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Christmas Is:One Part of a Busy Life

Champagne TowerMy fiance was not prepared for this. After putting a two-and-a-half carat ring on my finger and whisking me away on a romantic vacation, he had the strange idea that I’d just keep staring at the ring, and not dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s of venue and vendor contracts.

It’s just my nature.

We’ve both been drinking more.  In fact, I’m currently out of red wine and praying that when he rolls in from the gym that he has a ginormous brown bag under his arm disguising a big, juicy bottle or two from California. Preferably a gulpable blend of cab, shiraz, and maybe a splash of merlot. I’m not fussy, but I am a lush.

My eyes are strained from computer use. Pinterest and custom stationary sites have me stuck to my laptop.  My sweetie is looking for his cheque book to avoid ridiculous credit card fees. My son’s girlfriend who is a touch more au courant than this old gal has been indispensable when it comes to sourcing make-up artists, photographers and dresses. She’s humouring me, and winning a crazy amount of mom-points.

I’m not sure she was counting on an almost-in-law who had a penchant for sequins, pearls and ostrich feathers though.  I’m sure she cringes at the dresses I send to her, hoping she might wiggle into one and hop on the bandwagon of glitter and shimmy.

On top of wanting to have all the big items booked for the big day, I have two major holidays coming up before Christmas, and a major surgery to get through. All of this in less than two months.

He’ll be on wine duty, so long as I take care of all of the other details. And that makes the relationship work.

I spent the entire day fussing over wedding details while baking Christmas treats to take to our Christmas at the Cottage family getaway.  And then my sweetie texted requesting our Christmas in New York Extravaganza itinerary.

I’m a planner by nature. As a funeral director, I’m basically an event planner on a turbo-charged schedule who can pass top level anatomical dissection, pathology, microbiology, and chemistry while wearing two-inch heals, an ugly uniform and an empathetic smile.

rolfs

As the full time vacation planner in the relationship, I have our itineraries researched and down to the nearest metro stop, secluded cenote, and best time not to be in a line-up for too long. I lassoed reservations in September for hard to get into NYC restaurants during the Christmas season, tickets to the Fort Worth Rodeo between football games, and a first day in France schedule that brought my sweetie up from our first metro stop to the best view in the city.  I plan shit. That’s what I do.

Weddings on the other hand aren’t something I’m too familiar with.  I’ve never been a wedding person. I’ve alway been a party-girl though, so I’m taking that approach.  And fabulous parties take planning.

From the language on the invitation to the details of decor, every element of a great party has to be dazzling. It has to be dedicated to a theme, delicious, boozy, artistically lit, most of all, welcoming for everyone. If all else fails, we’re starting with champagne reception and having an open bar…how bad can it be?

In the mean time, there are gifts to wrap, passports to find, bags to pack, unpack, and pack again, treats to bake, and weight to lose. Seriously.

If, like me, you have a lot on your plate this year during the holidays, I wish you some quiet moments to appreciate everything that’s good in your life.

 

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Christmas is: Opening the Recipe Box

Christmas cookies coffee decorations vintageGloria Wilson’s Hamburger Casserole, Barb & Dwight’s Slitherdown, Great-Great-Granny’s Chili Sauce, Janny Pinksen’s Christmas Fruitcake….

This is how the majority of my recipes in my recipe box are organized. Yes, I still have a recipe box. No, I don’t still have a rotary phone.

When I grew up every respected mom in the village where I grew up, had a recipe box that was well-loved and packed full of their family recipes. Quite often those recipes were closely guarded, not given out, and used as a bartering tool for status at community pot-lucks.  Let’s face it, in a town of 500, you had to use whatever you could for leverage. Often it was a pickle recipe, or some sort of exotic flavoured square. Pineapple for instance was a rarity, and often a favourite. Flaked coconut was an extravagance.

It’s these very recipes that I try to recreate today. It’s my heritage, and I celebrate it. If you have an old recipe box packed with recipes handed down to you by loving friends and relatives, you know what I mean. If you don’t, this is your chance to get in on some  5th & 6th generation Canadian Christmas baking.

