Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Or Bah humbug if you prefer. My little family and I have had a wonderful holiday season together. Mostly together. Sort of together. Let me tell you the tale.
I absolutely love the Christmas season. Actually, I love the time period from Halloween through until New Years. I just feel like, in general, people are cheerier and more often, it brings out the best of humanity. I understand that the holidays bring lots of different emotions for different people, but they tend to make me giddy and bouncy. This Christmas, my baby was six months old and if you thought I was excited about Christmas before I had a child, you better believe there was WAY more excitement with a child! We even decided months ago that we wouldn’t overdo it with gifts for our baby girl because she’s just a baby and she wouldn’t really understand what’s going on and participate. But that went out the window. Do you know how hard it is to stop yourself from buying ALL THE CUTE BABY CHRISTMAS THINGS?!?! Let’s just say we helped her open a million boxes! I had to promise my husband that I wouldn’t wake our girl up before dawn just to open gifts. She now sleeps through the night and it is delightful!
But let’s go back a bit further. The mind losing began slightly before Christmas. Sir works very hard on his submarine, and during the holiday season, they’re in a period of stand down. Half the boat gets leave and then the other half can take theirs. Sometimes this means more work for those who aren’t on leave yet and sometimes it means less work, just depending on the individual needs of the boat and department in question. What it meant this year for this family is that our Sir hardly saw his daughter for weeks really. And we couldn’t say with certainty that he’d be home for Christmas. It is difficult to plan anything at any time around a Navy schedule though, and if you know this ahead of time, it helps to deal with the situation. It also means that I usually have a Plan B in place, just in case it becomes necessary. We are proud of our Navy and the men and women serving (especially the submariners!) but we still tire of their seeming inability to efficiently plan things.
I really wanted to host a few friends over for Christmas dinner this year. We’ve made some wonderful new friends and one of our other good friends has just returned from a difficult deployment and my sister’s boyfriend is also stationed here (another submariner!) so we thought we’d host a small get together. Of course, this means an epic amount of planning for me. There is a meal to plan, groceries to buy, food to prep, table settings to choose, not to mention the house to clean. (We mustn’t let people know we live like slobs the other days of the year!) I love to cook and our usual Thanksgiving and/or Christmas fare includes many of our favorite dishes. We decided on Brie cranberry crescents as an appetizer, then deep-fried turkey laced with jalapenos which is my husband’s favorite plus sage sausage Brie stuffing, dijon-braised brussels sprouts, salad (with bacon and apples and walnuts and cranberries!), cheddar biscuits, and mashed potatoes with roasted garlic. And I decided on an eggnog cheesecake for dessert. Sounds delicious, right? For the record, everything was delicious. But getting to deliciousness took some craziness. (Fun fact: Christmas dinner for Plan B, in case Sir was unable to join us at the last minute, was individual Beef Wellingtons with filet mignon! This is to be our New Year’s dinner now instead! Waste not, want not!)
When I host a big dinner party, I usually put my recipes into an extensive spreadsheet. I have trouble sometimes making dishes come out at the same time, so if I put the process in a spreadsheet, it helps. I had everything planned but I was determined to just go with the flow of things too because the big difference this year is that I would be hosting Christmas while caring for a baby. In the past, I was able to focus on the recipes and get it all done. This year, I started the process a few days out so that, I told myself, I wouldn’t be overwhelmed on the day. Whelp. Was I overwhelmed on the day? Oh gosh yes.
We went through two turkeys. Let’s start there. Yes. Two. Turkeys. Why? Well I bought a frozen turkey a couple weeks before Christmas and stored it in our freezer at home. Sir and I planned out when we’d need to thaw the bird so that we could brine it first and then fry it. This is not our first turkey shindig. We are not turkey newbies. However, we still managed to warm the turkey too much for too long. We both know that poultry has to be kept at a certain temperature for food safety. And we thaw our turkey in water with a pump circulating water. (It’s a ridiculous set up but as I say, this was not our first time and it has worked beautifully in the past!) Sir was quite diligent about checking the temperature but this year, somehow it got away from him and so quite luckily for us, our local Safeway sold already-thawed-turkeys on Christmas Eve. Sigh. I also sent him thither for more wine because I made one batch of sangria (taste test!) and it suddenly dawned on me that we did NOT have enough wine for eight adults! (I’ll skip to the end on this part–we had WAY too much wine and I will be drinking sangria for weeks now because that’s all that Moscato is good for!)
THEN. As we were replacing the old turkey with a newer model, the turkey-thawing water leaked all over my kitchen, spilling yucky turkey juice everywhere. I’m not a fan of germs and I was not thrilled to have to disinfect so large a portion of my kitchen on Christmas Eve. Salmonella was suddenly a grimy vision everywhere I looked and it was taking away from my prep work time and one of us had to sit with our daughter. She’s getting to be much more mobile now and while that means she’s fun to play with, we’ve decided that it’ll be simple meals for a while longer yet. That’s what made this so hard. We needed to take care of her in shifts in order to get anything done for our big dinner. Christmas Eve is for the prepping of the food so that cooking isn’t so cumbersome on Christmas Day. So I baked bread and grated cheese and prepared the sprouts and then Sir polished the silver and sharpened my kitchen knives and then I made toffee and cookies and peeled potatoes and hard boiled eggs (because we added deviled eggs at the last minute to our menu).
Christmas morning dawned and after our gifts were opened, the rest of the work began. It involved breaking a wine glass and a mirror, caramel dripping out of the container in my oven and burning (prompting a huge clean up before I could cook anything else in there, which of course put me off schedule and hurt my back) spilling sangria everywhere (again with the spilling!), and catching the skin on my arm in my food processor lid which produced a stunning blister/bruise. I’m not even sure how I did that. An hour after I put my cheesecake in the fridge to cool, I found one of the eggs that should have been in the filling. And I’m not altogether sure I let it bake and then rest and then cool in the proper stages for long enough. Sir overcooked the turkey (again, not our first turkey and he was timing and watching the thermometer carefully so we’re not sure how this happened), my stuffing was too dry and crunchy in the top layer, the sprouts were slightly underseasoned, and I forgot to make the gravy and cheddar biscuits entirely. Everything was still crazy. And we only accomplished that much because my sister and her husband (he proposed two days ago and they got married today! Wheee! So when I started planning Christmas dinner, I was one brother-in-law less than I am now!) graciously said they would entertain our baby while we cooked. Sir of course was chained to his turkey fryer and I had lots going on in the kitchen. But we made time for a champagne toast and some small gifts. You see? Crazy!
Do you know what I have realized about life once you have a baby? You lose the ability to focus on cooking Christmas dinner. I’m so used to multitasking in my mom life that now I seem to default to that setting. But the dreaded “mom brain” is still a thing. Combine that with Christmas dinner! It’s madness! On any given day, I can walk into a room with a purpose but forget that purpose the moment I’m in that room. So I don’t think I cooked anything from start to finish without forgetting what I was doing and what step was next because I was also trying to keep up conversations with people I love and remember what would need to be done next.
Next year. Boy, next year! I will be delegating more tasks to others. I will have my own little army of sous chefs! Instead of thinking, “I got this, I’m in my element, everyone just relax and chit chat,” I will say, “Why yes, in fact, you CAN help me in here!” and “Would you like to bring a brussels sprouts dish?” I honestly thought I would have it all under control if I just thought things through and planned it out. Ha! Oh how funny to think I’ll have anything under control ever again!
What I mean to say by this huge long post is that my Christmas was crazy and wonderful and delicious and filled with a few of my favorite people. And perfect.