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Compartments

Ancient History

The Shiny Season

We’ve been caught up in the enchantments of the season and also the microbes. Has there been a holiday season in recent memory when someone hasn’t been red with fever, green with sickness? No. But things are looking up thanks to the power of time, immune systems, antibiotics, essential oils, and prayer. It was especially difficult dealing with sick kiddos when our water heater decided 14 years was a good life span. It shuffled off all it’s coils and left our basement wet and our water cold, cold, cold.

MERRY CHRISTMAS. Give your water heaters a big hug and smooch, perhaps a pat on the pipes. Don’t take hot water for granted. For a few days, all dishes were cleaned with water boiled in the electric kettle mixed with cold. Someone said, “Just like Little House on the Prairie!” and I thought about Ma standing at her sink listening to the hum of the Melitta Express kettle as it warmed water to help wash the stand mixer bowl. I tightened my bun.

Now, we are back in business with hot water for the dish and clothes washing machines. Most importantly, it is much nicer cleaning oneself and one’s little people with hot showers and warm baths. It was annoying to have such an important household feature die right before Christmas because new water heaters aren’t sold at the dollar store. But, it helped having lovely distractions and beautiful moments to remind us there are greater gifts right under our noses.

Here are a few photos of December, so far. It’s been lovely, emotional, stressful, peaceful. It’s been everything.

ollieeyestree

Ryley and I chose this year's tree

Ryley and I chose this year’s tree

December's full moon rise

December’s full moon rise

Beatrix at a Christmas tea we had with friends

Beatrix at a Christmas tea we had with friends

on the mantel

on the mantel

Magic Bars! A childhood favorite my mom made every year. I had to make some, too.

Magic Bars! A childhood favorite my mom made every year. I had to make some, too.

The Matterhorn or a mound of whipped cream on a mug of hot cocoa?

The Matterhorn or a mound of whipped cream on a mug of hot cocoa?

Bowl o' ornaments

Bowl o’ ornaments

Mocha spice fudge

Mocha spice fudge

Aidan and Beatrix had holiday concerts on the same night.

Aidan and Beatrix had holiday concerts on the same night.

Aidan, singing at her last high school holiday concert. The tradition is for seniors to enter the auditorium holding candles. It was very emotional because I remember that concert when she was a freshman, watching the seniors, thinking her moment was far off. Nope. :cry:

Aidan, singing at her last high school holiday concert. The tradition is for seniors to enter the auditorium holding candles. It was very emotional because I remember that concert when she was a freshman, watching the seniors, thinking her moment was far off. Nope. :cry:

Tommy turned 13 on December 16th! He is a great kid and we are so proud of him.

Tommy turned 13 on December 16th! He is a great kid and we are so proud of him.

Goodbye, Crib

One recent day, I returned home from errands with my girls to find my husband and little boys standing in the driveway, grinning. They were hanging Christmas lights on the front of our house. Clearly, they were relishing the opportunity to help daddy with such a fun and important task. I admired their difficult and very creative work. It’s good to learn the art and science of domestic holiday illumination from an early age. Even two-year-old Ollie felt like he was part of the team, evidenced by his breathless chattering and pointing at the “Chris-chris wights.”

Then, I noticed something.

Propped against our former washing machine were the spindled remnants of a disassembled crib. Two ends, two sides, one metal mattress grate, reclined. “You took apart the crib?” I stammered.

My husband said yes, and he put together the toddler bed. It was upstairs in Ollie’s room, ready for the night. He was pleased.

I cried. I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t sure Ollie was ready.

The Sears Jenny Lind crib was purchased by my parents as a gift to us when I was pregnant with Aidan 18 years ago. It’s been in use for nearly 17 1/2 years, constantly. It’s held all 9 of our children as they slept, thrashed, barfed, fevered, dreamed, sang, jumped, played, pooped, gnawed, cried, sang, laughed, teethed, discovered feet, babbled.

Every one of our kids co-slept, too, for varying lengths of time. But each was an owner and occupant of the crib. Sometimes, certain kids were shuttled between our bed, the crib, back to our bed, and back to the crib numerous times a night. Some slept there well for years. Aidan only used it for 18 months, when Ryley was born. She graduated into the toddler bed my husband set up while I was away.

It has a reversible headboard. On one side, teddybears. On the other, the word “BED” in case you find yourself trying to shove a tray of raw cookie dough under the mattress. “Oh, BED! I was thinkin’ oven!”

My husband apologized profusely when I started to cry. Poor guy. We had talked about how Ollie would be moving on from the crib soon. I didn’t want that soon decided for me. I wanted a bit of a build up. I wanted to help. I watched it get put together the first time, in our little apartment, for our firstborn. Of course, it was taken apart and put back together several times. When we moved from town to town or from one bedroom to another, taking it apart made it easier.

This time, though, there isn’t a reason to put it back together.

Our Jenny Lind crib outlasted several sofas, couches, rocking chairs. It’s outlasted beds, tables, kitchen chairs. We had it longer than our piano, longer than several vehicles, longer than my entire wardrobe. We went through several strollers, baby swings, car seats, carriers, and high chairs. The crib was in our house longer than both dogs, the hamster, and the parade of fish we hosted once upon a time.

