Thursday, December 17, 2009

A Week to Go

Santa Claus greets shoppers in the lobby of the Independent grocery store in Bracebridge.

Only one week until Christmas Eve.
I can't believe it.
I have so much to do. My shopping is pretty much done but I haven't mailed my Christmas cards yet, the tree isn't decorated, the house is messy and I haven't baked a single, solitary thing.
Do I need to do any of it? 
It's not the end of the world if I don't mail cards. The tree has so many lights on it that ornaments wouldn't be missed. And the house... well, I could clean it up tonight and by tomorrow night it would be messy again. So why bother?
As for the baking, well, I'm not sure how I feel about it this year. If  I don't bake anything it will be only the second time in more than 25 years that I haven't. The first time was shortly after my  marriage fell apart and I was living in a little boathouse with no baking equipment to speak of and no need for a bunch of cookies.
I don't know why I haven't this year. Too busy sounds like a cop-out. But I have been busy. There's always so much to do that, when I get home for the night, I just don't feel like making a big mess. 
I also don't have the kids this Christmas. Not in the morning, anyway. They'll be with my ex. 
Dave and I will pick them up Christmas night and they'll spend the night with us, but Christmas is all about Christmas morning, not the night. Not when they're young. 
My ex and I are civil, probably the most civil separated people I know,  and we decided ages ago that we would take turns with the kids at Christmas. Still, it's very difficult when it's not my turn. I'm sure it's hard for him, too. 
No doubt it's hardest on the children. They seem well-adjusted but when there are problems I can't help but blame us. My parents stayed together forever. I never knew what it was like to grow up a child of divorce and I feel sick that my children are forced to endure this.
I didn't choose this.
If I had my way, I would still be married, no matter what. 
He wanted it, not me.
In hindsight, I'm a great deal happier these days. I'm in a serious, wonderful, healthy relationship with a man who loves me and loves the children. He couldn't be a better person nor a better role model. And I think the kids are better for having him in their lives, whether they realize that or not.
Does it matter if I don't make gingerbread cookies this year?
I think it matters.
I want them to grow up with some traditions. I want them to think back to the Christmases when they were little, and their mom made these fabulous gingerbread cookies, painstakingly decorated with bright icing and silver dragees.
I want them to remember helping me decorate them, staining their fingers with food colouring and eating icing until their tummies hurt.
I want them to remember Christmas the way I remember Christmas. 
As magic.
My parents gave me the most magical Christmases any child could ever imagine. I remember being a teenager and staring out my bedroom window, almost sick with anticipation. 
I remember this because there was fresh snow glimmering in the reflection of Christmas lights, and icicles reaching down from the eavestrough, and I sketched the scene in my art book, signed my name and the date, December 17, 1974.
I remember thinking that this date, December 17, only one week until Christmas, was the most amazing date on the entire calendar. And I wondered how I could possibly survive, with all these butterflies buzzing around in my stomach, until Christmas morning.
Because I wrote down the date, I've never forgotten it.
What I have forgotten is that butterflies feeling. That magic. I want to reclaim it. 
I just don't know how.

P.S. Here's my recipe for Gingerbread Cookies. I got it 12 years ago from a woman I worked with in Toronto, who got it from her mother, who clipped it out from a Family Circle magazine dating back to the 1950s. 
It makes the best gingerbread cookies I've ever tasted. The key is using blackstrap molasses, not the fancy pale stuff.
You need three nights to make the cookies.
On the first night you make the dough and refrigerate it.
On the second night you bake. 
On the third night you ice. 
If you're obsessive like me, it might take you longer. The way I ice them, it takes an entire day.
Oh, and the best food colour is the gel that comes in little pots. You can only buy this stuff at a place like Michael's or maybe the Bulk Bin. It's expensive but it lasts forever. I've had mine for years.

Gingerbread Cookies

4 cups sifted all purpose flour

1 tsp. baking soda

2 tsp. ground cinnamon

1 tsp. ground ginger

1 tsp. ground cloves

½ tsp. ground nutmeg

Combine all ingredients in a bowl.

In another, larger bowl  combine:

1 cup vegetable shortening

1 cup granulated sugar

1 cup blackstrap molasses (don’t substitute fancy molasses)

1 egg

1 tsp. vanilla

Beat shortening with sugar until fluffy; beat in molasses, egg and vanilla.

Stir in flour mixture, 1/3 at a time, to make soft dough. Wrap in foil for four hours or overnight in refrigerator.

Roll dough, ¼ at a time, to 1/8” thickness.

Cut with fancy cookie cutters into holiday shapes.

(Tip: If you roll out the dough onto parchment paper, the cookies are easier to handle. Simply roll out the dough on the paper, cut out a shape and remove the excess dough. Place the parchment paper loaded with cookies onto an ungreased cookie sheet.)

Bake at 350 degrees F for 8 minutes or until firm.

Cool before frosting.

Royal Frosting

(makes 1 ½ cups – two batches may be necessary to ice all cookies in this recipe)

2 freshest possible egg whites*

1 tsp. lemon juice

3 ½ cups icing sugar

Beat egg whites and lemon until foamy. Slowly add icing sugar until frosting holds firm peaks. Cover icing with damp cloth to prevent drying.

For colouring the icing, food colour gels or paste provide the richest, deepest hues. They’re available at specialty baking supply stores.

Separate a few spoonfuls of white icing into small bowls; colour them and use a small knife, spreader or spatula to cover the cookies with a nice, solid layer of icing – not too thin and not too thick! Decorate with silver dragees or sprinkles. Allow to dry overnight before storing cookies in an airtight container.

Cookies will keep well up to a month.

*It’s extremely important to use fresh eggs for the icing because of the danger of food poisoning. If in doubt, use meringue powder and follow the manufacturer’s directions.

Angus and Sam decorate gingerbread cookies last year.

1 comment:

  1. Cookies are the magic of Christmas!
    Lovely bittersweet blog entry, by the way.


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