My family is trying to make me fat this Christmas

The Mom and The Sis have joined in a conspiracy, I fear, to make me fat.

Or, at least, pleasantly plump.

Two men dressed in UPS brown – two co-conspirators, although I believe unwitting co-conspirators – arrived at my doorstep early Tuesday evening with a package that The Sis had told me to expect. The storms back East had convinced me that the package would arrive later rather than sooner, but Big Brown came through during the holiday rush.

I signed on the glowing line – everything is electronic now, you know – and received the holiday package.

And, of course, I placed it under the hugely beautiful ornamented Christmas tree in the corner of my apartment living room, where it will wait until Christmas morning to be opened. …

OK, so I didn’t bother to unpack my Christmas ornaments or get a Christmas tree this year. I have a camera tripod in the corner of my living room. I suppose I could string some Christmas lights on it and hook a few ornaments on the knobs and paste a star or angel on the mounting bolt. Then I’d be good to go for Christmas. Or not. It just seemed like a lot of work for one person.

And if I fibbed about having a “hugely beautiful ornamented Christmas tree in the corner of my apartment living room,” you can guess that I also fibbed about placing the package anywhere … except on my dining room table so I could open it.

Now, Christmas purists will say “Christmas morning is when you open Christmas presents, not on Christmas Eve and certainly – CERTAINLY – not on Christmas Eve Eve Eve.” (Enough eves? One, two, three, yep.)

But technically – and I think this would stand up in a Christmas tribunal should one be called – I was simply opening the outer package. It is not my fault that Zeb’s General Store in North Conway, N.H., where The Sis and The Mom very likely purchased the wonderful treats within, did not take yards and yards of decorated parchment to carefully wrap each individual item and tie each with ribbon with surgical care. (Frankly, Zeb’s is a really, really cool place and I very much want to visit it again the next time I vacation in Maine. It’s a very New England town and a very New England general store … that caters to tourists, but it is still very, very cool.)

So, I immediately opened the outer box, dug my way through the form peanuts – the guy who invented those things should be hung by his toes in the public square before being made to go from home to home to home on Christmas afternoon to clean up those dastardly things – and found the treasures inside.

What follows is a partial list of the wonderful tastes of Maine and New England that The Mom and The Sis bestowed upon me this holiday season. (Note: I had planned to include photos of some of the treats, but ran to a couple of technical difficulties. I hope to update with photos within a couple of days.)

And here is the evidence I have for believing in the conspiracy to make me fat. Everything in the package – except the stoneware mugs in the shape of moose head – were jammed with sugar and other things that are likely to make my waist bigger.

But this is the holiday season and it is perfectly – PERFECTLY – OK to indulge, and I can do things the rest of the year to counterbalance the evil that is blueberry syrup.

Beautiful blueberry breakfast

OK, blueberry syrup is not in any way evil. It is quite the opposite and nothing short of wonderful.

This time around, it was a bottle of Pemberton’s Gourmet Food Mountain Mornings Breakfast Syrup made of Maine wild blueberries. Yeah, that’s right, syrup made of wild blueberries. And it is all mine, mine, mine!

OK, sorry, got a little carried away. Pemberton’s is located in Gray, Maine, according to the label, and the syrup contains Maine wild blueberries, sugar, honey, lemon juice, spices and pectinase. I haven’t opened or tasted it, but I’m pretty sure I will enjoy it and mourn once the bottle is empty. Here is Pemberton’s website: www.pembertonsgourmet.com .

While we’re on syrup, they threw in a bottle of Brown Family Farm Pure England Maple Syrup. The business is based in Battlebore, VT. Vermont is not Maine, but it’ll do.

The bottle came with a card listing Top 10 Maple Tips:

  • Add a light flavor to apple pie. (Hmm, that has to be good!)
  • Drizzle on a turkey wrap. (Gotta try this.)
  • Mix with salad dressing. (I’ll try anything at least once.)
  • Add to yogurt or vanilla ice cream. (Done this and it is very good.)
  • Add splash while cooking to sausage or bacon. (Nothin’ lovin’ quite like maple bacon or sausage.)
  • Baked beans are always better with a bit of maple syrup. (Yes, it is.)
  • It works with sweet potatoes and carrots, too. (I’ve done sweet potatoes and carrots with brown sugar, but I bet maple sugar would be good, too.)
  • Blend with Dijon mustard to marinate salmon. (Oh, yeah!)
  • Mix with butter and glaze baked squash. (Hmm!)
  • Add to fresh berries and cream. (I’ve done this, too, and it is great.)

Brown Family Farm has more tips; go to http://www.brownfamilyfarmmaple.com/ for more info.

If you’ve got all that syrup, you’re gonna need something on which to pour it – beside the things listed above. Why not go with The New England Cupboard Blueberry Pancake Mix, made with Maine wild blueberries. It claims to provide “old-fashion flavor with modern convenience.”

The label on the package – mix ingredients include unbleached wheat flour, blueberries canned in water, sugar, nonaluminum baking powder, salt and cinnamon – promises 16 to 18 4-inch pancakes. This very likely is Christmas breakfast, but not 16 to 18 pancakes.

The New England Cupboard website is http://www.newenglandcupboard.com/ .

Heating up lunch or dinner

I like sweet, but I love hot and spicy. My family knows this.

So, it is not unusual for me to receive something from Captain Mowatt’s line of very fine hot sauces. How could you not like products from a company that puts on its bottles: “Burning the planet one tongue at a time.”

I am most partial to Captain Mowatt’s Canceaux Sauce, but I also love Captain Mowatt’s Blue Flame. As the label says: “Blue Flame is the ultimate, salacious rendezvous. Wild native Maine blueberries coupled with fiery nubile red chilies. It’s passionate … it’s hot … it’s sweet … it’s blissful.”

