Things in jars


When I was nine, my mom took me to a holiday fair at the church by my grandmother's house. It had all your basic carnival stuff — games and crafty bits and doilies for sale. What I remember, though, is sitting down at a table where some guy was walking a bunch of kids through the steps to make an origami crane. I was no newcomer to paper-folding, but I was impatient. And being antsy and getting ahead of myself, I probably fouled up a couple of crucial steps. And I probably ended up with something other than the crisp, lily-white masterpiece that could be hung from a tree. And I definitely remember being scolded by the guy, and how he reported back to my mother at the end of my time there that I was very bad at following directions. Evidently, all it takes to steamroll the patience of some well-meaning churchy type is a kid who can't fold on cue. 

I'm still quite bitter.

But he was kind of right. Oh sure, I can read directions and understand them and even see the validity in them. I'd just like to think that I can simply intuit the proper course of action. I get ahead of myself and I just want to do what feels right. Alas, my instincts, like my sense of direction, often prove faulty, and before I know it I'm written off as that kid who can't get her act together enough to fold a freakin' bird. 

And so here we come to bread in a jar. I've always wanted to try this. I mean, come on. It's the marriage of the two great loves of my life — sweets and containers. I HAD to try this. But when the recipe warned explicitly NOT to fill the jars more than stated, I looked at the amount of batter remaining and I snorted. How much could it rise? The answer, of course, is high enough to prevent closure of the jars. So, lesson learned. But what a mighty delicious lesson it was. 


In past years, after the liqueur making, I drained the cranberries from the liquid and toss it out with the yard waste. This year, continuing the trend of reducing and reusing, I decided to put it to good use. That's damn good fruit there, all candy-sweet from its time spent in sugar and alcohol, nature's preservative. And, my, are they perfect in these breads. We're dutifully working our way through that first directionally-challenged, but still rather palatable, batch, and have found that a half-pint worth of sticky-sweet cranberry bread is quite suitable for any snacking environment. In the meantime, I whipped up another batch with the last of the cranberries and, filling the jars just so, achieved the little ping of the canning lids, indicating that the breads were properly sealed away, and that my latent direction-following skills haven't atrophied.


The other fruity by-product of the liqueurs this year was the dried apricot mash that I'd, for a few months, been salivating over, figuring out some good application for it. When we finally strained that liqueur and got our first taste of the macerated apricots, we decided two things: (1) it was too good not to share, and (2) there was nothing we could do with it that would showcase its awesomeness other than just putting it in a jar and sending it out. So that's what we did. I attached little spoons (they'd been gifted to me a year ago and had been sitting untested in a drawer ever since) to the jars. Because a cute little jar just begs for a cute little spoon.


I'd love to bake some of this up in a round of brie. Or serve it cold on a water cracker with prosciutto. Or spoon it directly into my mouth from the jar. Or spread it on a bagel with some salami and Muenster. Now, that's a good way to start the day. 



The happiest day of the year for me isn't Christmas or my birthday or the first day of school, when all those pesky kids stop running errant through the neighborhood all aclamor with a lack of real responsibility. No. The happiest day of the year is the one when that crotchety UPS woman arrives at my door with the bottles that I will proceed to fill with goodness, alcoholic and otherwise, for the coming gifting season. 

The first year we bottled up the liqueurs, we went around town, touring all the boutique-y cookware shops (plus our beloved Archie McPhee's, oh how I miss thee) and managed to eke out a very small number of bottles of the cork top variety. Those bottles ended up costing more than the supplies for the liqueurs themselves, and shipping proved a nerve-racking endeavor. So sourcing an affordable and consistent bottle supply became an early priority for the next year's batch. And that's how I came across this outfit, which I have since dubbed the Happiest Company Ever. 

Mr. New Media will readily attest that I'm a sucker for empty bottles, boxes, tins, jars, things that hold other things. Some people can't walk by a mirror without checking themselves out. I can't pass an unfamiliar box without cracking it open and maybe taking a whiff (I'm also always smelling things... how weird is that?). So when I open that box that Ms. UPS gruffly plops on my doorstep, it's like I'm revisiting a collection of old baby photographs. I pull each one out tenderly, marvel at its perfect little cuteness, sometimes letting tears well up. Happiest day of the year. 


A close second is the day we fill the bottles with the good stuff. Now, the world is made up of two classes of people. The upper strata is comprised of those who can perfectly and effortlessly decant liquid from one vessel to another without making a sploshy mess, rivers of liquid dribbling down the sides and puddling in a sad little mess on the counter. These people can also usually manage to put a fresh garbage bag in the can without it ballooning outward and inward and in every which manner save the one in which trash can actually be stored. I am not so blessed. So the task of transferring the liqueurs from the large glass canning jars to those happy little bottles falls squarely on Mr. New Media. He's happy enough to do it because (1) it's his sole responsibility in the whole holiday making arena, and (2) because it may be his only chance to sample the liqueurs for himself. So now our bumper crop of liqueurs are all huddled together all cute and innocently awaiting deployment to the gift-receiving public.

Happy, happy, happy.


I'm particularly smitten with the tags which I created using a few of my favorite things (cue Julie Andrews): the Gocco, reclaimed paperboard and blackboard paint (what can't it do?). Oh, I'm on a roll with this paperboard stuff. Can't get enough of it. When I informed Mr. New Media of the New World Order, the one in which we'd be putting aside all cereal boxes, cracker boxes, the envelopes our photo prints arrive in, instead of sending them to the recycling bin, his eyes glassed over with that you're-crazy-but-I'll-just-smile look he gives me. And he gave me the yes-dear nod. And he promptly forgot. And then ensued a few weeks of me picking things out of the recycling whilst cursing that good-for-nothing-husband of mine. But now there's a bulgy bag in the corner of my already over-stimulating (read: cluttered) workspace just waiting for crafty things to happen. Which should be any moment now.

Potent, indeed


We’ve been living in Houston for the past  year and a half. The decade prior, we'd been in Seattle. And while Mr. New Media and I aren't native to the Northwest, it is Home to us. Texas feels just about like the polar opposite. People drive differently, talk differently, consume differently, carry themselves differently. Summer is a miserable, sweaty mess, and I have to live by the A/C, which I hate. And winter -- well, there just isn't enough of it. But today, for once, Houston is crisp and wet, smelling of trees and dirt instead of whatever it is that I normally smell here. It reminds me of Home.

And it’s put me in a mood. A good one. A creative one. Sure, sunlight may be great for taking photos without flash and seeing things without squinting. And overhead lighting sure is efficient. But I prefer my workspace to be lit by lamp. Makes it feel illuminated, in all the great senses of that word. Maybe it’s also that this weather hearkens to the holidays. And what better time for making than the holidays. 

Sometime after The Boy's birth, I decided that most, if not all of our our gifts would be handmade. Edibles and potables, mostly, but also fun knick-knackery tossed in for good measure. Something about breeding stirred in me a real desire to make something tangible for my family. I brought no heirlooms from my own childhood. My mom's single parentage left no time or money for the luxury of arts and crafts, not to mention there was absolutely no attic space or otherwise to store such things, so there was nothing TO bring from my childhood. And, yeah, it's not the stuff that matters, it's the memories, it's the traditions, blah, blah, BLAH. But that image of musty old blankets and toys and stick figure paintings brought down from attics to evoke time-sweetened sentiments of childhood… I really wanted it for my family. And, OK, maybe food and drink wasn't what you'd want pulled down from the attic 30 years later. But it seemed to me that it was a good place to start. This, I'm thinking, was the genesis of Lovelihood.

So maybe it wasn't entirely appropriate that alcohol played so prominently in that first Christmas' makings. But it was a fun, simple gift to give, and the tradition has stuck. And grown. This year's hootch: a double batch of cranberry liqueur, a double batch of coffee, single batches each of apricot and mint. The recipes are all from here, although I think in past years I pulled some recipes from a Ready-Made Christmas issue. 


That cranberry one is a crowd pleaser, totally candy-like. I've made that one every year. The coffee was my favorite from last year. It's got a touch of chocolate, and how can you go wrong with chocolate? I'm particularly excited about the apricot, or rather, those macerated dried apricot bits which will be drained out of the final product. The mint, I'm a little unsure about. The color's a bit… unpleasant. Could food coloring rescue it? Or would that just make it grosser? Or do I just package in darker bottles and hope my besotted friends don't bother pouring it out into nice little glasses before drinking? Yeah, I think that's the winner.

Anyway, yes. It's only October. I realize this. But the damn things take up to a couple months to settle in. And it's a good feeling getting these things going. Gets me in the mood for more making.

Tags: holidays, liqueurs