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“Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents” grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.  

From “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott

On a marathon mission to get some Christmas gifts, I stopped for a some refreshment and a bit of a sit-down. An elderly woman was enjoying her lunch with what appeared to be her granddaughter. They seemed to be enjoying each other’s company. Large shopping bags filled with  purchases nestled atop empty chairs at their table. I couldn’t hear their conversation, but the scene reminded me of a long ago December afternoon with my mother.

Ma wanted to do some Christmas shopping.  I offered to take her. My mother learned to drive later in life. She approached 50 years old when she took to the wheel, after my father passed away. She drove mostly to work and back, which was barely a mile, and she would drive to our house, which was a direct route, with few turns.

On the day of our Christmas shopping, Ma drove to our house and then I drove my car to one of the shopping malls. I dropped her at the door of Carson’s and parked the car. We shopped, ate lunch and shopped a bit more. It was a pleasant time. My mom kept asking me what  I wanted for Christmas.

Ma really tried hard to buy me the perfect gifts. I often regret that I wasn’t more appreciative of her efforts, though, I promise you, some were really hard to appreciate. One day, I will tell you the story of my 21st birthday and my “party dress”, which has grown to legendary status.  Let me just hint that it had to do with gold lame, rhinestone buttons, dozens of pleats – in 1970 while I was in college! 

We walked and talked and shopped and reminisced.  It was a slow go as my mother had rheumatoid arthritis, which affected all her joints, but, especially her feet. As she started to tire, I thought aloud that we should head on home. We worked our way through Carson’s, via the lower level so I could get her to the elevator.  As we walked through the housewares section, I stopped to look at the Pfaltzgraff Christmas plates. Ma looked as well.  I casually commented how I always thought it would be fun to set a Christmas table. 

Four place settings and two more shopping bags later, we lumbered into the elevator. There was a sprightly spring to Ma’s step as she smiled at me. “I think I finally bought you something you like” she said – and she had.  The original Christmas Heritage pattern, I bring them out each December, recalling the day my mother insisted on gifting me with them for Christmas.

I thought about my mom and my Christmas dishes as I observed the women sitting across from me and made a mental note to bring the plates out when I got home. These dishes were one of the last Christmas gifts she ever gave me. She added to them before she passed on, and even spoke of them in delirium once when she was deathly ill with pneumonia, muttering something about giving the doctor a silver dollar to buy me more Christmas plates.

The doctor never got that silver dollar, but, Ma survived pneumonia – and I received a few more plates for Christmas that year.  I’m glad I took the time to eat and rest while shopping, for, in so doing, I recalled my mother and that sweet day more than 2o years ago; a very dear memory, indeed, and a far greater gift of Christmas heritage.

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DSCN6842 - Version 2Tom’s one week post-op eye appointment brought good news; the eye is healing well, better than expected, actually, and especially considering all he and his eye have endured. With a few less eye drops to be administered daily, we remarked on how nice it was to be given 30 minutes back in our days.  We both said “Merry Christmas” for it was a gift, indeed, and felt just a wee bit of weight lifting from our shoulders.

As I backed the car from its parking nest, I mentioned that it was closing in on the noon hour and wondered aloud if Tom would like to have a nice lunch to celebrate the good news at Francesca’s in Forest Park?”.  Cleaning out my wallet a little earlier, I came across a gift card I had been given as a thank you for someone I helped out a few winters ago. The Francesca restaurants are a delicious chain of Italian restaurants across the area and Francesca’s Fiore in Forest Park was on our way home.

As we looked for a parking place along the busy, city avenue, it seemed the only option was a paid city lot.  It’s hard to haggle over such things when lunch has already been paid, so, into the lot I turned, parked the ever faithful mocha VW with latte interior (I’m going to miss this caffeinated car some day). Tom, with those blackened glasses one needs to wear after cataract surgery, and I looked about to pay.  Perplexed, we wandered a bit when Tom of the afore-mentioned glasses and dilated eyes, said “it’s free“.  There was the payment post, all wrapped up like a present, informing whomever that Forest Park was lifting their parking fees during the month of December. As we walked, we saw meters up and down the street with their meter mouths all taped up, on a coin diet for the season,  and our steps were just a bit lighter at this gesture – a gift of free parking. Quite a nice municipal gift, don’t you agree?

We had such a delightful lunch, chatting and chewing and caressing the moments of bliss on a cold but sunny afternoon with good news, good will, and good food the generous gifts of the day, all reminding me that gifts aren’t always those wrapped up in pretty paper with bows.  They are the simple gifts of life. My wish is that you find one of them today.

 

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DSCN6603“But in this season it is well to reassert that the hope of mankind rests in faith.

“As man thinketh, so he is.”

