By E. Ayers (Guest Blogger)
Thanks, Lisabet, for having me here on Christmas Eve. I thought I'd share a wee bit of my Christmas and how it got started. I've also got a little Christmas gift for all your readers tucked at the bottom of this post. Merry Christmas to everyone who celebrates and Peace to everyone else.
What is traditional in one house may not be traditional in another. And how do these traditions get going? Some people put a Christmas tree up on Thanksgiving Day. Others wait until Santa brings the tree on Christmas Eve. Most of us fall someplace in the middle. But what happens when two very diverse people from different backgrounds marry and the family traditions are far from the same? It's time to decide what is important and create your own.
My husband grew up in a small city with a big French Canadian family of aunts, uncles, and cousins living nearby. Everyone went to the grandparents' house, and food was abundant. To him, Christmas Eve was everything. They all went to Midnight Mass, then returned to the grandparents' house for "breakfast" at one o'clock in the morning. Somehow, Santa came to the grandparents' house while they were at Mass and filled their stockings with treats and inexpensive toys. After "breakfast" they were allowed to open their gifts from their grandparents, aunts, uncles etc. At dawn, they returned home. There they had gifts from his parents to open. It was a non-stop party. That afternoon, they went back for Christmas dinner at his grandparents' house. The women cooked, the men did their thing, and twenty cousins played.
As a married couple, we didn't live anywhere near that family, and his grandparents were no longer living when we married, but he loved that big family atmosphere and the foods. Hmm, I had my work cut out for me learning to make a few of those traditional dishes. I also knew, I didn't want our children to stay up all night. To me, part of Christmas Eve was going to bed and listening for Santa to arrive and the long wait for the sound of hooves on the roof. Also there was no Midnight Mass to attend.
My mom always made a big meal on Christmas Eve. Her feeling was we'd just had that turkey dinner the month before so why do it again? She did a ham and then fixed things like macaroni salad to go with it. Her emphasis was on the desserts, rolls, and other baked items. She didn't want to spend Christmas in the kitchen and miss being with her children and grandchildren. I liked her logic.
But the one tradition in my family that I hated was the one that made us wait until we had eaten a good breakfast before we could open our presents. That one was tossed away. The other thing I didn't like was that Christmas didn't last very long. The tree went up a few days before Christmas and vanished Christmas night. By nightfall on the twenty-sixth, all traces of Christmas were gone.
So in the end, when we sorted out what was important to us, including the foods that we loved, we came up with our own. The first weekend in December, we decorated for Christmas. My husband's job was to help get the tree up and do the lights. When our children were little, our Christmas tree was inside the playpen. The kids could see but not get to anything, and packages were safe from little fingers.
Christmas Eve dinner was ham and a few added items from my husband's family. As darkness descended, we did everything by candlelight except for the lights on the tree and the candles in the windows. Christmas music played in the background. I allowed the children to open a specific Christmas Eve present before they went to bed and bedtime was at a normal hour or slightly later. Then it was our time to be together. It was a beautiful way to end a hectic day. We'd curl up together on the sofa and … well, it was romantic.
Since we had no fireplace to hang stockings, our girls hung them on their doorknobs of their bedrooms. The deal was that they could grab them and climb into our bed to open whatever was in their stocking. This worked perfectly as it contained them. They didn't wake each other! It also gave us time to open our eyes and fix a pot of coffee before they ran into the living room. I'd also put the tourtiere (French Canadian pork pie) in the oven to warm because it wouldn't be Christmas morning without tourtiere for breakfast. Then we'd turn the kids loose to see what else Santa had brought. When the flurry of gifts was over, we'd have breakfast. Then it was a lazy sort of day.
Between New Years and Christmas we'd take the tree down and return the house to normal. It would be almost another year before we'd do it all again. Today, the idea of family together at Christmas Eve still holds. My girls visit with their other family on Christmas, but Christmas Eve is still ours, and so is the ham and the tourtiere. Except, I no longer make it, my granddaughters are learning to make it. Their grandfather would have been so proud of them.
1 pound of ground pork (I ask the butcher to grind very lean pork for me. It costs a few cents more, but it's worth it.)
2 medium boiled and peeled potatoes (Cut up fine. You want some texture but no large chunks.)
One fat slice of mild onion (or cheat with powdered onion and skip sautéing in butter.)
1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon of cloves
a dash of salt and little butter
pork gravy (you can cheat and use packaged gravy)
Cut up the onion into very fine pieces and sauté in butter. Add ground pork and stir until cooked. Turn stove off. Drain any excess fat. Stir in seasonings. Gently add the potatoes. You will need about a cup of gravy. I save my unsalted potato water and mix that with the gravy packet. Add that gravy to the meat and potatoes mixture and lightly stir.
(I swear they are so easy to make and taste delicious. You'll never use store bought again.)
