The trees are boxed up, re-planted or chopped into firewood. The Santas have been deflated and the light shows turned off – most of them at least. But Christmas lingers on for me via the scales and in the last dregs of stocking candy still floating about the house. Yes, the two might be related.
Stockings are big in our family, in importance and in sheer volume. They usually overflow to a gift bag or at minimum to the acreage surrounding the actual sock. As the kids get older and begin giving shorter and more specific Christmas lists, the stocking stuffers are often the primary sources of any Christmas morning surprises.
My memories of stockings in childhood were all about the candy. Yes, we always had a few non-perishable items included – Little Brother and I always got a Matchbox Car (still do), a magazine (still do) and as we got older a small tool was added to the tradition (still is) – but it was still mostly about the candy. At Granny’s house, when stockings were done there, it was the real thing: one of my grandfather Pappy’s extra-long hunting socks. I’ll never forget seeing huge lumps, which turned out to be oranges and apples. I’m sure I was polite about the healthy fruit as I dug deep for the candy; that’s what I choose to believe.
The Wife’s family, I learned early on, was more focused on the non-edible side of the stocking equation. Our first Christmas together, we drew names and headed to Wal-Mart with a $20 per person budget for stockings. I don’t remember all the details, but I’m sure I headed to the candy aisle to stock up for the lucky person whose name I had drawn. On Christmas morning, however, I walked away with practical household items like socks and extension cords. And I was very thankful for those suction cup hooks. But I was also wondering if my usual Christmas morning PayDay bar had fallen out of the bag.
It’s been a steep learning curve for me, but nearly fifteen years later I think we are getting our act together. I know what The Wife’s favorite candies are, but I also know to ask ahead of time what the ratio of edible to non-edible stuffers should be. It may vary. She also has learned that sometime in the week or two before the big day, she will be provided with a list of special edition seasonal sweets that I would be very happy to find in or around my stocking, along with their precise location in the store where I spotted them. It may not be everybody’s tradition, but it works well for us.
This year the list included a bag of the Andes Mints version of peppermint bark, and I also personally purchased a couple of bags of Hershey Kisses of the same flavor. Reese’s Bells were also a special request – I am ever on the hunt for the Reese’s product with the perfect chocolate to peanut butter ratio. Not quite as sweet but just as delicious were a bag of Cranberry Cookie Straws from the Mississippi Cheese Straw Factory. One of the surprises (not on my list, but appreciated just the same) was a bag of chocolate-covered sunflower seeds, because if something is too small to deep fry and serve on a stick, you might as well cover it in chocolate. Not exactly in the stocking, but close by, were a couple of other surprises: a bag of Godiva caramel coffee and a dark chocolate confetti cupcake kit. I think those were made to enjoy together.
Little Brother, a good cook and a culinary enthusiast in his own right, also knows how to make me smile at Christmas. He presented me with a gift bag that was packed full of unique edibles. I recognized the bags of Javaz (picture an M&M-type candy, but with a coffee bean inside) - I had enjoyed those before. I thought I also recognized a basic New Orleans-style praline. What escaped my notice, until I took a closer look at the “Sweet and Spicy” tag on the package, was that the praline was infused with Tabasco sauce. I don’t know why I didn’t catch it right away, especially considering that there was a tin of Tabasco-infused chocolate in the bag as well. On the tamer side was a jar of Purple Sweet Potato Butter, which should make an interesting table-mate to the Vardaman Sweet Potato Marmalade that a thoughtful neighbor sent over.
Anchoring Little Brother’s bag of goodies was a box of Japanese Style Red Bean Mochi. Judging from the photo on the box, I was expecting a white cookie covered with powdered sugar and filled with sweet red bean paste. That didn’t seem so odd to me - I like the red bean ice cream at Umi and I once added sweet red Azuki beans to my shave ice order at Matsumoto’s in Haleiwa, Hawaii. I picked the first one out of the box; it wasn’t a cookie. The white was essentially a paste, I have since learned, made of glutenous rice. Not bad. But definitely not a cookie.
My folks also scored big in the stocking department. They are somewhat responsible for the madness, after all. This year the traditional periodical, which in former days was almost always a “MAD Magazine,” was a food magazine chock full of southern recipes. Always ready to help support my research, they also contributed some Reese’s to the cause. Thinking he was picking up an ordinary bag of Reese’s Miniatures, my father inadvertently grabbed the ones coated in white chocolate. Ka-ching. I love those. Clearly it was meant to be. I suppose those “eat healthy” New Year’s resolutions will still be waiting for me when all this candy is gone. Right now I’m still stocking stuffed.