Sunday, December 11, 2011

It's Beginning to Feel a Lot Like Christmas

We humans are such contrary creatures.  This year, for the first time since 2008, I will not be alone at Christmas.  The Beau and I fly to Las Vegas the morning of December 25 to spend Christmas and New Year's Eve there.  Instead of focusing on that, all I can think about is all the wonderful things I could have made us for Christmas dinner here.  I wonder what celebrating Christmas with his family, who seem so very nice and normal, would be like.  

Like thousands of Canadians, I grew up in a dysfunctional family and Christmas seemed to bring many tensions and conflicts to the forefront.  We had some not very merry Christmases over the years, but I have learned that this is not uncommon.   I have been very blessed in that I have never spent Christmas homeless, cold, hungry or in the grips of an addiction that made being with friends and family impossible.  

My mom yearned for the kind of Christmas you saw in the movies, with the beautiful feast and love and tenderness between all the celebrants.   By Christmas of 2000 Mom had been fighting bone cancer for four years.  She had been admitted to palliative care that November, but we had been told she would be allowed to leave from 3:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. on Christmas Day to come home and spend it with her loved ones.  I had big plans for making a meal and a day Mom would never forget, and I wanted the day to be just what she wanted.  

I can get all tense when I am doing a big meal, and sometimes not so much fun to be around; I start yelling and getting upset.   I am the type of cook that needs people to stay out of my way, not break my rhythm, or try to help me.  In my head I have my schedule, my plans for when I am doing what, and I just need to be left alone to do that.  It took me almost 30 years to figure this out and now for these big meals I just ask people to let me carry on and we will all be happy...and we are!   And this Christmas was the first time I just told everyone to stay out of my way and things would be fine.  And they were!  I had such a good flow in that kitchen, and everything came together as I had hoped and prayed it would.  

I had decorated the house and it looked fabulous.  I had a beautiful artificial tree, 5 feet tall that fit nicely in the corner, the windows had Christmas lights and there were decorations everywhere.  It was very festive and I made sure I had used the multi-coloured lights my mom loved so much.  I had planned a huge meal:  turkey, ham, cabbage rolls, perogies, stuffing, turkey gravy, mushroom gravy, two jellied salads, carrots and turnips, mashed potatoes, corn, broccoli, raw veggies with dip, buns, cranberry sauce, a tossed salad.  We had invited some friends to join us, so there would be 10 of us for supper.  And I had decided for dessert I was going to make a trifle, something my mom always wanted to have at Christmas, but that we usually voted against, preferring pumpkin pie or the fabulous carrot pudding she made for Christmas.   She thought trifle was the most perfect Christmas dessert and so I was determined to make it for her.  

I think that Christmas was a gift to us from above because the angels knew Mom wasn't going to be around much longer.   There was no tension, no harsh words, no hard feelings.  We exchanged gifts and each of us got what turned out to be our last Christmas presents from Mom.  At the time my nieces would have been about 5 and 3.  Mom was able to hold them and cuddle them and have fun with her grandchildren and we were all careful not to tire her out.  We had a wonderful meal  and the trifle was a huge hit with everyone.  Mom  was in tears seeing it and told me over and over again how much she loved it and me for making it for her.  It was a radiant, shining day, and all too soon my  brother very tenderly put her in his vehicle and drove her back to palliative care.  Before she left she told me it was the best Christmas she ever had, and I think she truly meant it.  It certainly is one that stands out for me.  We never had another Christmas with Mom, she passed away the Victoria Day weekend in 2001.  

I am hoping Christmas in Vegas is not tacky, but I have a feeling it will verge on it.  This will be our first Christmas together - last year he was with his children and parents and I was on my own.  But this year we will do Vegas and next year I will head to Saskatchewan and we will have a family Christmas.  I think I am anticipating that more than anything.

And now one final thing....the trifle I made for Christmas?   I had found a recipe that had raspberries, crumbled coconut macaroons, a wonderful anglais creme and some other wonderful things as ingredients.  And it was so good.  And I have never been able to find the recipe again.  Every year I go through my binders, my cook books, the printouts I have been given and kept, the little newspaper books that get published with local recipes looking for it, and I NEVER find it.  In a way it's fitting; that trifle was made for my Mom and once it was shared with her, it disappeared so it can never be duplicated.  Kind of a magic Christmas thing, I think.

One of the things I like to make most is homemade cranberry sauce.  It's very simple and I can never figure out how anyone can say they love the canned stuff when the homemade sauce is so much better.  Here's some cranberry sauce recipes in case you feel like making your own this year:

Easy Fresh Cranberry Sauce

1 12 ounce package fresh or frozen cranberries
1 cup sugar
1 cup water

Wash the cranberries.  Add the wash berried, sugar and water to a small saucepan. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to a simmer.  Add this point you can add in "bling" to change it up a little.  Simmer for 20 to 30 minutes; berries will burst.  Sauce is done with it's a deep red and thickened.

