Thursday, December 18, 2008

Day of the Dead

Since I learned about the importance of Dia de Los Muertos in New Mexico, two years ago, I'll never look at pumpkins the same way again. Mexican-Americans throughout this country honor loved ones who have died on November 1st and 2nd - 'the Day of the Dead' - because they view death as the continuation of life.

Around Halloween sugar skeletons appear throughout the Mexican community, in preparation for this celebration. Families who visit cemeteries together, on the 1st and 2nd, may share picnics there too. Bread of the Dead, music, and entertainment are other ways to celebrate.

Altars are created for each deceased person, with photographs of that individual, and his or her favorite food and drink. Each altar also features natural elements of earth, wind, water and fire. A crop represents the earth, a moving object represents the wind, a container of water is meant to quench the soul of the deceased, and a candle represents fire.

It's a ritual that has thrived for 3,000 years.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Teddy Bear Cookies

Whenever the holiday season rolls around there are two cookies on our 'must make' list - Walnut Crescents (see previous entry, 'Thanks Joy (of Cooking)') and Teddy Bear cookies. I started making the latter many years ago, when my daughters really loved cute things, especially if they were edible. For these now 20-something girls and their friends, it wouldn't be Christmas at our house without Teddy Bear cookies.

I didn't create the recipe, and the only change I've made is to use equal parts of chocolate and peanut butter chips, because one daughter isn't wild about p.b. But these cookies are so darn cute, easy, and fun that they're well worth sharing. As for a source, my original copy of the recipe is on a tiny, yellowed piece of the Kansas City Star, but that's all I know.
I hope you enjoy making what has become a holiday tradition in our house. And best wishes to all for a blessed season of celebration!

Cheery Chocolate Teddy Bear Cookies
Makes about 4 dozen (VOE - I'm lucky if I get 3 1/2 dozen)

1 2/3 cups peanut butter chips (I use 1 1/3)
1 cup semi sweet chocolate chips (I use 1 1/3)
(VOE - these are the best alternate proportions I've found; something about the peanut butter amount is important to the consistency)
2 tablespoons margarine or butter
1 package chocolate sandwich cookies
1 box teddy bear-shaped graham snack crackers

Cover tray with wax paper (or foil). In medium microwave-safe bowl, place peanut butter chips, chocolate chips and margarine. Microwave at high for 1 to 2 minutes or until chips are melted, mixture is smooth when stirred, and chocolate and peanut butter are thoroughly combined.

With a fork, dip each cookie into chip mixture and cover completely. Place coated cookies on prepared tray and top each with graham cracker. Refrigerate, uncovered, until set, or about 30 minutes. Store in refrigerator and bring individual cookies to room temperature before eating.

VOEs - You have to work fast before the mixture begins to harden, so pour the teddy cookies and the sandwich cookies in separate bowls for easy access. And don't answer the door or phone unless absolutely necessary.

-Have a rubber spatula on hand so you can move mixture off sides to bottom of mixture bowl.
-After you dip each cookie, scrape the bottom side of the fork on the edge of the bowl to 'recapture' excess mixture.
-You may have to 'frost' the last half dozen of cookies, as the mixture is used up.
-Make sure each teddy bear cookie has both ears and all limbs :)

Monday, December 15, 2008

Kansas City's Beautiful Link

Sometimes, an image of glass and steel can become an art piece, if your camera is positioned just right. Such was the case on a chilly, bright September morning, in Kansas City's Crown Center complex.

After attending a conference at the Hyatt Regency Crown Center, I followed "The Link" across the street to the Crown Center shops and the Westin Crown Center (hotel). The Link is a gently curving, climate-controlled structure that provides visitors with safe, comfortable passage from hotels to shopping, restaurants and theaters while crossing high above traffic-filled thoroughfares.

Built in 1988, The Link from the Hyatt to Crown Center is 180 feet long and has 2,000 panes of glass. In 2000 a second, 810-foot "Link" connected Union Station - one of the neighborhood's oldest landmarks - to the modern complex. Simultaneously functional and beautiful, this unusual structure offers great views and great comfort to visitors.