Zest for Life
Chow Bella took a bite out of the holidays earlier this month with our annual "Eating Christmas" event at Crescent Ballroom. No worries if you missed it -- catch the essays here through the holiday season.
Being a type-A psycho, I approach Christmas the same way a warlord might hope to vanquish an enemy: swiftly, emotionless, and with admirable precision.
Each winter I set out to conquer the holidays, checking items off lists that I have no intention of checking twice, attending an obscene number of parties, and almost always committing to one recipe whose ingredients list, steps, and photo-free instructions would make mere mortals quiver.
It's sort of like a game. Actually, it's sort of like Game of Thrones. Blood and tears will be shed. Yelling and betrayal are inevitable. And don't you dare make Khaleesi get the dragons. Though, if we're being practical, they might prove handy when it comes to the baking part.
See also: Glue Christmas
Every Christmas I like to take on a new baking project and, to borrow a phrase from myself, straight-up murder it. Chocolate babka, cinnamon rolls, and red velvet rice crispy treats have fallen victim to my hostile takeovers. It's a tradition I uphold by myself in my kitchen because I cannot and will not accept help. I don't think you're ready for this jelly (roll). Honestly, neither am I. I overbuy ingredients and barely skim directions before preheating the oven because what better way to ensure an intense culinary experience?
I was 14 when I first took on this self-imposed challenge. I found a recipe for raspberry mousse in one of my mom's lady magazines and thought: Mmmyeah, I can do that.
Being the early 2000s, food blogs were not at my disposal. I had yet to spend countless hours watching Food Network, whisking vicariously. So when I came across "lemon zest" on the ingredients list and had absolutely no idea what it was, I figured I would spot it at the grocery store in the baking aisle next to other perplexing things like instant yeast. For the record, I had also never heard of ramekins. These knowledge gaps did not matter to me at all because I had already decided that raspberry mousse was happening, thank you very much. The end. Well, almost.
I walked to the Albertson's down the street where nobody could explain to me what lemon zest was. After frustrated deliberation and much pacing through the aisles, I decided that lemon and its stupid zest could go straight to hell.
I made raspberry mousse and served it to my sister and mom, who suggested it should become a yearly tradition. She meant that recipe in particular, but her encouragement led to years experimenting with and perfecting snickerdoodles, chocolate cakes, and peanut butter cookies, while eating astonishing quantities of icing.
In a couple weeks, when I'm cursing the day our ancestors figured out "fun" things to do with wheat, putting on my Grinchiest frown, and vowing to take what is mine with fire and blood (and likely some inspiration from Smitten Kitchen), I can take comfort knowing that, even if I have no idea what I'm doing, I have an exceptional track record of 100-percent crushing Christmas.
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