Monthly Archives: December 2012

First Event of the New Year

My public schedule as a writer kicks off early in 2013 (the private schedule never stops) with a reading at the winter residency for the MFA in Writing Program of the Bluegrass Writers Studio, where I teach.  The residency events are all held at the Lexington Downtown Hilton, 369 West Vine Street, Lexington, KY, and all the evening readings are free and open to the public.

I’ll be reading on Thursday, January 3 at 7:30 p.m. in the Triple Crown Room, along with poets Julie Hensley and Christina Lovin.  Because all the courses I’ll be teaching this spring for the MFA program are in creative nonfiction, I’ll be reading from my first book, Window: Stories and Essays, which was published by Fleur de Lis Press in 2009.

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Repeating “The Gift of Black Beauty”

Last year, the folks at Bookreporter.com invited me to write a blog about a book-related Christmas memory.  As it’s nearly Christmas, and, once again, I’m enjoying choosing books as gifts–especially for the children I count among my friends–I thought I’d repeat the blog

The Gift of Black Beauty

I was seven, my hands and stomach trembling together as they always did on Christmas mornings—especially when the package laid in my lap was a crisply wrapped rectangle, heavy for its size and thickness, obviously a book.  Other packages I tore into like a savage, but books I unwrapped slowly, sliding my fingers under the seam of the wrapping paper, caressing the surface of the still-hidden book as if I could read Braille.

At last I pulled away the paper and saw a magnificent black horse rearing up into the golden light that bathed his vast, unfenced pasture.  His coat, so sleek it looked wet, the prominent white star at the center of his forehead, his mane and tail whipped by an unseen breeze—all these details combined to express who this Black Beauty was: a proud, triumphant creature taking joy in his freedom.

It was the perfect gift for little me, for I loved books and I loved horses, but I didn’t have any way of knowing how my love for Black Beauty would shape my life.  All books before this, I realize now, had been storybooks—simply plotted happenings, sometimes in clever rhymes, but nothing that made me feel anything stronger than amusement.  Reading Black Beauty, I cried real tears, many times, and when I finished, I read it again and again, finding I craved the feeling of being pulled by words through delight, heartbreak, and all the emotions in between, ultimately to a deep contentment I could carry with me, reflecting on what Black Beauty had learned: that terrible things happen sometimes, beyond our control—like a stumble in a rut—and change the course of our lives; that no matter how hard we try to hold our heads up, to be good and noble and kind, we don’t always get the treatment we deserve or deserve the treatment we get; that genuine triumph comes only after trial, and that nothing matters so much as knowing and holding onto our true selves.

Though I’m sure at seven I had never heard the word literature, I know now that reading Black Beauty burst open the seed of who I am—the lover of literature and the writer—all of it the gift of a horse who never lived, but who lives always.

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Bertie’s Black Walnut Fudge

Like a lot of you out there, I’ve started working on my Christmas goodies.  Today I made my first-of-the-season batch of Bertie’s Black Walnut Fudge to pack up for taking to the office tomorrow as gifts.   This is the fudge–at least it is in my imagination–that Bertie makes in Chapter Seven of The Sisters in anticipation of Alma’s Christmas visit.

Here’s the recipe!

Bertie’s Black Walnut Fudge

A Recipe by Nancy Jensen

(in honor of Chapter Seven of The Sisters)

3 T. butter (6 T total for recipe)

10 T. Hershey’s Special Dark Cocoa

–Melt butter in 3 qt heavy saucepan over low heat.  Add ½ of the cocoa and stir into the melted butter.

¼ cup heavy cream

¾ cup whole milk

–Measure the cream and milk into a single cup.  Add ¼ to the butter and cocoa mixture, stir in, then add the remaining cocoa, stir, and then the remaining milk and cream.

–Cook over low heat, stirring constantly until the milk is scalded and the cocoa is well mixed in.

3 cups sugar

3 T. light corn syrup

1/8 t. salt

–Stir in the sugar, corn syrup, and salt.  Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until the sugar is fully dissolved.

–Cook without stirring until mixture reaches the soft ball stage (236 to 238 degrees on a candy thermometer.)

–Pour into a clean 2 qt saucepan that has a handle.  Do not scrape the cooking pan.  Set the fudge to cool on a rack and immediately add:

3 T. butter

Do not stir.  Cool until lukewarm—until you can hold your hand on the bottom of the pan for several seconds without discomfort.

While the fudge cools, line a 9 x 9 pan with buttered parchment paper.  Leave long edges so you can lift the cooled fudge out of the pan.

When the fudge is lukewarm, add:

1 ½ t. vanilla

Beat with a wooden spoon until the candy begins to thicken and lose its gloss.  Stir in:

½ cup of chopped black walnuts.

Pour into the prepared pan, smoothing to the edges with the wooden spoon if it needs nudging.  Mark into pieces with a sharp knife while still warm.  When the fudge is cool, using the parchment paper, lift the block out onto a cutting board and slice through the marks with a thin, sharp knife.

 

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