let our hearts be light.

Falalalala. La la laaaaaaaaaaaaaaa. For reals.

It's almost Christmas. I'm doing that thing I do, playing the movie reel of my life in my head, complete with soundtrack. and I'm feeling nostalgic.  You would think it gets to be annoying after a while, but I totally dig it.  Am I annoying you?

You want to know what kind of girl I am. I am the kind who will push herself all blessed day, then  change into my sweats, pour myself a tiny Manzanilla La Gitana, pick out the prettiest clementine and pile it in a bowl along with one lone sugar cookie, gather my i pad, latest book, journal and my puppies and arrange them all around me like a menagerie. Then do nothing for the next two hours but stare at the Christmas tree. Those strands of twinkly lights plum do me in. I'm here in a house entirely void of noise, and I don't want to move for the next two hours, give or take. And sure as sugar, that makes me happy. Every. single. time.

 I hear nothing but the soft hum of the furnace and the snow falling outside my window.

I hope to high heaven that there are more nights like this to come.

  I've got plenty of good things in the pipeline, even though the last few days have worn me down to a nubbin and my heart leans slightly toward the woobly side. I can't put my finger on exactly why. It's not sad, my heart. It does not have it's little brow furrowed with worry. yet at times I find it gazing longingly far to the horizon.

It's contemplative. That's what it is. It's got a lot on it's mind, this old heart of mine.

Last week was the best, because, butter. Because, cookies. Because I think baking is such a mix of wonders that you can create at home. cookie classics that need to be in every repertoire, new riffs that I’m basically obsessed with, old-school family favorites, and those goofy little untraditional cookies, just because. It’s a tall order. But I figure if I can devote a week to things that are basically no fun at all, I can devote a week to things that are only fun, like little buttery, crisp, golden-edged bites of cheer.

The flour was flying everywhere and my fingers are still hopped up on butter, but my house smelled like a Dream for six days running and the cookies look so pretty in their little tins.

In a stroke of serendipity, I found the *perfect* little tins. They pinch my heart just a little.

So as you can see, I am all over the place today. I can hardly contain myself. To be honest, I'm about one Christmas carol away from donning green tights and elf ears, taking my high kick to the road and starring in my very own one woman Christmas variety show. I was going to simmer my enthusiasm down a bit for this post, but would that not be like, holiday blasphemy? So here I am, ice skating a fully choreographed performance of Joy to the World, in the tiny Christmas village that dwells in my head. I have been dancing to Brenda Lee's Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree for weeks now. living room twirls, jazz hands and final high kicks. It makes me swoony.

My excitement is dangling as precariously as a trove of glass ornaments in the wake of a wiley two-year old, which makes me look at things differently. Like the light, I'm noticing that December's light has an allure all its own. Have I never noticed before? It's not glowy, like September's. It's not showy, like June's.

It's sort of blurry and blue-tinged. It whispers of beauty and gives just enough time to race out to play before packing it up and heading home. These days are so short. and so cold, but I'm toasted up with the truth of the season, and the knowledge that it has no end, after all. Right now, I hum to the songs in my head, they, along with my peeps, are some of the brightest parts of me. They inspire me to try harder and try less. They inspire me to love my life like no body's business.

They are my comfort and joy.

So, happy eve-of-the-eve, my friends. Your being there, your encouragement and humor and presence in my little life has amped up my world. I am ever honored that you come back here and read my scribblings. It is humbling. and illuminating, and I just want you to know for sure that I appreciate you to the gauzy December moon and back and I hope we all just let our hearts be light. I hope we reflect peace, our gift back for all the ways we have been blessed.

Happy Christmas.

Pecan Bars
an Ina Garten recipe
Please note these need to chill at least 4 hours before cutting
Yield: 50-1 1/2" x 3" bars (Ina suggests a yield of 20.  I can't imagine anything less than 50 (these are rich), and often cut bars half that size, for 100 - 1" squares).

1 1/4 pounds (5 sticks) salted butter, room temperature
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
4 1/2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

14 ounces salted butter (3 1/2 sticks)
3/4 cup honey
2 1/2 cups dark brown sugar, packed
zest of 3 large oranges (organic, if possible)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 pound 12 ounces (8 cups) pecan halves

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line the bottom of a half-sheet pan (12 x 18 x 1") with parchment.
For the crust, place butter, sugar and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, and cream until light, approximately 3 minutes.  Scrape sides, add vanilla, and beat to combine.  Scrape sides, add flour, and on slowest setting, beat to combine, 30-60 seconds. Drop dough onto lined baking sheet, roughly distributing to cover.  Press dough evenly across bottom and up sides of pan, roughly 1/2" deep.  The dough is very soft and user-friendly; I use the heels of my hands and my fingertips to work it easily into place.  Some uneveness is fine; it will disappear under the filling.  Bake for 15 minutes, until the crust is set and opaque, but not browned.  Remove from oven, and using a measuring cup or the back of a large spoon, press down crust to compress, leaving a 1/2" rim around edges.  Set aside to cool.

For the topping, combine the butter, honey, brown sugar, orange zest and salt in a heavy saucepan, large enough to eventually accommodate the pecans.  Cook over medium heat until the butter is melted, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon.  Raise heat and boil for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Remove from heat, add cream and pecans, and stir to thoroughly combine.  Pour topping evenly over prepared crust, working from left to right to distribute nuts and caramel. Bake bars for 25-30 minutes, until the filling bubbles gently all the way to the center, and you're about ready to climb inside your oven.

Remove from oven, and allow to cool completely, at least 4 hours or overnight, before slicing.  (A refrigerator or cool garage will expedite things slightly, though these are fine left at room temperature.)  When cool, cut bars into desired size.

 Bars keep beautifully, refrigerated and sealed, for 5-7 days. 


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