Winter Magic

There is all sorts of magic to be found.  Sometimes it comes in the form of obvious things, like events that are crafted and planned and executed perfectly or kiddos on Christmas morning.  Then other times in happens in moments that are just spontaneous and gifted to us; like being in the woods when snow is falling and hearing the utter quiet or sitting in front of a fire with old friends and talking late into the night, or watching a 14 year old read the Christmas story and being overwhelmed with emotion at his journey, or spontaneously slow-dancing in front of the fire to an old Tony Bennet love song in your PJ's.  If you are fully present, sometimes the moments actually shimmer and the light changes and the earth tilts a little and time seems to just stop and you can feel your heart beat and hear your breath being drawn.  It pours over your heart and soul like a balm and makes everything better.  I have been fortunate enough to have so many moments of magic this season. 

At the beginning of the holidays, I tried very hard to decide how to do this season different.  Historically the holidays have been a really hard and sad time for me.  For starters, I knew that I needed to make some tough decisions about our schedule and what the new traditions would be without my beloved Mamaw here as our center.  There were so many commitments that I felt resentful and exhausted about them before we were even there.  I decided to hone down our family commitments to a minimum and add more events with friends.  It seemed to do the trick.  Fortunately I have a very supportive family that didn't give me any grief about missing out on some things on order to do what I needed to do.    

One of those events was a college reunion/sing-along that a friend and I hosted here that ended up being a big, fat shining highlight of the season.  Like Top-Three-Christmas-moments-drum-roll-please kind of stuff.  It was lots of friends and food and baby holding and laughing our heads off and crying from seeing everyone again and buckets of champagne and a house full of overnight guests and brunch the next day and really terribly unorganized singing with beautiful voices.  Just magical and a big dose of love insulation from folks that have known me since I was a train wreck back in the day.  There is something about being with friends that have a shared history.   The photo above is the only photo I managed to snap of any of the event.  None of the house, none of the food, none of the people.  Yep, big fail for me in the "once for posterity" department.   That big Nikon sat in it's case the whole weekend. 

The food was hot appetizers and cocktails before we went to sing.  Bacon wrapped, Gorgonzola Stuffed Dates and Mini Smoked Salmon and Dill Havarti Grilled Cheeses carried us over until we arrived back at the house for a soup buffet and cheeses and bread.  Beef and Venison Stew, Five Bean, and Vegetable soups were on the menu along with six different cheeses and lots of fruit, crackers, bread, and accoutrements.  My great friend did the desserts with Elf Bites, Jesus Balls (not joking- that's really what they are called), and Traditional Iced Sugar Cookies.  I did a hot beverage bar with coffee, Wassail, and a new recipe for "Polar Express Hot Chocolate" that was out of this world, real deal, molten chocolate in a cup goodness.  The hot bar included various liquors and liqueurs and whipped cream, peppermint chocolate bits, chocolate shavings, marshmallows, and grated nutmeg.  We barely made a dent in the food and managed to make a pretty good dent in the alcohol.  It was a spectacular evening and I found myself watching all of the chaos happen and wishing I could just push pause for a little while longer.  I have missed all of them so much.  Seeing them again was a reminder of how special those years were when we were all figuring out who in the hell we were together.  Such emotionally messy years and we were all in those trenches together, sharing the journey.  These folks are pretty special and I am lucky to be able to still call them friends.   The event is officially an annual one now and I promise I will do better at documenting it next time.  I can't wait to see who will be here in a year.  

Polar Express Hot Chocolate
adapted from Honey and Fitz Blog

2 cups high quality Bittersweet Chocolate Chips
3/4 cup high quality Semi Sweet Chocolate Chips
14 Ounces Sweetened Condensed Milk
2 cups Heavy Cream
7 Cups milk
1 tsp Vanilla or vanilla bean paste or 1 whole vanilla bean

Place all ingredients in crock pot on high.  Whisk occasionally until chocolate is melted and incorporated completely into liquid, then turn crock pot to warm.  Serve with marshmallows, whipped cream, chocolate shavings and/or any liqueur you fancy. 

*Warning that this can keep on your crock pot's lowest (most will be "Keep Warm") setting for a few hours.  Do not leave on high or even low, as it will scorch and make you cry to lose all of that good chocolate.

We finally had some snow and I was like a kid out in it with the dog.  We walked and stopped and listened and watched our breath puff out in big clouds and watched the ducks still as stone on water like glass.  It was amazing and beautiful.  I will be hunting a few more of those moments this winter while we begin to think about what the garden needs to be this season.  In the meantime, enjoy the silence of the snow, cuddle up with someone you love, and go make some of that hot chocolate.

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