Some of our family favourites include;

Butterscotch Marshmallow Squares

Whipped Shortbread with Toblerone

Great-Granny’s Coconut Cherry Balls

recipe box

It’s that time of year when a fun tray of cookies and squares can spark a happy memory for many of us.  Despite a number of years where grief was heavy in my heart during the holidays, being able to recreate recipes from my childhood kept a little spark of Christmas magic alive while I healed.

Now that I have my own home and family, I take my job as Mrs. Claus very seriously, and I hope that every time my kiddo walks through the door from now until the end of December, he still feels some of the magic of the season, even if it comes in small bites from his favourite shortbread.

I can only hope that you feel a little bit of joy serving up some of the recipes that I’m going to share with you this Christmas season.

 

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Christmas is: Sharing

I have a few closely guarded secret recipes that are standards at our house. The, “It wouldn’t be Christmas without these mom”, kind-of-recipes.

Cookies are my thing, and I make a lot of them at Christmas time. I love the way that fancy sugar cookies look added to a tray of down-home-country-girl sweets. The little maraschino cherry balls that my granny used to make melt in our mouths, but by far our favourite cookie recipe is this;

WHIPPED SHORTBREAD WITH TOBLERONE

1 lb butter at room temperature

1 cup icing sugar

1/2 cup corn starch

3 cups flour

1 tsp vanilla

Large Toblerone bar.

Cream butter on high until light and fluffy. If using a stand mixer, use the whipping attachment for this. 

While butter is being whipped, divide Toblerone into triangles and then divide those triangles into thirds. 

Combine all other ingredients and slowly add to whipped butter, using regular attachment. Be patient when mixing as this dough gets quite crumbly before coming together into a smooth dough. 

Place 1″ spoonfuls onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Press a piece of divided Toblerone into each mound of cookie dough, and top with same amount of dough. Feel free to be generous with the chocolate…just sayin’

Bake at 350 for 12-15 minutes. Do no overcook. Let cookies cool on tray before moving them to a cooling rack as they are very delicate and crumble before they cool. 

 

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Christmas Is: Sweet

I bake too much at Christmas, and then I eat too much sugar, and then I look as jolly as I feel. By the time Valentine’s Day rolls around feeling sexy is very tied to how much bubbly I need to drink to feel lithe underneath my post-Christmas layer of fluff.

But I digress. It’s the holidays, and what better way to kick it off than to dig into the retro recipes that we all remember our favourite aunt decking her sweet trays with?

At my house, the tackiest of tacky goodies were always the butterscotch marshmallow squares. Heaven forbid you pack these little gems in a container with anything else, or everything in there would smell the same.

I always used to think that if you ate these, you’d eat anything, but as I’ve gotten older, I realize that the sense of taste can be pleasantly nostalgic.

Exactly one month out from the big day, I present to you my family recipe.

BUTTERSCOTCH MARSHMALLOW SQUARES

1/4 cup butter

1 cup butterscotch chips

1 cup peanut butter

1 bag coloured marshmallows

Grease a 9 x13″ baking dish and set aside.

Melt butter, and butterscotch chips in a pan over medium heat. Remove once thoroughly combined and remove from heat. Immediately add peanut butter. Mix until well blended and cooled slightly. Add coloured marshmallows and mix until butterscotch and peanut butter mixture coats the marshmallows.

Scrape mixture into greased baking dish and pat down to fill the pan. I often used a buttered spatul to press the squares down before placing them in the refrigerator to cool. Once cooled, cut into squares and place in an airtight container. DO NOT place with other baked good. These little tacky tidbits freeze well.

If retro recipes are up your jingle-belled alley, try my great-granny’s recipe for Coconut Cherry Balls.

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Christmas is: Grinches Saving Christmas

theatre assSit down and shut up.

Yes. Please. And shove your phone somewhere I can’t see it.

During the holidays, a lot of people make a special effort to connect with loved ones…in public.  Holiday dinners, shows, concerts and events keep us all hopping, and happy. Trust me, you are not more important than anyone else in your row, room or venue.

Lately, I’ve met a lot of people who think that they are extraordinary, and they have no regard for anyone around them. Sit down and shut up.

