Food


I have decided that, regardless of the difficulties involved, I will have a merry Christmas. In order to encourage this, I have compiled a small list of things that I particularly enjoy about this time of year. I thought I’d share it as a small blogging Christmas present from me to you. May it help you be happy too!

Bernadette’s List Of Christmas Cheer

  1. Fresh pine. The first year my sister was in college while she was studying for finals she happened to watch an episode of Martha Stewart Living that showed making fresh pine garlands. As soon as she got home she went on a scavenging expedition all over the neighborhood surreptitiously gathering evergreen branches. She spread them out on sheets laid on the living room floor and turned the heaps of branches into wreaths and swags and sprays for the windows. They were beautiful, and they made the whole house smell so good. Today at the grocery store I picked up a fresh pine spray and took a deep breath. It smelled like Christmas.
  2. Roses. The first Christmas that I lived with my grandmother roses happened to be dirt cheap. I love roses more than almost anything, so I bought dozens and dozens, filling the house with them. They were in big vases on the dining room table, in little vases in the bathrooms, in pitchers in the bedrooms, with single blooms in bud vases tucked wherever there was space. I loved it so much that I made it my personal Bernadette Christmas tradition to have roses ever since. Things have been so disorienting that I almost forgot this year. Then today I walked into Meijer’s to do some last minute grocery shopping. The flower stand was by the door, full of roses as usual, and I remembered. It’s Christmas. I need roses. So I got some. I could only afford one dozen, but they look beautiful in the large vase to put by the nativity set and a little one for my bedroom. If I have roses, then it must be really Christmas.
  3. Pomegranates. Every year I watch and wait for the pomegranates to arrive. They’re one of the few foods you can’t easily get year round. Now the season is a couple of months beginning in November, but back in the day you were lucky to find them during just a few weeks in December. They were expensive, so my parents would buy just one for all of us to share. We carefully peeled back the red, leathery skin, revealing the seeds like jewels nestled inside. We broke the sections apart and portioned them out between us, careful to make each share exactly equal. I would eat the seeds one by one, feeling the burst of sweet tart juice on my tongue. They’re still one of my favorite fruits. Besides tasting good, they’re so beautiful. It’s like eating garnets. Plus they’re romantic. In the Song of Songs (the sexy part of the Bible), when the groom is praising the bride’s beauty, he tells her, “Your lips are like a scarlet thread; your mouth is lovely. Your cheek is like a half-pomegranate behind your veil.” (Song of Songs 4:3) It’s a wonderful thing.
  4. The Messiah by Handel. When I was growing up this was one of the things my mom would put on while she was working in the afternoons. Most people only know the Halleluia Chorus, but we were used to listening to it all the way through. I know it so well it’s almost seeped into my subconscious. The strings in Thou Didst Not Leave His Soul In Hell, the trumpet aria in The Trumpet Shall Sound, the fierce choral parts in But Thanks Be To God. I think I could sing along to it before I could understand the words. The parts I love the best are actually all from the section about Christ’s death and resurrection, but somehow it’s still associated with this time of year. I was listening to it as I drove around today. It felt like home.
  5. O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. I love that song. When I was growing up, during Advent before dinner every night we would turn out all the lights, light the Advent wreathe, and sing O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. We’re a musical family, so often it would be multiple verses in four (or five or six) part harmony. I know there were nights that I couldn’t stand it, nights when I really, really didn’t want to hold my sibling’s hand and sing. When I look back, however, all I can seem to remember is my family gathered warmly together in the glow of the candlelight and the song rising from our hearts to God’s.

That’s what I have so far. Merry Christmas!!!!

The other night I was talking with Jenn, who launched into her list of Christmas cookies. There’s the standard cutouts, and chocolate pretzels, and Russian tea balls, (which gets amended to Russian tea cakes with a look at Mark, her husband, who just can’t resist going there with his dirty mind), and Lord knows what else. She has peanut butter dough and gingerbread dough and sugar cookie dough, and then there’s the plans for when she’ll get each kind made, and how she’ll arrange the platters and who she’ll give them to. Her associates at work each get one, and then there’s family, and… yeah, like that.

I remember when that was me. I would be reading the food and housekeeping magazines, with their feature stories on cookies and families who make lots and lots of cookies in a heartwarming and family spirited sort of way. There are gorgeous pictures of these cookies, arranged tastefully and appetizingly in ways that just scream, “Omigosh, the person who made these is amazing!” (No, really! They do!) I would clip recipes and make shopping lists for ingredients and garnishes. I planned out days and baked accordingly. There were some memorable cookies in those years. I particularly remember the chocolate sandwich cookies with Bailey’s Irish Cream flavored filling. And then there was the year of the gingerbread people. I baked bazillions of them, icing them to resemble various members of the family, and hung them up as an edible part of the Christmas decorations. Of course, it was one of those unpredictable southern Ohio Christmases. Somehow we got a spell of humidity, which softened the gingerbread, making them slowly start to fall off their hangers. This meant we had to eat them quick before they fell. I still have the recipe somewhere, along with the one for little gingerbread mice with black licorice tails (too insanely cute) that I just never got around to making.

