Advent calendar #12: Saucepan fudge cookies

Good morning!

I’m sure everybody has their own object of nostalgia when it comes to homemade Christmas treats. We used to make a number of holiday-specific treats, but the one I miss the most is the saucepan fudge crackle cookies. So I went looking for a recipe.

1 c. all purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 c. butter
3 (1 oz.) squares unsweetened chocolate
1 c. + 3 tbsp. sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla

These cookies are moist on the inside, crisp on the outside.

Mix flour, baking powder and salt. In heavy 3 quart saucepan, stir butter and chocolate over low heat until melted and smooth; cool. Stir in sugar, eggs, and vanilla until well blended. Stir in flour mixture until blended. Cover and chill 1 1/2 to 2 hours until dough is firm enough to shape. Roll in 1 1/2″ balls; roll balls in the 3 tablespoons sugar, coating each one. Place 2″ apart on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake in 300 degree oven for 20 minutes until crackled on top and slightly firm to touch. Remove to a rack to coat.

I edited the nuts out of the recipe I found, because I can’t fathom why you’d go and ruin a perfectly-textured chocolate fudge cookie. That’s just nuts.

One of the versions I found claimed that the recipe was improved by switching to margarine because butter “contaminates” the flavor of the chocolate. I should bloody well hope so! If you really want to update the recipe I suspect coconut oil in some appropriate proportion would suffice. Vegans probably have their go-to egg substitute, though I don’t know what it is.

Anyway, however you go about it, the result should be a cookie that crunches on the outside and is marvelously chewy on the inside, and is amazing with a glass of milk.

Advent calendar #11: Caravaggio

Trundling on toward the longest night: a chill, barren time. For today’s Advent window I give you a piece of art I make sure to greet every time I’m at the Nelson: Caravaggio’s John the Baptist.

Notes on this painting remark on its introspective quality: the Baptist not as prophet but as hermit of the wilderness, cast in a stark dynamic of light and dark, almost strobed; denuded of symbols except for a reed cross. This is not the accessible icon of John as a narrative figure. This is the John who sends people to ask, “Are you the one we’re waiting for, or should we look for another?”

He’s a compelling image for our skeptical age, but I would think he’d be compelling to people of any time who ponder hard questions when the light is scant. “A voice said, ‘Cry out!’ And I said, ‘What shall I cry?'”

This is that moment.

Advent calendar #10: Wassail and Sugar Plums

I was going to be all serious and comment on Thomas Merton’s feast day, but I’m just not in the mood for that, even though I am wearing all black today. No! Instead, it’s time for novelty holiday music!

First up, Mannheim Steamroller. We kids wore out the cassette tape that this track is on, and I’m pleased to find it still entertains. Did you know that Mannheim Steamroller is from Nebraska? I learned that this summer in my online trivia league.

And next, a track that one year at least was a staple of retail stores — the year it got stuck in my head and I went looking for it to cure the earworm. It’s the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, remixed in a yes-it’s-campy-you-wanna-make-something-of-it kind of way. It’s about six replays of this between my house and fencing practice; ask me how I know.

Happy Tuesday!

Advent calendar #9: Denise Levertov

For today’s Advent window, I went seeking for a poem I hadn’t read before.

It’s easy enough to come up with poems that are my favorites — no doubt I’ll post some of them before this is done — but I also want to get outside my regular round. So I went looking for a poet I hadn’t read much of before. Did you know that when you google “women poets,” the results show a large preponderance of poets from the 20th century? I can only suppose that modern poets have better distribution and less of the loss that the older ones did — the oldest poets are known only by fragments, and in our age one has to work a little harder to suppress those pesky female voices.

Here’s a poem new to me, by Denise Levertov.

Making Peace

A voice from the dark called out,
             ‘The poets must give us
imagination of peace, to oust the intense, familiar
imagination of disaster. Peace, not only
the absence of war.’
                                   But peace, like a poem,
is not there ahead of itself,
can’t be imagined before it is made,
can’t be known except
in the words of its making,
grammar of justice,
syntax of mutual aid.
                                       A feeling towards it,
dimly sensing a rhythm, is all we have
until we begin to utter its metaphors,
learning them as we speak.
                                              A line of peace might appear
if we restructured the sentence our lives are making,
revoked its reaffirmation of profit and power,
questioned our needs, allowed
long pauses . . .
                        A cadence of peace might balance its weight
on that different fulcrum; peace, a presence,
an energy field more intense than war,
might pulse then,
stanza by stanza into the world,
each act of living
one of its words, each word
a vibration of light—facets
of the forming crystal.

Advent calendar #8: The Cosmic Mandala

Good morning!

For today’s little Advent window, I bring our world, to hold up in prayers and intentions. The first image is from one of my go-to daily sites, the Astronomy Picture of the Day. For a couple decades now NASA has run this simple little site with amazing photos taken by individuals and by major observatories and gathered into a charmingly lo-tech archive.

But compare the photo of the observable universe to what’s called the Cosmic Mandala, and you’ll find a strange similarity. I’ve included a version by Hildegard of Bingen, composer, scientist, and polymath nun, for reference.