Nothing much happens unless you believe in it, and believing there is hope for the world is a way to move toward it. “

Gladys Taber

 

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DSCN6784Have you noticed the snow drifting across my words?  It’s a Currier and Ives sort of feature that the happiness folks at WordPress provide; no shoveling needed.

We have, thus far, been spared any real accumulation snow here on the Cutoff and the sun is out today, smiling down upon us as we finish the last morsels of Thanksgiving (today it is turkey vegetable soup).  The last of fall is being swept under the carpets and the beginning of Christmas is starting to show.

I know some of you put up Christmas in one, fell swoop and your lights are already brightly shining. For some, it may take a while; perhaps just a sprig of green to honor the changing season. For my friends “down under”, summer has arrived, and for many I love, Hanukkah with its glowing candles will soon be here. Perhaps you do not celebrate the holidays or holy days of December, but, I think we can all embrace something in the change of the season, like a toasty fire in the hearth or a walk on the beach.

Here on the Cutoff, Christmas comes slowly, with candles aglow during our suppers of Advent and a theme of hope taking up residence. Trinkets and books have begun their appearance, coming out of boxes and drawers, while songs of good cheer are embracing our ears.  A Black Forest spruce magically appeared and is hugging the barn; a little something my Antler Man picked up this weekend and will bring in mid-month. He is being evasive about how tall it really is. The Christmas Room, thus christened by Kezzie two summers past, and magically festooned last November, will eventually host a chorus of angels and our woodland tree will alter the inner landscape of our lives, enveloping us in a sanctuary of hope.

Hope.

We were filled with much hope last December, as Tom healed from eye surgery, which went well, but whose results were not as good as we had hoped for. Still-in-all, he has been able to resume work and all activities, and does so with strong determination and abiding faith. Unfortunately, one of the side effects of a vitrectomy, epiretinal peel, and all the steroidal shots he has endured can lead to a cataract forming, which is just the case with Tom. The cataract has developed quickly and its aggressiveness is causing increased macular edema. While cataract surgery has become a common procedure these days, it is a bit more complicated for those with Type I Diabetes. Such is the case with my Tom. So, dear friends, I find myself, once again, petitioning for your good thoughts and prayers as Tom undergoes cataract surgery in the wee hours of Wednesday and my Antler Man and I spend our time in that place we have often found sheltering: hope.

Hope.

 

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DSCN6138 - Version 2

It is currently said that hope goes with youth, and lends to youth its wings of a butterfly; but I fancy that hope is the last gift given to man, and the only gift not given to youth. Youth is pre-emininently the period in which a man can be lyric, fanatical, poetic; but youth is the period in which man can be hopeless. The end of every episode is the end of the world. But the power of hoping through everything, the knowledge that the soul survives its adventures, that great inspiration comes to the middle-aged: God has kept that good wine until now. It is from the backs of the elderly gentlemen that the wings of the butterfly should burst.

Charles Dickens: Last of the Great Men

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photo-2I’m sitting here, basking in the post-Thanksgiving glow, which is almost as golden as Thanksgiving itself. Who needs Black Friday?! Most of the remains of the day are put away, though glasses that held wine and Grandma’s Coronation silver-plate still need to be put in their designated drawers and cabinets. That can wait, for I wanted to share this most excellent, someday heirloom, photo of my oldest grandnephew, Scott, who will turn 11 on my 65th birthday, next week. Here he is, cheerfully demonstrating that while he will never quite catch up to me in age, he has already done so in height. Way-to-go, Scott!

Isn’t life grand?

Our turkey was golden, and the fresh cranberry relish that perfect combination of sweet and tart. Niece Heather’s roasted potatoes were simply sublime. Nephew Andrew gave our blessing, then plates were passed and stories flowed, Jennifer and Jason soon joined us, slipping in from another family engagement, and all felt right in this day of gratitude.

Marilyn asked if I would share a recipe, and so, I thought I would.  The cranberry relish is documented here, and has been a mainstay in our menu for three decades.  My turkey, well, my turkey is usually quite delicious, but, no special ingredients or methods, I just season and roast. If a few drops of white wine are around, it usually finds itself in the gravy.

This year, I decided to make Ina Garten’s Green Beans and Shallots for our vegetable and for its color. Ina never disappoints, and she doesn’t with this easy recipe.  As you may know, I’m an Ina Garten groupie with Barefoot Contessa cookbooks lined up like the kitchen guard (though there is just enough room for her latest book, in case anyone is pondering pleasing me for my afore-mentioned birthday).  It was actually our Jennifer who first made this dish, however, and it is now a favorite.  I did use the French string beans, as they rose to my attention at the market, but, I’ve used regular as well and they work just fine. I did the parboiling and set aside earlier in the day, so, just needed to store up with the shallots just before we sat down. I did not salt the water, but, did salt the pan for the shallots – and I parboiled longer that 1 1/2 minutes.

