I had a marvelous Christmas with my family!
This Christmas was the one where I got to be the hostess. I had been thinking about what to do, and what to cook, for a long time. My mother told me they were coming over since before Thanksgiving.
Notice, I say she told me they were coming. She did not ask. She told.
But after I got over being volunteered to host everyone I got kind of excited. I went and got a tree and decorated it, with red and white lights and green and red balls.
I thought a lot about what to cook. I have become very involved with cooking since my dad gave me pots for christmas last year.
So often the right tool can make all the difference. I didn’t have any pots. Hard to cook without pots. When I got the pots, it was like a dam burst. I could cook!
My sweet boyfriend is not very much fun to cook for. He does not like vegetables, fruit, spices, or anything he has not eaten before. Basically, he likes to eat beef and candy.
I like candy just fine, butI don’t like beef very much. In fact, I like to cook things that involve a LOT of spices. Spices are the most fun part! And I love California’s fresh vegetables.So basically, I cook for one.
But my family likes to eat! We all love to eat, so I was excited to cook for them.
I fired up the family sourdough. If you don’t know about sourdough, you just don’t know. God made sourdough, and we are the grateful recipients of this gift.
I made sourdough rolls, small hard hearty knobs of good stick-to-your-ribs-through-a-blizzard bread. Yes! I have NO idea was evil things those folks in San Francisco do to their bread to make it fluffy and light. MY sourdough bread is something that you really chew.
I made a ham. I didn’t have pineapples or cloves, so I dumped some canned apples over it, and smeared brown sugar and salt on it. Then I remembered I had some clove oil, so I put some of it in a glass of water and dumped it over the ham.
That washed all the pretty brown sugar off. I was happily envisioning that sugar crusting and carmelizing all pretty. Now it was gone. Oh well.
I also made some Turnips and Mashed potatoes. My new specialty. MmM!
My stuffing was not stuffing. You can’t stuff a ham! But neither can you have a holiday dinner without stuffing. I went to THREE stores to shop for everything I wanted for Christmas, but I did not encounter bread cubes. Sheesh. SO I bought my own loaf of bread, toasted it, and left it out to get dry and stale. While it was staling, I sauteed an onion and some celery. I added lots of interesting spices: Basil, Oregano, Thyme, sage and salt and pepper. After it was mostly done, I remembered that I wanted to use some apple in there. I quickly chopped an apple and sauteed that too. MM! Then I chopped up a link of pesto chicken sausage and sauteed that in there, too. I left that in the fridge the night before. The day of the dinner, I took it out and put the bread in with in, and some precooked kasha, to add interest. I tossed it all, with a little water, and put in in a bread pan to cook.
I made a mostly whole-foods version of the green bean casserole. I didn’t want to use the french-fried onions. Fried was to be avoided. I did use Cream of Mushroom soup can, a half of one, but the rest was yummy frozen green beans and frozen mushroom, and some milk, and crackers. It turned out quite well, but I might have put some onions in. Onions are so good!
I also made the jello very early. We have a tradition of green jello with grated carrots in it. Nasty! We have vetoed this tradition after we were old enough to realize we could. We’ve compromised on Green jello with pinapple.
Well, I didn’t have any green jello. And I wasn’t going to the store AGAIN! Red jello would have to do. I made it and dumped in the pinapple.
Did you know that there is a trick to adding fruit to jello? I read about it right after I dumped the pineapple in. Apparently, you have to let it “set” for a little bit and then stir in the fruit. Otherwise, the fruit will just sit in high concentrations at the bottom.
My red jello had mysterious objects suspended in the bottom when it reached the table. If you looked from the side, you could see the pineapple chunks. But from the top it was murky and somewhat ominous. But my family are heroic eaters! They dove right in!
Well, that was pretty much what we had for dinner.
But the breakfast before was really really yummy. Sourdough pancakes! The taste of my homeland! Alaska sourdough pancakes are quite light and fluffy. Mmmm! Waffles are even better, but I don’t have a waffle iron anymore.
I made rhubarb and strawberry syrup, from frozen strawberries and rhubarb. Now, I am not surprised to find frozen strawberries. But rhubarb was quite a find! Rhubarb is also a taste of home. Rhubarb will grow in alaska. So will strawberries. So I cooked them with some sugar in a saucepan, and boiled and boiled it, until they were all melted into a mass of tartly sweet thick liquid. I had to watch it to keep it from boiling over while I flipped the pancakes. I was mostly successful.
The sourdough pancakes were coming along beautifully. I’m glad I made a double batch, because mom, dad and I ate every single one. The recipe calls for the sourdough started to be mixed with oil and eggs, and then you pour in soda. The soda reacts with the sourdough, fizzing it up. The result is an extremely airy and fluffly light pancake.
Oh my goodness! When we sat down with our sweet pancake, and poured the mashy rubarb syrup on it, I took and bite and when to heaven! I knew it was going to be good, but I had undersestimated myself! Screw maple syrup! Rhubarb is the way to go. I’m making that again.
I was full of sourdough and rhubarb-flavored christmas cheer when I set about making the above-described christmas dinner.
There were, of course, cookies as well. I had been avoiding making cookies. I try to be good! but my Aunt Pat had circumvented my good intentions! God bless her! She had sent a little box of goodies with my dad for all of us to share.
SHe had shortbread and some cinnamony mexican shortbread cookies in the shape of logs. There was homemade caramels, and Russian Tea cakes. Pecan sandies which were nice and chewy, and a few things I am forgetting.
But I do not forget the toffee. I love toffee. She had made lovely chunks of rich toffee with almonds in it, and covered in melty dark chocolate that was rolled in walnuts from their own tree.
Know how I know they were walnuts from their own tree? Aunt Pat always sends things with walnuts from their own tree. Walnuts are good! But Aunt Pat’s walnuts goodies come with the inevitable bits of shell shrapnel. I learned young to crunch lightly.
Then there is also the traditional shrimp crap. That’s what we’ve called it recently, to my mother’s utter horror! “Don’t call it ‘ crap’!”
Of course we say it with fondness! It is a highly favored dish. Basically, you take a large plate and smear cream cheese on it. Then, in a separate dish, you take a bunh of ketchup and a little horseradish and a can of chopped shrimp and stir it all together.
I learned by trying it, it’s best to DRAIN the can of shrimp. Word to the wise.
But you stir the drained shrimp and ketchup and horseradish into a red muck. Then you drop in on top of the cream cheese and smear it around.
THen you take ritz crackers, and lay then in an attractive circle around the plate.
YUM! you dip the crackers in the cheese and shrimp and eat away. Sometimes we would have to make it twice.
This year, I was talked into buying jumbo shrimp by a sneaky sample-offering guy at the store.
So I did everything the same, but I didn’t put shrimp in the ketchup. I lay the big shrimp around the plate in an attractive pattern, and put the crackers on a bowl nearby.
We didn’t finish the plate this year. But maybe that’s because half the family was elsewhere, and because everyone was full of rhubarb pancakes. I don’t know.
But perhaps next year I will not mess with a winner.
I have not described the Christmas EVE dinner. That has a specific history which deserves it’s own place. I will get to that later.