“Mom, I think I did a bad job wrapping this one.” Elle held the small box so close to her eyes that they almost crossed as she inspected her handy work. “No, no it’s beautiful!” I assured her. “Gifts are like people – it’s what’s on the inside that counts. Actually, it’s really just the thought that counts …” She stared at me quizzically then, my four-year-old daughter, and I laughed. “Anyway, it looks good to me.”
With more Scotch tape landing in sticky, tangled heaps on the floor than on the actual presents, we managed to “successfully” wrap a single, solitary box and enjoy its sparkling red and green presence for a grand total of five minutes before the kids had already torn into it, ready to do it all over again. The act of wrapping and unwrapping the presents is just as much fun to my kids right now as the actual receiving of the gifts, it seems, and it just shows to go you (as my grandmother would say) that children can make a game out of anything – a game that will rival most any toy that you could buy at the store. It is for this reason that we don’t keep presents under our tree … at least not yet … at least not REAL presents. We keep a few boxes for my kids to wrap and unwrap and do all manner of make believing with, but the real ones are stowed away out of sight … for now.
Winter is coming. For better or for worse, it is coming sure and fast and, judging by some recent snow-filled photos snapped by friends who live up north, it seems to have already arrived in some places … with bells on. The arrival of winter has always come with a real sense of doom for me – it’s something I spend the better part of the year dreading and moaning and groaning about, as if it’s just so awful, this winter season. I don’t know what it is about the season that causes me such consternation and disdain, though. Maybe I just really, really dislike being cold … or maybe it’s the utter, unforgiving dryness of the air. I’d rather be barefoot in a summer sundress than bundled and bound up in layers and I’ve always favored a warm breeze over a cool one … a spring rain over a winter snowfall, and technicolor Fall foliage over the barren and bleak winter landscape.
To Elle, however, there is no better thing in the world than winter. “It’s the best best BEST season of the whole year, mama!” She declared last night as we sat at the dining room table, me sipping on a mug of hot chocolate while she diligently colored a picture of a volcano with “ice lava” gushing out. Apparently everything gets a little winterized in her mind this time of year – even volcanoes. Easton, meanwhile, was running laps around the table with literal bells on – the jingle kind – and he was delighting to the fullest in the fact that our house now has tons of bright and shiny new bobbles and bits to play with. Bing Crosby crooned at us from the record player and the balsam and fir-scented candle in the kitchen windowsill flickered softly, giving the room a warm, comforting glow. The timer on the oven sounded, signaling to all that its contents had finished their long winter’s nap and were ready for us to enjoy. The kids cheered. It was one of their favorites, a chicken pot pie.
Why on earth, I wondered, would anyone ever dislike this? What’s not to like?!? I must be crazy. Maybe I’ve had it wrong all along and have been giving winter a very unfair shake, a very bad rap. Because from where I stood in that dining room last night, things could not have looked merrier or brighter. As I served up the piping hot pot pie (recipe soon to come), I began pondering ways to self-cure – to relieve myself from the burdensome hatred that I’ve long carried for this time of year (the holiday season being the brief exception). For Elle, it’s all about the snow. It’s the thing – the thing that holds her heart throughout the year, even when the summer sun is shining down upon her and the green grasses are cool and soft beneath her bare feet. Even then, she dreams of snow. I always enjoy listening to her wax poetic about the wonders of snowflakes, snowmen and snow scream, and she ** almost ** manages to get me excited about it myself. A commendable feat to be sure.
For me though, frozen precipitation isn’t going to be the thing that unentangles winter from the negative connotations with which I’ve long associated it – it’s bad rap. No, for me, it’s going to have to be the food that does it. Few things manage to get me as excited, fascinated, creative, anticipatory, and inspired as food. It’s MY thing. So, it seems only natural that I use it as the self-medicating device against my wintery affliction. Food in the winter time has usually been pretty standard op for me, as (like I referenced before) it’s the season during which I tend to be less inspired, often reaching for the old standbys rather than exploring and embracing the beauty of the season. Bad food blogger! This really does need to change. As such, I am going to take myself to task over the course of the next couple of months – posting more recipes here than usual and really digging into the heart of winter cooking. The foods, ingredients, traditions and beloved classic recipes that make this season shine – that set it apart and make it special. So, there you have it. I’ve put it out there into the world and will make good on it in the coming months. I’m looking forward to sharing the collection of winter recipes that I’ve been eying and developing and working on with all of you, and I’ll admit the thought of it alone is enough to get me excited … ready to welcome winter with open arms and a screaming hot cast iron pan. Frozen though they may be, it seems that the tides for me may be turning.
Apple and Cardamom Fritters
*adapted from Ree Drummond
I’ll kick off my winter food extravaganza with these simple yet incredibly delicious apple and cardamom fritters – a decidedly more rustic, freeform apple offering than the tarts in my last post. However, they are so satisfying and make for a great addition to any breakfast or brunch spread. There may be no better time of year to engage in a little frying than during the winter months and you can bet that I stay away from this particular cooking method during the heat of the summer, when the thought of frying food is far from my mind. These fritters are wonderfully simple though, and the frying is a shallow fry, rather than a deep one. The batter comes together in mere minutes and you can easily swap out the apples in favor of pears, quince, banana, persimmon … the possibilities are pretty vast here. Also, feel free to change up the spices as well, I just really enjoy the floral scent and distinctive warmth that cardamom offers any dish into which you add it. These Apple and Cardamom Fritters are best when enjoyed right away, but they do reheat well in a warm oven, if necessary. The generous dusting of powdered sugar on top of the finished fritters is my welcoming gesture to winter – let it snow people, let it snow.
Canola or vegetable oil, for frying
2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2-1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup whole milk
2 tablespoons melted butter
2.5 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 Granny Smith apples, cored and diced
Confectioner’s sugar, for dusting
special equipment: candy thermometer (recommended, but not required)
Heat a couple of inches of oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot (or Dutch oven, or high-sided skillet) set over medium-high heat until the oil reaches a temperature of 350 degrees F.
In a large bowl, combine the flour, granulated sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, cardamom, and salt. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs with a fork. To the eggs, add the milk, melted butter, and the vanilla. Add the wet ingredients to the dry, and gently fold them together, being careful not to over mix. Fold in the diced apples, adding enough to make a chunky batter.
When the oil is hot (you can also test a small amount of batter here; if it bubbles and begins to fry immediately, you’re ready), drop heaping tablespoons of the batter into the oil, being careful not to overcrowd the pan. I usually do about six at a time. Fry the fritters until they’re golden brown, about 5 minutes, turning halfway through. Transfer them to a paper towel-lined baking sheet to drain off the excess oil. Dust very generously with powdered sugar (let it snow, after all) and serve warm. Enjoy!