Once a year, I reserve an entire three-day weekend -- Saturday, Sunday, Monday -- for my Christmas baking. This is that weekend, booked in advance. Even a huge achievement such as the State Finals in high school football could not lure me away from my kitchen. (I'm sure I would be amending that if my son were playing rather than filming the event; I just gave up three hours to attend one of his away basketball games.) My school is flocking to the far-off field on a first-time-ever fan bus -- and I am at home, alone, in the cold. By choice.
This morning, I shopped for the ingredients I had not yet accumulated in the sales this past month. I took a brief reprieve to drive and cheer for my son's team, and in a few minutes I will begin unwrapping caramels, then crafting my famous caramel brownies -- 14 pans yielding 28 brownies each when I use my unique measuring system. They are the mainstay of my Christmas boxes and bags, which will also feature walnut fudge, Almond Joy fudge, toffee, chocolate mint cookies, and chocolate peanut butter balls.
Tomorrow I will begin on the fudge, peanut butter balls, and mint cookies, saving the toffee for Monday morning, as that is the treasure with the shortest shelf life. Until Tuesday night, when all the baking, rolling, dipping, packaging, and distributing is done, my family will not eat a decent meal or live in a warm house. The Florida weather is actually cooperating, gloomy and chilly with storms threatening tonight, followed by even cooler weather. A cool house will help these fragile baked goods survive.
I have been baking this way for years -- somehow always trying to perfect the system and even one-up myself. It began simple enough -- as an affordable means for blessing my children's teachers. Gift cards would cost less and take less time, and yet I insist -- actually, those who received them in the past insist -- that this tradition continue.
Weeks ago, the ladies at my husband's work began asking him when I was doing my baking. (They wanted to plan their vacations carefully so as not to miss the treats.) My colleagues at the K-12 school where I teach get individual bags or boxes, as do my neighbors, coaches, doctors, and other friends, but I package large boxes for group consumption for my dear husband's colleagues, even though they often frustrate each other by piling plates high with the goodies so that the massive supply lasts but a short while.
As I was driving home from the grocery store this morning, intent on the baking and blessing I would accomplish, I envisioned the stress I would feel by Monday, as I would rapidly package and prepare to distribute these handmade delights. Temperature is always a concern; I am too aware of the short shelf life of these chocolates. I want them to look and taste their best when I am gifting them. But as I drove, I sensed the irony of the gift I would accomplish over three days -- in celebration of God's gift to us, Jesus Christ, and what He accomplished in three days -- our chance at eternal life.
Perhaps walking my students' through their efforts to change the world in some way is making me more aware of the limited reward of this baking effort...
But then I thought, "Once on the lips, forever on the hips," and realized that my chocolates are more eternal than I realized. :)
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