Christmas Gifts

I received some absolutely lovely Christmas gifts this year from friends, family, and Santa Claus. Some of the gifts would likely be of interest to other crafty- and foodie-types. My brother gave me one of those fantastic crocheted knight helmet hats and the previously-mentioned Jamie Oliver 5 Ingredients Quick & Easy Food cookbook (Jamie Oliver, 2017). My husband gave me a copy of How to Cook Indian by Sanjeev Kapoor (2011). Santa brought me some lovely worsted-weight variegated yarn, which I am currently turning into a hat. My parents bought me a funny (and very accurate) Procrasti-knitter T-shirt from White Owl Crochet.

But I do have a weakness for handmade items that combine practicality with beauty, and this year my parents picked out some absolutely lovely pieces for me. The first is a pair of wine tumbler/tea bowls from Greig Pottery. The one on the right is patterned with lupins, which is a flower that I first fell in love with on a trip to Newfoundland with my mom about eight years back. In shape and size, these vessels remind me of Japanese teacups, although they are intended for both hot and cold beverages (so far as I know, you’d never have a cold beverage in this kind of cup in Japan). They fit comfortably in my hand and the little indents — one on either side — are perfectly placed for my thumb and forefinger. As a bonus, they’re both microwave and dishwasher safe. I can’t wait to use them, possibly for some rum and eggnog before the season is over.

Mom and Dad also gave me this gorgeous two-tone rosewood & mango wood yarn bowl from Knitpicks. They actually gave me two hand-potted yarn bowls (in different sizes, for different-sized balls of yarn) last year for Christmas, but my kids managed to smash both of them on the same day. Needless to say, I was not amused, as the bowls sat on the table in the living room where the kids aren’t supposed to be playing in the first place. I was very vocal (possibly too vocal) about how much I missed the old bowls, so Mom actually hopped onto the Internet and ordered me a new one — one that, it should be noted, should be much more difficult to smash. Touch wood. I love the glassy-smooth finish of the wood; when I got the bowl, I couldn’t stop running my hands over it. I was especially proud of my mother for ordering it for me, since she had never before shopped online on her own, usually getting my brother or I to order things for her. I don’t see an Amazon Prime account in her future, but I like that Mom is now able to put aside her worries about online shopping, at least for items that she can’t get in town.

I want to take this opportunity to say a sincere thank-you for all of my gifts this holiday season. Although, as Garfield points out in the Christmas special that we watch every year, it’s not the giving, it’s not the getting, it’s the loving.

Christmas Breakfast

Christmas breakfast was a big thing at my house when I was a kid. Mom and Dad pulled out all of the stops and bought all kinds of awesome food that we pretty much never had any other time of the year. I associated these foods so strongly with the holidays that it came as a great revelation to me when I moved out that I could buy Havarti cheese with dill or caraway seeds, or Babybel miniature cheeses, or Stoned Wheat Thins all year long.

We’ve been hosting Christmas breakfast at our house since the year that Thing 1 was born. Given that she would have needed to be fed and then probably put down for a nap sometime during the festivities, it just made sense for us to stay home and have the rest of my family come to us. Breakfast is generally served buffet-style, so that everyone can have a little bit of everything and then head over to the Christmas tree to open gifts, often while still munching.

This year I served (working roughly from left to right):

Nan’s pan rolls* with butter
– red grapes
– rosemary bread from the bread machine**
– homemade dill pickles
– Chevrai Original Goat Cheese
– Garlic & Fine Herbs Boursin cheese
Chicken Bones
– Daiya Plain Cream Cheeze Style Spread
– Crème Oka cheese
– Laughing Cow cheese
– my husband’s homemade cornmeal muffins
– homemade pickled beets
– coffee & tea with sugar & milk
– chocolate toffees
– meat platter with Hungarian salami, Montreal smoked meat, roast beef, and Black Forest ham
– shrimp ring with cocktail sauce
– Christmas Cookie Monster’s Shape Cookies (made, for the most part, by Thing 1 and Thing 2)
– cold hard-boiled eggs
– Babybel miniature cheeses
– cracker plate with Stoned Wheat Thins, Ritz, Vegetable Thins, and Rosemary & Olive Oil Triscuits
– pepperettes (all-beef by my hubby’s preference and European style for mine)
– Oka and Havarti cheeses
Fudgy Pumpkin Brownies (this time with no coffee)
– bananas
– strawberries
– clementines
– blueberries

