Tuesday, January 27, 2015

3 Recipes and 2 Movies for a Blizzard

"Men Wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful. Honor and recognition in case of success." Ernest Shackleton's newspaper ad for the Endurance expedition.
Oh wintery darlings! I am writing you, pajama-clad, while snow drifts in gusting curtains past our windows. I feel like I'm in a Victorian children's book. Only then the book gets turned into a picturesque little film, and you can't hear any of the dialogue because the soundtrack is actually two neighbors simultaneously snow-blowing, but still. I'm not complaining. That much.

Craney is lazily watching the finches at our feeder. Michael is working the acrostic from Sunday's newspaper. Birdy is doing her homework (sigh) and Ben is asleep. My snow-day family in a nutshell.

There are so many new things I want to write and share, but instead, in honor of snow, I'm posting these past faves. The intros are very old and chatty. Please feel free to skip right on ahead to the actual recipes.

Gorgeous table mat made by my gorgeous mother.
Amazing From-Scratch Hot Chocolate I would not think you'd necessarily need a recipe for this, except that every time Michael goes to make it, he says, "Can you find your hot chocolate recipe for me?" So, my darling, here. It really is rich and glorious.

The problem with Maple Snow Taffy (aka Sugar on Snow) is that it's not just a gimmick: it makes a truly excellent, supremely buttery and maply mouthful of chewy candy. Which means that you, the parent, will not look on dotingly. You will, rather, eat more of it than you meant to, and then you might need to wash it down with a nice cold IPA. I'm just saying. Also, to be clear: this is not a "snow ice cream" type recipe, and the point is not that you end up eating the snow. The snow is, rather, the chilling mechanism for the taffy. If you are Birdy, though, then the experience will not be complete until you've eaten all the snow. "This is the sweetest-tasting snow of 2015!" she just announced, in case you were wondering.

Soft and Sticky Gingerbread is a perfectly simple stir-and-bake winter cake, and you probably have all the ingredients on hand already. It has been an enduring favorite of mine for four decades.

Speaking of enduring! Watch the documentary The Endurance: Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition. It is crazy, inspiring, and wholly entertaining. Plus, there are lines from people's diaries like, "For dinner tonight we reboiled the seal backbone," that will have you scratching your head in horrified confusion. Spoiler alert for a good cause: They kill all their dogs at some point. There is no visual accompaniment to this information, but if it's going to traumatize anyone in your family, please take note. Birdy was sad about it, but since it was a true story about survival, she did not feel that it was cruel or frivolous.

It better be an *excellent* school.
And, two, watch the entire 8-part BBC series Human Planet. Each segment takes place in a different challenging habitat--desert, Arctic, mountain, jungle, ocean, river, grassland, city--and shows how different people survive in the face of extreme challenges. It is not without its moments of drama-soundtrack reality-show-style excesses, but they are brief and, overall, the show is stunning, fascinating,  humbling, and beautifully made. Plus, your kids will get to see the children who walk for a treacherous 25-below-zero week along a frozen Himalayan river to get to their school. I'm not saying your kids can never complain about the bus again after. I'm just saying. A special bonus: there's a little "making of" segment at the end of each episode, and inevitably you get to see the film crew, with all their sophisticated equipment and technology, needing to be bailed out by the region's people with their centuries of local expertise. It is delightful.

Don't kill me that neither movie seems to be streaming anywhere. Order them or request them from your library, and save them for the next snow day.

Stay warm and have fun. xo


  1. please please please can your mom share with us where she got that gorgeous fabric/ the fabric's name, any info, please? I LOVED it, and was wondering if they had it in green. If you click through to my blog, you'll understand why.
    L- Mama(e) in Translation
    (your old "neighbor" who's got Blizzard envy right now!)

    1. oh no! that tablemat is almost as old as my younger son (in a post from 2005!), no chance this fabric will still be available? Or maybe not? I'll google it... I've been generally good with finding random things I see using google... sometimes on ebay. ;-) sigh...

