Christmas is past, tucked into the annals for another year. The calendar has been renewed and here we are, at the tail end of the festive scene. I do hope that like me, you soaked up all the good tidings and delectable morsels on hand over the last couple of weeks.
Epiphany will be upon us soon – I mean that symbolically, but perhaps for some it will be personal. Experiences in this past year have led many people down new paths, towards new lifestyles and new attitudes. Hindsight on last year will be 20/20 in more ways than one.
We were fortunate to have a Christmas not much different than the ones of recent years, just the two of us all snuggled up at Rabbit Hollow. I did miss my furry pal horribly; with Ella gone and not seeing our new granddaughter, some of the delightful abandon that is such an intrinsic part of Christmas was missing. But we soldiered on.
There was still plenty to eat and drink, of course. Even with all the goodies we shared, we had snacks left: mince pies, Christmas cake and pudding, shortbread, snowball cookies, chocolate truffles, amaretti… We ate hearty meals too: tourtière, eggs with beurre blanc on brioche buns, duck breast with balsamic reduction, ham with mustard glaze… If I do say so myself, there were also some spectacular local wine pairings from our cellar, and a few delightful late night tipples to toast those not in attendance.
The highlight of the holiday season was still the company. I am blessed to have my soulmate with me, and we haven’t gotten tired of one another even after 10 months of mostly being isolated. The rest of my “peeps” were all across the globe, but we connected with everyone one way or another.
Who knew that I would be “Zoom-ing” for Christmas cocktails, sharing WhatsApp and Facebook video calls with family, and toasting at New Year’s with friends on screen. There was laughter as we reminisced, and a few tears, but at least they were shared. We all missed the hugs, but we all rejoiced at being safe and left feeling hopeful we can rekindle the fun with plenty of enthusiasm next Christmas and New Year’s Eve.
We were even more conscious of our food choices this holiday season, too. We strived to recreate old memories for comfort, and ventured into exotic recipes as a form of virtual travel. I think that will be my theme this year, to keep the balance of those things like the yin and yang of past and future, holding me steady in the present.
My passion to encourage people to share family dishes has been lit even stronger as well. If we cannot gather to share the knowledge of our family culture, then we need even more to be sure we record its workings to help keep it alive for the future. I was chuffed to participate in the Food52 Holiday Recipe Swap for 2020, which did just that. I sent along some favourites from our family to someone in New York, and I received a delightful note with recipes from a family in Boston. I had the same warm feeling reading the recipes as I do when I light a candle in church.
I start this new year weary, but hopeful. It has been hard to be apart from everyone so much. Our ways to connect have been so limited. Sharing is worth more effort, though, and worth getting creative. The rewards are as good as the taste of an elaborate dessert, or the compliments of guests at your table.
That old song I mentioned earlier asks if old times should be forgotten. I won’t be forgetting this last year, for it has given me cause to remember how important it is to be grateful, and how it’s even more important to show our love to our loved ones, any way we can.
Today was Epiphany. The twelfth day of Christmas. It is by some accounts the day the Magi came to see the Christ child. Others believe it represents the baptism of baby Jesus. It is a Christian feast day, complete with a special cake, called King Cake or Galette des Rois.
In Iceland it’s called Þrettándinn, representing the day the 13 mischievous Yule lads return to their parents at their home in the mountains. There are bonfires at many locations throughout towns and country; if one is lucky, one might see an Elf Queen or King dancing around the flames.
In any country, with any beliefs, the holiday celebrations are at an end. A New Year has begun and we start afresh. The tree comes down, the lights go out, the parties stop. Resolutions for a new diet or gym regime, or setting new goals at work take up our time.
And so it goes. We move into “the rest of the year”, full of little things, day-to-day stuff. Some of us look forward to the next holiday, the next celebration. Others are grateful for little things day by day. And still others just put their heads down and try not to think about anything but the finish line.
C’est la vie, as the French say. Life goes on, day by day. Apparently athletes who win a big game – say, the Super Bowl – feel bereft, even depressed, after all the celebrating is over. I think the same thing happens with some people after Christmas. We go into a sort of withdrawal.
As I sit here watching the snow fall that eluded us for most of the holidays, I am cataloging all my special moments and saving them in my mind. I don’t plan on packing them up like the ornaments for the tree. I’m going to keep them handy and use them on bleak days. But for most days, I’m going to just live, and look for the little things that make my day.
The things that people were the most grateful for were the ordinary things in life. The sound of your spouse’s laugh, the smell of morning coffee, the echo of children playing in the yard. The little things. In waiting for the big moments – the vacations, the retirements, the birthdays – we risk missing the experiences of life most worthy of celebrating. — John O’Leary
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 oneself; 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.”
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.)
Here we are at the start of a new year, and everywhere there are earnest reminders that we should be striving for more, improving, setting goals, accomplishing new things…. it’s exhausting, isn’t it? How about we start by maintaining the good we’ve already done, and celebrate that little victory? After all, we deserve a pat on the back for showing up, don’t we??
With that attitude in mind, my post today is about keeping one’s sense of humour. I don’t know about you, but I have been known to get all fired up about new things (like trying recipes, for example), only to discover that success was not as obvious as expected. I just deleted a draft of a recipe I had written here and wanted to post: “Banana Coconut Cream Pie with a Chocolate Crust”. Sounds awesome, right? Yeah, well, it didn’t look awesome when I made it. It looked like something my dog might have well, put back in the bowl, if you know what I mean. And it didn’t taste all that great either. Not only did the custard not set, but the bananas went brown almost immediately, and the crust was soggy in some spots and like cardboard in others. So much for sharing that Pinterest find. We did have a good laugh about how awful it was, though, as we substituted homemade sundaes for dessert that night. What else could I do?
So, I am not making any resolutions to go on a diet, or eat gluten free, or start up longer work outs or lift more weight. I’m working on keeping up with my efforts from last year. Thankfully, being married to a chef and interested in good food, I eat pretty healthy most of the time. I also treat myself often (my workout schedule is a combination of vanity and a calculation that accounts for regular chocolate, ice cream and alcohol consumption). Don’t look here for any recipes that feature restrictions – look for dishes that feature interesting tastes and combinations of flavours. They might be extra-healthy, they might be gluten-free or Paleo, but most importantly I think they are delicious.
Alright, enough said for today. (I don’t want to seem preachy.) Get out there and have fun – eat something interesting! And then congratulate yourself for living life to the fullest. If you’d like a relatively healthy recipe idea, how about Chicken with Cinnamon and Dates ? It’s one of my favourite chicken recipes.
If you need more inspiration, the wonderfully funny folks at Urban Daddy came up with a great New Years list for the first month of the year: 31 Reasons to Have a Drink. Since I’ve managed to stick to my 2017 plan for two days in a row, I think I’ll toast my small success with a glass of wine 🙂