Bring on the bling!!!  Here are some variations:
Chunky Apple-Pear Sauce: add a grated or finely chopped apple, pear, or half of each to the berries as they simmer.
Cranberry-Rhubarb Sauce: use half cranberries, half fresh or frozen chopped rhubarb. Simmer until thick.
Citrus-Port Cranberry Sauce: simmer 1 bag (4 cups) fresh or frozen cranberries with 1/2 cup ruby Port, 1/2 cup orange juice, 1/2 cup brown sugar and a cinnamon stick until the berries pop.
Roasted Coronation Grape Sauce: spread out a bunch of dark purple coronation grapes on a rimmed foil-lined baking sheet, drizzle with oil and roast at 450F until they burst and start to turn golden (about 20 minutes); stir into your simmering cranberry sauce.
Ginger & Honey Cranberry Sauce: simmer a bag of berries (3-4 cups) with 3/4 cup honey, 1 cup water or juice, 2 tsp. grated fresh ginger and a cinnamon stick.
Chipotle Cranberry Sauce: add a half a finely chopped chipotle en adobo sauce as your sauce simmers.
Apricot-Grand Marnier Sauce: use 1 cup orange juice as your liquid, and add 1/2-1 cup chopped dried apricots and 1/4 cup Grand Marnier.
Spiced Cranberry Sauce with Raisins: add a handful of raisins, a cinnamon stick or two, and a pinch of powdered ginger, allspice and freshly ground black pepper.
Rosemary Balsamic Cranberry Sauce: add 1 tsp.-1 Tbsp. chopped fresh rosemary as your sauce simmers, and 1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar at the end.
Citrus Spice Cranberry Sauce: add the grated zest of an orange, then peel it and roughly chop the orange itself; add it too, along with a cinnamon stick. A spoonful of marmalade works, too.
Warm Spice Cranberry Sauce:  grated ginger, or allspice, nutmeg and cloves - do this to your taste of course.
Exotic India:  Grated fresh ginger and a spoonful of curry paste

Ina Garten's (Barefoot Contessa) Cranberry Conserve
1 12 ounce bag fresh or frozen cranberries
1 to 1 1/2 cups sugar (white or brown)
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, corred and diced
Zest and juice of one orange and one lemon 
1/2 to 1 cup of raisins or chopped dried apricots
1/2 to 1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

Cook cranberries, sugar and 1 cup of water in saucepan over low heat for about 5 minutes or until the skins pop open.  Add the apple, zests and juices and cook 15 minutes more until the berries burst and the mixture thickens .  Remove from heat and add dried fruit and nuts.  Let cool, best served chilled.   Deb's note:  toast your nuts before adding to the sauce.

Cranberry Sauce with Grapefruit and Rosemary 
1 12 oz. bag of fresh cranberries
3/4 – 1 cup sugar
2 grapefruits (preferably ruby red)
1 lime
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary leaves, diced, plus more for garnish
1/4 teaspoon salt
Rinse and pick through the cranberries, removing any soft ones, and set aside. Remove the zest and supreme the flesh from one of the grapefruits. Juice the other until you have 1/2 cup grapefruit juice. Zest the lime.
In a large, non-reactive sauce pan, combine the sugar, grapefruit zest and juice, and the lime zest. Heat over high heat and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Then add the cranberries, grapefruit flesh, rosemary and salt. Simmer over medium heat for about 5 minutes, or until most of the cranberries have split down the middle. Transfer to a non-reactive dish, bring to room temperature and serve. Or, wrap tightly and keep in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
Serve with a twist of grapefruit and a few sprigs of rosemary.*
* If you like a tangy, slightly more tart cranberry sauce, use the smaller amount of sugar

Cranberry Ginger Sauce
1 12 oz bag of fresh or frozen cranberries
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar 
In small sauce pan, bring cranberries, ginger, sugar and 2 tbsp of water to a boil.   Reduce heat to medium low and let cook until cranberries have popped, about 15 minutes.  Add the vinegar and let cool to room temperature.  

Cranberry sauce with maple and orange zest

1 12 ounce (340g) bag, or 3 cups of cranberries
juice and zest of 1 orange
1/2 C (100g) sugar
1/4 C (110g) real maple syrup

Put all ingredients in a medium saucepan.  Bring just to a boil, lower heat and cook on a very low simmer for 15 minutes. Cranberries should pop.  Transfer to a bowl to cool completely, then refrigerate.

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