Category Archives: Christmas

Cookie Withdrawal

new years start A New Year. Endless possibilities. A whole world of opportunity and adventure. And the chance to get back to more healthy eating and avoid the never-ending indulgences of baked goods and cocktails. It all sounds simple in theory.

But I’m sitting here wishing there were just a few mincemeat tarts left, or maybe one more lebkuchen. My cup of tea is lonely. I did work out this morning, so I would be deserving of a wee something, wouldn’t I?

It’s hard to start fresh. The pressure of new goals, new resolutions, hopes for improving Christmas cookiesoneself; it’s all a lot to handle. I wonder if it didn’t come on the heels of all that Christmas spirit, would even bother attempting such lofty efforts? Who can blame us if we need a little help in getting over the hump?

The Epiphany is the closing gesture on our  holiday season, by some accounts the twelfth day of Christmas. I like to celebrate in the French tradition, with a Galette des Rois, but I have also enjoyed the New Orleans version with an English name: King Cake. Either way, it’s a nice treat to share, shaking off the after-Christmas blues and giving us that kickstart for the New Year.

Food is sustenance, in many different ways. Perhaps as a gourmand, I need more sustenance than the average soul. The ambience of a good meal shared around the table is as fulfilling as the meal itself.

One of my  kindred spirits, Winnie the Pooh, expressed this philosophy best.

“When you wake up in the morning, Pooh,” said Piglet at last, “what’s the first thing you say to yourself?”

“What’s for breakfast?” said Pooh. “What do you say, Piglet?”

“I say, I wonder what’s going to happen exciting today?” said Piglet.

Pooh nodded thoughtfully. “It’s the same thing,” he said.”

pooh and piglet breakfast

So whether a piece of cake does the trick, or the company of a friend with whom to share that cake, it’s still time well spent (and calories well consumed, if you ask me.)

 

 

‘‘Twas the Night Before Christmas…

In our house, Christmas was a big deal.

Decorating the tree was a major undertaking, usually requiring a few days to get everything tight. (Yes, we were a “one strand of tinsel at a time” kind of family.) Gifts were all thoughtful, and their wrapping was to be done with care. Everything was meant to be savoured.

Christmas Eve was inevitably busy, with last minute gifts to wrap amidst visiting friends. But once dinner was done, we settled in. Final preparations were near.

Every year of my childhood we read Clement C. Moore’s classic, once the cookies were set out for Santa.

Santa had to get a sample of each of the baked goods we’d made that year. I remember my mom explaining he probably wouldn’t have room to try them all, having to see everyone around the world.

I used to be able to recite all the verses… my favourite was

My mom usually read the story, but one year we were lucky enough to have Gramps there – he knew The Man in Red personally, so that was extra cool.

As soon as the story was finished, my brother and I would kiss our parents good night, and then it was off to bed to await the magic. I don’t remember dreams of sugar plums but I did sleep well.

I still get up in the morning to check and see what Santa sampled.

I hope there is magic in your heart too – you do know that Santa checks in anyway, even if you don’t put out cookies, right?

The Staff of Life

Baking bread is such a comforting activity. It’s a thoughtful process, a hands-on activity, a food meant for sharing… and it smells really good in the oven. Today as I took down the Christmas decorations I wanted to produce something, have a positive counterpart to the melancholy of packing up the lights and love of the holidays. Baking bread seemed to be the right kind of heart-and-kitchen-warming activity, integral to a happy day.

I could have just googled a recipe or checked my Yummly list, but I wanted something more tangible. I have no shortage of cookbooks, so I checked the older volumes for a real stand-by. I was rewarded when I opened “Cooking with Mona“, a book my Dad gave me that contained recipes from Woodward’s, a Canadian department store that had wonderful food floors. It had a straight-forward whole wheat bread recipe – just the thing!

daddys-cookbook-dedication

I measured. I mixed, I stirred, I kneaded… and then I waited. I punched, I kneaded again, I rolled and tucked… and waited again. I baked, and smelled… and waited a bit more. (I did peek in the oven window a couple of times.) I knocked, I tipped and I smelled some more. Then I gave myself a high five. Fresh homemade bread for breakfast – I can’t wait! (Once I taste the bread and confirm it’s as good as it smells, I’ll post the recipe link.)bread-rising

bread-bakingbread-freshly-made

 

My Dad might have frowned today if he saw me vacuuming the tinsel off the tree before I took the lights off (my mom saved it and put it back in the boxes to re-use when I was a kid). I think he would have smiled at my bread though. Another happy memory 🙂

 

Short and sweet

I had intended to write about Friday afternoon cocktails today, but that outing was kaiboshed, so I shall hold that idea for another posting. I do have a redeeming thought, brought about by a dinner inspired by our purchases from a recent visit to Granville Island Market in Vancouver (one of my most favourite foodie haunts).

