Thanksgiving : Converge

Weekly Photo Challenge: Converge

In response to The Daily Post’s WPC: “Converge.”

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“Do not spoil what you have

by desiring what you have not;

remember that what you now have

was once among the things you only hoped for.”

Epicurus

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Early yesterday morning, when it was still barely light outside, I began this post.  I had found the quotations and begun working with photos when I realized my allotted time had elapsed.

It was time to slice the roasted sweet potatoes and layer them with fresh orange juice and maple syrup, sprinkle them with spice, and assemble all of the bits and pieces we planned to take with us to Thanksgiving dinner across the state.

And that is how yesterday’s post landed in my “drafts”  file, photo-less and unfinished.  And Thanksgiving day slipped into “Black Friday.” 

I enjoy the irony of  how only in America the nationally declared “Day of Thanksgiving” shifted; in my lifetime, may I add; to the national weekend of greed.

Our Thanksgiving Day passes more in contemplation of what wonderful deals we’ll score on Friday than it does in appreciation for the blessings we already enjoy.

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“True happiness is to enjoy the present,

without anxious dependence upon the future,

not to amuse ourselves with either hopes or fears

but to rest satisfied with what we have,

which is sufficient,

for he that is so wants nothing.

The greatest blessings of mankind

are within us and within our reach.

A wise man is content with his lot,

whatever it may be,

without wishing for what he has not.”

Seneca

There was a time, when my daughter was little, when I headed out before dawn each Friday after Thanksgiving with a list and a plan. 

It was honestly the best way to make the Christmas budget stretch to cover all of those extended family members I wanted to remember, and also have a beautiful stack of gifts for my own daughter and husband at the same time.

These were the days before online shopping was so accessible; Amazon wasn’t an option and I still shopped the tool sales at our local Sears store.

I’ve watched the “wave” of shopping mania swell, crest, and perhaps begin to subside a bit.

Many of us wait now for “Cyber-Monday.”  And even more of us have noticed that desperate retailers continue to offer deals and specials right up through Christmas Eve.

Some of the urgency has dissipated to grab the “Door-Busters.”  Wiser shoppers watch and wait… like a skilled hunter… knowing a better shot will come at that important purchase.

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But stepping back a bit for the wider view, we’re still in the mind-set of acquisition rather than appreciation. 

Our environment has conditioned us to participate in an all-out shopping extravaganza in December.  And at some point we’ll purchase most anything, even a ridiculous bit of merchandise at an insane price just to have a splashy “gift” for someone.  (Yes, I’ve been reading those catalogs again.  The photos of $30 cheese logs and $50 holiday cakes are horribly fascinating for some unknown reason.)

And that is how we came to find ourselves on the Colonial Parkway this morning enjoying the sunshine and taking photos rather than shopping.  That’s right.  I didn’t even shop my favorite spots online this morning.  It was a matter of principle for me today.

“Piglet noticed that even though

he had a Very Small Heart,

it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.”

― A.A. Milne

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We wanted to appreciate the gorgeous day, the gift of health and well being, and the joy of spending time together this morning.  We dressed warmly and set out before breakfast, while the world remained ice-clad.

It is our intention to simplify the gifting aspect of Christmas this year.   We believe the spirit of giving is a year-round endeavor; not to be saved for holidays only.

We’ve also realistically realized that our family members are more in need of time and attention at the moment than merchandise.

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Yet shopping is a hard habit to break.  I’ve dipped into several online retailers today.  And promptly clicked out without purchase from all but one.

And to be honest with you, the purchases I made at that bookstore, with their coupon, were mostly for us.  Yes, I took advantage of the deals today to get a CD of Pete Seeger singing folk songs for my infant granddaughter, but that is the only “gift” so far today.

What about you?  Are you shopping today?  And if you are, were your purchases gifts for yourself, or for others?

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Powhatan Creek empties into Sandy Bay here.  The heron stands off to the right.

Powhatan Creek empties into Sandy Bay here.  The heron stands off to the right.

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I’ve longed suspected that a lot of the shopping done in December is personal shopping.  The car commercials are the most brazen in admitting this, by far.  But I suspect that many of us wait for the deals of December to get the things we’ve wanted for ourselves for a while.

Which brings us back to Thanksgiving; and the holiday’s roots in appreciation for simple survival through life-threatening hardships.

We’ve come a stretch as a nation since those early settlement days.  And we’ve come a long way as a culture from idealism to consumerism.

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Looking back at the same trees from the other side of Sandy Bay.

Looking back at the same trees from the other side of Sandy Bay.

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“Cultivate the habit of being grateful

for every good thing that comes to you,

and to give thanks continuously.

 

And because all things

have contributed to your advancement,

you should include all things

in your gratitude.”

 

Ralph Waldo Emerson

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My daughter, who works in retail at the moment, just called to tell me her store more than doubled its sales goal last night.  It was their first year to open in the afternoon on Thanksgiving.

They sold more yesterday evening than I made in my first two years of teaching combined. 

