Saturday, December 24, 2011

In praise of stuff: Chocolate- stuffed Chocolate Snowballs

If I was suddenly given $200 and relieved of any and all obligations to spend that money in a practical fashion, I'd sink that money into leasing a horse or to buy more riding lessons.  More practically, I'd buy some new shoes (although knowing me, I'd mysteriously find a way to buy riding boots, rather than professional shoes).

But even though I liked Sex in the City when it was popular, my immediate instinct upon seeing Carrie Bradshaw's stable full of Manolos was not 'how cute,' but 'thank goodness I don't need to wear such overpriced and expensive shoes.'

So you might be expecting a rant about stuff this Christmas Eve. I admit that I am the type of person who shops at T.J. Maxx rather than Saks and doesn't see the point of buying name-brand items full price. But I will also say that having certain types of stuff has made me a better, more open-minded person, a person more willing to take risks. 

Like having a reliable car, finally, for an entire year,  encouraged me to take more road trips and explore different areas of my state.  Having a home rather than a tiny flat with neighbors who routinely set off the smoke alarm cooking sausages at 11am like I did in my 20s has made me significantly more productive as a writer because of the privacy this engenders.

 Being able to pay for lessons to learn to do stuff, entertainment about stuff, and the clothes to wear while doing stuff is all important. I don't agree with the great George Carlin that the purpose of life is finding a place for stuff, but I do think that deciding what is the RIGHT stuff to buy, rather than doing away with buying stuff at all--taking a kind of quasi-Buddhist Middle Path approach to stuff--is the wisest one.

I wouldn't say that more money is the only key to happiness. After a certain point and a certain salary level, the marginal utility one derives from every extra dollar probably does decline (I can't speak from personal experience about that experience, though).

But it is important to acknowledge, without platitudes, that those of us who have some stuff are lucky and not to over-romanticize a lack of stuff.  Because a life without any stuff but the basic necessities at all--without the opportunity to seek out new things, to stretch out of your comfort zone--is very bleak indeed.

So don't be judgmental of your friends who get their kids stuff for Christmas--you never know what kind of creative and new interest just the right present might spark in a child's mind. The best gift I ever got was the Sindy Dream House. My parents didn't really like me to play with Barbies:

Despite the fact that Sindy didn't have the anatomically incorrect proportions of Barbie, Sindy didn't save me from body issues--running shoes did, when I started exercising in my mid-20s. Still, she and My Friend Jenny inspired me to write stories at a very young age, even though I find dolls way creepy now. (Although not, oddly enough, stuffed animals, when I buy chew toys for my dog).

Possibly the most 70s photograph of two dolls, ever

In honor of a holiday about stuff,  I made a chocolate-stuffed cookie,inspired by the Hershey's website.  I have to admit that I'm not much of a fan of most Hershey's chocolates, but again, much to my surprise, the website actually has quite a few really good 'from scratch' recipes.  When I made it for my yoga studio, the tasters gave it a 'best ever' rating.  And it's almost embarrassingly easy.  No, there is no eggs in the recipe--that's not a typo. I halved the yield but kept the level of chocolate the same in my version.

Chocolate-stuffed Chocolate Snowballs

Adapted from the Magical Kisses Recipe by Hershey's

--Makes 24 cookies--


1 stick of melted butter
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup unsweetened dark cocoa
24 (more or less) unwrapped Hershey's dark chocolate kisses
Powdered sugar


1. Preheat oven to 350F.  Unwrap Hershey's kisses.  Line two sheets with parchment paper.
2. Mix the butter, sugar, vanilla, flour, and cocoa together in a bowl.  A dough will quickly form.  Scoop out 24 lumps of dough (approximate) and make a depression in each ball, inserting the 'kiss' into the center.  Shape so kiss is completely covered in dough.
3. Bake for 8-10 minutes.  Cookies will not spread very much.  Cool and roll in powdered sugar.

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