December 25, 2013

Have Yourself a Merry Little Meltdown
( + Gingerbread with Spiced Orange Caramel Sauce )

Let's talk for a minute about what the holidays are like for an introvert.

Remember the bleak hellscape from the Terminator movies?  The burned-out post-apocalyptic nuclear wasteland carpeted with ash and human bones?  The one where, just as you think you're starting to understand the horror of this dark new world, a metal foot crushes down on the human skull you were just looking at, and you look up into the cold red gaze of a killer robot?

Yeah.  It's kind of like that.

But with eggnog.

Not that I don't love the holidays; I do.  I adore them.  A thick blanket of snow silencing the world outside; a warm fire and a cozy afghan; a loved one curled up next to you and It's a Wonderful Life on the TV.  Pine garlands and crimson ornaments and cranberries and popcorn threaded onto strings.  These are a few of my...well, you know how it goes.

But that's not actually how the holiday goes, is it?  In my experience, you're luck if you get about 17 minutes of that stuff per December.  The rest of it runs a little more like this:

Gosh, how happy am I to have hit a blizzard while driving to the mall, and where could three rolls of scotch tape possibly have disappeared to, and wouldn't it be nice if there wasn't a thin layer of flour dust over everything I owned, come in, come in, hey wait, grab the dog, he's getting out, what do you mean, you forgot the sweet potatoes, HOW can the store be out of cranberries?  Uh oh, someone try to get that glass from Uncle Simon, it's his seventh, CRAP, the ham is burning, Emily, stop hitting your brother, where can I get AA batteries at this time of night, no we CAN'T go to bed yet, we still haven't addressed these envelopes, Merry Christmas everyone, seriously, can SOMEONE stop the dog from barking, 3-hour argument about Obamacare, have a cookie.

I can't imagine this is relaxing for anyone; but for introverts, who tend to be more easily overwhelmed by noise, chaos and general disorder, it's a goddamn nightmare.

There's no way I get out of this without offending someone, so let me state this up front: I love you all.  You're great.  You're fabulous people, and I enjoy spending time with you, and if there was some way to distill the essence of each and every one of you into a tiny perfect truffle, I would devour them one by one until I blimped up like Santa after his 387th plate of milk and cookies.

But you're absoutely exhausting.

And not "tiresome" in the way that one relative at the gathering inevitably is, like dear Aunt Violet droning on about her medical condition.  We love you, Aunt Violet.  We're sorry you're not feeling well, and if there's anything we can do to help, please let us know.  But pleasegod stop listing your medications.  Nobody wants to memorize your new dosages or see the screenshots of your colonoscopy.  Nobody wants to hear the word "mucus" while we're carving the ham.  Let's just sit quietly and watch the game, okay?

I mean "exhausting."  In the sense that, while most people recharge their batteries after a tough week by going out with their friends, an introvert needs quiet solitude to recharge and feels even more drained than before after socializing.

I love my friends and family.  I enjoy their company.  But the choice to spend time with them is an active sacrifice of my energy in a way that an extrovert can never really understand.  It's like choosing to stay up and watch your kids open their presents even though you've just come home from a triple shift.  Rewarding, yes.  Exhausting nonetheless.  And like the man who's indulged in too much nog at the holiday party, I'm having a rollicking time right now.  But there's going to be hell to pay tomorrow.

By the time we hit January 2nd, I'll be so strung out that the only thing I'll be good for is hiding under the bed in my jim-jams like a trapped squirrel, alternately hyperventilating and napping.  Which is unfortunate because it's January 2nd and I'm supposed to be out buying a gym membership and starting a gratefulness journal and smoothie-ing up some kale.

The modern calendar is not set up for introverts.

So if you happen to see me over the next few weeks and I seem withdrawn and twitchy, don't worry: it's not you.  Call me up in May and we'll do lunch.  I'll make you some gingerbread and we can enjoy our belated holiday cheer.

That's assuming I've recovered by then, of course.

Gingerbread with Spiced Orange Caramel Sauce
gingerbread from Baking Illustrated
caramel sauce adapted from Bon Appetit
I'll be the first to admit that this is a strange technique for making a sauce.  It was born from my attempt to salvage a recipe for caramel that, judging from the comments other cooks have left, was just poorly written and disastrous from the start.  After adding some cinnamon and cream, however, it became a thin but divine sauce that was mostly eaten by spoon straight from the bowl before ever reaching the gingerbread plate.  The gingerbread, from Baking Illustrated, is basically flawless.  I underbaked it slightly to ensure that it would be super-moist.  If you follow the full baking time, you will most likely avoid the unevenness in rise that you may have noticed in the photos.