In case you’re worried, no, the seven of us did not eat this all in one sitting. This much could have easily fed twice that amount of people, with food to spare! The point of this kind of meal (which only happens once a year) is that everyone can have as much as they like, and then it all gets packed away to become lunches and dinners for the next week or so. There were still a few leftovers as of New Year’s Day, but that was of the kind of thing that takes forever to go bad, like crackers. Some of it will probably even make its way into the kids’ lunches in the new year.

*I discovered that these rolls can be left to do their second rise overnight in the refrigerator, and then just popped into the oven to serve fresh-baked for breakfast. If you’re going to do so, make sure that the pan you use is metal and not glass, as it takes the glass longer to heat up and can make the bottom of the rolls take a little too long to cook. Also, if the top is browning but the bottom isn’t quite done yet, cover the top of the rolls with aluminum foil to prevent them going from “browned” to “burnt”.

**Classic White Bread, found on page 24 of Betty Crocker’s Best Bread Machine Cookbook (1999) — but with half the sugar, olive oil instead of margarine, and about 1/4 cup fresh chopped rosemary added.

Christmas Eve Dinner

The last few days before Christmas were a flurry of cooking activity. On the 22nd, I baked tortière, pumpkin pie, chocolate pumpkin brownies (this time without the coffee), while my husband made bread machine corn bread.


Baking pumpkin pie.

On the 23rd I made my first attempt at German stollen, banana nut muffins, and the ill-fated pumpkin pie; my husband baked corn meal muffins. Of course, we cooked dinner both days as well.


Tortière, corn bread, chocolate pumpkin brownies, and pumpkin pie.

Then, on the 24th, I made Nan’s pan rolls, rosemary bread in the breadmaker, and deviled eggs. I’d planned to make orange-glazed carrots & parsnips, but we forgot to buy carrots and there was no way I was facing the stores on Christmas Eve, so that got written out.

Then we hosted Christmas Eve dinner for our little family, plus my in-laws and my brother-in-law. Usually this dinner is hosted by my husband’s parents, but they are currently between homes, having sold their house in October but with their new condo not being complete until the start of February. So this year it was up to us to make this family tradition happen. This dinner is traditionally consists of (and no one can tell me why) cabbage rolls, which my mother-in-law made this year, and tortière, which I made. I also added the pan rolls, rosemary bread, and deviled eggs with lumpfish caviar.

I tried to honour my mother-in-law’s German heritage by also serving stollen, for which I used the Taste of Home Almond-Filled Stollen recipe and The Spruce’s Easy Almond Paste recipe, since I couldn’t find almond paste in any of the local shops. Sadly, the dish went down like a lead balloon. I mean, I overbaked one loaf (the recipe makes three), but I didn’t serve that one. Even so, only two slices were even eaten with or after Christmas Eve dinner. The bread rose nicely and had a good texture, although I can’t be much of a judge of the flavour because I don’t really like candied fruits (I don’t like fruitcake either for that very same reason). I think I’ll just forego making this bread next year if we host this dinner again. It was a lot of work and nobody seemed to like it. Maybe I’ll just make gingerbread instead; at least that I’ll eat if nobody else does!

Cat-Proof Tree

A friend of mine, who owns three very mischievous cats, posted a link to a Facebook post about Genius People Who Found A Way To Protect Their Christmas Trees From Asshole Cats And Dogs back in November, and it gave me some ideas. Specifically, the picture of the little tree in the gigantic lantern.

