Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christmas Cheer and the Like

Vignettes of winter time.

In the English building, turning in our final papers of the semester, Boy and I ran into one of the drivers of our campus van service, The Ride. His name was Mark and he was trying to turn in a paper for a girl who is on crutches, and would have had a terrible time getting up the stairs. He couldn't find the offices he was looking for, he was confused, we said we'd turn in the paper. He was so surprised and grateful, and I thought how funny it is that the people who are the friendliest and most willing to go out of their way for others are often the most surprised when it is done in return. We had to wander back and forth between a few buildings before we decided how best to hand in the paper, and on our way back we passed the same Ride van. Mark-the-Ride-driver slowed down and opened his window to thank us again, and the girl on crutches, who was in the passenger seat, thanked us too. It was all so classical holiday heartwarming. And it felt just like it was supposed to.

Christmas dinner. My family has a flexible tradition. We always eat roast beef with some good, rich gravy. We always have mashed potatoes. We usually have peas, but this year, my mom branched out. She blanched tiny haricot verte till they were just tender and still snapping fresh, and set them aside. When the beef was mostly done, she cooked onions and cored plum tomatoes and garlic slices in butter and olive oil and a little butter till the tomatoes were just beginning to get mushy at the edges and lose their skins, and the onions were getting translucent. Then she added the beans back in and heated on low, tossing it till it was mixed together and warmed through. They were, of course, delicious, the onions and tomatoes silky and rich, the green beans crunchy and fresh tasting, all of it bound together by the flavor of the garlic.

Her switch from tradition gave me comfort, because it is my task to make a dessert, and I had decided to change things up, too. Generally we have some sort of cake for dessert. In the past several years it has mostly been a cake that is composed of a layer of chopped fresh cranberries on the bottom covered with a rich, buttery golden layer of cake on top. It is easy and wonderful, but I made it at Thanksgiving and I was looking for something new. I had seen something interesting over at Jefferson's blog a while back. It was a simple idea: take one ripe pomegranate. Remove all the seeds and put them into a pretty bowl (I chose a dark blue one with a faint pattern of leaves), making sure there isn't any white skin clinging to them. Over this, grate dark chocolate, the darker the better (mine was 60% cacao Ghiradelli baking chocolate). Stir to combine. I didn't remember if it said to let it sit, but I did, because it was easier. I didn't remember if it said to add any liquour, but I decided to toss in a teaspoon of Calvados, which added just a little complexity to the flavor. I didn't remember any serving suggestions, so when I planned this I came up with my own. Last night I put together the custard base for vanilla ice cream, using whole vanilla beans for the first time outside of a restaurant. I chilled it in the fridge overnight, spun it this afternoon and firmed it in the fridge. The vanilla flavor couldn't be beat, but I left it a little over long freezing, and froze it in the wrong container, so it ended up a little too icy for my tastes. Still, in blue bowls with the garnet jewel pomegranate seeds spooned over it, it looked beautiful and tasted fresh, complex and delicious.
My family loved it. I wasn't really afraid they wouldn't... but I bought a bag of cranberries, just in case.

I am at home. I am missing Boy, who is in Dallas with extended family. I am feeling peaceful and a little dreamy, like I always do when I visit the home where I grew up. I am reading fantasy novels again, taking long showers, seeing old friends. I will focus on work for the semester only a little bit, and then go back to hiding from it for my reunion with Boy and college friends and the East Coast.

Christmas in my family is a sacred day, but not because of any particular religious affiliation. It's a time of family traditions, as mentioned above, a day when even when my sister didn't get along with my parents and my parents hadn't gotten enough sleep because they were up late wrapping and I got everybody up at 8:00 am, everybody in the family was patient and nice to each other. My family has only two present giving occasions a year, Christmas and Birthdays, and so we each get quite a few presents, mostly small things along the lines of books, articles of clothing, perhaps a piece of jewelry. We unwrap and oggle, and then mom and I cook and Dad cleans up and my sister goes off somewhere of her own. We reconvene for dinner, we read or nap or walk. In the evenings we often watch a movie, sometimes out, this year my mom's new "Planet Earth" dvds. We admire and congratulate each other on our tree, laden with ornaments even far back on it's branches, with glass icicles and butterflies attached with wires and tinsel and gold and scarlet beads and tiny white lights. It is perhaps the most overdone christmas tree on the planet, and we love it more every year.

Today has been a peaceful, joyful, happy day for me. I hope it has been for all of you, and I wish you all many more in the future.

It's good, when winter is cold and the sky is gray, that there is an excuse for all of us to cuddle in doors, be extra nice to each other, play with new toys, eat delicious food, and love.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

oh, mark-the-ride-driver - a high point of that ridiculous paper-turning-in excursion. i'm so happy you had such a lovely christmas... that said, i miss doing the cuddling and the being nice and the playing with new toys and the eating and the loving with you!

12:37 AM  
Blogger maymay said...

Oh my god, I LOVE Planet Earth SO MUCH!

That is all.

3:55 AM  
Blogger dov said...

Happy Holidays and much love to you both ;-)

12:29 PM  
Blogger Jefferson said...

Happy pomegranates and chocolate!

5:19 PM  
Blogger estra said...


I am linking to you from my thing.
I hope you don't mind!


9:54 PM  
Anonymous Dov said...

Please do

10:44 PM  

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