December 16, 2008

It’s snowing tonight and starting to stick as I walk home. At first I’m mostly afraid that I’ll slip in my too-high-heeled, not-enough-traction boots, so I’m tiptoeing through the powder. But then I get to the bridge over the Gowanus, and I have to stand still for a few seconds. Sure, the canal is polluted almost past redemption and is rumored to stink in the summer. And, yes, that red light dancing off the water is nothing more than the neon castoff of the trunk depot a block down. But there’s something in the stillness, the water, the dilapidated industrial shadow outlines that command attention.

Christmas this year seems to arrive out of nowhere (or maybe that’s every year and we just do a good job of collectively forgetting). I’m trying to get in the mood listening to Britt sing along to radio Christmas tunes in her car or as two ten-year-old boy scouts carry home my five-foot tree. And by the time I’ve assembled ribbons, paper cards and a dozen little jars, my table certainly looks ready for Christmas.

Feeling devoid of culinary creativity in the gift-giving department, I’ve combed Epicurious’s edible gift guide and settled on making hot cocoa mix and marshmallows for various friends and co-workers. At first I want to shave all the chocolate on my Microplane, rendering beautiful chocolate curls à la Burdick Chocolate, but after about five minutes or so of that, I opt for the blender instead. The result is less charming, but definitely a better way to mass-produce my product. Even with this efficiency, by the time I’m chopped down more than two pounds of chocolate, everything in my kitchen is covered with thick, mahogany swirls, and I’m smeared up to my elbows like an “I Love Lucy” reenactment.

Marshmallows turn out to be even messier. Most recipes assume you’ll be working with a KitchenAid or, at the very least, a stand mixer. And it’s only after I’ve boiled my sugar and syrup that I remember that my 10-year-old hand mixer finally bit the dust last week on a batch of chocolate cookie dough. I still have an electric whisk, though, and I let it run for the allotted 12 minutes even though its motor rises to a precariously high temperature. Hot sugar splatters everywhere, and I’m still finding it places days after I’ve given the marshmallows away. I pour the mixture into a dish to rest overnight, but even then the concoction resists all attempts to form neat cubes of uniform size. But I finally end up with a giftable pile of fluffy, cinnamony marshmallows and tiny little jars of thick, rich chocolate.

I’d been thinking that as homemade gifts go, this is a little of a copout, but early reports suggest that just the concept of homemade marshmallows seems exotic. “What’s in a marshmallow?” Sheila asks, then quickly interrupts with, “No, I don’t want to know. I want to think they’re made of magic.”

There’s certainly nothing very magical about sugar, gelatin and Karo syrup (and the ensuing stickiness). But crossing that snowy bridge tonight and knowing I have hot cocoa and marshmallows waiting for me at home, it does start to feel a little more like Christmas.