Expectations. Good intentions. Those blasted things trip me up every time! As I sit here (yes, yes, at 8:02 a.m.) typing this and eating rum cake (I know, I know!), I think about all the blogs that rattled around in my head--brilliant, witty blogs with amazing recipes--blogs that I ruminated over and which, ultimately, I never managed to get posted...well, frankly, I am frustrated. Frustrated with myself, and life, and everything else that seems to conspire to thwart all of my best intentions.
My Christmas holidays were a whirlwind. We scuttled from one person's home to another, trying to make sure no one felt left out, but ending up feeling a bit left out ourselves. The holidays can be an exercise in frustration (bordering on futility!) for those with food allergies. It can be too much to expect others to be able to accommodate our needs, but it can feel a bit like moving house to take a day's worth of holiday fare to another's house in order to feel like we are not just sitting around watching everyone else eat.
This was my first holiday season since being diagnosed with Eosinophilic Esophagitis. I thought going gluten free was a hurdle last year, but this was . . . more. More exhausting, more frustrating.
I ended up decided it was easier (and safer) to eat at home and then go to visit family afterwards for the opening of the "extended family" gifts. We had Christmas Eve at my in-law's house, which left no time to baking or early preparation of anything. After getting up at 4:00 a.m. Christmas Day to put the turkey in, then re-awakening to the sound of screeching children around 6:00 a.m., then running late after watching our kids open their gifts from Santa, my menu had to be cut dramatically. This was our first year to NOT have homemade "Neil Gaiman Cranberry Sauce" and cranberry relish. The fresh green beans were cut from the menu. I didn't even have time to make gravy before we had to gulp down our food and run off to see extended family.
Later, at Destination #3, everyone else ate cakes and pies. But, alas, they were not "me-friendly." I had not expected it to be. However, it had not dawned on me that, in our trips to and fro, I had not had time to make myself a gluten-free vegan pumpkin pie. I was now acutely aware of the void.
A litany of car troubles, a much-needed surgery for my husband, and general school and kid stuff had encroached on the holidays and now . . . they are over. Where did they go? I never got around to enjoying them! Where is my hot apple cider? My pumpkin pie? My homemade mincemeat I meant to make? We never made it to see Santa this year (although he did send a lovely letter and a video)! There were not enough Christmas Light drives with sleepy kids, with their tummies full of hot cocoa, murmuring a sleepy "oooohhhh" from the back seat as we drive through the displays.
The older I get, the more I realized that I have impossibly high standards for the holidays. I am not sure that I will ever have a year where I have baked "enough" or done "enough" to meet my own impossible standards. So, as I scrape the last of the rum cake from my plate, I turn my thoughts to this New Year.
I want more peace, more affection, more compassion. I want to cut myself a break. I want to enjoy the little things, and stop obsessing over everything I did NOT accomplish.
So, in that vein, I am posting a recipe. It is a little slip of a thing that doesn't take long, but requires a bit of patience (or passivity...depends how you look at it...its all in the attitude!). The payoffs, however, are remarkable...the stuff of legends as far as my children are concerned.
For the simple syrup:
- 3 cups sugar
- 2 cinnamon stick (optional)
- 7 whole cloves (optional)
- 3 cups water
The star of the show:
- 1 package fresh cranberries (about 3 cups)
- 1 cup superfine sugar (or take 1 cup granulated sugar and run it through the food processor for a few pulses)
Mix the sugar and water (and the cinnamon sticks and cloves, if you are using them) in a saucepan. Cook over over medium heat until boiling. Simmer for about a minute, stirring constantly, until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and pour into a bowl or Tupperware container. Make sure the mixture is no longer boiling, then add the cranberries. Cover and refrigerate at least eight hours (overnight works well, too!). Drain the cranberries (but save the liquid, the resulting simple syrup it is perfect for spiced tea or holiday cocktails). Make sure to remove the cinnamon sticks and cloves!
Put the superfine sugar in a shallow bowl and gently roll the cranberries in the sugar to coat evenly. I will be honest here . . . this part is boring. To make them lovely, you kinda need to roll just one or two at a time (this is NOT one of the cases where you can just toss it all in a giant zippy bag). But the result is gorgeous. So, if you have little ones, this is a perfect job for them (just remind them to wait until after all the cranberries are done before licking their fingers). Or, if you owe your mother a call, you could roll the berries while she tells you all about your Great-Aunt Estelle and why they aren't speaking.
When you have had your fill, store the leftovers in the refrigerator in an airtight container for a day or two (assuming they actually last that long).
They are also LOVELY in a simple glass jar presented as a hostess gift. If you are a very savvy guest, you could also present the hostess with the jar of simple syrup to use in her New Year's cocktails.
The best part is that the rolling of a small berry is the hardest bit of it. Actually, it is rather relaxing . . . rolling it around in lazy circles. