Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Christmas Spirit

I filled my days. Baking, cooking, cleaning... avoiding thinking.

Pip-a-doodle helped me wrap.
"Christmas, children is not a date. It's a state of mind." - Mary Ellen Chase
I was writing a story from my childhood. A story that vividly evoked and celebrated my father's life. I was missing him.
I watered every bit of greenery in the home. Including the orchids which were sent from my cousins in the days following the loss of my father. Never mind that they now were a stick. I would water that stick until it crumpled into dust.

"On Christmas Day, we're going to make a Bûche de Noël," announced my daughter. I blanched a bit for I cook more than I bake. But it was Christmas and if it didn't turn out well, the process could still bright yuletide joy. Unless of course, it ended up in the garbage can.
For the first Christmas Day in my children's lives - there would be just four of us. The first Christmas without my father. My mother and sister would be in NYC. Was it possible to keep it celebratory when it was so small?
"Traditions change all the time. We want to save the culture of food here." - Giovanni Rebora, Italian food historian.
And so our new Christmas would establish a culture of food - past and present. Lasagne for the old and a new Bûche de Noël for my French-loving daughter.
"He hadn't stopped Christmas from coming! It came! Somehow or other, it came just the same." - Dr. Seuss
And so it came.

But a Bûche de Noël! Suppose after rolling and rerolling the cake, it cracked? Suppose the mushrooms were blobs? What if? What if?
Christmas Eve:
The Christmas-tidal wave that is the Haas family came. Oyster stew, two turkeys, 4 sides without dairy or eggs to combat allergies. Cookies. A vegan chocolate cake.... and some plump, puffed doves resting after their Christmas Eve meal of seeds.

Grateful for Hickory Farms which I received as part of the Foodbuzz tastemaker Program. It saved me time which was running out before the feast. Slice and serve. 30 people are about to enter my home.

And they all brought cookies. Delicious caramels, molasses cookies, sugar cookies, and chocolate truffle mice.

I was grateful for the Christmas spirit that said, don't bake - make food. You will need food.

A torrent of hungry people. Chasing wee ones. While the wee ones chased Pippin and Sadie.

I'm dishing out Oyster Stew and the Christmas Spirit says "look down and don't trip." And so I do. And below me are the youngest fascinated by Pippin drinking. They were ready to try getting their water in the same way.
We stopped them.

"Kirsten, could you be wearing any less?" mentioned Grandma Haas as she gazed at her granddaughter in her old, high school show choir dress. We all felt a need for sparkle this year.

Grandpa Haas turned 92.

And Santa visited. The wee ones followed him out looking for reindeer. We danced as fast as we could and scurried Santa out the door. Christmas Eve was boisterous. Loving. Filled with food and laughter. Would Christmas Day be too quiet?
And late that night after all were snuggled inside their own homes, we all slept the sleep of children hoping we had been mostly "nice."
Christmas morning: the day of the Bûche de Noël. A lot was riding on that log. It will fill a void this Christmas.

Christmas morning:
all is bright.

Pip took refuge but he was safe. All is calm.

Coffee and waiting for the kids. Reading the Bûche de Noël recipe again and again. In the same way, I memorized lines in the days of yore.
The Christmas challenge awaits.

Kirsten decided on a Williams-Sonoma recipe. Williams-Sonoma has never failed her. It has a lot of steps. More steps than my lasagne.

But you get to douse a dish towel with confectioner's sugar and play. My husband took one look at the kitchen, grabbed a book and some coffee and retreated. Matthew napped with a cat and a dog who were still exhausted from Christmas Eve. Kirsten and I took out every measuring cup in the house and rolled up our sleeves. Creating a new tradition must be taken seriously.

"If it cracks while rolling, we'll cover it up with the frosting." Always good to have Plan B.

A cleverly-disguised log. Not even the cat knew the secrets inside this towel

Kirsten piped the meringue mushrooms. I know my limitations. I piped the stems. I've spent a lot of time with mushroom stems. They don't need to be perfect.

And after squeezing squiggles of all sizes, we removed the frosting from the ice bath and started speading. I don't particularly love frosting. Too sweet and cloying, it's never been worth the calories.
But this was a chocolate-mousse-type confection. All silky and embracing. Delicate as an angels wing and as rich as their hymns.

The meringue mushrooms were in the oven. The lasagne was assembled.

The cake was re-rolled and the lasgane was still waiting its turn in the oven. It was three hours later. Six-thirty. The men-folk were getting hungry. We had been noshing on overflowing meringues and errant frosting. We were sated,

The lasagne was worth the wait. All was working out. I had a Guardian Angel.

