Christmas is complicated for me. For many foolish reasons, most indelibly imprinted during childhood and unreasonably carried forward. Reasons I won't sully the mood with here. The poorly formed point I'm hoping to make is that this Christmas was one of the best ones I've had. And for me, The Grudge-Holder, the Obsessive, the Neurotic, the Often Bitter, that is really saying something.
This year, we had the pleasure of hosting Christmas dinner for Hubby's parents at the Love Nest. We watched Gordon Ramsay's Ultimate Christmas on BBC America and found his turkey recipe to be an inspiration, despite having tried countless Food Network turkey recipes that were too much work and too little taste. Every bird I've ever had has been dry and tasteless. It's a necessity at Thanksgiving, sure, but each bite of turkey always needs a lot of highly-seasoned stuffing, gravy, and cranberries. And wine. (That may be the in-law factor.)
On Christmas Eve, post-final-gift-wrap, we prepped the bird so we could spend Christmas morning in leisure. It began with a pound of butter, seasoned with lemon, parsley, and garlic, tucked under the skin. The cavity was stuffed with two onions and a lemon, halved. Though I'd bought the smallest turkey I could find on December 23rd (yeah, that was my bad), the twelve-pound fowl hung over my roasting pan. Hubby told me to cover it in foil and we'd deal with it in the morning.
Come daylight, we had the delight of a quiet morning. Not that Christmas with a house full of visitors and kids and dogs is a bad thing at all. But this year, our first Christmas in the Love Nest, the first Christmas that nobody had to work, the first Christmas that we didn't have to accommodate any guests, was--at the risk of sounding selfish--simply lovely. Just our little family, opening presents and being ourselves, with no relatives or in-laws or nieces to pay attention to. Just us. Just as Christmas morning with a dozen family members and their kids and pets is a beautiful chaos, just us this Christmas was a delightful peace.
Also, it meant that Santa could decorate the tree with underpants tied in bows. A new Christmas tradition!
In the morning, after stockings and coffee and quiche, I got to open a large, heavy present.
Since we took the turkey from the fridge and put it right into the oven, rather than bringing it closer to room temperature first, the initial hot-roasting took twice as long as Ramsay's recipe: 25 minutes at 420 degrees to brown up the breast a little. Baste, then cover with bacon. Oh yes, bacon. After basting every 30 minutes or so for 3 1/2 hours at 350 degrees, the thermometers in the thigh read 175 degrees and the juices from the thigh meat ran clear so we called it.
The cranberry sauce was another dish that can be done a million ways, and all of them are okay. Really. Just okay. Maybe the problem is that I've yet to taste one laden with cinnamon that didn't taste like cinnamon...and then cranberry. Two totally separate, unmelded tastes. Seeking something more interesting, I tried a variation on another recipe from the show: cranberry sauce. Ramsay's had apples and anise and cardamom, but I was mostly interested in his method of cooking the sugar until it was amber-colored, then adding the cranberries, orange juice and zest, and port.
Dinner was lovely. The food turned out amazing and the company was fine. And I was not sore from standing all day, not stressed out from the pressure of getting everything to the table piping hot at the same time the turkey comes out of the oven. The gravy was thin, but overall, this was a meal I'm very, very proud of.
After dinner, we exchanged gifts with his parents. They handed me a heavy box, decorated with festive bows, and filled with some of their old cookbooks. Cookbooks from Hubby's mother's parents. Tucked between the pages of one was a treasured hand-written recipe on a slip of reused paper for pineapple chiffon cake. Another was the holy grail baking manual from her father's high school days. The gravity of the gift is overwhelming. All of that history, all of those memories. I am speechless and humbled.
Gathered around my husband's grandmother's table, seated in the fading yellow vinyl chairs, hunched over the laminate wood pattern of the tabletop, we sat with his mother and father and played cards late into the night. Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra crooned Christmas carols in the background, and just below the scraping sound of shuffling, his mother hummed along. She began to tell us about her own childhood Christmases, how her aunts and uncles and cousins would gather at the very same table on Christmas night, and play the very same card game we were playing. Rounds with 10 or more players excitedly stealing cards, cussing and keeping score. A snack buffet of cold cuts for sandwiches, chips and dips and salads kept the players in top condition for the grueling hands. Laughing and eating.
Laughing and eating. Which is the point, really.