Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Juice Is Worth The Squeeze

Those who know me, be it well or not so well, know that I LOVE food. LOVE IT. I love smelling it, I love eating it, I love watching people make it, I love sampling it - honestly, I just can't keep food out of my mouth. You know those people who can eat just a handful of chips? Well, I do not belong to that demographic. I am the person who will eat the entire bag, to herself, in one sitting without batting an eyelash. On more than one occasion, I have finished a guy's plate while out on a first date...I know what you're thinking - DAMN that is sexy! And right you are! Actually, not (really) having that sensor that tells me to stop is a bit of a pain; I often wind up in food comas. And, since I don't discriminate against high-calorie snacks, I often indulge in those a wee bit more than I should...Oh well - go big or go home, right?

I thought I would write about food because the Christmas holidays are right around the bend. Basically, this is prime time for food. This is the time of year where all the yummy stuff makes that resolution you made about going to the gym really hard to keep, when you eat more sugar than you thought you could ever consume - the time of year where you appreciate those ugly-as-sin elastic waistband pants, and wonder why you didn't buy more than just one pair. After all - there is a good chance some of the yummy treats will find their way onto your clothes. This is the time of year to forget about calorie counting, and just indulge - as often as humanly possible!

I recently began thinking of the holidays, and all the baking that comes along with them. I can only speak for myself, but every year, I go home to my parents for Christmas Eve dinner and find myself surrounded by a myriad of desserts. Butter cookies, tarts, pie, brownies, fruit cake (ugh...) and whatever other sweet treats my mom has decided to add to the roster. And that's just what my mom makes - that isn't even counting what various family members and guests might bring along to add to the feast! Now, I'm not quite sure why, but this is the first year that I have really opened my eyes to the hard work and prep time these yummy treats demand. It really doesn't happen overnight, and much blood, sweat and tears can go into all this baking. And this is really a best case scenario - this isn't taking into account the time you need to set aside for holiday shopping, family needs such as kids, and the general stress that holidays seem to bring about. So, this year, I thought I would try to alleviate some of that stress for my closest girlfriends.

A week ago, I held a dessert swap. The idea is simple - get your friends together, and have each person bake a portion for everyone else. In doing so, you bake one dessert multiple times, and you leave the swap with many desserts, enough to provide a generous variety for all your holiday party needs! The more people you have in on the swap, the more you walk away with. This will most likely still involve an entire day devoted to baking, however you only need to worry about one recipe. For our swap, we had six ladies baking treats - and treats could be anything we wanted to offer up. I chose banana bread - it freezes well, and I can never seem to get enough of it when my mom makes it! I set aside a Saturday afternoon, bought some bananas, and got down to business. Having never made banana bread, I wasn`t too sure what kind of job this would end up being. I doubled everything, threw it all in a bowl and then discovered just how thick banana bread mix is - my electric hand mixer began having problems early on. It made a variety of interesting sounds, jammed, and then I started to smell smoke. I felt it was time to move on to a spatula. Wrong move #2. After all of five seconds, the spatula broke in half - half in the batter, the other half in my hand. This was obviously going as planned. It was time to bring in the wooden spoon and put my arm muscles to use...Not such a bad idea considering I haven't been to the gym since that bout of pneumonia. Armed with my wooden spoon, I showed that banana bread mix exactly who was boss.

After having conquered the mixture, it was now time to throw everything into the oven. I like to think that I am pretty good when it comes to baking - I can't cook, but I can bake. This endeavour presented a mini-challenge in that these were mini versions, and as such, the cooking time had to be adjusted. Also, I was cooking them ALL at the same time and there were no "extras" - only enough so that each lady would have one. There was no room for error, and I couldn't really taste-test any of them...All I had were three little cupcake-sized extras made from the little batter that was left, and since these were smaller, they couldn't be an accurate measure of how the real banana breads would turn out. I had one of the three itty-bitty ones and it was scumptious. It almost melted in my mouth, and I regained my confidence in its bigger siblings. I wrapped them up in foil and my freezer quickly turned into a massive banana bread grave. I couldn't wait for the swap the following weekend!

Finally, swap day arrived, and I waited for my girls to arrive. Slowly but surely, everyone arrived, bags of desserts in tow. We set out healthy snacks, and extra portions of our desserts - after all, we had to sample the goods just a bit! We settled in for an afternoon of gossip, treats and catching up. We laughed, shared stories, oooo-ed and awww-ed at the kids that had joined their moms on this afternoon and just enjoyed being with each other. It felt like it had been forever since we had all been in the same room together. There was no drama, just smiles. The way holidays should be. The afternoon wore on, ladies came and went. By the end, the sun had begun to set, and snow had begun to fall - it was a perfect ending to a perfect day, and everyone agreed - this would now be a tradition among us. It was the perfect opportunity to get together, and everyone could particpate since it was kid-friendly as well.

The dessert swap is by far one of my best memories of the 2010 holiday season, which is just barely under way. The baking aspect was a little tricky, but the reward was well worth it. The holidays are a time when people are supposed to get together and simply enjoy each other's company. It is easy to let holiday stress get the upper hand, and having some good friends to chill out and relax with for an afternoon can certainly contribute to positive morale, and help take the edge off. I think everyone needs to remember that taking time for yourself is a good thing, and that slowing down is a must if one is to make it past Christmas day alive! My friends are just as important to me as my family, and I cherish the time I spend with them. The dessert swap was the perfect pretext, and seeing the joy on everyone's face was such a rewarding feeling...

Starting this new tradition has actually left me feeling (slightly) cheerful, and I can truly say, the juice is worth the squeeze...Now, go start your own traditions and enjoy the precious moments you share with those you love and hold dear - and remember, food is always a great way to get everyone together!

-Milie B.

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