Kirsten glued the stems to the mushroom caps and returned all to the oven. All was too good to be true. Kirsten also had a guardian angel. Still, we were sure they would explode in the oven. Nothing happens this easily in our household.

Bu they didn't explode. The stems stayed glued. The chocolate curled. The cake didn't break. Christmas was here. Without fanfare.
"Maybe Christmas doesn't come from a store. Maybe Christmas... perhaps... means a little bit more."

Maybe it's a process. Maybe it's teamwork. Maybe the Christmas spirit does guide all if you summon it.
It's not too late to make your own Bûche de Noël. The recipe is here. In our season of change, we didn't change a thing. But one thing did change Christmas Eve. Paul called me into the living room.

The orchid was in bloom.
Happy Boxing Day! May your New Year bring confections and blooms.


Whats Cookin Italian Style Cuisine said...

what a wonderful excursion through your day! Fun filled the cats adorable sleeping love the yule log, and I totally understand the watering of a plant, the meaning behind it, I still well up after 11 yrs with mom passing, sorry it never eases up or gets better around the holidays especially. I miss them both so much! But everytime I make mom or dads favorites I lose it....It looks like you had some amazing feast here, your appetizers and cookies are exactly what we would be celebrating with love the heart warming post, merry christmas Claudia!

Lori Lynn said...

That was so sweet Claudia - I thoroughly reading every word. And the orchid brought a tear to my eye.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and your family.

Mister Meatball said...

I'm exhausted!

But in a good way.

And Happy Birthday grandpa!

Torviewtoronto said...

your log cake looks lovely with mushrooms very creative Claudia happy holidays to you and family

Pat @ Mille Fiori Favoriti said...

Your Chrsitmas eve and day looks absolutely wonderful, Claudia, and this post was as beautifully told as a Christmas carol.
Kristen's Buche de Noel looks fantastic and so does your lasagna!

We are in the midst of a blizzard so I will be happily reading my new books and watching my new movie DVDs while I munch leftover cookies. Looking forward to 2011!

Sandra said...

Oh Claudia, what a wonderful post, and photos. I enjoyed reading it very much...Have great holiday season full of happiness!

Proud Italian Cook said...

I just read the best short story, right here on your wonderful blog, and then the orchid bloomed, how fitting. That's a beautiful cake you Kristen made, memories made....

Angie's Recipes said...

What a fun and warm holiday you had! Kristen made one great Buche de Noel! And pip...:-)) LOL
Happy Birthday to your Dad! 92...that's really something to celebrate!

My Little Space said...

Oh wow, what a terrific tming! Happy 92...grandpa! The cake looks really tempting though. Guess, everyone was busy with something and even the kids were busy imitating your cat. hahaha..... Good lord! Sounds like you're having a marvellous time with you family. Joyous season ever.
Blessings, Kristy

Beth said...

What a wonderful tale! Even before you told us about the orchid, I loved reading about the buche noel, and Christmases past, and seeing photos of little ones watching Pippin. But the orchid was the perfect ending. Merry Christmas to all of you!

Sutapa said...

Claudia you shared a story that touch me in every way and I enjoy reading it!
Your Pippin is too cute and it's great to watch kids having great time watching him!
Congrats to Kirsten and you for working so hard and making a such delicious Buche de Noel!
Yes this are moments that loudly declare Christmas doesn't come from a store!
May this Christmas be bright and cheerful and may the New Year begin on a prosperous note!
Love always.

art is in the kitchen said...

Your Bushe de Noel is just tre bon!!! I love this traditional French dessert! Very nice mushroom decorations too. Wonderful vignettes... you write so well!
Happy holidays to you and loved ones!!!

Tupper Cooks! said...

Beautiful- and your Pip is a dead ringer for our Princess Leia!


What fun! Secretly I cheated and BOUGHT mine this year!

Mary Bergfeld said...

What a feast. The buche looks absolutely wonderful and I suspect your daughter was quite proud of herself. I hope you all had a good day. Enjoy the remainder of the holiday. Blessings...Mary

Fresh Local and Best said...

This is a bittersweet post, a marriage of past, present and future.

The bûche de Noël is a much bigger project that I imagined. I do agree that Williams Sonoma has some very reliable recipes.

Ciao Chow Linda said...

Such a lovely tale of Christmas day, which turned out so nicely despite the concerns. Traditions do change and I am learning that first hand. I loved reading how you handled it all with beauty, grace and of course wonderful food.

Jen_from_NJ said...

What a touching post Claudia. I love your new tradition - the Buche de Noel looks fantastic!

chow and chatter said...

wow its beautiful I am going to try and make one inspiring love ya


Kristen said...