2 cups of all purpose flour
1 teaspoon of salt
2/3 cup + 2 Tablespoons of shortening
4-5 Tablespoons of cold water
A pie plate (8-9 inches)
Measure flour and salt into a bowl. Cut in shortening. Take two knives and cut until shortening seems to vanish into the flour and it all becomes grainy. Sprinkle in water, mixing until the dough begins to form a ball and pulls from the sides of the bowl. Gather into a ball with your hands and cut the ball in half. Cover the one unused half with a damp paper towel.
Don't worry about having a dough board, etc. Make certain your countertop is extra clean. Sprinkle it with flour. Be generous. If you don't have a rolling pin substitute with something that will roll such as a smooth glass jar. Sprinkle a little flour on the ball and don't be afraid to sprinkle more flour as you go. Roll the half ball into something about the size of your hand. Pick it up, flip it over, and roll it using pie slice strokes to create a round shape. (Think of a clock and roll from the center to the 12, then from the center to the 2, from the center to the 4, etc.) The flattened dough needs to be about two inches larger than the rim of the pie plate. Don't worry about ragged edges.
When I taught my children I often used waxed paper under the pie crust as they rolled. I'd let them roll it out part of the way on the counter, and then when I flipped it over, I put it on waxed paper that had been floured. The waxed paper tends to slip around so I'd glue it down with a smear of dough on the countertop. I'd let them mark the circle with a pen ahead of time so they knew how far the dough had to stretch. Then it's easy to pick the crust up, waxed paper and all, and flip it over into the pie plate. Gently peel the waxed paper off and push the crust into place. Fix cracks, etc, with a wet finger as you push the dough back together. Trim the crust slightly beyond the edge of the plate.
Fill pie with meat filling. Do not exceed the height of the pie plate. And don't try to pack it tight. (Any excess filling can be heated in the microwave and eaten on toast. Or if you have enough you can make another pie or freeze it.)
Make a top crust by rolling out the other half of the dough. Lay it gently on the pie. With luck this one will look much better. (The bottom crust was practice, right?)
If you have clean pastry shears you can cut the dough, if not use a sharp knife and remove all but an extra inch. Tuck that top layer under the bottom layer on the rim and flute it with your fingers. Or cut both crusts to the edge of the pie plate and run a damped finger between the two so that they stick together. Use the handle to a spoon and press them together or use the tines of a fork. You can make pretty fluted patterns doing it.
Cover the edges of the plate with a foil sleeve to protect the edges from getting too brown. Just wrap two inch wide pieces of alumium foil around the edge This pie needs to be vented so that the steam escapes. The quick way is to put two or three 1 inch (2-3 cm) knife slices in the center. Bake the pie at 425 degrees Fahrenheit until it begins to brown.
I remove the pie and refrigerate. Then I reheat it without the foil on the edges. And I serve with more gravy. (Thank goodness for packets of gravy! I've also seen his family eat it with ketchup on it.)
I decorate the crust and this has become a tradition. It doesn't take much skill and it's fun! It only takes a sharp knife and toothpicks. I promise it was more difficult for me to draw them with a mouse than it is to do it with a knife. Using a cookie cutter is a great way of marking the design, but don't cut all the way through the unbaked crust. Just mark it and then using the tip of the knife or a toothpick to pierce the crust in that design. Over the years trees have become elaborate things with presents under them and Christmas balls hang from pine branches. Some years the pie crusts haven't looked that great especially when my girls were learning. And lately, it's been the same with the grandchildren making them, but they taste wonderful.
This is a great multi-purpose piecrust.
A Snowy Christmas in Wyoming
A Native American cowboy and a national TV news anchorwoman have nothing in common except for their pasts. Is love preordained? An old diary from when Jessie and Clare Coleman settled on the land in the 1840's provides a history of their life. But tucked between the pages is an unrequited love between Clare Coleman and a tall Native American. Does love and land come full circle? In this season of giving, will fate reach through time to give a gift of love?
Andy Coyote settled into the job as foreman on the Coleman ranch. He's got custody of his thirteen month old daughter and the situation is perfect for both of them until Caroline Coleman returns home for Christmas and one of the worst blizzards in years hits the area. He's forced to accept Caroline's help to move a herd of cattle and mixed in it are several head from another ranch in the community. Cattle rustling still happens.
Caroline Coleman has her dream job as a Washington, D.C., news anchor for a national broadcast, but home is in Wyoming on her family's ranch. She has everything that money can buy, but the things that she really wants can't be purchased. Raised with solid, hard working, family values, she knows her life in the spotlight isn't real. She wants a man who appreciates the ranch, loves her for who she is and not what she is, and she wants a family of her own. And she doesn't like the idea of Andy Coyote taking advantage of her grandmother.
My holiday gift to all of you.
Put it in your shopping cart.
Use coupon code: DL56J
UPDATE the cart and watch the price fall to zero.
This coupon is good until the end of December 2011.
I love hearing from my readers. e.ayers [at] ayersbooks.com
I wish you all a wonderful holiday. If you have a moment to post a comment, I'd love to hear how you celebrate this season.