Like The Queen
Whatever happens to strike my fancy, but surely some sort of fiber content.


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Monday, December 26, 2005  

Happy Boxing Day to you. I hope your Christmas Day was sweet and lavish, with a richness of the important things that left you feeling like one of the Magi.

We lay abed yesterday for hours, talking about past Christmases, first remembered Christmases, favorite Christmases. It was a long time before we finally shifted the dogs off the bet, swung our legs over the edge and actually got up. Of course, I’d been up at my normal Crack-0-Dawn time, had a cup of coffee with real cream in it, (the last one, I swear) and perused my daily digital domain of on-line newspapers, obits, email and blogs. But I had not peeked into the living room, because BD said my gift couldn’t be wrapped.

He said it was because it was too big to wrap - but I found out later it was also too wet. It was also exactly what I'd asked for: A a large bird feeding tray that hooks into the living room window, where the screen goes in summer. It has a single leg that props up the front, rims around the edge and two drain holes in case it ever gets wet. It ought not to, because it will be placed right below the roof overhang, but some storms can lash in from the south and send rain flat against that southern wall. It’s painted a lovely green, but the paint wasn’t quite dry. He told me he’d been sneaking it in to sit by the fire every day last week, though he had to sneak it back in time to air out the paint smells before I got home.

I love it when BD gets sneaky like that. It was an absolutely perfect gift - the only thing at all that I wanted, and this one is particularly fine because I can fill it without having to go outside. Just lift the window - toss out the seed - and voila! Live entertainment right by my knitting chair.

In the afternoon we set up the new VCR/DVD player we bought as our big Christmas gift to ourselves. We bought it a week ago and I’d come home every day to the disappointment of an unopened carton. “I’m waiting for LD to come help me set it up.” he’d say, but that had a hollow ring. I had dreaded the process, since the instruction manual is written in acronymic technoeez, BD resents bad language, has a low frustration level, and I suspect, also gives off electricity that makes remotes stop working. I kept hoping to just come find it all fixed. But when he asked me to help him I actually quaked. I need not have. He was the Prince of Patience and we got the whole thing set up and even programmed the remote to run the television and happily, it knows if you’ve put a DVD in or a VCR - so you don’t have to punch buttons to make it shift modes. A technology triumph!

It doesn’t work with our old amplifier, so the sound coming out of the dinky television is tinny and shrill - but we can buy another amp. The kids gave him a subscription to netflicks wrapped up in a Victoria’s Secret catalog - I’m not sure which thrilled him more.

We had the YD’s and BH for dinner last night. I’d ordered a 10 lb. rib roast - well, actually I ordered an 8-10 lb. one, not knowing exactly how much I wanted, but feeling in years past we hadn’t had quite enough. It was huge. It was - 10 lbs, fer cryin’ out loud! But it was delicious and filled the house with rich fragrance. And for desert I made an ice box cake. This is an old family recipe from my dad’s mother. It’s something like a Charlotte Russe but doctored up some. It’s rich, it’s chocolatey, it’s sinful, and yet, it’s light. And it was the standard fare for my grandmother’s New Year’s Eve party, lo those decades ago. I was probably 14 or 15 the last time I went to one - and that would be in 1966 or 7.

The cake is made in a spring form pan, lined with liquor drenched lady fingers, half filled with a heavy, butter laden chocolate moose, layered with more drunken digits, then filled with whipped cream. The final decoration is always the same - well drained maraschino cherries. It is a confection that towers as it proclaims itself master of any occasion. It was always the center of attention on my grandmother’s large dining room table. No matter what other delicacies surrounded it, it sang the siren song of wet mouths, staring eyes, and anxious worries. For in our day, children were never put first. There was no coddling of wobbling tempers. If a child began to whine, he was spanked soundly and put in bed. Woe betide the child who dared return to the family gathering after being banished to bed. We small ones knew to bit our lips, keep our thoughts to ourselves, and hope that those horrible uncles would confine themselves to the nasty tasting bourbon balls. Always, some beaming aunt would arrive with a plate of those chocolate nuggets, looking like a gift from the Sugar Plum Fairy. How any person could so ruin good chocolate with anything as vile as bourbon, we children never understood. That sort of knowledge lay await for us, off in the future.

But the cake. Oh, the icebox cake. How we trembled as those huge laughing men would amble in from the living room, scan the laden table, and then say to some smiling aunt, “I’ll have 3 fingers.” Three fingers!?! There were never more than 24 or 26 of the upright stalwart little sponge soldiers standing sentinel around that chocolate base. How could there ever be any left for us? And what if something worse happened? What if there was some left, but not enough? Then some of the children would have to be kind and sweet and good and say “You can have my share.” And most of the time, that meant the older ones had to be nice to the younger ones. The dictum that age had it’s rank did not trickle down to the under 12 set.

My grandmother lived in Washington, DC and we always spent the night when we were there for the NYE party. Most of the cousins lived nearby and only came over for the evening, but one other family, with 4 children, just like us, drove down from New Jersey. We visiting cousins had the whole day to play while the grownups got ready for the party. On surreptitious trips to the kitchen, I never saw more than one icebox cake, but no matter how much damage the Large Uncles did to that first display cake - my grandmother always had another one hidden away and as the last slice fell, to some big eyed kin clutching a desert plate, my grandmother would step through the swinging door, triumphantly holding the secret and second cake. It took some time, but eventually, as I neared my teens, I realized that there would always be enough for everyone.

A very good lesson to learn.

The recipe has come down to all my sisters. We all feel the same way about it - that no other confection is as special as the icebox cake. When something really important needs to be celebrated - that is the cake to make. It’s expensive with all that butter and cream, and lady fingers are a real chore to track down. But it’s worth all the effort. It always is. It was last night. I made a somewhat smaller cake, since I don’t have a springform pan. I used my angel food pan with a cardboard base wrapped in foil instead of its regular base with the long tubular center. Slice after slice fell to the knife and before the meal was over it was all gone. I hope everyone slept all right last night.

And now I am off to visit my parents and sister and nephew - on this wet warm day in December, feeling more like early spring, but with that strange barren winter look to the woods. It will be good to see them all. It will be even better if I can avoid anything that looks like it has sugar or butter or cream in it. Tomorrow, I will be born again in weight watcherdom, looking to find that inner svelte who appeared so briefly 2 years ago.

posted by Bess | 7:28 AM