The Story of Santa Clothes and the Lump of Coal

A comment flew by me this morning that tripped a memory of a while back.

When you are a kid, one of the things you want the least are clothes for the holidays.

Oh sure, you need them, but they’re not exactly exciting.  At least now.  I remember an old picture of right after World War 2 in the rubble of a bombed out building, there was a child who was clutching a brand new pair of shoes as if it were the crown jewels he had just been given.  So be thankful that you can have that sort of a First World Problem, young child…

I know, get off the soap box, big guy, right?

Anyway, my nephew was another one of those kids.  I was like it and so was my sister, his mom.

“Uncah Beewl!  Santa Claus is coming soon and I am getting toys!”

Yeah he had that kids twang to his voice.  Uncah Beewl.  For the record, I never liked being called “Uncle Bill” because it reminded me of that horribly saccharine show Family Affair from back in the 1960s on US Television.   I had told my nephew it was ok, just call me Bill, but it didn’t stick.

“Are you now?” I asked

I was then treated to the excitement of a little pre-school boy telling me a list of toys and what he wanted to do to them.  Of course I was going to have a bit of fun with him.

“But, I heard you were getting a lump of coal!  Are you sure?  Maybe it is Santa Clothes who is coming, not Santa Claus?”

“NO! No lump of coal!  NOOOO!  No Santa Clothes!”

“But I heard that you were getting a lump of coal and some new clothes.  Socks and T Shirts for school.”

“You silly, Uncah Beewl!  No Santa Clothes! Noooo!  No lump of coal!  Toys!”

I swear the kid believed me, but hey he was young still!  “See, Santa Clothes comes when Santa Claus can’t.  Santa Clothes brings good boys and girls the clothes they need to go out in the world and be with their friends!  You are a good boy, right?”

I got the strongest “YES!” I could ever get from a kid.

“So you will get some clothes for the holidays then.  I will tell Santa Clothes that he can come and you will get socks and …”

“NOOOOOO!  NO Santa Clothes, Uncah Beewl!  No clothes for Christmahahahahs!”

 

He was on the edge of crying, I needed to back off a bit.  “We will see.  Maybe I can get to Santa and see what he can do.  But remember the holidays are soon and the sleigh is packed!”

My sister thought I had lost my mind, she may be right, it might have slid out my ear and rolled under the couch somewhere.

So when the day arrived I had found some items.  Wrapped in a nice pretty box was a bunch of kids socks.  Yep, had to do it.  Along with it was a separate box of a lump of black licorice candy that looked like a lump of coal.

Jon was not downstairs yet, so I slipped the two items front and center under the tree.

He came down, spotted the pretty little box with the lump of coal inside of it and opened it.

“Jon!  It’s a lump of coal!  Isn’t that great!”

“No Uncah Beewl!  Not great!”

“But look closer!  It’s not a lump of coal!  It is candy!”

Jon perked up.  He opened the candy up and had a smile on his face when he tasted the stuff.   I see he had the same like for Licorice as I do.

“There’s another box, Jon, go for it!”

Ok, not so happy about getting a box of socks are you?

“Jon, come here”  He was pouting thinking that his holiday gifts were over.  I had to make this right.

“Come on out to the Jeep.  I caught up with Santa but he said he was late and could I bring things to you personally? ”

Jon’s eyes were huge and he got real excited.

“Lets go to the Jeep!”

We trundled out to the big grey CJ7 that was parked in front of the house.  I remember some ice on the driveway that I skidded over.  I opened the tail gate on the car, and Jon got another big present.

This was the year of the fire engine.  My sister hated that thing, just like mom did.

 

But it was Perfect!

Santa and the lump of coal aside, this Fire Engine was big, and Sturdy, and when you pushed it, the siren would sound.  It was the hit of the year.  In fact it was the hit of the next couple years.

He went from being a pouty toddler to being completely happy with what he had.

The next couple years became a tradition.  Until he was around 18, Jon would get some licorice candy in the shape of a lump of coal.  A couple years I even got it back.

