Sunday, December 23, 2012

God Jul


La Bella Città
Today I want to wish all my readers a Merry Christmas and Happy Holiday a bit early because tomorrow my parents will be arriving to stay for Christmas and I will be busy. I have already had my nose to the grindstone to a great degree and I have finally managed to finish the two front rooms, the dining room and living room, so they are box-free with artwork hung and decorated for Christmas.

The oil painting above, called La Bella Città , or "The Beautiful City" in Italian, has presided over our front room since we were married. In this house and our last that has been the dining room. This is my homage to Italy and to the city of Firenze, painted around 1995-1997 with all the scenes I so longed for when I returned to America. This painting resulted from a color study. We were supposed to make a painting using color and resulting in a good composition with no imagery and then work it into a representational picture once we had a solid foundation. This assignment was devilish and brilliant, the brain child of the late, great Paul Hartley, a wonderful teacher and amazing artist. Learning to use color well is extremely difficult for most young artists and Professor Hartley has been the best person I have known to explain both color and composition well.

The Christmas village in the dining room.
In this new house I don't know if this painting will remain on the wall. I had been hanging around in the Uffizi quite a bit during my time in Firenze and had developed a bit of an obsession with Raffaello and his intensely colored Madonnas. Also, you just can't portray Italy without strong colors. Something about the golden light there is just so different, every color seems more saturated. In the new house this painting seems too dark and bright, and it is really too small for the wall.

It is perfect over my village for Christmas, though, and I don't have anything else painted for the room yet, so we went ahead and hung it up. Besides cleaning and decorating, today we finally managed to make it to church. This morning we tried the Lutheran church here in town. We looked into the Latterday Saints (Jerry is trying  so hard to get back in my good graces he's actually willing to try being Mormon!) but it is over 30 minutes away. Plus, now I've totally re-addicted myself to coffee and we've been drinking a lot of wine. Jerry didn't like wine when we got married, but I consider anyone telling me they don't like wine as a personal invitation to take them to Italy and convert them. That is exactly what I did to Jerry and now we are both loving the Cupcake Malbec.

Besides that, I was happy to be back in the Lutheran church. This is the liturgy of my early childhood, and Christmas and Easter never seem quite right without the familiar rituals and chants and hymns. The Lutheran service is a traditional call and response program like the Catholic or Episcopal services, much of it chanted and sung. It is very different from the LDS talks. I get a lot from the talks, but right now I feel the need to return to the elemental.

I am happy to report all the angst of the past few months has reduced me another size and I could wear my purple cowl neck dress finally and looked so nice in it that a strange man in the grocery line winked at me when we stopped by after the service!

Tempering chocolate
Besides returning to my "home" church, I also returned to an early skill today. When I was very young, like preschool age, my mother taught me to make chocolate. It is one of my best talents to this day. Some of my happiest memories of my mother are of making chocolate together with her. My father's mother started a sorority for the women of the Ohio town where I grew up. My mother, as her daughter-in-law and resident of the town was of course invited to join, and she introduced chocolate fundraisers to the repertoire. One of the things the sisters did was to sell visits from the Easter bunny. The Easter Bunny would come to your house and deliver a basket of chocolate to your child. My mother would make all the chocolate with my and my sister, Sherri's, help and then she was also the pink-costumed Easter Bunny who delivered it. I remember one year she was quite pregnant and we thought the sight of this fecund pink bunny quite funny. We also made chocolate to sell at Christmas. My memories of holidays are always of the smell of the chocolate, and the taste and feel of it, and of opening the sideboard drawers in our dining room to find them stacked full of chocolates.

When I was in high school I began making truffles for my most special friends, either as Christmas or Valentine's Day gifts. I am still making them to this day, and as a special gift to my readers I am going to teach you how. First, if you wish to dip the finished truffles in chocolate you will need to temper the chocolate so that it will not cloud or get sticky at room temperature.

To temper chocolate is easy, First, take 8 ounces of semi-sweet chocolate and chop it coarsely, or use chocolate chips. Heat your oven to 100 degrees F. Spread the chocolate on a baking sheet. Turn the oven off and place the chocolate in it. Stir every 5 minutes until the chocolate is melted and reaches 100 degrees, 15-20 minutes. Add two 1-ounce squares of well-tempered baking chocolate and fold them in until the melted chocolate reaches 90 degrees. Remove the chocolate squares and save for later use. Line a baking sheet with a silicone sheet or waxed paper and spread the chocolate 1/2 inch thick. Refrigerate 3-5 minutes; of the surface is dry to the touch and the center is cool the chocolate is tempered. If not, you must return it to the pan and repeat the process again.


Making the truffle filling

Now, to make the truffle filling, take 1 cup heavy cream and heat in a medium saucepan until bubbles form all around the edge. Turn off the heat and add 1/4 cup unsalted butter and 12 ounces semisweet chocolate. Stir until the butter and chocolate are melted and smooth. You can use this mixture plain as a chocolate filling, or add flavors of your choice. Good flavor options are liqueurs, extracts, spices, or very strong espresso. Today I made Chambord (raspberry) liqueur, Kahlua, Amaretto, and Chai fillings. When you've flavored your mixture, spread it in a cookie sheet and cool for at least 2 hours. When cooled, scoop into 1 inch mounds and roll into balls. You may roll these in confectioners sugar, unsweetened cocoa, nuts, or dip them in chocolate to finish them. For my Chai truffles, I plan to dip them in white chocolate and brush with a tiny bit of nutmeg. The amaretto are always my favorite. If you are European, semisweet chocolate will most likely taste too sweet to you, so you may substitute bittersweet or even unsweetened chocolate and add only the liqueur to sweeten it or stevia or other sweetener to taste.

So, there you have my famous truffle recipe. Use it for good! I often dream of opening a chocolate shop. Two of my favorite books are Chocolat, by Joanne Harris, and the sequel, The Girl With No Shadow. Like those stories, people tell me the memory of my truffles will stay with you for many long years.

After church today we went to the sporting goods store to get me some new running shoes. My old ones were literally falling off my feet and my knees and feet have been killing me. I finally used the gift card my sister gave me for my birthday (thanks, Leah!) and got myself a really nice pair. Tomorrow I will get up early and finish getting the house ready for company, or at least as ready as it can be with our walk-in attic conversion and bookshelves not yet completed. Then we will eat our traditional Norwegian supper of rømmegrøt (cream porridge) and return to church.

I hope you all find peace and joy in your holiday celebrations and fulfillment in the new year.

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