Recently at a Christmas performance, the line-up to sit down after the lights went up was so long and so noisy, I really had to wonder about the entire process of going to the theatre at all. People do not know how to interact any more. Civilization is on the brink of disaster because everyone is the centre of their own universe.

The whole world has turned inward. No one has any idea of the shrapnel that their ill behaviour shoots into innocent bystanders. This is not what the season is about. The season is about connection and joy. There’s nothing that destroys a sense of connection and joy like someone oblivious to the fact that they share space with other people.

Look around you Ellen. We’re at the threshold of hell!

Christmas Vacation

I immediately fall in love with the first person to lose their mind. That is, if you lean in and ask the idiot to please be quiet, turn their phone off, or simply please sit on your ass instead of leaning over your friend to have a conversation, you are immediately my hero. We share a common good-manners-grinchness that makes me feel cozy and warm on the inside just like a warm cup of cocoa spiked with peppermint vodka.

Remember the good old days when people had enough self control that they didn’t have to slurp a beverage, or light up the room videotaping an entire performance so that every single person behind them suffered through their arrogance? I remember, and I miss it.

I understand why people snap. And I admire a thorough snapping. It makes my jingle-bits tingle.

Living in the GTA, the excuse is always; traffic was terrible! Or, my personal favourite – the subway was delayed. Traffic is always terrible, and there’s always a transit delay. Get over yourself and get there. And when you do, shut your phone off, and shut up.

And what happened then…?
Well… in the6ix they say
That the Grinch’s small heart
Grew three sizes that day! 

How the Grinch Stole Christmas

Go out. Enjoy your friends. By all means, if you’re going out for coffee or dinner, or wandering one of our cute little Christmas markets have a visit, giggle, laugh, take selfies. If you’re at an event where you’ve paid for a seat, and they ask you to turn off your phone, please, sit down,shut up and for the love of all that sparkles this time of year, try to be in the moment.

Should that not be the case, my wish is for everyone to be a little Grinchy and take away the offender’s joy for the sake of the greater good. Ask loudly for silence ( ironic, I know), throw a phone through the end of the aisle curtain, ask an usher to remove someone. Public humiliation is a great deterrent.

Get Grinchy my friends, and take back the season.

 

 

 

 

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Christmas is: For Boundaries

stressfreechristmas

Last year,  a decree went out that there would be only one gathering around a traditional Christmas table.  She who does all the planning, shopping and personalizing,  shall be making one Christmas meal whenever the hell she liked, and you could show up (on time) or not at all.  And it brought her great relief and joy.  A very durable boundary wall went up to protect her, and the world was good.

Last year, after seven, yes, count’em, seven rescheduling attempts at a  family get together, it finally happened, with the people whom I arranged a second dinner for, arriving over two hours late.

My jolly goodwill and ho-ho-home form the holidays ended. I leaned on my wee bottle of Jameson to get me through the evening, and then I did some reflecting.

I decided, after much hurt, anger and frustration, that the only thing to do was surrender. I surrendered to the values I hold dear.  This was met with love and support from people who love me.  Everyone else continues to have that glazed, “I don’t compute”, look on their face.

You can’t change people. Although it’s a saying we frequently use, really accepting that means you hold fast to your boundaries like a life raft, especially around toxic people.

I came from a kooky family but we did Christmas right. We put aside our differences, and showed up, on time, respecting the effort we had all made to have a special day together.   Homemade gifts showcased every person’s creativity, and the food, my goodness, the food!

Since those days when we gathered on Christmas Eve to see one another, make our way to church, and finish off our meal and gift giving in the wee hours of the morning, so much has changed. I’ve experienced great loss during the holidays more than once. I’ve struggled to put food on the table and gifts under the tree. I’ve had Christmases when the pain of loneliness was almost unbearable. In other words, I’ve worked damn hard for my happy, and I’m not letting anyone take it from me.

I want no part of disrespectful, entitled people under any circumstances, but especially during one of the most joyful, loving, happy times of the year.