Green Beans and Shallots

1 pound French string beans (haricots verts), ends removed (can use regular string beans)
Kosher salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon good olive oil
3 large shallots, large-diced
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Blanch the string beans in a large pot of boiling salted water for 1 1/2 minutes only. Drain immediately and immerse in a bowl of ice water.

Heat the butter and oil in a very large sauté pan (12-inch diameter) or large pot and sauté the shallots on medium heat for 5 to 10 minutes, tossing occasionally, until lightly browned. Drain the string beans and add to the shallots with 1/2 teaspoon salt and the pepper, tossing well. Heat only until the beans are hot.

(from the Barefoot Contessa Family Style)

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I’m still a wee bit under the weather.  Actually, it’s more like a wee-wee bit under the weather, which occurs each time I cough, which is most of the time right now. So, enough of my lack of bladder control, my coughing and sneezing and general malaise. This, too, will pass.  Until then, I thought I might share an older post as we here in the States prepare for Thanksgiving.

Turkey Lurkey and Henny Penny, first posted here.

412926_betterhomes19711I have a fear of turkeys. Frozen turkeys.

It started when I was 26 years old. It was my maiden voyage in the fine American culinary tradition of roasting the Thanksgiving turkey. I come from a long line of extraordinary cooks and married into a family of equal expertise. Big shoes to fill – and I only wore a size 5½ myself. The pressure to roast a good turkey was on.

On a crisp November day, on my way home from a day of teaching first graders, I stopped at the grocery store, which was a newly opened Jewel Grand Bazaar. A precursor to the big box stores of today. At four in the afternoon, it was already crowded, and parking my 1972 green Ford Pinto hatchback took a few passes down the rows to find a parking spot.

Once inside, I grabbed a cart and selected produce, then dairy, bakery, then canned goods, saving a space in the cart for Turkey Lurkey. What a pair we were that afternoon. Henny Penny and Turkey Lurkey. My mom and Tom’s, as well as his sister, Maura, were all bringing accompaniments, but, this bird and his stuffing were my responsibility. All mine.

I’d never bought a turkey before. This was long before Mr. Google could answer any question asked. With my 1972 red and white checked Better Homes and Gardens spiral bound cookbook as my guide, I picked out a frozen turkey, the biggest one I could find, loaded it onto the cart, and headed to the checkout, confident that the twenty-two pound gobbler would feed our guests and yield plenty of leftovers.

Bill paid, groceries bagged, I loaded up the hatchback of my Pinto and headed home as dusk settled in. Rush hour traffic was in full throttle, but, I only had a few miles to go and was thinking about all I still had to do to prepare for our first Thanksgiving hosting.

I’ve always loved Thanksgiving, from when I was a child, but, never more so than when I was young. Do you remember a time when we only had turkey for Thanksgiving and maybe Christmas dinner? We had our Thanksgiving meal, maybe turkey sandwiches later, leftovers a day or so more, and that was it. The scents and tastes were put in abeyance until the next year.

I was thinking about these things, I am certain, as I drove home. Anticipation and great expectations as I listened to the news on the tinny car radio (I was a news junkie even then).

Suddenly, the car in front of me stopped. I slammed on my brakes, just in time, and checked my rearview mirror to see if I was about to be hit. In an instant, I saw it, hurling at me at 35 miles per hour with me at a dead stop. My life actually flashed before my eyes, as did all my Thanksgivings and a few misgivings as well. It was two or three seconds of pure terror as 22 pounds of frozen turkey hurled, straight from the hatchback, over the back seat, and straight toward my Farah Fawcett coiffed hairdo!

Turkey Lurkey catapulting like a shot out of a cannon toward Henny Penny. I truly thought the sky was falling!

The back of my car seat stopped that frozen fowl. Stopped him mid-flight. There I was, saved, in a backhanded sort of way by foul play in the last second of the ’72 turkey tourney. The car in front stalled, the driver behind me staring, mouth agape. I can only imagine his view from his steering wheel as he witnessed a turkey on the loose in, of all cars, a Ford Pinto.

I managed to get this year’s turkey, all twenty pounds of frozen poultry promise, into the cart, into the car, out of the car, and into the freezer. It is now in a slow swoon in the refrigerator.

I thought about the turkey of yore each and every step of the way.

I still have the 1972 red and white checked Better Homes and Gardens cookbook.

The 1972 Ford Pinto hatchback , dubbed “the horsey car” by Jennifer in her toddling days, eventually went on to greener pastures.

 

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