In just a few moments, I’m leaving my home to climb in my car and join the masses trekking south on I-5. It’s Christmas Eve morning, and I’m going to my parents’ house.
Normally, I adore Christmas. For years, my parents referred to my brother and me as the Christmas Nazis. (I’m sorry. That’s a horrible reference, but it’s true.) Why? Because we insisted on watching all the same specials, on all the same nights. Rudolph. Santa Claus is Coming to Town. That one with the Heat Miser. Even Frosty the Snowman, although it was just dopey. (We did draw the line at Rudolph and Frosty’s Happy New Year, because Christmas had already passed.) A series of Rankin and Bass, eerie cartoons, with awkwardly modelled figures moving jerkily through space, and an obviously gay elf. This doesn’t sound much like Christmas, does it? Well, it was for us. But that was just the start. There were the fourteen different versions of the Scrooge story, the incessant watching of It’s a Wonderful Life (sometimes in Spanish, when we flipped past that channel), and even such little-known classics as The Gathering, a heartening tv movie about a gruff dying patriarch, played by Ed Asner. We watched A Child’s Christmas in Wales, parts of Jesus of Nazareth (the first bits, in the manger), and even the Our Miss Brooks Christmas show, from the 1950s, because it played on PBS the year we got our Beta machine. Andy and I insisted on watching all of them — well, maybe The Gathering was my mother’s idea — and in the right order. We grew up in a bit of a chaotic household, and we needed order somewhere. It wouldn’t be Christmas without those familiar jingles and cartoons, right?
Thank goodness we’re past that phase now.
Now, I can still watch A Charlie Brown Christmas (and the Vince Guaraldi soundtrack is the one piece of Christmas music I can actually listen to all Decmeber long). And the Grinch, even though I didn’t see it this year. I still choke up at the end of It’s a Wonderful Life, but I don’t have to watch more than those last fifteen minutes. And Pee Wee Herman’s Christmas special, which I own on dvd, still delights me, entirely.
But better than that, our family is no longer chaotic. (Crazy, but relatively calm.) We adore each other, and play endless word games on Christmas. And these years, of course, we’ve re-captured the true spirit of Christmas: our mutual adoration of Elliott, my nearly-three-year-old nephew.
On Monday night, I participated in the only overtly Christmasy event of the season: the community Christmas carol sing-a-long on Vashon. Now, you have to understand, Vashon Island is the same geographic size as Manhattan, but only 9000 people live there. There are no stop lights on the island. Everyone’s a kook. (If they’re not, they don’t last long.) And every Christmas season, people gather in the little movie theatre to sing Christmas carols together. And this year, like every other, it was spectacular. A dinky movie theatre filled with people in Santa hats, singing to lyrics from a Power Point presentation made years ago when that technology was cutting edge, projected with half the words off the screen. Half the time, the movie screen just reads: no digital image detected. Santa himself seemed snookered. There were 12-year-olds in flute ensembles, a harp orchestra, and about a hundred toddlers.
Elliott ran up and down the aisles in great delight with his little friend Evan, and climbed on the stage at one point. Santa scares him, but this year he understands the concept of presents, so he warily accepted the red, fat man’s presence. I just laughed and laughed at it all, happy to have Elliott nearby.
And that night, at one point, after I had brought out a big bag of potatoes I had brought for the little family, Elliott said to me, in a plaintive voice, “Could you sit down and look at pertaters with me?”
And we really did look at them. We examined the white ones, the red ones, the purples ones, at great length. And then, Elliott said to me, “Let’s sniff.…fooooooood!” And then we pretended to make birthday soup, with his wooden fruit and vegetable set.
He makes me laugh and dance to Daler Mendhi and coaxes me down on the floor to play wih diggers and asks me to “Talk to those words on that page,” (which is what he cals reading now, and it makes sense) and speaks in funny voices and laughs at himself and makes me really, really appreciate the moments I’m alive, because there are no other when I’m with him. Who couldn’t use a little of that?
I can. And so, I’m off.
Except, to tell you, that this holiday, I’m doing all the cooking. I couldn’t be happier about this. After the Thanksgiving gluten epidsode, I’m making new traditions. Who says that good life has to be about baked goods and stuffing? Instead, I’m just going to make it about great food with my dear family. So, as a preview, here’s what I’ll be making for Christmas Day dinner:
standing rib roast, medium-rare, with carmelized onions and au jus gravyroasted roasted potatoes with rosemary and olive oil
wild greens with pomegranate seeds, goat cheese, and toasted almonds
braised leeks and brussel sprouts with browned butter and white wine
homemade vanilla bean ice cream with Scotch poured over the top.
I don’t think we’re going to suffer.
And, if you’re still looking for recipes for tomorrow, try Molly’s eggnog (and her white bean recipe) or Melissa’s egg nog, from December 14th. And if you have piles of cranberries lying around, and you are feeling ambitious, you could still make Heidi’s gorgeous cranberry jam. And at the bottom of this post, since so many of you have been asking, I’m going to put a recipe for gluten-free sugar cookies.
But no matter what you are eating, or where you are eating it, or with whom, I hope you have a brilliant holiday. No matter what the holiday. Merry Christmas. Happy Hannukah. Joyous Kwanzaa. Hooray for the Winter Solstice. We’re alive. Let’s eat.
May you have a house full of laughter, spectacular food, and people you love.
Gluten-free Sugar Cookies
Even though I advocate finding joy in foods that are naturally gluten-free, it is the holidays. And I still like some traditions. No matter what, I still like roll-out sugar cookies, thick and threaded through with vanilla, cut into Christmas-tree shapes and frosted with buttercream frosting.
This is a recipe I adapted from Sonya Joseph’s gluten-free cooking class I took at the beginning of the month. They work. They’ll fill that need.
2 1/2 cups of your favorite gluten-free flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 1/2 teaspoons of xanthan gum (omit if your gf flour mix already contains this)
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup margarine
1/2 cup butter
2 teaspoons vanilla (make sure it’s gluten-free. Use only pure vanilla, please.)
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
After you have preheated the oven to 350°, mix all the dry ingredients together and set that bowl aside.
Cream together the shortenings and sugar, preferably with a standing mixer. Then, add the egg and vanilla. Beat these as long as you can. The more airy and whipped they are, the better the cookies will taste.
Add the dry ingredients, along with the nutmeg.
Chill the dough in the refrigerator for at least one hour. This is essential for gluten-free doughs.
When the dough is properly chilled, roll it out to 1/2-inch thickness and cut with your favorite cookie cutters.
Bake on an ungreased baking sheet (preferably with a silpat), for 12 to 15 minutes, depending on your oven.