  2. The few moments of drizzle falling right now is all we're going to get of winter this year in Reno. So I may have to go ahead and make hot chocolate now but snow taffy is out. Thanks for the lovely writing! I'm a little surprised that the people of Amherst are so into snowblowers. I went to Hampshire and formed an impression of enlightenment around the whole area.

  3. Ha! I was cleaning out (a small portion) of my pantry yesterday and threw out FOUR opened bags of marshmallows of various sizes. I also had to toss one UNopened bag of s'mores-sized ones because it had become a huge, hard lump. I always buy a new bag when we need them, assuming, of course, that we have none in the pantry. Apparently, I'm often wrong about that assumption.

    No snow here in Northern California. No rain, either. Just dismal greyness. That doesn't really keep up from making hot chocolate, though. Because when you live here, temps in the 50's="Freezing!"

  4. Ordered both movies!!!

  5. My library network had both movies! Thanks for the recs!

  6. Awesome! Didn't know Endurance was a movie. I just read the book over Christmas this year, it came highly recommended to me by a friend. Great read! Stayed up several late nights to see how the story ended :)

  7. Loved the "excellent" school caption. I'm house hunting right now and doing a lot of school research. I had to laugh because that comment brought a little perspective.

  8. Treats and movies!?!?! Would it be lame to plan a day to pretend a blizzard is keeping me in? Because in Cincinnati we got about a 1/2 inch of your blizzard as it blew overhead...Catherine, I've made you a spirograph shrinky dink keychain/ornament. I got my son a shrinky dink oven for Christmas and the idea just came to us! It might be the tiniest and most adorable spirograph image ever! I want to send you one if you'd like! Hope you're digging out and staying safe and that the annoying snowblowers have ceased! xo

  9. Anonymous11:44 AM

    Oh, what a perfect blizzard! I love when you can do all the things you'd do if the power went out (make fires, roast hot dogs on sticks, light candles) but without the freezing and the worry.

    We made the maple sugar taffy three times over the past week (but we call it "Molasses Candy" after that song in the
    Elizabeth Mitchell CD you recommended years ago "You Are My Little Bird"). It is so good. Overcooked it the first time and it was jaw breaking, but the last time--perfect!

    Also, made the gingerbread and cut big slices to trek through the snow with and deliver to a couple surprised neighbors.

    A perfect blizzard. Thanks for reminding us of these recipes. --Cathy

  10. i love your blog so much! i have a question about the Shackleton movie: your kids are a bit older than mine, do you think it could be a good choice for a smart/adventurous first-grader, or more of an older-child movie?

    1. mayhem, the worst of it really is (for my kids, at least) the killing off of the animals. If you think your person could handle that, and a great deal of suspense, then it might be good. Maybe watch the trailer together?

    2. ha, i'm not sure i will be able to handle that part either! but these epic survival tales (anything from The Incredible Journey to Unbreakable...) are just so amazing, aren't they. thanks for your quick response. also i just want to say that i have made your sugared cranberries for two holiday seasons in a row now, and my kids LOVE them!

  11. shelli6:13 PM

    Great recommendation on the Human Planet movie! This is exactly the kind of documentary I love (and, happily, so did my kids--from my grumpy 14 year-old all the way down to my 6 year-old who needed me to help read the captions!) :) My only issue with it is, OMG, 400 minutes?! A bit long for my brood, but we hung in there through the rivers segment (and my eh hemming about that treacherous 6-day walk to school!)
    Also, as for the marshmallows that turn into a lumpy wad in your pantry over the Summer... you can freeze the half-used bag! I don't know when I discovered this bit of genius, but that trick's been getting us from S'mores to hot chocolate season without having to buy a new bag! Not that it's huge savings money-wise, but it saves ya the trip to the grocery in a blizzard. :) Thanks as always for your writing (which I've been reading since pre-Birdy days!)

  12. Anonymous8:32 AM

    I got Human Planet on your recommendation and it is so good! We are just a few episodes in-- watching one or two a week-- but my whole family (kids ages 6-12) loves it! We've been looking for ways to broaden their horizons a bit and this is such an eye-opening and inspiring way to do it. The series focuses on humans' ingenuity and willingness to work hard and work together and on the awesomeness of nature. A great recommendation! -Caroline

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