Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Holidays In Our House

The menu's being planned and the potluck organized. We've pulled down the ornaments from the rafters in the garage, and we've begun to "deck the halls".   For us,  it is a time to celebrate family and friends, and to reflect on the blessings of the soon to be ended year.  We have several traditions in our house.

We kick off the season by getting our tree usually around the week after Thanksgiving.  We're a week late, but who's counting, right?  The tree comes from a family who sells in our neighborhood every year.  For every tree they sell, they plant one in a nature reserve near their farm.  The tree goes up the same day.   The Austrian spends about an hour getting it into our big stand, and trying to get it level.  (not so level this year but who's gonna say anything about that, huh?)

Usually our friends the Bennetts come over and help us decorate it.  Sort of... This year they were sick and stayed home and we didn't get started until late because of another task that had to be completed first on the other side of town.  Miss Spacklepudget is with us this year, so we had built-in help and she invited a friend over to help as well.  We make an evening of it.  I taught myself how to make hot buttered rum then created my own version with mulled apple cider added to the cup instead of hot water.  We had organic tomato basil soup.  We made grilled cheese sammiches... but not your mother's grilled cheese.   Emmentaler on French bread, Gruyer Cheese and Sun-dried Tomato Olive Tapenade on German-style whole 7 grain bread, and Irish White Cheddar and Spanish Piquillo peppers on Roasted Garlic Sourdough bread.  You've not had grilled cheese until you've had MY grilled cheese!  (recipes coming this week!)

We always use the occasion to light up the fireplace for the first time in the season.  It's cold enough here in this part of L.A. to actually use our fireplace.  You can imagine how good our house smelled on Saturday with all this going on!  The tree gets decorated that night, and the rest of the house too over the following days.  When the tree's done I always sit and enjoy it until I can't keep my eyes open any more, in the darkened room with nothing but the light from the tree and the fireplace.  It's such a lovely ambient feeling. 

One of my mom's choirs always has a wonderful concert to attend, so we get gussied up, pile in the car,  and trek across town to enjoy one or the other soulful gospel arrangement of all the songs of the season.   Sometimes it's even the gospel version of Handel's Messiah done live with full band and choral arrangment.

Another tradition is that the week before, I bake a truckload of cookies and at our family gathering, and provide goody bags for people to fill and take some home.  But this is a modest description of that tradition.  You'll see, I'll be posting the recipes.  I usually make at least 3 or 4 basic cookie doughs with anywhere from 10-12 variations in extra ingredients.  In the end, we're talking HUNDREDS of cookies.

The teenagers in the family come over and help with the baking.  It's the best!  I make the doughs a day ahead, and the next day, Max will have the iPod playing in the kitchen, nice and loud, with his favorite rock bands... everything from Nine Inch Nails to Death Cab For Cutie, and he and his cousins and friends will be in charge of the baking.  Someone puts the dough on the cookie sheets, someone washes the cookie sheets when they're emptied, someone dries, someone watches them bake (puts them in/takes them out).   At some point, I get sick of the rock n' roll and put on my huge collection of holiday music.  The kids sing along just like they did when it was Cobain or RATM playing.  Gotta love 'em!   I make butter cookies as part of this endeavor, cut in shapes, and after they're cooked I decorate them with shimmery food grade metallic/pearlescent dust.  We make cooked that have candy centers that look like stained glass.  We do old fashioned chocolate chip.  We do oatmeal persimmon.  By Christmas Eve there's a huge shepherd's basket of cookies like nothing you've ever seen. 

The newest, and most time consuming of our traditions is to give things made with our own hands.  You can see what we did last year here.  This year I'm going to be making homemade gourmet mustards, marinated olives, and a mini recipe book with recipes created, tested, and written by yours truly, and graphic design by the Austrian.  Max will be making rosemary sea salt which can be used for cooking or in nice hot bath.  We'll also be making whole wheat pancake mix, candied almonds, and a Korean style ginger honey tea.  (basically fresh ginger is stored in a jar of honey for at least two weeks then used by the tablespoon full with hot water to make a delicious and very healthy tea.) Instructions for these are coming...

The recipes in the mini book will integrate some of the items we make, like the rosemary salt used on roasted chicken or steak, or the mustard used as a glaze.   I'm just getting started with ordering the spices and other ingredients online in bulk from spice merchants and bee farmers and the such.  The Austrian will start working on the design for the book and the packaging labels for the items we're making. 

I am still determining what our traditional act of kindness will be this year, but that's another thing that's important to me.   We choose someone who needs a friend and we do something kind that will help them in some substantial way.   It's not something we talk about much.  We just do it and keep it to ourselves.

We don't spend a load of money during this time, we don't focus on material things, and I make it a point to not go into any mall or major department store from Thanksgiving til after New Years.   I watch the madness on the news and shake my head as the world outside our home is full of crazies who start riots to get into a Walmart store at 4 o'clock in the morning to buy tv's on sale that they can't even really afford to buy at the sale price.  We stay home and enjoy each other's company, invite others to join us.

On Christmas Eve we gather with our loved ones for good food, games, and the ever-so-famous Feltus Family Talent Hour.  Now THAT you should be a fly on the wall for!  Ha!
For me, it's important to create a time of peaceful renewal, and reconnecting with family.  I hope that wherever you are that you and yours have a warm, happy, peaceful, soul revival during this season!


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