We had a winter picnic tonight, enjoying treats such as raw milk cheeses and fresh exotic fruits. I read an article in SAVEUR magazine recently about a newly appointed cheese from Switzerland called L’Etivaz (appointed in that they have designated a style and protocols for the making of said cheese). I looked for it, and was thrilled to find it at Benton Bros., the cheesemonger. It was deliciously nutty, and went very well with the tomato chili jam I had.  Martin splurged and got a beautiful mango – it cost $12.38 ! He made a delectable salad with jicama, cilantro and an Asian vinaigrette. A bottle of local wine gave us the chance to toast our good fortune, while bringing back memories of my time in France – Quails’ Gate’s Cailleteau, a light red in the style of Beaujolais Nouveau.

cheese-and-wine-picnic

It was a wonderful way to round out the holiday season. After all, today was Epiphany, the 12th night. I made a traditional torte, just as I remembered from France. (It sounds even more grand when you say “Galette des Rois“, I think. “King Cake” is what they call it in New Orleans, where they eat it at Mardi Gras.)

twelfth-night-torte

 

Here’s to celebrating every day of the year in its own way. Life is short, why not make the most of it?

I Know Santa Claus

Santa Claus Happy Gourmand

Okay, have I got your attention? That’s the idea. Santa Claus is an important part of Christmas and he doesn’t just belong to the children, either. He is an integral part of the spirit of Christmas I think, and his importance has very little to do with his big list of toys.

In an age where everything is about knowing the intimate details and having the “behind the scenes” scoop, people seem to think that reality is never what it appears to be. Famous people must not really be happy; there must be some scandal behind their smiles. Spectacular events are not really as special as you initially thought; special effects done on computer and stunt doubles are the reasons behind it.

This kind of skepticism is infectious and it makes us think twice before believing anything. But does that mean there is nothing worth believing in?  Quite the contrary – we need to believe now more than ever.

In 1897, Francis Church wrote that now famous letter to a young girl named Virginia. Today there is talk of the newspapers folding their operations because no one is reading them. Somehow we still need to get the message out to the world that just because you cannot understand the magic of how something good works does not mean you need to discount its value. If we are ever to achieve greater heights in our existence, there needs to be something out there we have not yet imagined to which we can aim our sights. Otherwise, quite frankly, what is the point?

In 1947, a movie was released called “Miracle on 34th Street”. It was the story of Kris Kringle, a department store Santa who showed skeptics how important it was to believe in Christmas… he also talked about the importance of imagination, and faith. All of those, he said, were wrapped up in the spirit of Christmas.

Christmas frame of mind Miracle on 34th

In 2004, Robert Zemeckis directed a movie entitled “The Polar Express”. In it, a child gets a ride on the mysterious train that goes to the North Pole on Christmas Eve, and he learns the secret of Christmas. Believing in the power of Christmas – with its spirit of giving, and forgiveness – is the key to it all.

Christmas spirit Polar Express

I am calling on all souls that wish upon stars and throw pennies into fountains – you are needed now to share your faith with those less fortunate, and to ensure that children keep that twinkle in their eye that makes them want to believe. For you see, it is the children that save us all. Those of us who can hold onto the glimmer of wonder that comes from believing are trying to keep some of the magic of childhood with us.

 

And by the way, for you skeptics in the crowd, I really do know Santa Claus. I have touched his beard and felt his smile warm my heart; I have even shared coffee with him! He is alive and well, and quite busy this year I am happy to report. You see, there is hope for us yet, if we keep believing. If you would like to get in touch with him, you can always start writing again. He doesn’t mind if he hasn’t heard from you in a while 🙂

In closing, I am reprinting Mr. Church’s original letter for you here as I think it still says the right thing, more than a century later.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

 

From the Editorial Page of  The New York Sun,
written by Francis P. Church, September 21, 1897

Virginia, your little friends are wrong.  They have been affected by the scepticism of a sceptical age.  They do not believe except they see.  They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds.  All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s are little.  In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.  He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy.  Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus!  It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias.  There would be no child-like faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence.  We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight.  The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus!  You might as well not believe in fairies!  You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if you did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove?  Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus.  The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see.  Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn?  Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there.  Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart.  Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond.  Is it all real?  Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus!  Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever.  A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

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