The only constant all our babies shared was that crib.

I type that. I snort. Nope. It’s not true. They shared us—the wacky lady who gets emotional, the patient gent with the wrench, and the love that bursts both our hearts. I can speak for him in this case. I happen to know it wasn’t easy for him, either.

Ollie, smaller, behind bars.

Ollie, smaller, behind bars.

Now, we have a crib in pieces leaning against a busted washing machine in an otherwise tidy garage. Now, we have a big boy named Ollie.

At night, he sleeps in a BED. I am proud.

A Slice of Sweet: Sugar Cookie Bread

Sugar cookies are one of the undisputed champs of holiday baking. They’re a classic for a reason, lending themselves to sweet decorations and glitz. They are a humble cookie that dresses up well. Done right, they can be more than just edible platters for frosting. Plain sugar cookies can be crazy delicious—subtle like a short bread, but lighter.

I was looking for a twist on sugar cookies that would bring the flavor without requiring someone (me) to stand around rolling out, cutting, and decorating. Making sugar cookies can be a day-long slog. By the time you decorate the last cookie, your fingers are tinted green and it looks like a steamrolled alligator. It was supposed to be a tree, but whatevs.

Hello, Sugar Cookie Bread.

sugarcookiebread_3

sugarcookiebread_2

sugarcookiebread_1

I made two loaves of Sugar Cookie Bread. It turned out to be one of the favorite things I’ve ever baked. It is moist, sweet, buttery, fluffy and kind of adorable. Plus, it’s easy. I found a recipe at Tasty Kitchen, but disagree with aspects of it so I modified it. That’s why I’m sharing it here in my own words.

INGREDIENTS:

Bread

1 Cup of Melted Butter
2 Cups of Granulated Sugar
2 Teaspoons of Almond Extract
1 Teaspoon of Vanilla Extract (note: you can use 2 vanillas, 1 almond; all vanilla; all almond, as long as you use 3 teaspoons total)
3 Room Temperature Eggs
1 Cup Whole Milk (I recommend)
2 3/4 Cups Flour
1 1/2 Teaspoons Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Cup of Sprinkles (Jimmies)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour (or use flour cooking spray) two loaf pans. Mine are mismatched, so I used one 8.5 X 4.5 X 2.5 inch loaf pan and one 9 X 5 X 3 inch loaf pan.

First, mix the dry ingredients in a medium bowl—the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. I used a sifter to make sure all those white powdery bits were well mixed because there’s nothing worse than a mouthful of salt.

Next, cream together the melted butter and sugar until fluffy. I used my hand mixer. No need to drag out the big guns with such a simple recipe. Add the eggs, one at a time, until blended. Then, add the extracts. Blend and add the milk and ounce or two at a time. The batter won’t be thick.

Slowly add the dry ingredient mixture. I did this with a big spoon and it didn’t bust my arm off like some other batters and doughs. It ends up being like a very thick cake batter and not doughy. Last, but not least, gently fold in the sprinkles. I would NOT recommend using those shaped or harder sugar cake/cupcake decorative toppers (like snowflake, tree, candy cane shapes) because in the bread you don’t want to encounter anything crunchy (aside from a nice slightly crisp crust). Classic sprinkles soften unlike other types of cake decorative toppings. Sprinkles are your friend.

Pour into prepared loaf pans. Despite my pans being different sizes, I poured about the same amount in each. Slide them into the oven.

The original recipe said to bake for 50-60 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. I disagreed, so I set my timer for 45 minutes. At about 40 minutes, I peeked and discovered both loaves looked like they were done. I did the toothpick test on the loaf in the slightly larger pan it was done. I removed it from the oven and continued baking the other loaf until the time went off at 45 minutes. It was done. Later, when sliced, both loaves were perfect.

I would begin to check you loaves around the 40 minute mark. If the loaves are pulled away from the pans and it’s golden brown, test with a toothpick. I can’t imagine the depressing sad-sack sugar bricks I would have baked if I had gone a full 60 minutes. Inedible!

I cooled the loaves in the pans for the recommended 20 minutes, then popped them out to cool more on a rack. I let them continue to cool for several more hours.

Now, for the glaze topping!

Glaze

2 Cups of Powdered Sugar
3 Teaspoons of Whole Milk
1 Teaspoon of Vanilla OR Almond Extract

I made the glaze recipe like it was published and found it really runny. I was afraid it would cascade off my loaves, so I ended up adding another 1/2 cup of powdered sugar. I poured it over the loaves and it still dripped down, but it hardened up after a few hours. Use sprinkles to enhance at will. A fun twist would be to use orange or peppermint extract in the glaze. The loaves are so buttery, they’d lend themselves to other flavors. I stuck with vanilla.

Another fun option would be to make a classic sugar cookie frosting and use that on just the top of the loaves. I might try that the next time I make this and there will be a next time.

Sugar Cookie Bread is a winner.