Two days from Christmas, I can’t imagine any of you are still looking for gift ideas. You’re probably nothing like me, who not only hasn’t finished wrapping presents but also hasn’t finished buying them—not that there are many to buy because, whenever possible, I like to homemake Christmas gifts. This year has been as simple as free cards online, whipping up a batch of my favorite sweet and salty granola and baking some cookies, after which I mainly just had these sugar-and-spiced nuts to bake—two batches, because they’re that good, and, like I said, I know you don’t need gift ideas at this point, but if you ever do, trust me when I say these things make great ones.
You know, in the last post, I told you how sick I’ve been, how I spent the full weekend before Christmas at home, in bed, trying to distract myself from my stuffy nose, and that’s true. It’s also true that Monday night, I spent a half hour holding ice against my face while trying to end my first-ever bloody nose. What a week. I’ve been getting kind of sad about it all, thinking how un-Christmasy this end of December has been feeling, how little of the festive and jolly I’ve been experiencing (or how little I’ve been enjoying experiencing).
But then I think about homemade gifts.
After I’d mixed and baked the blend of walnuts and pecans with cayenne pepper and cinnamon and raw sugar and egg whites that go into this recipe, pulling their trays out of the oven and popping handfuls of the hot, fragrant candied nuts in my mouth, I cooled them and scooped them into jars tied with ribbons, labeled with gift cards made by Everybody Likes Sandwiches, which are perfectly shaped for sliding beneath the gold lids.
Since I left work two hours early Friday, I’ve gone through a few boxes of tissues, several packets of Emergen-C, four bowls of chicken noodle soup, twice daily rounds with the neti pot, hot compresses on my eyes, Vicks on my chest, an entire season of a television show online, some reading in Best Food Writing 2009, a little bit of Food Network and, mercifully, an entire 15-hour block of sleep from Saturday into Sunday that, I’m pretty sure, is a miracle in itself considering all the constant nose-blowing.
I mean, I knew it was cold season, but, people, I haven’t taken sick time at work since Saint Patrick’s Day. A few months ago, when everyone was sniffling and sneezing, I somehow was fine, and so I kind of thought I must have a pretty great immune system or something. Cue the line, Pride cometh before a fall.
The thing about getting sick is it reminds you how weak and vulnerable you can be. It doesn’t really matter how much you want to clean the bathroom or go out shopping or meet your friend for brunch; you can’t do it. Your body can’t do it. And so, while you tuck yourself beneath a pile of blankets and think about all the things you were planning to do, you become content to do the one thing you have to do: nothing. Or at least nothing besides the above-mentioned list of home remedies and entertainment/distraction. (What do you all do when you’re sick?) That, and make smoothies.
When you reach to pull this dish out of the oven, dark brown juices bubbling and thick around softened, caramelized fruit, prepare yourself: what you will smell will be as good as pine needles in December or the crisp, cold air outside after a fresh snow.
And when, after you let it cool for a bit, you scoop some into a bowl, pouring that still-warm, coppery sauce all over, faint hints of steam escaping as you blow on a spoonful heading towards your lips, even that will yet be topped by the unbelievable taste to come: a sensation at once devastatingly sweet and slightly tart, with subtle lemon cutting through deepened, darkened sugar glaze.
These citrus-caramel roasted fruits are pure decadence, and by that, I mean they are the shining moments, and if the kitchen were a story, these would be the happy climaxes, which make all the rising action and disappointment fade away.
Truth is, I’ve been thinking about shining moments, how they change as we grow older (from the joy and rapture of knowing it is summer vacation and there is no! school!, for example, to the deep peace and satisfaction of sitting around a table with passionate people you’ve met for the first time but with whom you’ve found instant connection, instant friendship).