Thursday, January 6, 2011
One more mistletoe kiss, and a last eggnog toast to 2010
How easily and quickly the routines and rhythms of everyday life are disrupted, sometimes seriously but often to accommodate the smallest of joys and graces. So it's been at Eat Here: all storytelling abandoned in favor of holiday cooking, MadriGal singing, friends and family visiting, and several long cold days when the lure of the fireplace was irresisible. It was purely heaven, my loves, and I dearly hope you had some of those days, too. It's time for me return to something like order, pack away joyful holiday chaos with the Christmas tree ornaments and get back to work. At Eat Here, with your indulgence, my dears, there's still time for a shared memory or two. This is a perfect sunset caught near the time of the Winter Solstice at Saltwater Cowboy's, where the MadriGalz rang in the season. As perfect as the view was, it was also breathtakingly cold for December in St. Augustine. All was merry and bright in the restaurant, though; the carols were good and the food was even better.
Christmastide has come to mean MadriGalz to me, in addition to the other blessings of the season. It means singing together with two voices I admire, love and am humbled to partner with, for just a few short weeks, in the company of some of our most beloved friends. Some of those friends are also current or past performance partners, whose kindness is especially valuable to us. (I'm looking at you, Miss Jo.) Judy has astonishing vocal range and discipline, and the ability to become almost invisible as an ensemble singer. Lis has a voice of heartwrenching sweetness, and a nearly tangible charismatic charm. And though we've been singing in this configuration together for nearly 10 years, they both surprise me over and over again. This year Miss Judy opened her bag of tricks and treated us to an impromptu version of "Santa Baby" that I didn't see coming despite nearly 30 years of friendship and shared music. If you look past the terrible picture quality (it's an iPhone, okay? And it was dark in the bar at Creekside Dinery that night), you can see Judy, Lis and our friend Rick, who kindly took the guitar for this one. What you can't see is Miss Judy, intriguingly blending Eartha Kitt's sensuality with Judy Holliday's girlish-voiced frankness, delivering a rendition we won't soon forget.
Amongst the appearances at our favorite local restaurants and various other engagements, we were also able to carol for our friend Miss Dot, the benefactor who made our CD a possibility a few years ago. It was an opportunity of grace for us, and afforded this rare photo of all of us together. We were surrounded by Miss Dot's large and amazing family, among whom are members of the locally venerated Red River Band, and it's safe to say a good time was had by all, especially the MadriGalz. In years past we've actually managed go caroling, dropping in to carol for friends and acquaintances. This was a happy return to that tradition and one for which we're grateful to the Pellicer family.
So the MadriGalz delighted in the Season; meanwhile, we got ready at home, too. The house was decorated, Santa Claus was situated in his place of honor on the roof (yes, we have a ridiculous Santa, about 3 feet tall, whose inner lightbulb has been guiding friends to our house for more years than I care to count), Christmas Rum Cakes were baked and to my complete astonishment, several Christmas cards were actually written and - get this - mailed! I know, right? I'd pretty much reconciled myself to having been dropped from Christmas card lists, having not managed to get cards out these past few years. But some cards found their way out from our pens, and some were welcomed and hung in places of honor as they came in. Holiday cards are a gift, I believe. No one should feel bad about not sending them; not everyone has time every year. But the people who do send them get to feel really good about it, especially when some of us can't manage to return the gift. I didn't get cards out to all of you, but I did think of you as I worked on them. Maybe next year. For now, though? The Rum Cakes.
This recipe was given to me years ago by my dear friend Debra, who wrote it on a piece of stationary that abides even now in a recipe box once owned by my dear old person's mother. It's the only cake I make these days that uses boxed cake mix as its foundation, and I've been meaning to reverse-engineer it so that it can be made without the boxes; maybe I'll get to that next year along with the complete list of Christmas cards. Ahem. Maybe not. In any case, here's the Christmas Rum Cake recipe, for your consideration.
Christmas Rum Cake (doubled from the original; with thanks to Debra B. for the beautiful original version)
Combine 2 boxes of Yellow Cake Mix and 2 small packages of vanilla instant pudding mix with 1 cup each of milk, vegetable oil and rum in the large bowl of your mixer. Mix gently til combined and then add 4 eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat until you have a lovely creamy mixture. Pour into two standard tube pans or several loaf pans (each of these should be well-greased - I use cooking spray - and dusted with granulated sugar and if desired, pecans and maraschino cherries). Don't overfill your pans as the cake will rise above the sides; I fill the pans about 2/3 full. Bake cakes at 325 degrees for about 45-50 minutes or until they test done.
While they're baking, prepare a glaze. In a saucepan, combine 1 stick of butter (real butter - you can't cheat on this one), about 1 cup of granulated sugar, and about 1/2 cup of water. Bring to a boil carefully, and simmer at boiling for about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool for a few minutes. Add about 2/3 cup of rum. In really tough years I use about a cup of rum, but you can do this to taste. Remember that the rum won't really cook out of the glaze, as it does the cake, so more rum means a stronger taste. Use your judgement. When the cakes are done, use a toothpick or an ice pick to prick the tops of the cakes; this will let the glaze penetrate the surface of the cakes. Drizzle the glaze over the cakes, distributing evenly. If you've made tube or Bundt cakes, you can invert on plates to serve. If you've made loaf pans as gifts (I use aluminum pans that needn't be returned) you can cover when the cakes are cool.
Doesn't that sound nice?
That's the mistletoe kiss I meant to send you, and the final raising of the eggnog glass in a toast to the very happiest of New Years. Coming soon? Eat Here goes back to the beach in search of North Atlantic Right Whales (their calving season runs through March), gopher tortoises, porpoises, shark teeth and cloud formations and whatever other gifts are placed in our path as we walk. Thank you for walking along with us.
P.S. Gold, Myrrh and Peaches
The best gifts are the gifts of the heart, and this often means they're handmade. It sounds trite, of course, but I still have all the handmade cards the boys have given me over the years. You probably have a collection equally humble and equally treasured. This Christmas we were gifted with a dazzling collection of jewel-toned fruits, canned by our friends Tina and Jimmy. Especially beautiful was a jar of peaches, captured at the perfect fullness of summer, as golden as any sunrise. These found their way into a peach-and-ginger upside down cake, baked in cast iron and short-lived in our kitchen. I can tell you how to make one, if you're interested.