Thursday, January 6, 2011

Free the Nutcrackers

While this holiday was absolutely wonderful, it was not what I had planned.  Ever since Halloween, while stuck in snowy Cleveland until in late December, I had been anticipating my holiday trip to the West Coast to celebrate the winter festivities with my friends and family.  Each day, all I could think about were all of the great desserts that I would make in my parents' lovely kitchen.  I could make hazelnut french macaroons, Madagascar vanilla gelato, shortbread Christmas cookies, and Christmas cupcakes (eggnog, pumpkin, cinnamon sugar, chocolate peppermint) and stack them high on a beautiful cupcake display for everyone to eat after Christmas dinner.  I don't believe that my expectations were too high, but it was instead a mixture of other emotions that overcame my dessert desires.  On the night of my arrival, when my head finally hit the cloud-like, fluffy, flannel pillows on my own little twin bed, in my own room, I breathed in the clean scent of laundry detergent.  I took another deep breath. I could smell the fresh pine trees from just outside my window, and suddenly everything else seemed excessive.  It was nice to be home, and nice to be alone (surprisingly).  The kitchen craziness that would be needed to accomplish my culinary aspirations, just seemed unneeded and undesired. 
    My feelings were also compounded by the fact that the Christmas dinner crowd was a bit anemic this year.  My two best friends could not attend as they were busy welcoming their Christmas Eve Eve arrival of their beautiful baby boy.  My brother was celebrating the holiday with his longtime girlfriend's family; while my younger sister had her own agenda that did not involve me.  I am very thankful to have been with the rest of the fam, but there were only 7 of us...no way they could handle all of my desserts...

However...still needing a creative outlet, I instead conquered the cocktail.  Actually, Mom and I made our own cocktails to take with us on Christmas eve....  Our choice was the Groucho.  Tequila, Aperol and Sweet Vermouth, shaken, chilled, and then poured over a fresh slice of orange.

  
and on Christmas day I felt the need to taste test at least a few Black Velvets (Guinness Stout and Champagne).  Delicious! 

Finally, not wanting to let the day pass without just a bit of baking, I did decide to attempt an apricot crostata, made with fresh apricot preserves from my cousin's apricots, from her California garden's tree.


   Although dessert was most important to me, we also made a wood-oven cooked beef roast, with sauteed mushrooms,

and a refreshing salad of Pacific Blue Cheese, toasted walnuts, and tart granny smith apples, with a mixture of fresh lettuces (from frisee to red leaf). The dressing was a simple blend of walnut oil, champagne vinegar, salt, pepper and shallots.



By the end of dinner, we were all very well fed, and again extremely thankful to have been able to spend the day and evening together.  My 12-year old cousin, Nick, trapped all of the Nutcracker name card holders in to the wine bottle coaster, showing us how they had all been taken captive until next year. 
As the sky grew darker, our guests went home and we plopped on the couch to watch the evening news, in part to see what everyone else did all day.  As we watched, we claimed that next year would be different yet again.  I wasn't the only one that felt that Christmas can become excessive.  We decided that next year maybe we would feed the homeless or maybe we would go to the Warriors game...or who knows.  As I learned this year, we can't plan...sometimes you just have to let your soul guide you.  Cheers to the fun we had this holiday, and Cheers to what may be the next holiday.  

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