what makes this time of year truly magical.

Here is a list of some wintery Christmas songs I have put on repeat this season:

Carol of the Bells by John Williams
It’s Christmas by Victoria Vox
Dance of the Mirlitons performed by The National Philharmonic   Orchestra
Angels We Have Heard on High by Maeve
White Horse by Over the Rhine, Snow Angels
Silver Bells by He & She
Winter Song by Sarah Bareilles and Ingrid Michaelson
Carol of the Bells by Dana Cunningham

Thought I would share them with you. Some classics and some fresh material that is worth adding to your playlist.

Merry Christmas,
Missy Magpie