I think it’s kind of amazing what we know without knowing.

Some years ago now, I read a passage from a book of quotations from Evelyn Underhill, talking about the disciples in the boat in the storm. In the midst of her meditation on the presence of Jesus and the obvious dangers of the situation, she said something that took me aback: “The Universe is safe for souls.” Now, I mean, obviously the Universe isn’t safe in the sense that we are hedged and insulated from suffering, or that nothing can go wrong inside our minds and bodies, or that we can’t ever be exposed to that sense of bottomless danger that the wide, impersonal cosmos presents. But, well, exactly like those dangers, we’re here. There’s no revoking the fact that we have been here; there’s no denying the reality of our participation in the foundational goodness that the Universe is. And the more that rabid haters try to deny the human dignity of people they hate, the more obviously desperate they must be.

For the first time ever, I said to myself: “If I really believed that — if I really believed the universe was safe for my soul — what would I do?” It didn’t make an immediate difference, but the thought did introduce a change into the way I thought of myself in the world — and how I acted.

It’s a thing that’s worth remembering this Advent.

Advent calendar #7: La Folia

Ah, good morning. It’s a lovely Saturday and I’m taking my sweet time about getting up and about. For today’s Advent window I bring something that has been the foundation for any number of songs for a couple of centuries now, and I do enjoy it in nearly every form. It’s variously known as “La Folia,” “Folias de Espana,” “The Folly,” and so on.

And there you have it. Happy Saturday!

Advent calendar #6: Nicholas of Myra and David Sedaris

St. Nicholas says: of course it is wrong to hit a man with a closed fist, but it is, on occasion, hilarious.

Good morning! And a very happy Friday to you all.

It’s St. Nicholas Day, which — aside from its associations with the Christmas season — is an opportunity to reflect on one of our tradition’s more interesting bishops. Besides resurrecting children pickled in brine and tossing dowries through the windows of young women about to be sold into prostitution, Nicholas is also said to have punched Arius at the Council of Nicaea. All of these stories are spurious to some degree or other, but you have to admit, there’s a certain swash to St. Nick’s buckle. Like, he’s the patron saint of nearly every member of the crew of Serenity, one way or another. What’s not to like?

Of course, if you’re aiming to misbehave, the early-modern and modern legends of Santa Claus are less friendly to your cause, as David Sedaris discovers in his essay Six to Eight Black Men. I do enjoy that essay, but because (mindful of St. Nick) I am moved to be generous, here in addition is David Sedaris reading my favorite of his essays, “Jesus Shaves.”

This has been your Hee-Haw Advent window of the day.

Advent calendar #5: Kittens

I mean, like one really needs an excuse to post about cats. Maugre Avenue Q, that’s what the internet is for, right?

I have no idea who these folks are or how they acquired these opinionated kittens, but if I want a dose of cute and/or to make my cat sniff urgently at my computer, this is what I’ve been going to.

Happy Thursday, everyone!

Advent calendar #4

Inevitably, any Advent calendar of mine is going to contain a number of my favorite choir pieces. Here is my favorite Palestrina introit, “I Look From Afar.”

It’s part of the nature of Advent, too, that looking from afar is both looking at the past as from the far future, and looking at the future from an always-incipient present. Like gestalt arrows, it’s both at once: that on-the-cusp feeling belongs so completely to no other time.

A friend once observed of me that I want to “save the world,” and they weren’t wrong. Something in me is a perpetual paladin, and whenever I do something that matters to me, it matters because of that. Advent taps into and intensifies a feeling I have year-round, that there are lots of reasons not to act, not to do a thing — but if you’re going to do it, then do it.

I don’t mean do it perfectly, though. Long ago, a (different) friend was lamenting their depression and how it was causing them to “half-ass” their last semester of school. I said: “Sometimes half an ass is all you have,” and the other person in the chatroom suggested putting that on a cross-stitch sampler. But that’s exactly what I mean. If half an ass is what you have to give to a thing you want to do, then give half an ass.

I try to remind myself of this antidote periodically, because I too fall prey to the feeling that Advent (and Lent, too, often) got started before I was ready and I’m in a futile scramble to catch up. It’s not Fear Of Missing Out, it’s Fear Of Missing In, fear that I will have “had the experience but missed the meaning.”

But Advent is its own antidote. The answer to FOMI is to plant your feet, and your ass — whole or half — and look from afar.

The gestalt has got you.

Advent calendar #3

Good morning!

On today’s little Advent window, I give you a noise generator that I built on the MyNoise site. One of the perks of donating to Dr. Stephane’s site is that you can harvest stems from any of the sound profiles (and there are many!) in the lists, and collate them in a generator of your own. I’ve played with creating themed generators, or particular sounds, or effective white noise for the office, with varying degrees of success. My latest effort was created to evoke the feeling of stirring hands and feet in the bathing warmth of a hot spring: certainly a welcome feeling at this time of year!

So here you go: enjoy Chaleur.