You see, I’d salvaged this 3.5-foot-or-so decorative lantern a while back and, although I’d filled it with orange lights as a Halloween decoration, I didn’t have any real idea what I wanted to do with it once the holiday was over. I’d thought I might spray paint silhouettes on the inside and turn it into a permanent addition to my Halloween decoration collection, but I didn’t have any concrete plans. However, I thought that my friends might like a tree that their cats couldn’t destroy, so I started working on the lantern.

The lantern had been discarded for a reason; it needed repair. It required a good cleaning, some glue in spots and a couple of coats of paint, not to mention some new hardware. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find matching replacement hardware, so the rusty stuff was just going to have to do. I also had to find a short enough tree and some small embellishments (which I kept to a neutral white and silver motif to hopefully go with the decor on any floor of their house, and any decorations they would want to add).

I was quite happy with the final product, which looked nice in a lit room…

…but really was at its best in low to no light.


Photo by Karen Turnbull.

My friends seem to be quite happy with their Christmas gift. Although the cats were quite interested at first, the fact that they couldn’t reach the branches, lights, or ornaments meant that they lost interest pretty quickly — which was perfect. The tree in the lantern is pretty heavy, so the cats can’t knock it over. And as a bonus, the tree doesn’t even have to be taken down after the Christmas season is over unless my friends want to use the lantern for something else. A plastic garbage bag over the top would keep the whole thing dust-free in storage until they want to use it next year.

I really liked how my Christmas tree in a lantern turned out. A bit of Googling has made me realize that lanterns are great for protecting all kinds of decorations from pets and young children. I’ve seen them filled with glass balls, tiny dioramas, seasonal knickknacks, paper or painted silhouettes (usually with frosted glass), greenery arrangements, and live plants. I have so many ideas now that I think I’ll be keeping my eye out for more lanterns to salvage and decorate.

Boxing Day

Boxing Day in our family is mostly a relaxing day where we play with our new Christmas toys and then head over to my parents’ place for the traditional turkey dinner. (I would have taken pictures of the food, but we all dug in so quickly that I didn’t have a chance!) Mom’s turkey dinner includes stuffing, gravy, Brussels sprouts, mashed potatoes, butternut squash and apple casserole. Dad makes Yorkshire pudding that we either cover in gravy or spread with butter.

My contribution to the meal this year was my usual pumpkin pie. It’s usually one of my best desserts, but I was really disappointed with it this time. The consistency was good, the crust was reasonable (considering it was in the fridge for two days), but the filling was almost bitter. I distinctly remember putting sugar in the filling, but I doubled the recipe and I think what I did was double everything except the sugar. This also means that I have a second, bitter-tasting pumpkin pie sitting in my freezer that I might just throw out. What a waste. It was almost palatable smothered in whipped cream, but that’s not a ringing endorsement.

See, this is what happens when you bake for three days straight in preparation for a holiday: something’s bound to get messed up. I should have just thawed one of the berry pies that I’d frozen for future use back in the summer. I wanted to be traditional with pumpkin pie, but in retrospect it would have been better to lighten the cooking load a bit. Oh, well. Maybe I’ll have learned my lesson by next year.

Ditto

Taffy Lane in Orleans (a suburb in the east end of Ottawa) is well known throughout the city for its possibly-excessive number of Christmas lights. Traffic moves slowly on this residential street almost every evening throughout December as people walk and drive to check out the decorations. They’ve been doing this for over thirty years! My children and I love this street and make a point of visiting at least once a season — preferably after the snow flies, because the light reflected off of the snow makes everything that much more sparkly.

This year I forgot to bring along my good camera, but I had to snap a few photos of these two front yards:

1092 Taffy Lane, which is my kids’ favourite, and not only because of Santa in the outhouse.

And then 1094 Taffy Lane. Gotta love that sense of humor.

I hope everyone had a happy and healthy holiday!