Monthly Archives: December 2014

Reading letters by the fire.

Pippin and The Professor gave us a book for Christmas, Letters of Note, letters of notea compilation by Shaun Usher, whom I might call Usher the Gusher, he is that enthusiastic a promoter of his book. I wish he would let the letters speak for themselves, but his glowing commentary doesn’t detract too much from the delightful pastime of reading the letters.

It’s the best kind of browsing book, and makes me want to dig up and display cherished letters I have been blessed to receive over the years from relatives and friends. It also makes me want to write more letters myself…I actually should be writing some Christmas thank-yous right now!

This evening I’m very tired in body and mind, and am so happy to have such reading material — it could only be improved by being in two volumes so that a weary woman could more comfortably hold one while sitting in a straight-backed chair by the fire. The wind is blowing icily here these days, and it seems that windy cold is better than still because it is chasing the pollutants away and making it o.k. for us to burn wood.

Nixon letter from boy crp

So far I have read at least a couple dozen letters including some from children to government leaders, e.g. Fidel Castro to FDR, and the one pictured above, in a very different spirit; letters from widows and widowers to their deceased spouses, e.g Richard Feynman and Katherine Hepburn;  and a letter from Clementine Churchill to her husband advising him to rise above his stressful situation and be a nicer man (below).

Clementine to Winst crp

Many of the letters are shown in a facsimile of their original typed or handwritten form, like this one from Ray Bradbury responding to a letter from someone who had concern about the effects of robots on society.

Ray Bradbury letter - robots

One of the most compelling so far is from Lucy Thurston, who endured a mastectomy without any anesthetic. In the 19th century she was a missionary from Massachusetts to Hawaii along with her husband. After the surgery in 1855 she lived another 21 years. This letter of which I show a small part is to her youngest daughter:

mastectomy report

mastectomy survivor
Mary Thurston

The book includes 125 letters, but when I run out I can go to Usher’s website, also called Letters of Note, where 900 missives await my discovery. Some of those no doubt are printed in the book, but that still leaves 775….

Going now to stoke the fire.

Joyfully sharing the wine.

A Winter Bluejay

Crisply the bright snow whispered,
Crunching beneath our feet;
Behind us as we walked along the parkway,
Our shadows danced,
Fantastic shapes in vivid blue.
Across the lake the skaters
Flew to and fro,
With sharp turns weaving
A frail invisible net.
In ecstasy the earth
Drank the silver sunlight;
In ecstasy the skaters
Drank the wine of speed;
In ecstasy we laughed
Drinking the wine of love.
Had not the music of our joy
Sounded its highest note?
But no,
For suddenly, with lifted eyes you said,
“Oh look!”
There, on the black bough of a snow flecked maple,
Fearless and gay as our love,
A bluejay cocked his crest!
Oh who can tell the range of joy
Or set the bounds of beauty?

-Sara Teasdale


Last week we got our Christmas tree and I made two kinds of cookies. I packed them into the freezer before I thought about taking pictures, so the images here are from previous years. These are bizcochitos, the official state cookie of New Mexico. The recipe has been developed over the centuries starting from the first Spanish colonists in the area before it became a state in the Union.


Does your state have a designated cookie? Not many do. New Mexico was the first state to choose one, in 1989, to encourage traditional home cooking. You can check out this Wikipedia page that lists the official foods of some states.

I first found a recipelard happy family in Sunset Magazine but have since done my own customization. Most recipes for this cookie call for lard, which I would be happy to use if I could easily find some homemade that hasn’t been hydrogenated and preserved with chemicals. I had a friend who made her own and stored it in the freezer, and I might have bought some from her if she hadn’t moved away. Lacking natural lard, I tried last year to substitute coconut oil. Much as I love coconut, the oil left a disagreeable aftertaste in my cookies (as it did in some shortbread I also tried with coconut oil one time), so from now on I’m sticking with butter.

It’s a little odd to be writing on this subject when we Orthodox are in the middle of our Nativity fast (Advent), trying to abstain from most animal products until Christmas Day. But I must not be the only Orthodox woman who has to be cooking and preparing ahead of time, and if I wait until the feast to write about cookies it will be somewhat anticlimactic.

Mr. Glad usually votes for Russian tea cakes for Christmas, but this year he told me that bizcochitos are the cookie that he most wants to have on the platter for the holiday. That means I get to have the fun of saying “bees-coh-chee’-toes” a lot. I just ran across this video of a New Mexican woman who mixes and kneads the dough with her hands the way her grandmother taught her. She adds extra anise seed — hard to go wrong there — and some other flavorful ingredients that I might try next time.

Half of this year’s dough still waits in the freezer, and if I get to it before Christmas I’m planning to cut holes in the cookies before baking so that when they are cool I can attach ribbons and hang some on the tree.


1/2 pound (2 sticks) salted butter13 bizcochito tree cutter
3/4 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 tablespoon grated orange peel
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tablespoons anise seeds, crushed
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup sugar

Beat butter and 3/4 c. sugar until smooth. Add egg and orange peel and beat until just combined.

In a medium bowl mix the flour, anise seeds, baking powder, and salt. Add to the butter mixture and beat until well blended. Divide dough in half and flatten each half into a disk. Wrap each piece tightly in plastic wrap and freeze until firm, about 30 minutes.13 bizcochito coconut oil

Unwrap dough, one disk at a time. On lightly floured surface, with a floured rolling pin, roll to about 1/8″ thick. With floured cookie cutters, cut into shapes and place about 1″ apart on buttered baking sheets. Gather excess into a ball, reroll, and cut out remaining cookies.

In a small bowl mix remaining 1/4 cup sugar with the cinnamon. Sprinkle about 1/8 teaspoon of the mixture over each cookie; save any remaining cinnamon sugar for other uses.

Bake cookies at 350° just until edges are golden, 10-15 minutes. Let cool on sheets for 5 minutes before transferring to racks to cool completely.