What began as a neighborhood rumor (begun a year ago when my husband and I attended the annual small gathering of neighbors and the smaller contingent counting down the new year before running into the O'Shaughnessy Reservoir,) came back to haunt us. I had just been proposed to. Mr. Poppycakes had just done some proposing. Both of these were lifetime-firsts for us. We were shocked, overwhelmed, maybe even giddy. We were in love with this crazy little country home and the horseshoe of neighborhood of independent but bonded and community-driven neighbors. We felt fortunate, brave, foolish--everything a marriage requires--and one of us (let's blame The Mister, shall we?) must have said, "Next year we join you!" Neither of us remembers any such declaration. New Year's is after all, in December falling into January. January in Ohio is rarely well-behaved and this year it has been particularly impolite.
Still, when the rumor came to us that we were said to be participating in the actual plunge, and when I heard that in the twenty-four years of this event, one very inebriated woman had actually ever gone in, it was set, I was doing it. My friend and neighbor, Ms. Brightcakes joined us as we headed over in clothing meant to be discarded quickly and underclothing meant to be soaked with water so cold that ice had to be broken-out to allow our entry. At the final minute before midnight, we began taking off layers enough to be ready for the final countdown. Four-Three-Two-Runningintothefreezingwater-ONE-RUNNINGOUTTOTHETOWELS&DRYCLOTHES The mud was slimy and so cold, the stars were so clear and clean they seemed to have been made that night. We were exhilerated. Back home, I made us a quick St. Germain cocktail with the incredible elderflower liqueur mixed with champagne and in our dry, warm clothes we toasted. We gathered-up the rum balls I made for the party after the plunge and headed over to he home of the neighbor who so many years ago had started the tradition and whose home is one of the only remaining original lake cottages (and my favorite house in this neighborhood or most).
That we had done this little thing was significant in ways that only those dealing with chronic and terrifying health scares can fully understand. Suffice it to say that Mr. Poppycakes and I know more about the "in sickness and health" part of our vows than any newlyweds ever should. Each week brings a challenge and fear. On the edge of that dark, icy reservoir, the oldest-child-neurotic that I am had tried to tell Mr. Poppycakes to hang back, and as I began to suggest that it might be best, I saw a resolve in him and let it drop. To make someone who feels compromised feel like an invalid seems cruel and unwise. Into the water we went. What we pulled from it was something small but necessary: the will to go back outdoors, draw back some of the darkness we'd been basking-in and do something light--as in day, as in the opposite of heavy, but lively somehow, every day. The next night we walked out into a brutal chill and back to the reservoir where we watched its black waves whipping about like an angered ocean. The next was a visit for the last of the zoo's Wildlights display and a snowy walk through all of the trails by our home where we identified slopes for sledding. Having none, (sleds, that is) we drove to the drugstore where cheap plastic runners and discs were on sale. He chose a bright blue plastic sled and I chose a bright orange disc and today, we took them out. The snow had melted some and our attempts were mostly a gesture. But we didn't mind. If the snow wasn't all there yet, it would be. All the effort just to stall out after just a few feet of careening was worth it. The gliding feeling even for a moment, a shot of needed, longed-for light.
Here's the recipe cribbed and then re-tooled from perpetuallychic.com follows. I made two versions, both swapped out the bourbon for rum. One used a combination of vanilla wafers and the most snappy of gingerbread snaps that I could find. That cookie version was made without pecans.
Gingerbread Bourbon Balls
3 cups pecans, toasted then chopped fine
3 cups Cascadian Farm Ancient Grains Granola, chopped fine
1 cup of dried Turkish apricots, chopped fine
1/3 cup of Bullet bourbon
1/2 cup powered sugar, plus extra for dusting
5 tablespoons of full-flavor molasses
3 tablespoons of dark brown sugar
3 teaspoons ground ginger
1 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon each of ground nutmeg, allspice and cloves
Prepare a large baking sheet (or two) with parchment paper. In a small pan, toast the pecans until lightly browned. Chop the first three ingredients, separately, using a small food processor. In a medium-sized bowl, combine all dry ingredients. Then add the bourbon and molasses and using your hands, combine well. Using a tablespoon, scoop out heaping spoonfuls, placing the mixture in the palms of your hands and patting and rolling into balls. Place each ball on the parchment-lined baking sheet. If your hands start to get sticky, sprinkle them with water in between rounds. The recipe should make about 3-4 dozen balls. Finally, dust each ball with powdered sugar using a handheld fine-mesh sifter/strainer. No baking or refrigerating required.