Good licorice candy too!

So the moral of the lesson was to calm down and Uncah Beewl will make it right.

And lumps of coal can be tasty too!

Happy holidays folks.  Glad you could share this fractured memory of days gone by in the prairies of South Jersey.

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Snowy and Rainy Days and Full Freezers

I wanted pizza.  Instead, some people get more than a foot of snow.

When that big front comes into the Northeastern US, it trails a long tail.  The classic shape of it on Radar is a comma.  It starts as a storm in the middle of the country, then works its way across basically driving I-10 to the ocean.  Then it gains strength as it hits the warmer waters of the Atlantic and comes up North to visit you people.

But as it’s doing that, that front works its way down to visit me.

It was a wet weekend.  Oh sure, an inch of rain plus can be dealt with in South Florida, we are used to it.  The grounds are basically a Swiss Cheese of Limestone from “The I-4 Line” of Daytona to Orlando to Tampa.  In reality North of that as well, but everyone down here talks about the bad weather being up above the I-Four-Line and ignores it until it gets closer.

That Swiss Cheese flavored Limestone soaks up all the ground water and eventually it’s a memory.  But it did keep us indoors.

After all, it’s January, the pool has cooled down to 59, and it isn’t a good beach day.  It also got a good 20 degrees colder than the high the day before and the house isn’t designed for a high below 70.  We get miserable when it is colder than 70, and if it is raining, you’ll be giving me some fine cheese to go with that fine Port Wine.

So what do you do.

I know!  Lets cook!  In other words, I filled the freezer.  To the point where next week’s plans are shot.  Can’t even make a pizza here because there is so much food stuffed in every nook and cranny.

I remember when the older generation had these fridges with a suitcase sized freezer and they were always crammed.   We’ve got a side by side fridge and I’m complaining that I want a chest freezer.  I’d just fill that too.

But it started with Saturday raining and our deciding that it was a perfect time to make a Roast Chicken.  I will say it turned out great, but that also meant a run to the stores.  Why?

 

Soup Kit.

Prepacked and wrapped in plastic, this had all the vegetables for you to make a proper Chicken Soup.  I’d suspect that with a few more ingredients you could make a proper Vegetable Soup, or stew.  Turnips, Rutabaga, Carrots, Dill Weed, Onion.  Something that looked like a carrot but white.  It all went into the “Lobster Pot”.  By the time we were done, there was two gallons plus of Stock bubbling happily on the stove.

Two gallons.  That would be about 8 litres of soup stock.

The chicken roasting in the oven, we would have a good meal.  Stuffing was made and put in the little bird, and a baking dish, and this all wasn’t going to get dealt with until dinner.  Lunch had to be made.

All of that eventually hit the table, and the extra chicken got pulled from the bone.  Bones into the stock pot to boil another two hours.  Made up a wonderful stew with the addition of another half pound of carrots and two potatoes.

The next morning getting up I realized I needed to make English Muffins.  I got out all the gear, made up some beer bread batter from 2 1/2 cups of all purpose flour, a bottle of room temp Presidente beer, and a tablespoon of sugar.

When that finished I realized I had to stop.  There was just enough room for the extra English Muffins to fit in the door.

But … wait, there’s more!  Or rather, there can’t be more.  I can’t make the Cream Biscuits I wanted to have with some sausage gravy because there simply is no more room in the freezer.  Every square inch was crammed with covered dishes, cooling, and waiting to be eaten.  The Gallon Jug that I keep in there to freeze in case of emergencies had to come out.  The blue blocks of ice were out.  Still no more room.

Damn, no biscuits and gravy, I’ll have to have cereal.
How about Pizza again?   Nope?   No room for the extra rolls.  I’m toast.