What a beautiful post laced with family, challenges, love and a touch of sorrow. Thank you for sharing. I am so glad the buche turned out.

Unknown said...

Hugs to you for not allowing grief to become the centerpoint of Christmas. This post so resonated with me as I've watched my father retreat into moroseness for decades over the loss of his father during the holiday season. To see you rally around family, push through to the joyful things that are still out there and come out whole was wonderful.

theUngourmet said...

Everything looks divine! You are brave to attempt this Buche de Noel. It looks wonderful as well. I'm glad you had a nice Christmas together with loved ones. I also love the photo of the doves! :)

Monet said...

What a wonderful recounting of a beautiful Christmas holiday. I loved reading your words and seeing your pictures. Everything looked just scrumptious...especially your lasagna. I'm craving Italian. Thank you for sharing this delicious recipe. Here's to a great week with lots of good eats and laughter!

sweetlife said...

i stopped by to wish you a happy hloiday and found this wonderful post, filled with great words, lovely quotes and such family love!!
love your buche de noel, but the lasgana really had me drooling!1


Magic of Spice said...

Pip is just so adorable, love the way cats nap...such a joy!
And so is this post, what a beautiful Christmas with such wonderful food...and an equally beautiful family.
Wishing you and your loved ones a most amazing 2011! Happy New Year Claudia

tasteofbeirut said...

Lovely and warm descriptive of a blessed day! Love the final photo of the orchid which participated too in the general festivities.
I am making a bûche too, just for New Year's eve!

denise @ quickies on the dinner table said...

A beautiful post Claudia, but really, do you write any other kind?

The yule log is perfect - I chickened out on making meringue mushrooms and settled for a dusting of powdered sugar, plastic holly and cranberries :D

How lovely that the orchid bloomed!

Hope your New Year is as beautiful!

Cristina, from Buenos Aires to Paris said...

What a great writer you are!! And the buche, result of all a family effort couldn't be nicer! Congrats to you all, and happy New Year!!

Anonymous said...

Looks like you had a lovely celebration, and the Bûche de Noël & meringue mushrooms turned out so nicely! Happy New Year!!!

Table Talk said...

The Buche de Noel is gorgeous, complete with dainty little meringue mushrooms. I love hearing about family cooking adventures like this. I'm a firm believer that a family who cooks together stays together!
Happy New Year!

Gera@SweetsFoodsBlog said...

That Buche de Noel looks sublime mmm ideal for me!

Happy New Year!!


Velva said...

Claudia, I really enjoyed this post. Christmas has a way of really making us miss those we love....This is a wonderful post in their honor.

The Buche de Noel? Stunning. If only I had the patience to create such a wonderful, new Christmas tradition.

Happy new Year! I am looking forward to your enjoying your blog in 2011.


Empty Nester said...

Beautifully written post. Just beautiful.

Chef Dennis Littley said...

you certainly had a busy but wonderful day! Your buche noel, and lasagna must have been delicious!
Thank you so much for sharing so much of your day with us!

Island Vittles said...

How wonderful that your Dad joined you at the last by showing his bloom! I know how hard the first Christmas is, but it seems as though you have already begun to forge new Christmas traditions. Happy New Year to everyone in the house. Theresa

Unknown said...

I have just discovered your blog! What a wonderful Christmas Eve! Love the pics!

Barbara GF said...

What a beautiful, festive holiday you had, Claudia, complete with a gorgeous Bûche de Noël. Families can be small, but the love and strength within makes them all the more special.
All the best to you and yours for a healthful and happy new year! Thank you for sharing such a glorious family celebration.

Kim - Liv Life said...

A beautiful post, Claudia. We have a fairly small family as well, and I know that when one of us is missing it will indeed be heartbreaking. Your photos are beautiful! I particularly like the kitty pics. We lost our 18 year old girl this year. I love the one of the kids by her and the water bowl, and the one of her in the bag! Mine used to do that too!

FOODESSA said... I'm sorry I had missed this wonderful venture through your Christmas spirit Claudia.

Well, maybe, it's not such a bad thing...since you made me celebrate this event cheerfully with you just as you shared it so lovingly.

What I missed the most this year is not having had anyone to bake with...especially my Nonna. Partly my fault since I was so busy with clients...sigh.

Alright...I'm on towards your latest post...ta ta for now,

Lynn @ I'll Have What She's Having said...

What a beautiful post. I'm so happy your new tradition turned out so well, the buche is gorgeous.

Victor said...

Wow, great job on the yule log! I was thinking of making meringue mushrooms, but I didn't want to have egg yolks left over in the fridge!

Great post, Claudia!