Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Last Party of the Year

Tonight, Kristen, the kids, and I spent the evening readying the house for the final party of the year. Not much a New Year's Eve party-goer, we have always enjoyed staying at home with a few friends, eating and drinking, and as my dad would suggest: "staying off the roads".

The menu is going to be finger foods, but with a twist: Chile Crusted Beef Tenderloin with Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill Steak Sauce (perennial favorite), King Crab Legs (yes, I got them on sale at Restaurant Depot for $8/pound), and Roasted Shrimp with Cocktail Sauce. Kristen is making Queso Dip, some cool Baked Crab appetizer, and a cheese tray. Neighbor Irene is bringing the Jalapeno Corn Muffins to go with the Black Eyed Peas from sister Vickie (my sibling, not a convent member). Dessert is Chocolate Sundaes from Julie Maupin and Carla Dyess.

Now as far as I know, we will have about sixteen people counting the kids. See a problem with this picture?

2009 has been a good year for us. The kids have just blossomed, and that word doesn't even do justice. Will has matured into a nice young man -- kind, sensitive, excited about the world, and growing up right before our eyes. It will only be 4 years until he plans on heading to college. Scary for me. Right now, though, he has become a proficient welder as well as player of video games. But most importantly, Will has developed a spark in his eyes this year -- you can just see him being happy. That makes me happy too.

Cathryn (or, as her daddy refers to her, Cat), is so smart and creative that sometimes I can't believe what she comes up with. Whether its technology, drama, art, or poetry, she just has a love of learning. She has now become the second biggest user of in the household next to me. And, she has decided this year to be a marine biologist. I know she's only eleven, and she will probably change this many times before she decides on a career, but as a biologist dad I'm excited to see her fascinated by nature. I guess I vicariously see the romance in studying some obscure fish.

So the "Last Party of the Year" is really the beginning of a new year for our family. I hope 2010 turns out as good as the last.


Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The website is undergoing a revamp so its not active. Instead, if you want to talk about chocolate, please feel free to email me at

Thank you for your interest, and Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!


Monday, December 7, 2009

Candy and Christmas

It has become a tradition around our house at Christmas to make candy. One of my earliest memories is my mother's peanut patties (peanuts cooked in sugar tinted pink and poured onto wax paper). And then there was my Godmother, Ma.

Ma was older, in her sixties at least, when I came along. She was more than a baby sitter and functioned more as my surrogate grandmother. She took me to church, shopping for groceries, visiting her neighbors, and even to the soda fountain for a short Coke. It was an idyllic time in Hico, Texas in the '70's. Ma didn't drive and we walked everywhere we needed to go. Places seemed a lot closer in the '70's. I wouldn't even think about walking to the grocery store today. I barely like to walk to get the mail.

Ma is always on my mind at Christmas. On a holiday near the end of her life, she was spending her final days with my sister Vickie and lamenting over not being able to do her Christmas shopping. I told her not to fret, that the only thing that I wanted for Christmas this year was for her to show me how to make peanut brittle.

Peanut brittle is a simple enough concoction with a minimum of ingredients: peanuts (of course), sugar, water, "Karo Syrup", and finally baking soda. But the creation of this crispy treat is where it finds the balance between granite and Scotch Tape (read: not too hard, not too sticky) takes practice. I've since learned the science behind the candy -- the syrup prevents crystallization by acting as an invert sugar and you cook the mixture to just shy of a caramel -- but nevertheless, study and understanding does not necessarily equal good taste.

So, Ma gladly shared her recipe. She positioned her walker that she now used for balance in front of the stove, made a few missives about my sister's electric range (she preferred gas; so do I), and then set out to make our first batch. I diligently took notes and still have them in my recipe file today. I remember clearly that I should cook it until it "looks just right." (I clocked "13 minutes" at that moment.) Once you reach your temperature and with the flare of good flambe', you mix in the baking soda and miraculously a foamy, yet nuclear mixture appears: peanut brittle.

Since then I always try to make one batch in her memory. She left an indelible imprint on my life and that of my sister. Food is about fellowship and family and sharing love with one another. This year our family will make candy as well. Our truffles of pumpkin, tea, candy cane, Kirsch, Grand Marnier, habanero, orange peel, and yes -- peanut brittle -- probably say a lot about who we are. But mostly they serve to share the love of making candy for our friends. Hopefully Ma would be proud.