There are so many memories from this holiday season to sort through that as soon as my mind rests peacefully on one brief and warm memory, another scene that I’d love to capture into my mental scrapbook of choice memories floats into my mind creating a kaleidoscope of colorful swirling patterns. And then there are the other memories about to be created that are feared to be not so sentimentally favorable. Sometimes when I’m starting to doubt a situation might turn sour, I just sit back and hold on to my notion that there is good in all people…sometimes you just have to nudge it out of those inclined toward bitterness, unkindness, and critical thinking. Everyone tests the theory that there is innate good in all people but I stubbornly hold fast to my notion that with a little smile here and there this theory can be proven true.
We’ve travelled north and south…east and west of New Hampshire this holiday season…tasting our way through this wonderful part of New England. We’ve sampled delicious sweets new to us…like hermit squares, peach blossom candies (yum!), peppermint straws, lobster claws filled with cream, and fruity spicy mince meat pies. As much as we love tasting our way through our adopted New Hampshire, it’s also the chance encounters with salt-of -the-earth characters that populate this part of the country that constantly have me not only in stitches sometimes but other times leaning in close to listen to those accumulated stories that somehow find a little space in the mental scrapbook.
Those small moments, often seemingly insignificant, fill the season with a certain magic that isn’t alight with tinsel and bright lights…but moments that are soft, subtle, and ethereal. On our White Mountain Valley Inn to Inn Cookie Tour, we stopped for lunch at Horsefeather’s for a bite to eat. The waiter there, Tony, had limitless knowledge of all the beers of New Hampshire and he and Patrick bounced back and forth having a terrific time sharing their acquired local beer stories. You’d think the entire day was scheduled around Patrick and Tony rekindling an old friendship at lunchtime in northern New Hampshire. Then, it ended up that our waiter wasn’t even from New Hampshire but was born and raised in Texas. We laughed. We were amused as usual because this happens so often. When you’ve lived in Louisiana, Missouri, Michigan, Japan, Wales, NYC, upstate NY, Kansas, Texas, and now New Hampshire…the world of characters we meet so often connects us to people who’ve touched similar places as us. And then a bond is formed immediately. And as we were all trying to define our knowledge of the NH area, we revealed to the waiter that 3 years ago we moved to NH…from Texas! It’s easy to feel proud of the new area you call home. None of us were natives of NH but if our conversation were overheard, it would sound like we considered ourselves quite native. Well, truth be told, it would probably sound like that only to…ourselves.
This past few days, we were picking up the last round of our family from the Boston airport. We decided to make a day of it and enjoy the Christmas decorations of the Italian North End. We picked out the restaurant La Famiglia Giorgio for a pasta lunch treat. The waitress was a sturdy woman of a few practical words who swept us directly to our table with hardly a twitch of a smile and then was at the ready with a pointed eye and equally pointed eyebrow to take our order seconds after we settled in. We all sat up a little straighter, scanned the menu in warp speed, and felt a tad bit afraid of her impending return if not at the ready with confident menu orders. But, my heart immediately went out to her. I felt nothing but empathy for her tired face and indifferent expressions. How many faces must she come across each day that barely notice her? Does she come across indifference from most people in her world? It took a few back and fourths of kind banter with her before we saw that first crack of a smile that slowly lit up her face and made it radiate with beauty. It took some sincere “thank yous” and “pleases” before it became apparent she felt appreciated by us. Her quiet and tired face lifted up a little at a time and her eyes began to twinkle just a bit and that pointed brow softened into a nice rainbow shaped arch. We munched on warm Italian bread dipped in spiced garlic parmesan olive oil as we cracked a few jokes with her just to see that beautiful warm smile spread ever so gently across her face once more. By the end of the meal, she seemed reinvigorated and hopefully appreciated for her role in making our festive holiday lunch a memorable one. Her face was beaming when we left and we wished her the warmest happiest holiday wishes. I didn’t do it but I so wanted to reach out and give her the briefest of squeezes. I don’t why I connect with certain people. It is a little like they wear their souls exposed a chink for some to see and it becomes hard to look away from that briefest slit of revelation. Often people just need a sincere “thank you” with direct eye contact so they understand that they are important to the world and appreciated for their work.
