Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Darkest Hour: Chai Shortbread Logs

The days continue to get darker earlier.  I find myself lighting the candles in our windows now at 4:00, looking out into the dusk. Even though the solstice is still a week away, the afternoons have me feeling a strange primal urge to build myself a fireplace and burn a very large log.  Nature draws inward for the winter, gathering energy for the lengthening days and the beginning of spring.  I find myself drawing inward, too, even though everything else around me draws me outward in celebration of the season; perhaps it's no wonder that I'm feeling a little overrun by the holidays.

And yet, at the darkest time of year, we celebrate the coming of the light and the spring.  The festival of Yule was initially celebrated by the ancient Germanic people, where at this time of year the hours of daylight are limited, if they exist at all, as a recognition that spring was on the way.  Last year we were invited to a Yule gathering, and I learned that the holiday is also a fertility celebration: the ashes of the yule log were scattered on fields to ensure a productive harvest during the coming months.

I've been thinking a lot about the IF community lately.  The winter holidays can be very dark days when you're grieving a loss, or when the cards plastered with photos of happy families remind you constantly of what you don't have.  Even those of us who "crossed over" feel the darkness at this time of year: old wounds become tender, we feel strange pangs at happy announcements.  And the sad announcements are even worse: I was heartsick to hear about the friend of a friend who, after six years of TTC and several rounds of infertility treatments, just lost his wife to complications from a C-section with twins (you can read about them, and reach out, here).

One of the first poems I ever had to memorize in school was Robert Frost's "Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening."  I remember being struck by the stillness that the poem evoked, and feeling like my tweenaged self could identify with the traveler: drawn by the darkness, but determined to go on, to reach the hearth waiting at the end of the journey.  Especially now, we owe it to each other to stick together, to keep each other moving through the darkness.  To embrace the turning-inward that comes naturally when we are attuned to the seasons and to our life experiences rather than struggling against them, but to prepare together, quietly, for what comes next.

These look a little like logs, and you can pretend that the white chocolate drizzle is snow.  I hope that it's not too dark where you are; at least you are with friends, and eventually, there will be a warm hearth to come home to.

Chai Shortbread Yule Logs

1 c. butter (or a combination of vegan margarine and shortening)
3/4 c. powdered sugar, sifted
1/2 t. vanilla
3/4 c. flour
3/4 c. whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 c. almond flour (or more regular flour)
2 t. cinnamon
1 1/2 t. cardamom
1/2 t. cloves
1/2 t. nutmeg
1/4 t. coriander
1/4 t. fresh ground pepper
1/4 t. baking soda
1/4 t. salt
1 t. chai tea leaf blend
4 oz. white chocolate, melted
1 t. (or more) oil

Preheat the oven to 350.  Line two baking sheets with parchment.

Cream the butter; fold in powdered sugar and vanilla and cream together until smooth.

In a separate bowl, sift together flours, spices, baking soda, salt, and tea.  Add to the butter mixture in two parts, mixing well after each addition until a dense dough forms.

Divide the dough into two logs about 8x3" and 1/2 inch thick. Slice into 1/2" slices and place onto parchment about 2 inches apart.

Bake 12-14 minutes, until the edges are just turning golden.  Cool 5 minutes.

Melt white chocolate (either over a double boiler or in 30 second intervals in the microwave, stirring after each interval).  Add the oil and mix well.  It should now be a good consistency for drizzling (it should run off a fork pretty smoothly).  Drizzle over the shortbread and allow the chocolate to firm up before storing tightly covered.
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  1. I am so sorry to hear about your friend of a friend. That is absolutely awful!

    On a lighter note, I'm totally going to try these this weekend.

  2. i'm making these thsi week as soon as i'm healthy enough to do it. we've had a few dark days at our house altely & this post brought me some sense of pending lightness. thank you for that, & here's hoping you are surrounded by light & warmth in your home as well!

  3. Oh that story broke my heart, unimaginable.

  4. Oh Justine, your friend's story is hauntingly heartbreaking. I can't believe it.

  5. So sorry to hear about your friends friend. I can't imagine what that family is going through.

    I can send you the recipes, I just need your email. I can't seem to find it on your blog.

  6. That story had me bawling...I can't even imagine if I'd read it before Tiny Boy's birth. My heart goes out to the family.

    But any dessert with chai in it has to be a good thing...

  7. I am so, so sad about your friend. I tweeted the link out to my twitter followers. There is also a foundation called The Liz Lonegan Foundation, which you may have heard of, that helps newly widowed spouses. He may already be in touch with them, but just in case.

    Many, many (((hugs)))

  8. This post is so perfect. I feel that, no matter what you're feeling any particular year, the solstice is a very special time (and surely it's no coincidence that the major religions have important celebrations very close to solstice time).
    I'm so terribly sorry for that family. Such a tragedy.

  9. Frost is a good choice. He unfortunately knew a lot about loss, he outlived 4 of his 6 children, 2 died in infancy.

  10. It's so ironic that the "happiest time of the year" can bring so much heartbreak with it. I'm a happy, blessed person and I love Christmas...but my heart does ache when I think about the little ones that I wish I had. When people tell me that "Christmas is really about the children", my insides twist a little bit, because I wish so much that I had children to share it with. I'm so sorry to hear of the friend of a friend.

  11. oh my god, that is the saddest situation. Just 10 seconds of thinking about it and I am totally in tears. That was my worst nightmare, one that I could never even let my mind articulate because it was too sad to contemplate. I am so incredibly sorry.

  12. I hate that this season is now laced with sadness for me. I can only remain hopeful that it is only temporary. I am so sorry to hear about your friend's friend. How awful. My heart goes out to her husband and family. Life is so cruel sometimes.

  13. I was so sad to read about the woman who died in childbirth after trying so long to have children. Sorrow at this time of year always seems to be magnified. Such a terrible loss.

  14. Gorgeous post, J. I love that poem, the stillness of it. And you summed up so perfectly this time of year.

  15. Thanks, everyone, for your thoughts for this family ... I believe, truly, that our intentions matter, and that somehow, they will feel held by all of you, too.

    @jjiraffe: I will definitely pass along the resource ... thank you.

    @bodegabliss: I hope so, too.

    @nurslouia: interesting ... I didn't know that about Frost ... I can't even imagine.

    @inBetween and @gwinne: I know ... these are things pregnant women dare not speak of.

    @Stephanie: I hope you do someday, too, but until then, you have my permission to flatten anyone who tells you that (not that you need it).

    @kate and @slowmamma: keep breathing ... hope you are both doing well.

  16. Wow, this time of year is filled with so many emotions as it is, to deal with a loss like that seems unbelievable. Thoughts and prayers for your friend and his littles.
    This recipe looks amazing and love the white chocolate drizzles and all the spices. Yum!

  17. I absolutely detest the increasing darkness...but if it means more tea and cookie eating then I think I can accept it. These look delicious!

  18. I love your description of feeling overrun by the holidays. Normally I love Christmas, but this year it's just feeling like too MUCH, you know? I keep waiting for january to sweep the slate clean.


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