Aunt Christy & Red Hots

Every Christmas my Mom’s family gets together to bake holiday cookies. There are a few staples combined with rotating appearances, but one of the guaranteed productions is Gingerbread cut outs.

One of my earliest memories of this ritual is sitting around my Grandmother’s kitchen table decorating Gingerbread with my sister, Kirstin. Grandma mixed milk and powdered sugar in bowls with a few drops of food coloring. She pulled out the pink capped sprinkles and toothpicks. Armed with the necessary materials Kirstin and I went to work under minimal supervision decorating a myriad of snowmen, trees, Santas, reindeer, mini angels, and a few rogue pumpkins (I mean, why not?).

Kirstin is a freer spirit than I (you might recall her feelings on over planning) and promptly unscrewed the tops of sprinkles and DOUSED cookies in candied sugar while I carefully placed each one strategically so as to accomplish the most refined vision. Needless to say Kirstin’s decorating went along with a greater rapidity than my own at that time.

As we worked away in the dining room, my Mom, Grandmother and the baby of their family,29213_536538166326_4324406_n my Aunt Christy, continued working on other items in the Kitchen. Aunt Christy would peek her head around to the dining room inspect our work and grinning she asked Kirstin to, “be sure to make one with red hots.” It was a bit of an ongoing joke that Aunt Christy would eat the cookies that Kirstin absolutely annihilated with red hots. For those of you unfamiliar red hots are the red spicy cinnamon hard candies that are typically used sparingly for say, a Rudolph nose. Kirstin saw them as more of a performance art opportunity. I can still hear Aunt Christy say, “It’s not that I love red hots, I just don’t mind them,” which for Kirstin was an open invitation to go cray-cray on a gingerbread tree with hard red candy.

As adults one Christmas, Kirstin was home over the holiday baking for the Christy and Cookiesfirst time in many years – and we were all gathered at Aunt Christy’s house to do the annual baking. Aunt Christy’s own children were the ones charged with decorating, but Kirstin was providing the necessary oversight (she may have also just wanted to eat icing, some things you never out grow). Aunt Christy looked up from her work and said to Kirstin, “Make sure you make one with red hots for me,” winking and smiling. Kirstin set right to work. She uncapped the red hots and dumped them on a recently iced cookie.

Aunt Christy passed away this last winter and we weren’t able to get together and make cookies as we’ve done so many years before. I know Christy’s daughter made cookies with her paternal Grandma this year – which I’m glad for. But my Mom, My Grandma and Kirstin and I, we didn’t. And maybe we couldn’t. I know we will bake this coming year because we must, but it will be difficult to do without Aunt Christy there.

I share many things with the women in my family – unusually long fingers, rich tone of voice to the point people can’t tell us one from the other on the phone, and a firm kindness that leads us to contentedly participate in less than pleasant tasks (such as consuming a toddler dressed cookie of copious red hots). But perhaps most importantly we’ve shared many moments that are seemingly mundane, but rich in memory and connection. I’m grateful for the opportunity to throw flour and sprinkles and warmth around with my family each Winter season. Aunt Christy might not physically be there with us this year, but in every red hot and wink and grin – her spirit, her face and her voice are likely to peek out.

Rakastan sinua täti Christy. Kippis! 

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Top Teas

I drink a lot of tea. I once gave it up for lent to prove to myself I could. I made it all forty days without tea, but I did not continue limiting my tea consumption. I saw no reason to. Tea is a center for me to return at any point throughout the day, and I see no harm in that.

What follows are a list of favorite teas with no particular parameters. Some are available only in memory.

Murchies Golden Jubilee Blend: this is my mother’s tea. Before Murchies began shipping at reasonable rates internationally she consistently requested boxes of the Golden Jubilee from Canadian travelers and friends. She’s a woman of good taste and I too have to agree this is one of the finest black teas around, particularly with a smidge of cream.

Harney and Sons Black Current: I love black current tea, partly because it was the black tea my Finnish host family kept most frequently. I grew very fond of a late morning pulla and cup of black current tea. I’ve tried many black current teas and Harney and Sons remains my favorite. The black current is delicate and balanced, there is no fruity sweetness or bitterness unless you over brew.

3. Ippodu Gokujo Hojicha: On a recent trip to New York I spent a whole afternoon listening to classical music and wandering from tea shop to chocolate shop to coffee shop to tea shop and so on. Pure bliss, IMHO. Ippodu has only one location state side and came home with both the Hojicha and a new spring green tea. The spring green tea made little impression on me, but as a fan of toasted, roasted and smoked green teas, the buttery green bite of this particular Hojicha made for excellent noon time tea. I’ll be back for more (and perhaps new selections) on my next trip to New York (here’s hoping that is sooner rather than later).

4. Lipton Green Tea Mandarin: This is not a special tea and most tea connoisseurs would scoff at its presence on a list like this particularly given the health concerns tied to pyramid tea bags, but I turn a blind eye to such snobbery and potential hazards when it comes to this tea because I really, really, really, really, really like it. I’ve yet to find an orange scented green tea that is as good. Suggestions welcome.

5. The Decaf Earl Gray at the Top Pot Doughnuts in Issaquah. Yet to be named, but nice citrus notes, not to floral and with the heft of a caffeinated tea.

6. The dissolvable sweetened peppermint tea my mom had when I was a kid. These were like peppermint sugar cubes that you covered in hot water and stirred. We drank them when we were sick. I would like them now to pimp my instant hot chocolate.

Kippis!

Do’s and Dont’s of Disneyland Dining

I do a lot of Internet research. On, well, everything. I trust I come by this honestly because whenever I eat dinner at my parents at the end of the evening my dad succumbs to his ipad to conduct his own obsessive hunting on the items rolling around in his brain (often home goods or vacation rentals). For me this takes the form of food research usually on the odd Saturday where I am alone and find myself still in my pajamas surrounded by empty cups of a tea and a glowing screen at 3pm.