Oh and it’s Sunday and cold.  We’re baking again.  You see, it’s Fruitcake season.  None of that rubbish that you get from the shops.  Claxton fruitcake?  No, that’s too cloyingly sweet.  Ours is home made from a Welsh recipe from the 1800s.   Each cake is a heavy block that is soaked in Spiced Rum to allow it to absorb the flavor, and is usually best after sitting in the freezer for 1 to 3 months.  We eat fruitcake in the summer because the candied fruits we need to make it are only available from Halloween to mid January – if you are lucky.

So we got enough for 8 fruitcakes.  Each cake being the size and weight of a Belgian Block from a street in an older city, and you know we are going to have a lot of baking to do.

“Hey, our plans got changed, no fruitcake next week!”

There won’t be enough room in the freezer for us to make more since there are the better part of two gallons of soup in there.

Still no pizza.  Did I tell you I make the second best pizza on the island, in my own little kitchen?  It’s just that that makes 3 large hoagie rolls as well.  You guessed it, no room in the freezer.

So while you are still digging out from your 12 to 36 inches of snow in the Northeastern US, I’m digging my freezer out of homemade food.  If you stop by, I may even give you a slice of fruitcake.

Don’t laugh, this stuff is good!  If they sold this in the stores, people wouldn’t turn their noses up at it.

But it is, still, fruitcake.

Getting Rack Ready For The Walk

Ok, I don’t know which TV Show scarred me for life with these little sayings, but let me get them out of the way first!

“I caught you looking at my butt!”

“Quit looking at my butt!”

*WHEW*!  There we go, back to normal!

You see getting Rack ready for his walk is a ritual.  It could be as many as three or more rituals.

It all depends on the time of day and “which” walk we’re taking.

I suppose we could throw weather into that too although it’s either dry or rainy here.

You see Rack the McNab SuperDog (TM) is a herding dog.  A McNab Dog like him loves routines.  He can predict what will happen next and when we make a change to the house, we can see how he’s a bit confused by it all and then adapts.

After all I can’t say “ready” without him wanting to go somewhere.  I changed that to the Spanish “Listo” for when I am “ready” and want to go somewhere and don’t want him to know.  He will learn that and I’ll find another Key Word.

Suggestions anyone?

Herding dogs like the McNab, any collie, or any breed with Shepherd or Heeler in their names were bred for intelligence and flexibility.  You can teach them anything.

I didn’t realize I was teaching him to crawl between my legs.

Yes, they are my legs, but we went through this already.

To get him ready for a walk all I really have to do is show him a leash.  The leash has the harness already clipped to the end for convenience sake.  I hold the harness open and he simply walks through it.

But in typical “One Plus One Equals Three Fashion” of a herding dog, Rack … keeps walking.

Around 43 pounds of wriggling mostly black fur wants to keep going.  The easiest place to go was between my legs.  So as I am trying to reach under his chest to snap the harness together, he has his head stuck back there and is looking around excited.

Trust me, an excited McNab Dog is a very interesting thing.

He will stand there trying to walk forward while there.  I weigh about five times more than he does, roughly, so he’s not going anywhere.  But he’s trying to move forward.

Put your hand under him and push him backwards?  That doesn’t really work, he simply walks forward until he’s stuck.
Step aside?  He’s walking to the front door.

Sure, he’ll come back if called since that is the hallmark of a well trained herding dog, but standing aside isn’t really effective.

So there I am.  A dog sticking his head between my legs, wagging his tail, and waiting to go explore the world.

I’m shaking my head, amused at the entire thing.  Wriggling dog and all.

Sometimes, you just need a Cheesesteak and Fries

I had been baking all morning.

I made some Chocolate Chip Cookies, Coconut Cookies, and Anisette Cookies.

Yeah I know, I’m repeating myself.  Actually, I am writing this right after I wrote about the Anisette Cookie recipe.

Tasty cookies, amazingly easy batter to work with too.

But, I was informed.  Told.

“Lunch today is a Cheesesteak, and by the way, you’re making fries”.

Do.  Tell.

Actually, Kevin makes a good cheesesteak.  We had gotten some appropriate “Home Made Hoagie Rolls” at Publix.  Just how a supermarket chain can make a “home made” roll, I don’t know, but they do make a good roll.  They’re not Amoroso, but they’re damn close.

