03 December 2007

Puppy Chow

Seldom does a day go by that I don't feel a little tug for home. Not my house. Not any house, really. Home to me is more of a state of mind. It's that little place in life where I needn't think of memories to feel warm inside.

Home is where my family is. It's the big, flat horizon dotted with round hay bales and oil pumpers. It's dirt so red it turns streams and lakes into liquid rust. It's the smell of my grandparents' house, and the warmth of my mother's kitchen. It's my sister-in-law Sarah's singing, and the dozens of people -- related by blood or love -- who create the entire menagerie that is my in-laws' family.

The holidays are when I yearn for these moments most. Perhaps it's because I know that's when everyone else is getting together. It's also because that's where much of my recent memory of that place has been created.

So, as I decorated my Christmas tree last weekend, I sifted through a box of ratty tissue paper, creased a hundred times from being wrapped, folded and unwrapped over a couple dozen years. My mother created a tradition for my sister and I of giving us each an ornament each year for the holiday. She did this because when she got out on her own, she had no ornaments for her first tree. This way, she thought, Angie and I would never have a sad, bare tree.

Just before I set up the tree each year, I think about those pretty trees all coordinated with colorful glass balls, miles of ribbon and lights that seem to illuminate every last pine needle. My tree, I think, will be filled with an old mishmash of ornaments.

Alas, as I began unwrapping them and placing them on the tree, I am reminded why I can't part with the idea of putting them up: The ornaments are one of the few links that connect my Christmas memories with today. There's the little wooden clown that Pop carved for me, and a handful of painted ceramic pieces Mom created.

When the tree was decorated, I was happy. I showed Seth the ornaments from our past Christmases together, as I've kept the tradition alive for us of a new one each year. I always try to find something that reflects us in that time. Last year, it was a beautiful glass ball with a snowy house inside. I'm still hunting for the perfect pick this year, but I surely will find it soon.

There are dozens of little packaged up memories each of us has of holidays. Some are warm, and some are surely sad. I hope we're all fortunate enough to find links to the warm ones whether it's through ornaments, traditions and yes, of course, food. Although there are lots of holiday foods I love, there's one little guilty pleasure that makes me think of nothing other than Christmas as a kid -- Puppy Chow.

I once brought it up with some Northwest friends who had no idea what it was, so for those of you in the same boat, relax, it is not dog food. All I know is that I don't really remember my mom making it, but we always had some around during December. It's the kind of treat neighbors and friends give one another back where I come from.

Here's to holiday memories past and present, and just like the Puppy Chow, sprinkle anything with that much powdered sugar, and it has to be good!

Puppy Chow

1 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/4 cup butter
1 teaspoon of vanilla
9 cups of Rice Chex mix
1 1/2 cup powdered sugar

In a small saucepan slowly bring the chocolate, peanut butter and butter to a low heat. Stir to melt and combine. Add the vanilla. Turn off heat. Pour the dry Chex into a large mixing bowl. Drizzle the chocolate mixture over the Chex and stir until all pieces are coated. Dump the Chex mixture into two gallon zip bags. Divide the powdered sugar equally and dump each portion into the separate bags. Seal the bags and shake to coat. Pour the mixture onto a baking sheet to cool completely. Store in airtight containers.

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