However, these searches are far from futile. They produce excellent results and lists and pins galore that can be recalled wherever there is cell service for researched, pleasant and successful changes of plans. Many a glorious trip or purchase are the fruits of these many hours, and for me that is satisfaction. The research extends the pleasure of the moment and I like being able to escape to my plans, trips and desires on a regular basis.

Last fall all Internet efforts were trained on Disneyland for a trip I was making with my sister for her bachelorette party. I was planning (because I must) but wary of over taxing my sister who perhaps rightly finds plans a bit stifling. So like a cat waiting to pounce on a ray of sunshine I made many plans and waited for opportunities to act on them. Most importantly, I planned food.

There are many sources on the Internet for what to eat in Disneyland. I read them all and I think I owe it to the Internet to add a few RAHRAHRAHS for my favorites and to call BULLSHIT on some of these “must eat” Disneyland items. Fine dining, not included. That is a WHOLE other story. Stay tuned.

DO EAT

Trader Sam’s: Trader Sam’s is straight fun for adults. It’s a restaurant theme park for complete with water effects. I fouOa-Ah Special Effectsnd this very charming, but I also grew up post Trader Vic’s popularity so the whole Trader Sam’s Tiki vibe is fun and kitschy and not some weird throwback for me. However, be warned there are a number of throwback individuals in this bar feeling their oats so to speak.

I found the signature Uh Oa! drink (intended for four) to be positively charming with it’s table side flambé and sound effects. It also was a damn good drink – rum, tropical juices, lime, cinnamon, astoundingly not too sweet. For the sake of transparency I should mention I was the only one in my party of five who liked the drink (however I was also the oldest member of our party, draw what conclusions you will about refined pallets)…but on the other hand, as the only one who truly liked the drink, I drank the majority of the Uh Oa! (served in what can only be described as an Easter Island soup bowl)…so my perception may be a touch addled.

Everyone did agree the Panko-crusted Chinese Long Beans lived up to their reputation as delicious and worth the walk to Trader Sam’s. We ordered these as part of a Pu-Pu Platter that included a slaw and wings that exceeded expectations. I’d go back to Trader Sam’s for the Pu-Pu Platter (and the Uh Oa! OBVS).

Matterhorn Macaroon: I am skeptical of white chocolate as a general rule (why? why? I just don’t understand why) but the Matterhorn Macaroon convinced me that white chocolate does have a place in pastry (jury is still out on whether it has a place in salads). The macaroon itself is dense, toothsome and avoids the cloying sweetness of many of its brethren. This treat is something I will seek out on all future trips to Disney and if they ever start carrying decent tea the whole experience could be quite transcendent.

Corn dog: Although this was the longest line we waited in over a three day stint in Disneyland, this dog was worth it. The sweet corn batter crisped up perfectly and provided an appropriate batter to dog ratio – better than any corn dog I’ve had to date (and I, well, really like corn dogs). I almost had an aneurysm waiting behind someone who ordered ten (they are made to order…so…) but the other girls talked me down. For your own sanity, expect a wait.

Ghirardelli Sundae: When the bar at Ariel’s Grotto was too full, our group went to the San Francisco Wharf at California Adventure for late afternoon ice cream and margaritas. I’ve never been to San Francisco so this is as close as I’ve come to Ghirardelli Square. The Ghirardelli Sundae is simply excellent. They extensive sundae menu (YES SUNDAE MENU) is sure to meet even the pickiest of sundae needs. The sundae looks as good as it tastes and will likely draw margarita goers off of their tequila – that’s how delicious we are talking.

DON’T EAT

Churros: Simply put these are not special churros. Everyone, everywhere on the Churros and EarsInternets says these are special churros. They are not. They are like any other churro except you eat them in mouse ears.

Dole Whip: I consistently read that the Dole Whip is like pineapple soft serve, which sounds INCREDIBLE, no? However, the reality of the Dole Whip is much more sinister. Your first clue that Dole Whip is not all that it is cracked up to be is the cavalier nature in which this supposedly frozen dessert does not melt. That’s right, DOES NOT MELT, which one would think means IS NOT FROZEN, but no – the dole whip defies this paradox. See ingredient list for reasons why. It would be one thing if the Dole Whip really were outstandingly delicious in which case I could overlook its other questionable attributes (Cheez-Its fall in this category for me), but alas, the Dole Whip does not. The Dole Whip leaves a lingering sting of pineapple and chemical sugar in the back of your throat. Suggested alternatives are the pineapple juice, delicious and still comes with a tropical paper umbrella and the Carthay Circle Coconut-Pineapple Semifreddo,what Dole Whip should be; light and tropical.

Mickey Ice Cream: Here is my fundamental problem with this bar; the chocolate Mickey Ice Creamshell is too thick, to the point you think you may lose a tooth or two. I realize this is to prevent mess amongst children, but for adults who like to get after frozen treats the fortress of chocolate shell is a bummer and potential dental risk. Shell out a few extra bucks for a Ghiridelli Sundae people. Worth it.

Pumpkin Beignets: I was so pumped we would be in Disneyland in the fall so I could eat not only a Mickey shaped Beignet but a PUMPKIN Mickey Shaped Beignet. My expectations were not met. The gummy beignets arrived a bit cold and the pumpkin flavor did not stand up to the level of zeal expressed far and wide across the all knowing Internet. A little bit of canned pumpkin does not a delicious beignet make. However, sitting in the 10am sun listening to Disney-fied Jazz music while the elderly band leader threw beads at us, was great. Go for the Jazz, skip the beignets, something I would never say of true New Orleans.

Kippis!