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A loon, and proud of it....

A loon, and proud of it….

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I have noticed that I feel far more peace and happiness when I’m enjoying those things already in my life than when I’m on the hunt for something new.

And that may be the best reason I can offer for spending today still  focused on gratitude and Thanksgiving.

We may go buy our Christmas tree tomorrow.  But we plan to simply enjoy the moment today.

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WPC:  Converge

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

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One Word Photo Challenge: (More) Chocolate

"The Forest Floor" chocolate cookies

“The Forest Floor” chocolate cookies

In my world, “chocolate” means just that… chocolate!

I grew up the daughter of a “choco-holic” and learned early that an easy way to please my dad was to make him something with chocolate in it… the more, and the darker, the better.

So here are two variations on an  autumn treat which I’m calling, “The Forest Floor.”

I hope you will try it out this weekend.  If you like it, it might make a fast and easy addition to your holiday spread next weekend as we celebrate Samhain and Halloween.

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Spread out a cup of coconut, a half cup of sliced or slivered almonds, and a half  cup of chopped walnuts or pecans on a baking sheet.    Toast in a medium oven for a few minutes until they are fragrant and lightly browned.  Chop some dried cherries into small bits.   Prepare about a quarter to a half cup of dried fruit.  Chopped apricots, raisins or cran-raisins would also work well.

 

This tempered chocolate looks lumpy because the coconut, cherries, and nuts have been stirred in and coated in chocolate.

This tempered chocolate looks lumpy because the coconut, cherries, and nuts have been stirred in and coated in chocolate.

We begin by melting the chocolate. 

If you’ve worked much with chocolate you probably already know that you must keep water away from it as you melt and temper it.  That is why I prefer the microwave melting method to the double boiler method.  Too often the steam from my double boiler affected the melting chocolate and it “seized up” on me.

No worries, seized chocolate still tastes just fine.  It just doesn’t have the proper consistency for serious candy making.

Select a good quality chocolate, milk or dark, and place 10 to 12 oz. in a glass bowl or large measuring cup.

Microwave on “high” for 30 seconds, and stir.  Continue to microwave the chocolate, 15 to 20 seconds at a time, until it stirs smoothly.  Add 2 TB of real butter near the end of this process.  I also added 1/2 tsp. of good ground cinnamon to the chocolate with the butter for a richer flavor.

Stir the chocolate vigorously for a minute or two to temper it.  I use a rubber spatula to keep the chocolate neatly off the sides of the bowl.  Tempering gives the finished chocolate a smooth, crisp texture and clear color.  It hardens better when well tempered.

Stir a quarter of your coconut, fruit, and nuts into the chocolate as you finish the tempering.

Pour the tempered chocolate into a shallow mold, and tip with more coconut, nuts, and chopped dried fruit.  This milk chocolate is ready to chill.

Pour the tempered chocolate into a shallow mold, and top with more coconut, nuts, and chopped dried fruit. This milk chocolate candy is ready to chill.

The first preparation gives you a solid candy bar.

I used a shallow aluminum pan, left from some delicious frozen something from Trader Joe’s.  Use any shallow mold you have on hand.

Spread the chocolate fairly evenly in the mold.  Top with a generous sprinkle of toasted coconut, nuts, and fruit.

Use the spatula to gently push the toppings into solid contact with the chocolate.

Cover with plastic wrap or slip the mold into a large zip-lock bag, and place the chocolate in the freezer for 10 minutes or the refrigerator for 30.

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When solid, cut into small servings.  Once hardened, this can be stored on the counter in an air tight container.

The second preparation is a bit crunchier and a bit less intense.  It also uses less chocolate for those watching either calories or pennies.

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Cover a baking sheet with foil or parchment paper, and lay out a dozen graham crackers.

Melt and temper 10 to 12 oz. of  chocolate, adding cinnamon, coconut, nuts, and dried fruit at the end of tempering.  I used Hershey’s Special Dark baking morsels because my Dad loves Special Dark above all other chocolate.  Yes, these are going to be a gift for him.

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Divide the chocolate evenly between the crackers, dropping a large spoonful on each.

Spread the chocolate evenly on each cracker with your spatula or a small knife.  Sprinkle more nuts, coconut  and dried fruit on top.  I added chopped pistachios to mine, and finished with a light grinding of sea salt.

Oh, the salt makes all the difference!

 

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Cover the tray with plastic wrap, and freeze for 10 minutes or refrigerate for 30.  When the chocolate is hard, lift the crackers with a broad spatula and cut or break them into serving sized pieces.

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“The Forest Floor” chocolate cookies

 

These will keep in an air tight container longer than it will take you to eat them!

I hope these “Forest Floor” chocolate candies and cookies make it into your holiday menu, and that your friends and family enjoy eating them as much as you enjoy making them!

 

With appreciation to Jennifer Nichole Wells

and her One Word Photo Challenge:  Chocolate

"The Forest Floor" chocolate cookies

Recipes  and Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

 

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