I’m not sure when I stopped wishing I could date rock stars and started wanting to invite them and their wives over for dinner . . . but that’s exactly what I wanted to do after Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers’ inspiring set* last night. This doesn’t do it justice, but enjoy anyway!
*I suppose sets would be more appropriate. They played for nearly two hours, with at least three encores!
Every year my extended family on my father’s side gathers at my grandparent’s house to celebrate Christmas together. I have five cousins on this side of the family. We are all married, making us a group of ten. Two of the five couples have children, adding another five to the group. Throw in my parents, uncle, aunt and grandparents and we’re at twenty-one (sixteen adults and five children). It is by far the largest family gathering of the season, since I am an only child and my husband has one sibling.
My cousin commented this year that the big gathering must be really different from my celebrations with immediate family. I acknowledged that it is, but remarked on how much I enjoy it. Something about a house full of friends and relatives, gathered around a table of food or watching children open gifts seems to capture the joy of the season in a way few other things can.
And while I truly do love this, I also equally love my quiet celebrations. Opening gifts with my husband on Christmas Eve, reminds me of his proposal on the same day nine years ago. Visiting with my parents around the cedar tree cut on their farm, laughing about its shedding needles, reminds me of my amazing childhood. Helping my niece change the outfit on her new doll (multiple times) reminds me of how grateful I am for my extended family by marriage.
And today, in reflection on it all, I am simply humbled by the fact that I have so many people to celebrate with. Loudly. Quietly. But most of all– gratefully.
My grandmother Mary (I’m named for my two grandmothers Mary and Christine), made the most amazing pound cake I have ever tasted. Buttery-sweet and perfectly crusty on top. I’m pretty sure that she made the pound cake at various times during the year, but I have a very strong association with it around the holidays.
My grandmother passed away in June 2010. While helping clean out her apartment I ran across a cookbook with a number of handwritten notes throughout it. There was a card taped inside the front cover labeled Pound Cake Kathryn (her lifelong best friend, from whom she got the recipe). This “recipe” was basically a list of ingredients and what I determined to be instructions to bake at 325 for 1 hour and 15 minutes. There also appeared to be a reference to the year she obtained the receipe, 1950.
Last Christmas, armed with these rudimentary instructions and the cake pan I found in her kitchen, I sat out to make my grandmother’s pound cake. I mixed all the ingredients together, poured them into the pan and baked at the recommended temperature for the recommended time. The cake rose like a soufle and then promptly fell upon removal from the oven. I wrapped up a bit of this sad-looking, sunken cake and took it to my parent’s house. My mom proclaimed that the taste was just right, even though it (obviously) looked quite different. We had a nice laugh. More importantly, we remembered my grandmother and the fact that she likely would have laughed as well and then sweetly told me exactly how to make the cake correctly.
In this, a new tradition was born for me; the tradition of making my grandmother’s pound cake for Christmas – no matter the outcome. The tradition of remembering.
So today, I made the cake. This time I consulted Christopher Kimball’s (The Dessert Bible) master recipe for help with the general process of making a pound cake. I followed his instructions, using my grandmother’s ingredients and guessing where she included things he did not. I also heeded his strict warning that the butter and eggs be at room temperature.
The cake (pictured above) is cooling and shows no signs of collapsing. But even if it does, the important thing is that my whole house smells of butter-y, sugar-y loveliness and I took time today to do something that my grandmother did for at least 60 years. The tradition is in the trying and the remembering. Not in the outcome.
Over the weekend, I watched one of my favorite Christmas movies – While You Were Sleeping. The one from the mid-nineties with Sandra Bullock, Peter Gallagher and Bill Pullman. And yes, I realize it is not actually a Christmas movie . . . but it is set at Christmas time and I watch it at Christmas time, therefore I consider it so.
I’m not typically a movie re-watcher. There are very few movies I can think of that I’ve seen more than once, and usually then only because I watched them a second time with someone who hadn’t seen them (my husband, for example, had never seen Four Weddings and A Funeral or Bridget Jones Diary before he met me – unbelievable, right?). I actually keep thinking one year I’ll put the movie on and then decide ten minutes in that I simply can’t watch it again, but this never happens.
Maybe it’s because I think of it as a holiday tradition or maybe I just really like the movie that much. Or maybe it’s because the first few lines draw me in every year. In the voiceover that starts the movie the main character is remembering her father telling her as a child that things don’t always work out as planned in life. She goes on the say that she wishes she’d realized then that he was talking about her life. At the end of the movie she reflects again, this time on how glad she is that things don’t always work out as planned.
When I think about the things in my life that were unplanned, they are often some of the best. From the little things like coming home yesterday to find unexpected packages from far away friends on my porch. To big things, like meeting my husband at a wedding. Or going back to graduate school seven years after swearing I was done with education forever. Or taking a writing class on a whim and finding my passion.
And sure, I know there’s lots of tough, icky, ugly stuff that pops up unannounced in life too. Just like I know that that the plot of While You Were Sleeping is pretty unfathomable. But I still choose to believe that good things can come when you least expect them.
On a walk to see the Grand Illumination last night we noticed that Pasture was open and took a detour. Needless to say, we never made it to our original destination. We had already eaten dinner at home and settled in at the bar for a beer and peek at the menu for next time. As if the nice selection of local and local-ish (east coast) beers was not exciting enough, there were pickles on the menu. And Kite’s ham, which my grandmother and mother have used on ham biscuits for years. And fried oysters, another family favorite, especially around the holidays. And countless other amazing sounding things.
But back to those pickles . . . One of my favorite things growing up was the pickle bar at the (now-closed) Hardware Store on the downtown mall in Charlottesville. Recently, on a trip to Denver, I was delighted to find a pickle sampler on the menu at Euclid Hall (orange pickles and hop-seasoned pickles – so ridiculously good). Now, the pickles have arrived in my neighborhood. And that, in my humble opinion, is even more grand than a bunch of lighted deer grazing outside the James Center.
*Obviously there’s a lot more awesome-ness to Pasture than the pickles. You can read about it here: http://bit.ly/sk0yE2 And no doubt in countless other reviews to come soon. The space itself is amazing; with soaring ceilings, deceptively simple décor and an unfinished floor that “works” in a way that is hard to describe.