June 19, 2011 § 12 Comments
I’m spending this summer in Nashville, Tennessee, helping the new Commissioner of Education to create a three-year strategic plan to improve educational outcomes for all K-12 students in the state. Although the work will be intense and I’m away from my San Francisco garden, I’m soaking up what I can of the food culture here in the Volunteer State.
First up: Blackberry Farm near Knoxville, a celebration of locally-produced food, where the hubby, our friends, Jim and Katie, and I ate an enormous amount of Benton’s bacon, gorgeous tomatoes and other fresh produce grown on-site, and as you likely guessed, the best BLT I’ve ever sunk my teeth into. For you, our time in pictures…
October 31, 2010 § 16 Comments
Much to my disappointment, my husband and I don’t get trick-or-treaters at our house. It’s perched atop a steep hill; you have to lean into the incline and be in pretty good shape to reach the peak without huffing and puffing. Not exactly an easy feat for a five-year-old in a costume carrying a heavy bucket of candy.
But we went for a walk today, on Halloween, and we saw our fill of trick-or-treaters with their parents, siblings, friends, cousins. Luke Skywalkers and elephants and witches zigzagged from door to door, excited and hopped up on sugar, collecting even more candy in their pumpkin-shaped pails. It was fun to observe these kids keeping a tradition alive, having a blast with their families and friends, and to see the adults’ inner children — and their own creative costumes — emerge.
In this age of rising obesity and diabetes rates, much of the discussion around candy and refined sugar is about how awful it is. And I agree that too much of anything isn’t good for you. But most things in moderation are fine. And with the holiday season now in full swing, there’s nothing like biting into a delectable confection — whether it’s a Milky Way or home-made toffee — to conjure up memories of traditions that you’ve shared with family or friends.
One of our family traditions: my mother-in-law, Anne Lynn, creates 350 pounds of Christmas candy every year.
There are many awesome things about this tradition, even beyond that 350 number. For example:
The 30 or so varieties — including butter brickle (hard toffee coated in chocolate and walnuts), peanut butter cups, pretzel cups (crushed pretzels in white chocolate), chocolate-covered cherries, chocolate-dipped pretzels, butterscotch-coconut marshmallows and Christmas-tree-shaped peppermint patties. Anne Lynn has a core set of recipes that she makes every year, and she experiments with a few new ones based on flavor combinations she encounters in chocolate shops while traveling.
The sheer volume of production that’s somehow executed in six weeks in your average home kitchen, with a four-burner stove and a normal amount of counter space. But once candy time comes, the kitchen and dining room are given over completely to confection creating, and as my mother-in-law says, “You’ll be really lucky if you get to eat anything but chocolate.” She’s not kidding. It’s a good thing they have a grill out back.
The straightforward system Anne Lynn uses to determine who she’s going to give the candy to. Every year, she gets out her yellow legal pad with last year’s list. Anyone who was particularly helpful, or kind, to her or her family gets added — even if it’s the woman at the department store she met only once, but who went out of her way to assist. Anyone who didn’t write a thank-you note gets crossed off — even if it’s a long-time friend. Simple, efficient and based on the Golden Rule.
But perhaps the most awesome thing is seeing how many connections and fond memories have been formed over the years because of the candy. Thirty years ago, Anne Lynn’s elderly next-door neighbors invited her into their kitchen to teach her how they made their Christmas candy. She made half a pound that year. Anne Lynn carried on their tradition, keeping their varieties — and now that they’ve passed away, in some small way, them — alive.
When Anne Lynn expanded from half a pound a year to ten, her mother would come over, and they’d crank out the ten pounds in a single day. Now, her brother and sister-in-law, kids, nephew, niece, their significant others and friends travel from as close as a few miles away to as far as thousands of miles away to help out and learn in the candy kitchen.
Convening at the candy kitchen is a chance for family and friends to re-connect to Anne Lynn and to each other, and in some cases, to form new bonds.
Friends of ours who’ve never met Anne Lynn but are smart enough to write thank-you notes receive the candy for Christmas, and when they finally meet Anne Lynn, there’s an immediate spark. When we wanted a family tradition integrated into our wedding, Anne Lynn was gracious enough to make a few trays of candy, and our guests still talk about how much they enjoyed the sweets.
As the holidays approach and many of you prepare to drive or fly to visit relatives or dear friends, consider this:
Is there a food tradition you remember fondly? Your dad’s deep-fried turkey, your grandma’s mushroom stuffing, your aunt’s pumpkin bread with a cream cheese swirl, your friend’s cardamom cookies?
Could you ask that person to teach you to make it when you see them? Could you make the time to reconnect with a tradition and with a loved one, carrying an old custom, a new memory and a stronger bond into the future?