Christmas

stockings

I remember when I was little and Christmas Day was always at home.  Home being the house I grew up in.  And it was always the same.  Every year.  I loved it.

Bright and early Christmas morning the three of us would creep around the corner of the stairs to see if our parents were awake.  Okay, so creep isn’t really the right word.  Perhaps thunder would be more accurate.  It was stocking time.  Stockings were pretty standard.  Trinkets and socks.  Soap on a Rope.  (It was the seventies after all).

Then there was the year that my mom had a couple too many glasses of wine on Christmas Eve and put panty hose in my brother’s stocking and Old Spice deodorant in my sister’s stocking.  She can not hold her liquor.

Once stockings had been unceremoniously emptied, my mom would start breakfast.  Being British we would have eggs, sausages, grilled tomatoes, toast and tea.  If my dad was lucky my mom would have made kippers.  Oh my god they make the house stink.  A kipper is a smoked herring.  Ya, I know.  But they love them.

We almost always ended up leaving the dishes for later as if we didn’t we would be late for church.  It was one of the three days each year that we had to go.  The carols were okay, I guess, but really it was just another obstacle in the way of getting to our presents.  Occasionally a kid would come to church with a new toy that they had already unwrapped.  I was so jealous that they had been allowed to open a gift while we had to wait.

It.  Was. Torture.

When it was finally over and we could go home, my dad would start his time wasting routine.  He would go into his room and get changed, go to the bathroom, find some gift that he had forgotten to wrap, disappear into the basement.  More torture.  Why?  Why did he do that?

When he finally decided it was time, we descended on the pile of gifts under the tree.  A pile of wrapping paper soon emerged in the middle of the living room floor and hugs and thank yous were exchanged.  Done and done.

Time to eat again.

Lunch was always cold sliced ham, cheese, crusty bread and fruit.  Sounds very European doesn’t it?  Really, it was just quick and easy.  Besides we had better things to do.  Toys to play with, clothes to try on and puzzles to do. If I’m honest, this was a time when there was a tiny bit of let down.  All the anticipation and build up and hoping.  Done.  Ahead was a long empty afternoon.

But then there was the annual Christmas walk.  Rain. Sun. Snow.  No matter what, we would put the turkey in the oven then head out the door.  My favorite walk was down 29th Street to the beach, along the beach to 31st Street then back up over the railway tracks to a house that was filled with the scent of food.  As a grown up I now appreciate the fact that I could eat more after that walk.

By now my mom was in full “cooking” mode.  Usually we would have guests for Christmas dinner.  My parents would contact an organization that helped out any sailors/workers who were in port that day and wanted to celebrate the holiday.  It made for some interesting conversations as they didn’t always speak a lot of English. If I thought that English cooking was odd can you imagine what they thought?

Time to eat again.

Bring on the full Christmas meal.  Roast turkey, roast potatoes, stuffing, stuffing balls (meatball size balls of stuffing fried in butter), veggies, gravy and bread sauce.  Bread sauce?  Another British delicacy.  Simmer a whole onion studded with cloves in milk for a couple of hours.  Discard the onion and fold in fresh white bread crumbs.  Yup, savory porridge.

xmas

Christmas Day always, always, ended with all of us in the living room.  A tray of chocolates and nuts (because we needed more food) and my dad pouring us all shots of Grand Marnier, port or brandy.  So what if we were only kids.  This is the one British tradition I enjoyed.

The Best Thing in Life is still remembering these things and passing on the stories to my kids.  They think they are ridiculous but one day they will be our family history.

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Tradition and Baking

womantearinghairout

Baking is supposed to be relaxing right?  What part, exactly, is relaxing?  The precise measurements that if deviated from can spell complete disaster!  The timing which if off by minutes results in smoke, charcoal briquettes and the occasional visit from the North Vancouver Fire Department?  The hot oven that requires me to remove my glasses every time I need to open it?  What is it?

My husband’s family has a specific traditional cookie that needs to be baked every year.  And when I say need to, I mean HAS to. In our house it’s not Christmas until we have baked  the “Christmas Tree Cookies”.  They are actually almond spritz cookies.  Bright green tasty mouthfuls of almondy sweetness. I know it’s a big part of the impending holiday season so this year I have agree to suck it up and bake.  I’m showing my holiday spirit.

Half a pound of butter mixed with a cup of sugar then an egg and some flour thrown in to hold it all together.  Oh yes, and green food colouring.  Lots of green food colouring.  Sprinkled with red sugar and baked for a few minutes.  Sound good right?

If only it was that easy.

For starters it’s never just one batch.  It’s at least two, if not more.  Granted the cookies are only a mouthful, but in some ways that makes it easier to grab, say, a half dozen and snack away.  The huge mound I make each year disappears like St. Nick up the chimney.  So the kitchen becomes a bit of an assembly line of measuring and mixing the squishy dough.

Then  there’s the actual art of “pressing” them
out.  This involves a cookie press, a strong hand and some patience.  About sixteen or seventeen years ago I was given my first cookie press by my mother in law.  It took a little while to figure the contraption out but I eventually got the hang of it.  The cookie dough that has been chilling in the freezer needs to be warmed up a bit and then stuffed into the tube of the press.  Then the Christmas tree cutout is screwed onto the end of the tube.  Now that your hands are nice and slippery from all the butter in the dough, you need to squeeze the trigger until a perfectly shaped Christmas tree appears in your cookie sheet.

Sometimes it does…….and sometimes it doesn’t.  Sometimes your “tree” looks a bit like, oh I don’t know, let’s say a pigs snout.  Or a green cow patty.  Anything but a tree.  So then you scrape that cookie up and dump it back into the bowl and try again.

Relaxed yet?

Over the years that first press has been used a lot and last Christmas I pretty much gave up on it.  After about half a cookie sheet done my hand started to cramp up and the profanity coming out of my mouth was not very jolly.  My husband had to finish up and I swore I would never make Christmas tree cookies again.

Some months have passed now and for some reason I have agreed to revisit the cookie press.  A quick trip to Bed Bath and Beyond and voila I have a shiny new cookie press that promises easy use and perfect cookies.  We will see.

Things start out well.  The dough comes together easily and the new press gets filled with green buttery goodness.  Then human error comes into play.  As I squeeze the trigger and await the outcome the dough oozes out the side of the metal tree cutout.  Damn.Xmas tree Cookies

I try again.  Same outcome.  As I’m taking it apart for the third time my lovely husband hands me a glass of wine and asks if he can help.  I hand him the two pieces  and explain the outcome.  He asks me if I’ve been putting the disk in the right way.  Double Damn!

Not sure if was the wine or the fact that I had finally put the press together correctly but the next 200 cookies came out without incident.  (Pretty much).

The Best Thing in Life is keeping a tradition alive………no matter what.