I have stopped being the only one who engineers parties, family gatherings and sacred times to connect. Planning, shopping, cooking, and decorating take a lot of time. I love doing it when I know it means something to my family and friends, and I resent doing it when someone shits all over the plans. I stopped buying gifts I didn’t want to buy and came back to my homemade roots. I stopped hosting parties for people who may or may not show up. And you know what? The world didn’t come to an end. In fact, it feels damn good. Boozy-eggnog-in-my-cocoa-good.

My exhaustion levels have gone WAY down, and my Hallmark Christmas movie watching time has gone up. I have come back to the sweet meditation of making; sewing, baking, stitching. And the people I thought it was so important to connect with have faded into distant social media clicks. Live and learn.

Boundaries are the best gift you can give yourself for Christmas. They give you the time and space you need to heal, and root yourself in traditions, new and old, that bring you joy.

 

 

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Christmas is: Connection

Christmas VacationSugar Cookies, homemade quilts and everyone snuggled in by the fireplace, including a sleepy cat or two.

(skip to the bottom for recipe)

This is how Christmas should be. And it is. At my house.

My love of all things Christmas did not come from being raised with a sister who was five years older than me, and willing to carefully  unwrap every single gift under the tree. Before Christmas morning. While our parents were at those 1980’s parties that required big hair and a LOT of booze.  I had to fake surprise long before I should have had to. Gifts skirted the tree often in a wide, three or four foot swath of colourful wrapping paper, and my mother made sure that every gift purchased was “expensive-looking-enough’.  I learned early that gifts weren’t the reason for the season. Gifts caused a lot of grief.

What made me fall in love with Christmas was the food and the company. Oh. My. Goodness. The food. I grew up in a teeny-tiny village. We had a grocery store that stocked tangerines, nuts and pre-bagged bulk candy only during the Christmas season, and it was fucking magical.  The smell of a tangerine still makes me wax nostalgic. My aunts would bring platters of sweets and savouries that we ONLY got during the Christmas season. They also brought my cousins. Growing up in a village of 500, your cousins were your playmates and best friends. Food and cousins. Christmas rocked.

Today, my kiddo is grown, and I miss the Christmas wonderful-wonder that children radiate throughout the holidays. I find myself surrounded by adults who bitch about the burden of Christmas, primarily the financial burden. I get it. I feel the pressure too, or rather, I observe it.

I’ve never really been about the show. It doesn’t turn me on. I do love giving gifts that I know people will use and love, but the best gifts were alway the ones that were handmade. Or the visits with friends and family that alway seemed to get put off until the holidays. Christmas is about connection.

When I sit down at my sewing machine, or spend the day in the kitchen preparing for Christmas, I feel connected to the best parts of my family.

CherryGems-bake2Despite a very painful estranged relationship with my late mother, in the kitchen I remember the good parts. I make the same too-much-sage stuffing recipe with white bread, the same gravy, and tacky ambrosia salad. I try to make things that make my kiddo, and my sweety’s kiddo’s feel special.

I tend to bake the same old-fashioned squares that my Grandmother produced, and think of her when I pull out my sewing machine and blow the dust off that settled in from the Christmas before.

Christmas is all about connection for me. When I give a homemade piece of needlework, a quilt or homemade sweet treats, I’m not only giving you the gift, but I’m giving you my time. You were on my mind when I sewed, baked, iced, stitched or preserved it.

Every minute spent into the wee hours getting things ready for the people I admire and love is time spent in connection with my values. This is what Christmas is about. Connection.

If you are reading this and you are my friend, know that I only crave time with you. Latte at a crowded cafe? Yes please! Yoga pants and cheap plonk in your living room while the kids go wild? Yes please! Dual sewing machines going in my Christmas Craft space in the basement? Absolutely!

Connect. That’s what the season is about.

GREAT GRANNY’S CHRISTMAS COCONUT CHERRY BALLS

1/3 cup margarine

1 1/2  cups icing sugar

1 tsp vanilla

1 1/2 cups coconut

1 tbsp milk

maraschino cherries

graham wafer crumbs

Mix margarine, icing sugar, vanilla coconut and milk together. Chill until mixture is firm enough to roll into 2″ balls. Roll balls in wager crumbs. Make an indent in each ball with your thumb, and top each ball with 1/2 cherry.   Seal in airtight container and refrigerate until ready to serve.