Then I went back to school, and the first weeks of December became irretrievably associated with exams instead of Christmas preparation. I’m all good with the holiday fun up through Thanksgiving, and then life becomes a blur of final projects, final papers, and tests on books that, oh yeah, I might want to actually read. The holiday hype buildup becomes reduced to vaguely noticing the Christmas songs playing at the grocery store as I’m blearily stocking up on necessities before another all night study session. In my world, school is all there is. People keep inviting me to Christmas parties (I have four this weekend alone), and I think to myself, don’t you people realize it’s exam week? I become very grateful for the liturgical season of Advent, which gives me a good reason not to be thinking about this stuff right now. I’ll do that later. When exams are over, and it’s actually Christmas.

On Saturday I spent the afternoon working in the kitchen, baking bread for the formal dinner I went to last night, among other things. I was wearing one of my bibless chef’s aprons over a long jean skirt and a grey sweater. My hair was pulled back in a clip at the nape of my neck. At one point I slipped on my favorite new ballet flats to take something out to the trash. When I was outside, I looked down at myself and realized that I was dressed like Cinderella, even down to the shoes. Make my hair blond and exchange the clip for a ribbon, and we’d be pretty much there.

To make the similarity even more exact, later that night I exchanged my work clothes for formal dress, including a long, ballgown skirt and many, many rhinestones (of the vintage variety). The party I went to was, unfortunately, not a ball – although there was dancing, and I danced. However, no one gentleman monopolized my time, and while I did happen to leave at midnight, my car continues to bear no resemblance to a pumpkin, and all my shoes are fully accounted for. Though I did lose a button off my skirt. Maybe tomorrow I’ll hear a knock on the door and open it to find a liveried lackey standing outside holding my skirt button ensconced on a large pillow. When I can produce the matching skirt, he’ll forthwith lead me to his employer, who will be the Man of My Dreams. We’ll live happily ever after, of course. That’s what you do in fairy tales.

Unfortunately, for this to really work, said Man of My Dreams had to have also been attending the party last night. While there were some truly excellent guys at that party, I’m pretty darn sure none of them are the Prince Charming I’ve been waiting for. Sigh.  Though Lucy did award me her personal Best Dressed Award, so I think, all in all, it was worth it. Though you don’t have to take her word for it – judge for yourself (I’m the one with the pomegranate):

B with pomegranate

Sunday when I went home for the Family Christmas Planning Meeting Part II, I picked up the envelope from the Ohio Poetry Day Association, containing a Certificate of Merit for winning First Prize in the Welcome Aboard Poetry Competition, as well as a check for $35. It was pretty sweet. I have to fight the urge to frame the check and keep it forever instead of cashing it. Don’t worry. It won’t be a long fight.

Oh, my friends, it is so freaking cold at my house!  Right now I’m huddled over my morning bowl of hot cereal, trying to absorb, not only its nutritional value, but every calorie of heat it’s radiating.  Last night I slept in thick socks, sleep pants, a thermal long sleeve shirt, and the thickest sweater I own.  I still had to pull the covers up over my head to get warm.  I know that Liv hasn’t turned the heat on yet because she’s trying to save money (we’re both, you know, impoverished and all), but it was 62 degrees Fahrenheit by the thermostat downstairs this morning when I woke up.  Couldn’t we have perhaps even a little warmth?  [insert pitiful big-eyed face here]

I’m afraid that Essential Pieces of my Princess Pupule Halloween costume, which I ordered online, won’t be here in time for the dance on Saturday.  [insert anxious, possibly sad face here]  However, they’ll definitely be here in time for the dance on Wednesday!  [insert gleeful, excited face here]

In dancing news, Lucy and I have been discovering the joys of Solo Blues.  We never knew there was such a thing before, and it’s lovely!  Dancing Blues has always been problematic for me.  I know I’ll really, really like it – but will I respect myself in the morning?  In my brief forays into the Blues world, there have been times when I was just fine with it, and times when I… wasn’t.  Then I followed a link on a friend’s dancing blog, and found this: The ULHS 2006 Solo Blues Finals.  It was awesome.  And there were some amazing dancers in it, dancers I recognized from Charleston videos.  Dancers that Lucy thinks are demigods and I think are really, really cool (I have my own pantheon of dancing demigods).  It was a revelation.  So I sent Lucy the link, and last night we both tried it out on the dance floor at the Wednesday night dance.  We have some kinks to work out.  For example, how do you make this distinctively Blues and not just booty-shakin’?  And all the dancers in the finals were dancing barefoot, but I love the noises I can make with the heels on my new dancing shoes. There’s a whole new dancing world to explore!  Hurrah!  [insert ecstatic solo-blues dancing face here]

My sister Judy, who is one of the most organized women I’ve ever known, just contacted me for my Christmas Wish List for this year. Every year she collects all the wish lists from everyone in the family and compiles them into one big spreadsheet of wish lists, then distributes that list far and wide to whoever might want to give one of us a gift. Sometimes it’s fun seeing how things have changed over the course of a year. Last year my wish list was:

  • A swarm of bees or rabbit from Heifer International, http://www.heifer.org
  • Coffee grinder
  • Small weather radio.
  • Blue or periwinkle moonbeam clock from L.L. Bean
  • Vintage rhinestones (get Leila’s opinion if needed)
  • Train tickets between Dayton and Milwaukee
  • Silly Disney Princess stuff – esp. Snow White
  • Gift cards for Target, Meijer, Cafepress.com, spreadshirt.com, zappos.com
  • Books:
    • Naomi Novik
    • Any volume of the Navarre Study Bible
    • A Chicago Style Manual
    • W.T. Cavanaugh, Torture and Eucharist
    • Edith Stein, Finite and Eternal Being
    • Berkman, Contemplating Edith Stein
    • A. McKendrick, On Film Making
    • Wendy Shalit, A Return To Modesty
    • Kerouac, A Book of Sketches
    • A good dictionary

This year my list is:

Just in case, you know, you wanted to know…

Last night, in an event that will live in swing dancing infamy, I first made a guy abandon his cookie to dance with me, and then elbowed him in the mouth. Yeah. What made it worse was that I’d been watching him dance all night, and waiting my chance to grab him. He was enormously sweet about it, but Lord. I’m still blushing. The last time I did that to a guy was well over a year ago, on the night I managed to elbow first Eddie and then Trey. That was also a night that will live in swing dance infamy. Though Trey did say he’s glad to be off my injured list now. But why do I have to have a list at all? I just haven’t been dancing enough lately. That’s what it is. Dang vacations…

In other news, Monday night I made bread just because I could. Have I mentioned that I love having a kitchen that’s really mine? Yup. Pretty freaking awesome. It’s good bread too, though I didn’t use a recipe, so I’m not sure if I can replicate it. But that doesn’t really matter. Bread is bread, and it’s good just by being itself. Especially if I made it. I’m not bragging, just speaking the plain, natural truth. Really.

In other other news, I really need to get a new mattress. The mattress I had been sleeping on belonged to my Previous Roommate, so I left it behind when I moved. When my family brought over my bed (one of a set of antique twin beds that used to belong to my great-grandparents and now belong to me) they grabbed one of the mattresses out of the attic to go with it. Only I think this mattress may be as old as the bed. I swear I can feel every spring and coil in the thing. So can my lower back. It’s been letting me know about this. Liv lent me some foam egg-crate type stuff, which is helping a lot, but it’s not the same as having an actual, back-supporting mattress under me. Finances are tight right now while I’m waiting for some of my school finance stuff to get straightened out, so it could be a little while. In the meantime I’ll be pinching pennies and dreaming (literally) of pillow-topped cushiony-ness.

And that’s all the news that’s fit to print. Er, type. Whatever.

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, my oldest sister Michelle went off to college. On the wall of her room, she taped up a collage of pictures and graphics and headlines clipped from magazines, catalogues, calendars, and Lord knows where else. This made a deep impression on her younger sisters, me included, and we all became incorrigible clippers. We’d go through all sorts of printed material, tearing out pictures of beautiful things and beautiful people, interesting bits of text, articles to read, whatever caught our fancy. While sometimes the clippings have become wall collages or other works of art, they have a tendency to lay unloved in vast unsorted folders, waiting for that magic day when we’ll finally Do Something with them.

Among the long lost belongings I was reunited with in my recent move were two file cabinets stuffed to the gills with, well, Stuff. This included two large file folders labeled simply Unsorted and Unsorted II, filled as full as they would hold with clippings. Going through them has been like opening a time capsule on my five-years-ago self. I can see how food-mad I was (I was, after all, in chef school). There are untold recipes for things like Thai Basil Gelato and Cumin Braised Short Ribs. There are restaurant reviews and chef’s profiles (including a lengthy article on Nigella Lawson, whose book How To Be A Domestic Goddess gave me my e-mail address). There are articles discussing the virtues of stone-ground grits, and whether organic wine is really any good.

Through all the clippings, I can see how much the girl who assembled them was longing for a home. There are endless pictures of living rooms and kitchens, bathrooms and cozy sitting areas, all decorated in cool, peaceful shades, full of comfortable, interesting details that invited you to come in and stay a while. There are pictures of quirky, unusual furniture; how-to articles on ways to make a space really your own. I was living in my grandmother’s house at the time, both my home and manifestly not my home. I longed for a place that would really be mine, a place that could be my safety in a world that was as precarious as my grandmother’s health.

At the same time this girl longed for adventure and far off places. There are so many travel articles for places like Istanbul, Vienna, hidden nooks and crannies of Australia, tropical islands, and the south of France. The girl I was never wanted to live an ordinary life, and Dayton, OH was feeling a size too small.

In the end, I got the unordinary life. My grandmother died, and four months later I was part of a travelling youth ministry team traversing the length and breadth of the continent. All my domestic daydreams got packed up and put away for another time, another place. Since then I still have yet to live in a house that is really mine, although my current living situation is perhaps the closest I’ve ever come. In the meantime, I’m not the same woman I used to be. My dreams have changed along with me. Those clippings are beautiful, but I’m not sure how much of them I want anymore.