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December 10, 2014

Cures for the Winter Doldrums

by Alison DeLuca

George Henry Durrie - Winter Scene in New England
George Henry Durrie [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
This week has been incredibly dreary along the Eastern seaboard. We’ve had zero sunshine and weather not quite cold enough to deliver pretty snow, just day after day of gloomy rain and dark, threatening skies.

It’s enough to drive me back inside, shivering, after chores or shopping trips. The fireplace is looking pretty good right about now, as well as my Kindle and a cup of tea.

I’m the daughter of an Irishwoman, and as a result I drink tea strong enough ‘to trot a rat across it’ (her words.) I have to heat the teapot, bring the water back to the boil, plop in several Barry’s tea bags, and cover the whole with a tea cosy my mother knitted for me years ago. It’s a ritual.

Along with that enormous cup of tea, I’m going to need some treats. Since my half of the family is Irish and my husband’s side is Italian, I’ve become pretty proficient in both types of cookies. Without a doubt the best baker on the Italian side was wonderful Aunt Jancie, who always had at least five tins of cookies ready to bring out whenever we used to visit. My favorite was her biscotti, and I’ve included the recipe below.

My mother-in-law, rest her soul, willed me her pizzelle maker, an old-fashioned machine with cast iron and a heavy cord. I really think decades of cookie-making soaked butter into its metal pores, because that thing makes the best pizzelles ever. I’ve included Mom-Mom’s recipe as well.

On the Irish side, winter meant time for Christmas cake and pudding. Those are both exhausting projects involving grating suet, chopping candied peel, and cutting little hats out of paper for the pudding bowl to tie on with string (I wish I were kidding about this.) Oh, and also a lot of Irish whiskey. None of this is fun except the alcohol, so instead I’ll include Granny Clancy’s shortbread recipe.

The Pillars of the Earth
Now we’re all set with food and tea, so we need some long comfort books to read. I just finished The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett, which I’ll recommend for the amazing world-building and vibrant characters.

The writing style itself is extremely prose-y. There’s no poetry or quaint phrasing for Ken. Reading this book made me realize just how much I value original writing, the surprise of words and the myriad of ways writers use them. Still, I persevered, since I loved the story of beautiful Aliena and her struggle as a woman to make a way for herself in the medieval world of wool-farming.

All of this is set against the cathedral being built at Kingsbridge, a process lovingly detailed by Follett. It all leads to a fictional account of Thomas Becket, which I found fascinating - if you like learning as you read, I highly suggest this book. (There is a sexual attack on the main character in the fifth chapter with aftermath detailed in Chapter 6, so if this is a trigger for you avoid the novel or at least that section.)

Stylistics abound in The Drowning Girl by Caitlín  Kiernan. It’s hardly a comfortable book to read, but I was sucked right in by the unreliable narrator, Imp, and her tangled version of a ghost / mermaid / werewolf story. This is no paranormal romp – the things happening to Imp could be real or simply the shadows of her own broken psyche.

Finally, if you don’t mind a bit of self-marketing, my book Hunted Heart appears December 12th. It’s an adult take on Snow White, and I flipped the gender roles: the hunter is now a woman, Tali, who is hired to kill Kas, the prince. This is a charity project priced at 99 cents, with all royalties going to Savethechildren.org. (There is some background sexual abuse in this book, with an attempt detailed in chapter 21 and some background abuse throughout the novel. As with Follett’s book, if this is a trigger for you, please reconsider buying the novel.)

And now for the recipes:

Aunt Jancey’s Biscotti:
Oven 350º

Beat together:
6 eggs
1 ½ cups Wesson oil
1 ½ cups sugar
1 tsp anise extract (or almond if you prefer)

Sift and add to egg mixture:

3 cups flour
1 ½ Tbls baking powder

Beat entire mixture for 2 – 3 minutes on medium speed.

Pour mixture into sprayed jellyroll pan or baking pam 14 x 18 x ½ inches deep.  Bake 20 – 25 minutes, remove from oven. Raise heat to 375º. Cool a few minutes. Loosen around edges with knife and cut into bars about 1 x 3 inches. Return to pan on their sides. Toast slices in oven until light brown; repeat on other side.

Makes about 75 – 80 cookies; can be frozen.

Pizzelle in a loose stack, April 2010.jpg
"Pizzelle in a loose stack, April 2010" by Steve Snodgrass - originally posted
 to 
Flickr as Pizzelles. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
Mom-Mom’s Pizzelles:
Plug in the pizzelle maker.

3 eggs
1 ¾ cups flour
½ teaspoon anise seed or extract (I use both because I’m an anise freak. As with the biscotti, you can substitute any flavor you prefer.)
½ cup melted and slightly cooled butter
2 tsps baking powder
¾ cups sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract (I just put more anise in its place. I’m weird.)

Beat eggs and sugar. Add cooled melted butter and extracts. Sift flour and baking powder; add to egg mixture. Batter will be stiff enough to be dropped by a spoon.

Drop by teaspoon onto pizzelle maker – if you’re lucky, you can find an old-fashioned one at a tag sale or secondhand shop.

Granny Clancy’s Shortbread:
325º oven

½ pound butter
¾ pound flour
¼ pound castor sugar
3 ounces ground almonds

Soften butter. Mix with ½ of flour and  other ingredients. When mixed well add remainder ¼ pound flour. Knead together with hands (Granny Clancy underlined this in her spidery script, so it must be important) for about five minutes.

Press into two buttered and floured baking pans and bake 25 minutes – ½ hour. When you take out the pans you can cut decorative lines into the shortbread. You can cut wedges, for example, with fork marks around the outside.

I’ll leave you with Granny’s final word on the subject: “Some chopped almonds in the mixture are an improvement.”


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