Friday, December 19, 2014

In Defense of Elf on the Shelf

                Something has been bothering me this holiday season, and while I can’t right all the injustices in the world, I can take a stand on at least one. Quit picking on Elf on the Shelf. 
            I haven’t always felt this way. In fact, I used to find Elf-boy annoying. He seemed a bit Eddie Haskell-ish to me. (If you don’t know who Eddie Haskell is, this blog is probably not age-appropriate for you, but here's a link to help.) When I first saw Elf-boy on a Facebook post a couple of years ago, I breathed a huge sigh of relief—not for the first time—that there were no longer youngsters in my household. I looked on the elf as just one more self-inflicted pressure for mothers to add to their already over-taxed lives. As if the holidays aren’t hectic enough, now—along with shopping, baking, decorating, party-hosting...—mothers must think of original locations to place Elf-boy, clever ways to pose him, and entertaining stories of how he got in said place and position. For proof, go here. If that doesn't convince you, try here.
            Don’t think for a minute I’m judging today’s moms. My sympathy is real. We had our own version of Mommy Olympics back in the ‘80s, and I threw myself headlong into the competition. I still shudder to think of the guilt participants faced if we failed to acquire the must-have Christmas toy of the year (think waaay over-priced Cabbage Patch doll), to throw the most unique birthday party (think backyard beach “ball” in the middle of Oklahoma), or to “assist” with the best Thanksgiving project (think 6,000 assorted beans glued on a giant turkey poster). The saving grace for mothers of my generation, however, was we didn’t have the added responsibility of sharing our accomplishments—or failures—with half the world on Facebook or Pinterest. And we didn’t have Elf-boy.
            This year I’ve noticed Elf-boy’s fame turning to infamy. All of a sudden, it is popular to tag him with labels such as “creepy” and “tattle-tale” and to insist you’re glad you never bought into the whole elf frenzy in the first place. (Like I’d believe that.)  Some so-called experts have even accused him of traumatizing innocent little darlings and turning them into compliant victims of a “panoptic surveillance” society. Huh?
            Frankly, I think these mean-spirited accusations are a bit over the top and this name-calling borders on bullying. Furthermore, the piling-on is unwarranted. Sure, Elf-boy is annoying, but really, what has he done that’s so terrible? Unlike certain celebrities whose defrockings are the result of their own bad behavior, Elf-boy is simply a victim of his own popularity and, I suspect, frazzled mothers pushed to their limit. His intentions are honorable. All he wants to do is remind children to be on their best behavior and to make a few million bucks in the process. But as often happens with climbs to fame that are meteoric, they fizzle just as fast. Elf-boy's decline will be quick, and soon he will be as obsolete as a Rubik’s Cube Christmas tree ornament. For that reason, I can’t help but feel a little sorry for him. I hope he’s taking consolation in laughing all the way to the bank.
From the expression on his face, I don't think Elf-boy is taking 
recent criticism too hard.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Christmas Scones

            About the only recipes I ever post on this blog are ones from my fellow book club members. There’s a good reason for that. I’m not a cook. Not really. I mean, I can follow a recipe pretty well, and occasionally I whip up a decent meal. But as far as my getting fancy or adventurous with food, it’s just not a passion of mine. I’d much rather be writing or reading.
Christmas is the perfect season
to indulge in melt-in-your-mouth
scones, accompanied by your
favorite tea.
            A few years ago, however, I found a delicious—and almost fail proof—recipe for scones. I call them Christmas Scones because that’s the only time of year I make them. They’re hard to resist  and, let’s be honest, not exactly health food. But for the holidays, we can splurge, right?
Holiday Scones – Basic Recipe
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
1Tbsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
½  cup cold butter, cut into ½-inch cubes
1 cup whipping cream, divided
wax paper
1. Preheat oven to 450°. Stir together first 4 ingredients in a large bowl. Cut butter into flour mixture with a pastry blender until mixture is crumbly. Freeze 5 minutes. Add ¼ cup plus 2 Tbsp. cream, stirring just until ingredients are crumbly. (If mixture seems too dry, add more cream a tsp. at a time. Mixture should not be too wet or sticky.)
2. Turn dough out onto wax paper; gently press it into a flat, round shape about an inch thick. (A hint from my high school home ec days: Handle the dough as little as possible for lighter, flakier scones.) Depending on how big you want your scones, you can make one round and cut it into 8 wedges, or you can make smaller ones by forming two smaller rounds (about 5 inches) and cutting those into 8 wedges. Place wedges about an inch apart on lightly greased baking sheet. (I use PAM.) Brush tops of wedges with remaining cream, just until moistened.
3. Bake at 450° for 13 to 15 minutes or until golden.
            Wait! Before you rush out to buy the ingredients, let me make a suggestion. While the basic scones are delicious spread with butter and/or jelly, they are also easy to play around and get creative with. So let me share some of my variations. 
            For all variations below, add the extra ingredients to the flour mixture before adding the cream. Then add the flavoring to the cream before stirring it in. The amount of flavoring should be according to your taste, usually ¼ to 1 tsp.
            Cranberry-Orange Scones: Orange extract, chopped dried cranberries and small bits of candy orange slices. (A trick for cutting up the orange slices is to do it with kitchen scissors sprayed with PAM.)
            Cinnamon-Pecan Scones: Toasted pecan pieces and mini cinnamon chips.
            Cherry-Chocolate-Almond Scones: Almond flavoring, chopped dried cherries, and mini, semi-sweet chocolate chips.
            Lemon-Poppy Seed Scones: Lemon flavoring and poppy seeds. Serve with lemon curd.
            The possibilities are endless. If you like, add a glaze by whisking together powdered sugar, cream or milk, and whatever flavoring you want to a desired consistency. Drizzle it over scones. You can even go savory, adding ingredients such as grated cheese, bacon, ham, or herbs.
            One final hint. I always divide one batch in half when I remove it from the freezer and before I add the cream. (Be sure you add only half the cream to half the mixture.) Then I make half of it as one variation, and another variation with the other half. That way I get two kinds of scones from one batch.
            Give this recipe a try. You won’t be disappointed. These scones are heavenly right out of the oven, but they’re also very tasty warmed up in the microwave. If you come up with an especially yummy variation, please share!
I got these four variations from two batches of the recipe.
Starting at top and going clockwise: Cinnamon-Pecan,
Cranberry-Orange, Cherry-Chocolate-Almond, Lemon-Poppy Seed.