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On Popcorn Balls and Daily Grace

I made popcorn balls today, somewhat out of the blue. My mother used to make them when I was young – some we hung on the tree, some we set outside for birds, squirrels and chipmunks, and some we ate. I loved them so much that I often stole little bites from the ones hanging on the Christmas tree. Even stale they were quite lovely.

I say this to be clear that in all my rambling about the Ground of Being and the folly of thought and so forth I am hardly above the creaturely comforts of life in the world. It is important to be honest about this: with ourselves and with those with whom we share the spiritual path, be it A Course in Miracles or some other iteration of the return to/remembrance of God. Awakening is not a denial of anything. It is more in the nature of an enfoldment. Nothing is excluded.

Cooking makes me happy – and cooking for people I love makes me happier yet. I get nervous cooking for people I don’t know or only know at arm’s length. But my mother was happy and creative in the kitchen and I glommed onto that quite early. I loved being her sous chef and just generally being around her while she cooked. She was – and is still – a great cook. I learned a lot in her kitchen. Eating food is such a primal experience and each successive level of grace we bring – attentive preparation, communal sharing etc. – can only be described as spiritual, even if we are not always precisely aware of it as such.

Anyway, the semester for me has finally ended and it was as it always is busy and intense, with a few extra moments of drama this time around. And, of course, Christmas draws near – with its flurry of commercialism, visiting family and so forth. Two days ago we were at the kids’ piano recital. Yesterday we visited a local gingerbread exhibit and went out to lunch with my parents. Today we are facing a crazy rain storm which likely means a flooded basement which likely means no sleep and a lot of bucketing. Life in the world! It can crowd and overwhelm us if we are not gently and consistently giving attention to what lies beyond it. We have no problems, but remembering that can be a challenge.

So what do we do? Well, we can reach for the small graces that remind us we are not alone and allow us to extend love to those around us. So I turn for example to popcorn balls: the familiar joy of creation, consuming, sharing, celebrating. God is never not with us, regardless of how unwilling or unable we are to remember and embrace that fact. There are no small steps to Heaven!

I don’t often cook via recipes so I can offer only a rough approximation of how I make popcorn balls. First I pop a batch of popcorn – aiming for roughly twelve cups, which seems to be the default for half a cup of unpopped kernals. I let it cool then warm it – toast it, really – in a 350 degree oven for a few minutes

While it’s toasting, I mix half a cup of corn syrup with half a cup of sugar (the latter measured by hand, the former by actual cup measure) with a few dashes of salt and then a generous scoop of peanut butter. Over medium heat I stir this into a smooth and bubbly sort of batter. Then I take it off the burner and add approximately a half teaspoon of baking soda and a generous splash of vanilla. Baking soda is so amazing to watch. I have a simple chocolate cake recipe where it combines with vinegar right at the end in the chocolate batter and the pale bubbly swirls are like watching Van Gogh paint right in front of you. Simple pleasures.

When the sugar/peanut butter mix is ready I pull the popcorn from the oven and put into a large bowl and slowly drizzle the mix over it, stopping often to mix with a wooden spoon. You have to work somewhat quickly at this point because the mixture thickens once it’s removed from the heat. There’s a point where it stops working and you’re stuck with caramel (which I know is not exactly the worst place to be stuck).

Once the popcorn is all covered I wet my hands and form about a dozen or so balls which I then cool in the fridge. If you are feeling artistic, you can add a few handfuls of dried or chopped cranberries (or crushed candy cane or shaved chocolate) into the mix. It makes them a bit more festive in appearance and somewhat more complex on the palate. But I didn’t do that this time. These are not going to be tree ornaments: these are for nibbling throughout the day, probably with hot chocolate and some winter coffee (coffee with cinnamon and nutmeg and peppermint added).

And the day will pass as days do, and what is will remain what is, and my love for it will deepen and solidify, even if I am not aware of it, and that’s okay because the self I think I am can’t do anything anyway and so more and more I – with you – will gather on the metaphorical lawns of Heaven to be reminded – again – that we never left and so remain – hand in hand in hand – maybe eating popcorn balls – joyfully one in the radiant light of which we are all forever composed.

{ 10 comments… add one }
  • Cheryl December 21, 2013, 3:05 pm

    Ah, Sean, now this is the gift of self that completes the rest. We’re in this world, after all, even as we work so hard at not being “of” it, so the sharing of traditions — popcorn-ball making, cookie baking, tree trimming, and even leaf raking (as I just did with Alaina) — it’s all part of extending love, I think.

    It feels good, it feels right, it’s a gentle reminder that, as spirits in these body clothes, we’re all in this together. So thank you for the recipe and the delightful peek inside your life, and….

    Merry Christmas to you and that wonderful family of yours.

    • Sean Reagan December 21, 2013, 5:13 pm

      Merry Christmas to you and yours too!

      Yes, it is so tempting to just slip into analysis of the course. There is a place for that, of course, and I like doing it but sometimes it’s good to just keep it simple.

      And, of course, when the going gets tough, the tough cook (or bake).


  • Susan December 21, 2013, 4:34 pm

    What lovely words you share Sean, and sometimes, as with this one, they do not fail to bring a tear (or a few) to my eyes. Thank you so much for your thoughts, they help bring perspective to this journey. I look forward to enjoying a popcorn ball with you when the day comes. A very Merry Christmas to you and your family.

    Cheers! ~ Susan

    • Sean Reagan December 21, 2013, 5:15 pm

      Thanks, Susan. Yeah, popcorn balls are pretty awesome. Funny how the little things can be such blessings!

      Merry Christmas to you as well!

  • the happy forgiver December 22, 2013, 11:24 am

    Cooking is an act of creation. We often cook out of service and generosity. Yes, it’s worldly but while we believe we are in this world, we might as well be giving and sharing!

    • Sean Reagan December 22, 2013, 3:49 pm

      Indeed! Thank you for sharing . . .

      ~ Sean

  • Michael (Dublin) December 23, 2013, 5:06 am

    Many thanks for your postings this year – much enjoyed and appreciated.
    Happy Christmas Sean!!

  • Eric December 23, 2013, 7:22 am

    Ah yes Sean,

    I love this time of year and Christmas. Not for the presents and consumerism, but the simple things. The popcorn balls. The fresh smell of pine from the tree. The carolers volunteering their time to bring joy to strangers. The Christmas songs. How I love Christmas songs. Not the new pop songs of today, but the classics. Silent Night, The Little Drummer Boy, Noel, etc. A good version of one of these songs can stir up my emotions big time. There is something about some of these songs that just brings me closer to God/Love.

    I might have to try this recipe for popcorn balls as I do my Christmas tradition of watching “A Christmas Story” all throughout the day.

    FRA-GI-LE, must be Italian ~ A Christmas Story


    • Sean Reagan December 23, 2013, 2:45 pm

      Yeah, the music of Christmas . . . I’ve been listening to Johnny Mathis of all things this season – reminds me of my mother. I cannot help but associate him with Christmas.

      [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_S5mMg15228&w=560&h=315%5D

      My daughter has really taken to the piano in the past year and it has been so beautiful to listen to her play Christmas songs. She learned “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” for a recital this year.

      Second to Sophia’s version, I like this version:

      [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tb1Se3o1NDM&w=420&h=315%5D

      With respect to popcorn balls – go for it! We are eating a batch a day over here!

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