It has been said about me that I am an oft-complaining malcontent … a killjoy who carries around a wet blanket … a partypooping grinch. In a strange twist of irony, those are just the labels my wife pinned on me during our first Christmas together.
It all began to unfold before I topped off my first cup of coffee that morning.
Everyone has their own way of doing things. Back in the day, my mother in-law did everything after the sun went down on December 24 — put up the tree, wrapped gifts, made (and fed the family) lobster fra diablo, and goodness knows what else. Christmas morning, according to my wife, revealed a New York City apartment that had gone through a magical transformation.
Thankfully, we don’t have Mom’s desire to punish ourselves on Christmas Eve. Also, we don’t have her work ethic, so we decided early on that we’d go more the way of my family — put the tree up a few weeks before the big day; wrap gifts as we go along; and enjoy finger foods the night before (to allow us more time to toast the holiday with my Anchor Steam and her Champagne).
Before we sit down to our biggest breakfast spread of the year, we begin the morning with a cup of coffee or juice as we rotate through unwrapping everything in our stockings. Yes, I am almost 42 and Christmas stockings are probably my favorite part of the day.
Except in 1994.
Neutrogena vs. dice
I reluctantly accepted the fact that all Christmas stocking bric-a-brac was to be wrapped — right down to the last candy cane. But my stick was drawn directly to the mud when I realized that my wife had shopped for the entire contents of my stocking on the shampoo/soap/deodorant aisle of the local Walgreens.
Careless? Oblivious? Remiss? Yes — she was! Christmas stockings, I told her, were supposed to be fun.
“What’s wrong with your stocking, Adam?” she asked. “Please don’t start. It’s Christmas.”
“Don’t start?” I said, with a crooked smile on my disappointed face. “Seriously? You tell me not to start while you’re sitting there with a stocking full of fun?”
“Fun?” she asked sarcastically, as she pointed to a pile of electronic gadgetry, pear-scented lotion, orange-flavored chocolate and a pair of dice. “You got me dice, Adam!”
“What’s wrong with dice?” I responded. “Dice are fun … and they come in handy when you lose dice from a board game.
“When have you ever been willing to play a board game?” she snapped back.
“I’ll trade my antiperspirant and shampoo for your dice and crossword puzzle book. I’m just saying.”
As we again approach Christmas, we still joke about my behavior back in 1994. But she apparently took me seriously, because I’ve been having fun before Christmas breakfast ever since.
And she has 16 pairs of dice, and counting.
Balsam, hollyberry and cloves are Christmas. They are warm, comforting and conjure fond memories of family holiday gatherings — when everything was perfect, if only for a short while.
Anticipation of those precious moments is also a wonderful gift. In my home, the aroma that marked the annual countdown was of butter, flour and pecans. Sand tarts always had to be made in multiple batches, because the first batch was rarely even allowed to cool. There are countless variations of this recipe out there, but this version remains unchanged from at least the mid-1950s, when the sweet smell of these melt-in-your-mouth treats wafted through my mom’s childhood home in Corpus Christi, Texas.
Round one of the annual Christmas bakefest: pecan tassies, chocolate-dipped (then pecan rolled) cookies and sand tarts. Confession: All I did was raise my blood sugar by ‘testing’ these wonderful goodies. My wife gets all of the credit for the sweets in this year’s gift bags, except for maybe the fudge that I’ll make later this week.
Preheat oven to 350°
2 sticks — Butter
¼ cup — Powdered sugar
½ cup — Pecans, chopped
2 cups — All-purpose flour
1 teaspoon — Baking powder
3 teaspoons — Vanilla
Cream butter. Add flour, powdered sugar and baking powder. Stir in pecans and vanilla. Shape into crescents and place on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 10-12 minutes or until light brown. Roll in powdered sugar while still warm.
– Adam Holland of Unorthodox Epicure