That trip to Publix, I actually found Cheese Wiz.   What Cheese Wiz is, I don’t know.  We discovered that it makes a great dip for crackers though.

So we started.  A quarter of a sweet onion got grilled.  Twice what I needed but hey, I have eggs and I know how to use them.

Then the rolls were thawed, split, and slathered with a generous layer of that Wiz stuff I was talking about.

The Steak was cooking in the skillet.  I put half of the onions on top.  The onions immediately stuck to the “Cheeze” like substance.

Then the steak.  It melted the cheese.  On a whim, I squirted catsup on the fries and the steak.

Wow, ok, Food Porn.

See, Cheesesteaks are a religion in Philadelphia.  Museums are online dedicated to the art of the perfect Cheesesteak.  There are a laundry list of places that people will visit over others.  Every one of those people have most likely tried to make a steak at home.

I grew up with Provolone on mine, but mom was Italian and didn’t speak English until she was 7.

But, here in South Florida the true cheesesteak is not something that you can’t find easily.  There are some close calls, but it’s a bit off.

Like that roll.  Good, close, but not Amoroso’s.

No worries, it was a great meal.

Anisette Cookies for Pat’s Birthday

It is Saturday when I write this.

I’ve been up all morning and into the afternoon baking.

You see, this is a family tradition that some good friends have had the pleasure to enjoy.  For years instead of buying something that will end up in a landfill or forgotten in a drawer, I have been baking gifts for friends and family.

This one baking stint isn’t over yet, I’ve got more to do tomorrow.

I was going to make Fudge, but this isn’t winter and it would be a mess by the time it made it to New Jersey.

So I baked the Coconut Cookies from this blog.  It makes 24 1 ounce cookies, and I am keeping 6 here for myself.  I’ll have those at work.

There’s more to bake tomorrow, and it won’t be a surprise that it will be my own chocolate chip pecan cookies.  No, this recipe I won’t share, and there are plenty recipes similar out there.   Try the internet cookie recipe it is based off of that but I have tweaked it to make it my own.

But I did get to wanting some Anisette Cookies, like when I was a wee brat.  Mom would bring these home often enough that I got to think of them as something everyone had.  Nope.

This recipe is quite similar in taste.  I will be adding a little extra Anise Extract since I enjoy a strong licorice flavor from time to time.  The taste in this recipe is “Authentic” instead of being a “Kick in the pants”.  If you came from an Italian family, this is familiar.

First the ingredients:

  • 1⁄2 cup butter, softened
  • 1⁄2 cup sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons anise extract
  • 2 1⁄2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 2 -3 tablespoons milk

Now the Process:

  • Wet ingredients – to a stand mixer, cream your butter.
  • Add the sugar and the eggs.
  • Finally add the Anise Extract.
  • Hold back the milk at this time!
  • All ingredients are to be added one at a time, as things incorporate.
  • Mix your dry ingredients in a bowl sifting them together.  Using a sifter isn’t absolutely necessary, I just tossed it in the stand mixer with all the wet stuff while it was running but you could use a fork in a big bowl if you chose to.
  • Trust me it isn’t fussy.
  • Finally, the milk is to be added to the stand mixer one tablespoon at a time.  The ending dough will be soft and pliable, but not sticky.  Think of that play-doh you had as a kid – Modeling Clay.
  • To Bake:  The resulting cookies will double in size and be rather soft inside like cake.
  • Spoon out 1 level tablespoon amounts into balls on Parchment Paper spaced evenly.
  • I got 15 cookies per “regular sized” cookie sheet, and really they don’t get all that big.
  • Preheat oven to 350F/180C.
  • Bake the Cookies for 10 to 12 or so minutes – they will NOT get golden brown except on the bottom.
  • The resulting cookies will be soft.

Oh, and, Sorry Pat, you’re only getting about 1/2 of these.  They were GOOD!

Happy Birthday Pat

Happy Birthday, Pat.