It’s the briefest of moments like the those with the friendly easy-going waiter, Tony, at Horsefeather’s in Conway Village who obviously loved his life in New Hampshire but was a native Texan, who made our lunch so pleasant and those with the busy Italian woman at La Famiglia Giorgio in the North End, Boston whose face radiated with pleasure when her work was acknowledged, that make the holiday season feel deeper and richer and inclusive. They are just whispers of goodwill… They are a few exchanged sentiments that could seem trivial and insignificant to the broader more definable experiences of the holidays. But, for some reason, they are the threads of memory that rest in my mind in those quiet moments when I think of the spirit of the season. The small “thank yous”, the pay it forwards at the highway toll booths, and the gentle smiles of appreciation of someone who is putting in a hard day’s work.
To everyone who stops by for the briefest moments to read my musings about slits of soul revealing light and waitress at small Italian restaurants in Boston’s North End…I thank you. You are meaningful to me. I enjoy traveling through this blog to the many worlds that you take me to and sharing the briefest of moments of camaraderie, shared stories, and human touches of kindness.
Merry Christmas to all of you wonderful souls out there. May your holidays be filled with all of those in between moments…the barely definable moments where the spirit of humanity shows a sliver of kindness and appreciation for every single beautiful soul.
Gifts for friends in New Hampshire: Ordway Orchards gift bags (fruit jams made from our own orchard!) with little pumpkin bread loaves.
Woodland decor for our gifts to go along with our “very interesting” Christmas tree dragged in from deep in the woods.
This little German Christmas carousel has seen so many houses as well as so many Christmas table settings. But…this farmhouse setting is my all time favorite spot for it.
Freezing Rain, Sleet, Snow…we’ve seen it all already this New Hampshire 2017 Christmas!
One plate bought one at a time over 20 years of collecting antique “brown & white”.
Hot Chocolate Spiced Layer Cake with Meringue Twists
George…the beloved patriarch of our family gets his special spot at the table.
Bottom Right: The Little White House in Eaton, New Hampshire. Post Card Perfect.
- 3 cups Flour
- 2½ cups Raw Cane Sugar
- 1 tablespoon Baking Powder
- 2 teaspoons Baking Soda
- 1 cup SCHARFFEN BERGER Cocoa Powder
- 1½ teaspoon Himalayan Pink Salt
- 1 teaspoon Espresso Powder
- 3 Eggs
- 1 tablespoon Vanilla
- ¾ cup Coconut Oil (liquefied)
- 1½ cups Milk
- 1 cup Boiling Water
- FOR THE FROSTING:
- 1 Pound Salted Grass-fed Butter, softened
- 2 tablespoons Vanilla
- 1½ teaspoons Cinnamon
- ⅛ teaspoon Cayenne Pepper(ground)
- 1 Pound Powdered Sugar
- FOR THE GANACHE:
- 1 cup Dark Chocolate Chips(I used 60%)
- ¾ cup Heavy Cream
- TOP WITH:
- Powdered Sugar
- Cinnamon Sticks
- Peppermint Meringues
- FOR THE CAKE:
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour three 8 inch round baking pans. Line the bottoms of each pan with a circle of parchment paper.
- Place the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and espresso powder in a large bowl and whisk to combine.
- Add the egg, oil, milk, vanilla, and water to the dry ingredients and whisk in just until smooth. Divide the batter between the prepared pans and bake in the preheated oven for 25-30 minutes, or until puffed and firm on top and a tester inserted into the middle comes out mostly clean, with a few moist crumbs attached.
- Remove and let cool for 5 minutes in the pan. Remove cake layers from pans and let cool completely before frosting.
- FOR THE FROSTING:
- Place the butter in a large bowl along with the vanilla, cinnamon, and cayenne. Beat with an electric mixer until well combined. Beat on low, adding the powdered sugar a few tablespoons at a time, until all of the sugar has been whipped in. Scrape the bowl down, turn the speed up to medium, and beat the frosting for another 30 seconds.
- FOR THE GANACHE:
- Place the chocolate and cream in a small saucepan and heat over medium heat. Whisk together as the chocolate melts, until a smooth mixture forms. Remove from heat.
- TO ASSEMBLE:
- Frost the cake using the spiced frosting. Pour the ganache over the top of the cake spread just to the edges of the top of the cake. Chill until ganache is set.
- Dust the cake with powdered sugar and top with greenery, cinnamon sticks, and peppermint meringues