W.O. Hesperus Co. makes the stuff in Portland, Maine, and go to http://www.wohesperus.com/ for more info.

The second sauce I’m holding as evidence that my family is not just trying to make me fat, but also may be trying to kill me … from the inside out. Anything called mad Dog 357 Pure Ghost Sauce should be handled with asbestos gloves and in full firefighting turnout gear!

Frankly, the distributer – Ashley Food Co. of Sudbury, MA, at http://www.ashleyfood.com/ – seems a tiny bit delinquent in its labeling. The only warning on the label reads: “This sauce is very hot. Use it at your own risk.”

And while that seems mild, what makes an experienced hot sauce enthusiast take pause are two – not one, but two – warnings “World’s hottest peppers.”

OK, there is one other subtle warning: “Carefully crafted with the world’s hottest pepper, the Ghost Pepper, aka Bhut Jolokia, this sauce delivers hauntingly pure heat with a killer sting only a ghost can deliver.” I know this is gonna hurt!

Something else very, very sweet

I’m not the kind of guy to say that if something is good, make it great by pouring chocolate all over it. Chocolate is great by itself, especially with a nice glass of red wine.

There are some things, however, that do take on a different complexity when milk chocolate is poured over ’em.

Wild blueberries are perfect – yes, perfect – directly from the bush. Or with some cream. Or in muffins. Or pancakes. Or … Well, you get the point.

But chocolate covered blueberries are a different level of perfect. In the package was a packet of Bangor Blues Milk Chocolate Covered Blueberries. I won’t get into the nutritional facts from the label, because it isn’t about nutrition when you’re eating this – it’s about savoring a bit of heaven … with the Aurora Borealis thrown in for color.

You should be able to get more information about Bangor Blues at http://www.bangorblues.com/ .

DownEast Coffee Munch, at least in its name, has everything I need. It has reference to Mother Maine, it has coffee and it has munch. DownEast Coffee Munch is a brand of chocolate covered Maine roasted espresso beans, and mighty tasty, I might add.

The tasty, caffeine-laced snack is made by Gladstone’s Under the Sun based in Bar Harbor, Maine, not far from Acadia National Park. Let’s see – Bar Harbor, Acadia National Park and DownEast Coffee Munch. That would be three very good reasons for anyone to hit the midcoast region.

Check out Gladstone’s website at http://www.mainemunchies.com/ .

Nothing says New England quite like Maine Saltwater Taffy. The Mom and The Sis included a larger-than-necessary box of Maine Saltwater Taffy. I’m sucking on some just now. Hmm, a mellow, sticky sweetness. Suck on it, don’t chew or you’re libel to pull out a filling or two … or even a tooth. It’s sticky.

Again, let’s not talk ingredients, shall we. Just know that it is worth it from time to time to partake of Maine’s Saltwater Taffy.

The brand The Mom and The Sis picked up was manufactured by Cabot’s Candy of Cape Cod out of Provincetown, MA, and you can get more info at http://www.cabotscandy.com/ .

Spice of life

Two things: I love sea salt; and I love that some seasoning jars now come with their own grinders. (Disclaimer: I immediately see a recycling problem because of the extra material used to create the grinder part of the jars, but jars seem to be reusable – and should be reused whenever possible – so it is just a matter of adding sea salt, pepper corns or whatever.)

In the package was Maine Sea Salt from the Maine Sea Salt Co. out of Marshfield, Maine. More info can be found at http://www.maineseasalt.com/ .

The Mom and The Sis a year or so ago sent me a jar of sea salt. Let’s just say, great stuff, that sea salt.

For my hot beverages

The Sis likes to send me stoneware. Over the years she has sent me some lovely bowls, pots and cups.

There has been a theme the past couple of years, however, that includes big floppy ears, a hug snout and an expansive aerial. One year it was a chili bowl – with a moose on the side – and another year it was a syrup pitcher – again, with a moose on the side.

This year, two mugs with a slightly goofy-looking moose on each. They are great!

They were designed by Richard Adam Dabrowski of Kennebunkport, Maine (Yep, summer home of the Bush family), and they come from Birchstone Studio in Fryeburg, Maine. Its website is listed as http://www.birchstonestudios.com/ .

Each of the mugs came with a note, including: “The mug of the moose mug you hold is loved by his mother were the truth to be told.”

It also includes “a word about the moose”:

  • The name moose comes from the Algonquin Indian language.
  • Moose stand about 7 feet tall as the shoulders, measure 10 feet from the nose to tail, weigh 1,500 pounds with 75-pound antlers, which are at times 5 feet wide.
  • Moose can run at about 35 mph.
  • Moose eat twigs, leaves, ferns, pond weeds and other vegetation.
  • Bull moose grows a new set of antlers each year.
  • Males frequently battle other males for females.
  • Males are in rut from September to mid-December and will stop eating while searching for a mate.

The information does not indicate – and it probably should – that moose can do great damage to vehicles when struck. Oh, and to the occupants of the vehicles, too.

Fun and games

I nearly forgot!

Also included in the package were three ol’ style games. Two of them were travel size dice games, one called Parlor Football Game and the other was called Game of Golf, both from a manufacture called Channel Craft. You can find out more at http://www.channelcraft.com/ . I have been playing golf for the past 40 years and I do enjoy a good football game, so I should have fun playing the games.

Also included was a deck of playing cards and a cribbage board. I haven’t played cribbage in the past 20 years or longer. I’ll have to go online to refresh my memory about the rules, but it’ll be worth it. It will be great to relearn the game.

I also like the board; it has a moose etched at one end.

I’m going to enjoy all the treasures delivered by the men in brown. But I still think my family is trying to make me fat!

Or, at least pleasantly, pleasantly plump.

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