By today, you will ggt The Box.

You know, that box I was talking about last week.

Three kinds of cookies, and maybe more.  Depends on whether I found anything else to toss in there.  Everything was baked by hand.

We’ve been doing this for years, the back and forth of boxes of goodies.

The day itself?

Well here’s what went down that Saturday.

I got up late, and since I was half asleep from taking Melatonin to sleep, I was groggy.  A double mug of full Real Coffee.  You know, that bag of beans you see?  Guatemalan Estate Grown Antigua Huehuetenango roasted to just before Second Crack.

What that gibberish means is that it’s a Medium Roast, full flavored and complex.  The bitter has been roasted out.  A Central American Coffee is never to be roasted dark, it kills the flavor.

Anyway, it’s all for you, on your day.  Or about a week before your day.

We’ve been in the house working on furniture, playing Bollywood music and having a great time listening to bouncy stuff we couldn’t actually understand.  Good day for it.  Saturday.  Almost dinner time at this point, there has been so much to do.

The last of the coffee will be roasted soon and bagged for the trip.

Oh coffee.  There is a rule of Fifteens:

15 minutes Ground.

15 days Roasted.

15 months Green.

Grind the beans and brew within 15 minutes for peak flavor,

Roast the beans and grind within 15 days for peak flavor,

15 months to roast the Green Beans.

or something like that.  So don’t save it, after all The Holidays are coming, and there is bound to be more.

Happy Birthday Pat!

A Dog’s Portal To The World

Back before I descended into Home Improvement Hell, there was a door on the laundry room.

It was a smallish door, rather appropriate for the mid-century design of this house.

The door had a problem.  It had a giant hole in the middle of it that was covered with Jalousie Windows.

In otherwords, you could have broken into my house by simply knocking out a slat of glass, lifting it up and removing the rest.  They were all held in with clips and those clips were not very sturdy.

But hey, they were security glass because they were FROSTED!

Yeah, that will stop an intruder, won’t it?

Now, my girl Lettie moved in the house with me.  When one of the panes broke, I wanted to give her a gift.   I wanted to get clear replacements.  Two to be exact.

I removed the glass from the third and fourth slat from the bottom and replaced them with clear panes.  Then I replaced the broken slat and put in one of the frosted ones.

It was perfect.  At dog’s nose height I had a spot where Lettie could go and watch the world.  She did, and so did Rack when he came here.

But we had to replace that door because it no longer was “Up To Code”.  We’d have the entire house inspected once the windows were installed and the inspector would point to that door and make disapproving sounds.

It got replaced with a security glass door.  Frosted glass that looks like those old Milk Glass vases your mom would have, but it is 5/16ths inch thick and was rated for “Large Missile Impact”, whatever that means.

It also meant that Rack could no longer look out.  The front door was solid steel and due to be replaced.

We got a twin to it.  Only this time, the twin would be clear.

We are adjusting.

We’re getting a proper shade for it but for now there is this ludicrous shade there made out of paper.  It looks like that stuff you used to get meats wrapped in at the Butcher Shop, and is fan folded so you have to expect that some Japanese Geisha would be using it to cool herself off in the heat.

But the benefit is now Rack has a view to the world.

I on the other hand have to get used to being in a fishbowl or on display.

I tend to keep that paper geisha shade clipped, per design, about knee high.  There is a wrinkle outside of the shade.  You see, if you can see out, others can see back in the glass.

Last night when preparing for the Dog Walk, Rack was out on the front porch.  I had finished my last minute puttering and was searching for a couple of Dog Bags.  They’re Brown for a reason.

Out of the corner of my eye, I see some glowing spots and hear yapping and yipping.  Rack was excited because he knew he’d get his last walk of the day.  I just didn’t expect to see two glowing spots, one green, the other yellow, and very little else in the evening gloom.

I’ll get used to it.  Just remember, when you’re walking across the living room with one light on, make sure you have clothes on when you drop the laundry off in the washer.  Otherwise you’ll be giving a show.