I don't mind baking. I'm not crazy about it, but I don't hate it. When Liv was small, we used to bake a lot together. I have lost track of all the birthday cakes that we made for her imaginary friend, Charley. We often baked blonde brownies and chocolate chip cookies. Liv also adored those peanut butter cookies with the Hershey's kiss in the center.
Now, that she is older, I admit that we seldom bake. It is no longer a mother/daughter activity to share during a long day together. Now, we are busy. She is busy staying on the honor roll at school and now has four good friends: Kai (probably her favorite, a child from Hawaii), Aaron (science buddy), Molly (basketball buddy) and Jacoby (extremely bright, but scrawny-therefore-picked-on boy). Kai lives with her Aunt and Uncle here on the prairie as her parents are with Doctors Without Borders. She and Liv are tentatively hanging with each other outside of school. They've gone sledding and ice skating, both new activities to the Hawaiian born and bred Kai. Kai's Aunt has also taken them both to the movies and then out for cocoa. So, Liv is a busy girl.
We seldom bake.
But, this morning, we sat together at the kitchen table and plotted our Christmas baking. We decided to forgo the decorated Christmas cookies for the neighbors and do pumpkin bread instead. Fudge too. And then we put our heads together to contemplate what to make for her father, his assistant, Nirand and Vince and Thuan. They are all coming to stay with us for Christmas this year. Tinton (her father) and Nirand from Colorado, where they are working and teaching and Vince and Thuan from Chicago where they have lived for decades.
I should probably explain our guests a little bit to those who are new to my blog. Tinton is a geologist and does mostly free lance with his assistant, Nirand, who is also a professional photojournalist. They often work together on projects and are pretty nomadic, although their home base is Colorado. This is where Tinton lives with his girlfriend of many years and where Nirand's parents live. They are currently working separately in Colorado. Nirand taught a few seminars at a university there and Tinton is working on some ore thing...he's told me about the project but the truth is that I don't remember the specifics. All I remember is that both he and Nirand are leaving in early January for Brazil. Where it is warm. Deliciously warm.
Vince and I went to med school together. He is now an oncologist in Chicago. His partner is Thuan. He owns a Vietnamese grocery with his sister. Thuan is an almost phenomenal cook. Each and every time he comes, he sends me a list and we go to the Vietnamese grocery and stock up. Bing adores his steamed eggs with shrimp. I like his chicken steamed with lemon. And Liv likes his soft tofu soup. But, he makes so many other delicacies.
Floating rice cakes
Vietnamese bread rolls
Braised pork in coconut milk
Xoi Yo (sticky rice)
Fruit salad (this is what he calls it and I am not sure how he makes it, but he uses apples, kiwis, oranges and vanilla yogurt)
We eat like royalty when he is here.
And he, crazily, also ADORES Kentucky Fried Chicken and Pizza Hut pan pizza, so we also get some American favorites too.
So, our four friends are all arriving on December 23 and staying until January 3rd. We have plenty of room. Tinton sleeps up in our attic bedroom (used to be a maid's room back when this house was new...we have a buzzer on our bedroom wall that makes a long obnoxious buzzing noise in the attic room...Liv heartily enjoys hitting the buzzer in the morning when she thinks he is sleeping too late...), Nirand on the pull out sofabed in the basement, and Vince and Thuan get the guest room in between ours and Liv's bedrooms.
Life is sweet when they are here. Vince and Thuan are quite wealthy and they spoil us rotten with presents, Tinton takes Liv out almost every day on fun excursions to movies, ice skating, hiking, you name it, and Nirand? Nirand is just...one of my favorite people. Someone that knows a lot of my secrets. With the exception of Socks, the dog, he knows the most about me. And still loves me. I think his life is very hermit-like. He travels a lot with Tinton and is his best friend, but he is also a multi talented musician and takes such gorgeous photos of all of us. I have a photo of me standing in the kitchen in my zippy the monkey pajamas, with no makeup on and haggie maggie hair and he somehow caught me in a sliver of light coming in the window that makes me look like I should be in a Fellini movie.
Tinton and Nirand always bring their guitars and they end up jamming with Bing and Liv. They are really, really good. Well, okay. They shouldn't quit their day jobs, but for only sometime musicians, they are good. I often come home from work to find them jamming while Thuan is in the kitchen baking/cooking something delicious for dinner while Vince is doing something outrageous like painting on my tablecloth to make it more "festive." For just a while, our lives are almost like living in a very successful commune with really, really fascinating people. We are all Democrats, so we get along famously at politics. And everyone has fascinating stories to tell.
The only thing that I do with my regular family over the holidays is to have breakfast at my sister's home. She always invites us all, but only Bing, Liv and I attend. The one time that everyone went, Thuan and Nirand ended up being grilled by my sister's ignorant neighbors about "how you people live." I assume that because Thuan is Vietnamese and Nirand is Indian, that it was somehow thought that they lived in huts and spent their days cleaning rice. Thuan was asked how he felt about "the American God" as if he/she was exclusive to the American people.
Anyway, on the night when Tinton, Nirand, Vince and Thuan arrive, Liv and I always try to have an unusual treat. This time, we paged through magazines, trying to find something different, exotic.
Finally, Liv triumphantly held up a newspaper clipping.
"I have it!" she crowed, excitedly.
It was a recipe for the infamous Butterbeer from the Harry Potter books.
I glanced through the recipe and it looked pretty easy and very interesting. So tonight, we decided to make a trial run to see if it was company worthy.
It was FANTASTIC.
So, take notice readers, because this may be the one and only time I put a recipe on my blog. Try it, you'll LOVE it.
1 cup brown sugar
6 tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon rum extract
Four 12 ounce bottles of cream soda
2 tablespoons water
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup heavy cream, divided
In a small sauce pan over medium heat, combine the brown sugar and water. Bring to a gentle boil and cook, stirring often until the mixture reads 240 on a candy thermometer. Stir in the butter, salt, vinegar and 1/4 of the heavy cream. Set aside to cool to room temperature. Once the mixture has cooled, stir in the rum extract. In a medium bowl, combine 2 tablespoons of the brown sugar mixture and the remaining 1/2 cup of heavy cream. Use an electric mixer to beat until just thickened, but not completely whipped, about 2-3 minutes. To serve, divide the brown sugar mixture among 4 tall glasses (about 1/2 cup to each glass.) Add 1/4 of the cream soda to each glass then stir to combine. Fill each glass nearly to the top with additional cream soda, then spoon the whipped topping over each.
It is SPECTACULAR and I truly understand why Harry, Hermione and Ron loved it so much.
So, we will make this for their first night. And we will have good dreams, I'm sure.
In fact, this might just be a tradition for us now. Every family needs one or two or ten.
Our traditions are pretty basic. We open gifts on Christmas Eve after a soup dinner of minestrone and crusty french bread.
Christmas morning is breakfast at my sisters.
Christmas dinner is always whatever Thuan cooks and he outdoes himself each year. Just imagine some of these foods for your Christmas dinner: (Hint, if you look carefully you will see Bing's favorite dish of eggs and shrimp.)
Nirand also makes his specialty from India:
Can you see why we hate to have them leave?
What is YOUR Christmas like? And seriously....TRY the butterbeer. It is rich, but very delicious!