This Christmas was all about simplicity

As I write this, we have turned the calendar page to another new year. The last two have been so odd, so asynchronous, so tragic. But perhaps we can agree that this time of trials and isolation has helped us to discover more joy in simple things, and more attendant gratitude.

We haven’t allowed either last Christmas or this one to lose their luster, but we have simplified considerably. We finally succumbed to an artificial tree (shoulders, neck, and other joints are grateful). It’s big and bright and full and beautiful, and I can leave it up till February if I choose, though I probably won’t.

This year may have been the first Christmas of my life (not kidding), that I actually had every present wrapped well in advance. We Pisces are day-dreamers, fish swimming in opposite directions; advance planning and execution don’t come naturally. How good a feeling it was, though, to see that pile of gifts ready and waiting a week ahead of time!

We planned the meals ahead as a family and tried to keep them manageable. December 23, my daughter’s birthday, was brisket and latkes night. She makes the most wonderful latkes. The food processor made the grating fast and easy, and I’d prepared and frozen both the applesauce and the brisket ahead of time. I thawed both overnight in the fridge and reheated the brisket in the slow cooker for several hours. Worked like a charm. This was our only larger family gathering; having the “grands” here to celebrate the birthday and begin the Christmas celebration was so much fun.

We’ve been mixing it up a bit for Christmas Eve, partly to reduce the pressure. Last year we did lobster rolls. I made the buns, my daughter picked up the lobster, and my son made the fries. For the 24th this year, I initially suggested fondue but switched gears to Welsh rarebit, which none of us had had in decades. I don’t know why I was suddenly possessed of a craving for rarebit—one Welsh crime show too many??—but it was a snap to make and absolutely delicious. Truthfully, a tangy, bubbly cheese sauce on toast must be among the world’s most comforting foods. There were roasted Brussels sprouts and fresh fruit to round it out, with a deliberately modest selection of cookies.

Grate the cheese and set aside. In a saucepan set on medium heat, melt the butter. Mix the mustard powder with the flour and add to the butter, stirring constantly to make a smooth, bubbly roux. Add the Worcestershire sauce to the beer and stir over medium heat till it bubbles and thickens, then turn the heat down to low and stir in the cheese till it melts. Meanwhile, have a helper toast and plate the bread and serve.

For Christmas dinner, we had braised short ribs, mashed potatoes, an orange and fennel salad, apple pie and cookies for dessert. I made the pies in the morning (one was a gift). The short ribs cooked happily in the Dutch oven for most of the day, requiring only a stir or temperature adjustment now and then. Hubby took care of the potatoes.

I didn’t have to do any of this alone—in fact, I did very little. For the last ten years my daughter and son have done a huge portion of the culinaryheavy lifting for our holidays. Both are marvelous cooks—my daughter is Culinary Institute of America trained, and my son rolled out his first pasta dough with Nonnie at his side at age eight. I are deeply grateful for, and extraordinarily proud of, all the work they put into making our holiday meals spectacular. And the same goes for Hubby, always, who is our undisputed Mashed Potato King (his secret: the pressure cooker).

This Christmas was made more precious and lighthearted by the ever present Enzo Garibaldi Fittipaldi, who at 13 months old experienced his first family Christmas. For all my fears about Puppy v. The Tree, he was dutifully respectful, perhaps because he was lavished with attention, treats, extralong walks, and puppy games galore.

Because we were making a conscious effort to set aside pressures and simply enjoy the time together, we didn’t take photos in the kitchen. Following is the Welsh rarebit recipe that I used after some comparative searching. I doubled it (everything but the mustard) for the four of us. It took about ten minutes, start to finish. The source isn’t credited because I found this recipe on so many different sites, give or take a bit of this or that.

2 T butter
2 T flour
1 T mustard powder
3/4 C ale or beer (dark or light is your preference)
2 T Worcestershire sauce (Lea & Perrins, please)
1 lb English cheddar

Lightly toasted bread {we used a bâtard from our local bakery, but a bread with a farmhouse style loaf with some whole grain is probably more authentic.

My hope for 2022? The same as yours… good health and a return to shared merriment.

Thanks for reading!

12 thoughts on “This Christmas was all about simplicity

  1. Darlene

    Sounds like a perfect Christmas. Your tree is lovely. We changed to an artificial one when we moved to Spain 7 years ago and have never been sorry. As long as it looks real, I’m OK. Happy New year!!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. maxwellthedog

    he (Enzo) was lavished with attention, treats, extralong walks, and puppy games galore. Nothing more than what he deserves. Or so he believes. Me? I got exhausted reading how organized you were and hungry reading what you ate. Happy New Year!


  3. Nancy

    Everything sounds sooooooo good! What a lovely Christmas you had. Thank you for the recipe… I will be giving it a try.
    Your tree is beautiful… artificial for us as well. It’s just easier for us now.
    And it was so nice to see Enzo! Adorable!
    Happy New Year!


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