Archive for December 2013

Glad Tidings

December 31, 2013

DSC_7820The days are getting longer, inching toward summer, although really it seems more like millimeter-ing at this point in the year. On this, an ever-so-slightly shorter night, we’ll drink Champagne and hope for a peaceful 2014, and do our best to stay up until the new year arrives.

And tomorrow, it’ll be all about the duck, since we’ve been awash in duck and foie gras around here, and it’s made for an awesome farewell to the year. In fact, some of that foie gras is still awaiting our out with the old/in with the new evening, and I’d share it with you if I could. A virtual toast to your happiness!

Euro Cookie Time

December 20, 2013


I got a lot of feedback that my Tree Metaphors made people cry, and I certainly would rather make people happy, especially at this time of year. So here’s a little ditty that’s bound to make you smile: Glazed Chocolate Spice Balls.

I was given this recipe about 20 years ago , and I’d swear that the friend who passed it on said it was Italian. However, it definitely looks and tastes more German than Italian, kind of like a chocolate pfeffernüsse, so I’m really not sure of its origins. In any case, it’s a very Euro cookie, dense, not too sweet, spicy, full of nuts and raisins. The fragrance of the dough, as you’re hand-rolling it into little balls, will take you back to Christmas past, to the days of sugar and spice, when everything was nice.

Glazed Chocolate Spice Balls

For the cookies:
4 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1 1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 cup butter, cut into pieces
1 cup walnut pieces
1 cup raisins
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup milk, or a little more, as needed

For the glaze:
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup cocoa powder
2 T milk
1 T brandy
1/4 cup butter, melted
1 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 350°. Whisk together dry ingredients in a large bowl. Work in the butter with a pastry blender, then stir in the nuts and raisins. Pour in the milk and vanilla and work into a stiff dough, adding a little extra milk if needed to make it all come together.

Form the dough into walnut-sized balls and bake on parchment-lined baking sheets until done in the center, about 15 minutes. Let cool completely.

Make the glaze by combining the cocoa and sugar, then stirring in the remaining ingredients to make a thick glaze. Dip the top half of each cookie into the glaze, place cookie on a rack, and decorate with sprinkles. If the glaze becomes too stiff as you work you can warm it for a few seconds in the microwave to soften it.

Let cookies dry for several hours, until the glaze hardens, before bagging or boxing them up to share with friends. To really get in the Euro spirit you can serve these with vin chaud (my recipe is here) or mulled wine, glögg, or glühwein.

Tree Metaphors

December 17, 2013


Sometimes, even though it’s Christmas, you’re not going to get the thing you want most. In Toby’s case, it’s to be allowed to take all the ornaments off the tree. In my case, it’s for Shel to get well. Both of us are learning to cope with disappointment as life swats at us again and again.

DSC_7868This cancer thing makes it seem like life’s constantly sliding downhill, taking a wild ride on a slippery slope,


resolving to a downward spiral. But then, maybe people who don’t live with cancer feel that way too, sometimes, maybe even at Christmas. This year was the first time in many Christmases that I decorated the tree alone, Shel had no energy to help, and Eric, recovering from back surgery, is forbidden to crawl around under the tree, let alone get up and down off the ladder dozens of times because someone (wonder who that could have been) got a tree that is too tall to trim on one’s own two feet.


I always need to get a tree that’s taller than I am, but I guess I sometimes forget that I’m not as tall as I used to be. I don’t think I was ever nine feet tall, though, as is this year’s tree, lightly kissing the ceiling in its corner location, perfectly situated for viewing by passing boats.

DSC_7866It’s a nostalgia-fest, putting up the tree. Jordan made this ornament in kindergarten, and that was 35 years ago. In those days, Shel and I hadn’t met yet, although he’s forever wishing that we could have gotten together when he was young and healthy. Because we’ve never known a life together without cancer, and that can get pretty exhausting, even amidst the sparkle and ribbons.


We try to reflect the joy and beauty that the season calls for, but this year our happiness seems like a pale reflection of its former self.

DSC_7885My lovely pomegranate ornament reminds me far too vividly of the CT scan of Shel’s lungs, all full of spots, and I’m so sad not to be able to see it otherwise.

DSC_7870We try to store up strength for the winter, but I can’t help but feel that we’re just barely hanging on.

DSC_7869My fury at his illness is really boundless, and I would take swift and fierce action against it, if only I knew what to do.


All we can do is breathe in, breathe out, stare death in the eye, and possibly, bake some Christmas cookies. That’s the ticket, get up to my ears in baking and wrapping and giving, and quit all this pesky thinking. Cookies, coming up.

Too Cold To Moon

December 6, 2013


Hospital afternoon
planning Shel’s radiation
one shoulder, three ribs
bone metastases in all
they will beam him up next week
should hurt less, they say
might take a month before it hurts less, they also say
so cold outside it hurts to breathe
even if you don’t have cancer in your lung.

Back on the island, an icy wind
we seek refuge in the hot tub
which is only a warm tub in this weather
its heater no match for the Arctic blast
we see stars, it’s that clear
and a fingernail paring of a moon
anything that bobs above the water’s surface
kneecap, nipple, hapless cheeks and nose
chilled instantly.

A ferry passes in a hurry, on the ebb tide
we’ve been known to moon that ferry
on a dark night, secretly
but tonight our butts would freeze and fall off
so we keep them under water
ferry passengers safe from the sight.

Stepping barefoot out of the tub
icicles forming in my hair
wind whips me to tears
unless the tears are for some other reason
either way, lesson learned:
no soaking when it’s too cold to moon.

By Dawn’s Early Light

December 4, 2013

DSC_7805Today is biopsy day. An entire day out of our way-too-short lives that will be spent in the hospital. So that Shel could have breakfast before the 6:00 a.m. eat-nothing deadline, we arose blearily in the dark and staggered about for a while before settling down with coffee and the paper. So comforting, that daily ritual. Even on a day not like all the other days, we can take refuge in reading about the events of a world other than the cancer hospital.

Normally a biopsy is to learn whether you have cancer, but for us there’s no secret there. Today it’s to extract a bit of tumor from inside Shel’s chest to use for gene sequencing, in case he has a genetic mutation that would allow for the possibility that one of the new targeted drugs could help him. A day in the hospital, then eight weeks to wait for the result. Weeks. Eight. Waiting.