Flour  [ 2 1/4 cups ]
Baking Soda  [ 1/2 teaspoon ]
Salt  [ 1/2 teaspoon ]
Ground Ginger  [ 2 teaspoons ]
Ground Cinnamon  [ 1 teaspoon ]
Ground Cloves  [ 1/2 teaspoon ]
Freshly Grated Nutmeg  [ 1/2 teaspoon ]
Ground Allspice  [ 1/2 teaspoon ]
Dutch-Processed Cocoa  [ 1 teaspoon ]
Unsalted Butter  [ 1/2 cup, melted and cooled to room temperature ]
Mild Molasses  [ 3/4 cup ]
Sugar  [ 3/4 cup ]
Buttermilk  [ 1/2 cup ]
Whole Milk  [ 1/2 cup ]
Egg  [ 1 ]

Caramel Sauce:
Navel Oranges  [ 5, preferably Cara Cara ]
Sugar  [ 1 1/2 cups ]
Water  [ 1/4 cup ]
Unsalted Butter  [ 2 tablespoons ]
Kosher Salt  [ 1/8 teaspoon ]
Cinnamon  [ 1/4 teaspoon ]
Heavy Cream  [ 1/2 cup ]

Make Gingerbread:
1.   Heat oven to 350 degrees F.
2.   Spray pan with nonstick cooking spray.
3.   In a medium bowl, whisk together Flour, Baking Soda, Salt, Ginger, Cinnamon, Cloves, Nutmeg,
        Allspice, and Cocoa.
4.   In the bowl of a mixer, stir together Butter, Molasses, Sugar, Buttermilk, Milk and Egg.  Beat on 
         Low until well combined.
5.   Add in Flour Mixture.
6.   Beat on Medium speed until Batter is smooth and thick  [ about 1 minute ].
7.   Pour Batter into prepared pan and level with a spatula.
8.   Bake until edges begin to pull away from the pan and top springs back after being lightly touched  [ 
         about 35 minutes ].
9.   Cool in pan on wire rack for at least 10 minutes.
10.   Serve warm or at room temperature.

Make Caramel Sauce:
11.   Slice one of the Oranges into rounds as thin as you can make them.  Discard any seeds.
12.   Place the Orange Slices into a medium bowl and toss with 1/2 cup of the Sugar.  Allow to stand at 
            room temperature for 1 hour.
13.   In a large, heavy pot, stir together the remaining 1 cup of Sugar with the Water.  Try to minimize 
            splashing Mixture up the sides of the pan.
14.   Stir over Medium heat until Sugar dissolves.
15.   Increase heat to Medium-High and boil without stirring until deep amber-colored  [ about 10 minutes 
            ].  If necessary to keep from burning, swirl pot gently to redistribute over hot spots.
16.   Remove pot from heat.  Carefully add Orange-Sugar Mixture to Caramel, keeping hands well away  [ it 
            will bubble up ].
17.   Return to Medium heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until Oranges are tender  [ about 12-15 
           minutes ].
18.   Cool 10 minutes.
19.   Carefully pour Caramel into a food processor.
20.   Add in Butter, Salt, and Cinnamon.
21.   Process until Oranges are very finely chopped.
22.   Press Mixture into a bowl through a fine sieve, to remove solids.
23.   Cool 10 minutes.
24.   Meanwhile, cut a flat slice off top and bottom of each of the remaining 4 Oranges so that they will not 
25.   Using a paring knife, cut peel and white pith from all Oranges.
26.   Working over a bowl, carefully cut between the membranes of each orange segment so that the 
             segments drop into the bowl with their juices.
27.    When Sauce has cooled slightly, stir in Heavy Cream and then Orange Segments [ with juice if sauce 
             seems thick ].
28.   Serve warm over warm Gingerbread.  

Makes 1  11x7-inch pan  [ about 8 servings ] and easily enough sauce to go around.

   Can't get enough ginger?
Ginger Spice Cookies


  1. I am an introvert and I so totally get what you are saying! Glad there is someone else out there who feels the same way I do about "the holidays'.

  2. I'm definitely with you, Anonymous. Introverts unite! (Quietly. Online. Preferably in groups no larger than four.) :)

  3. wow very nice. Your blog is very nice with good explanation thanks for the post.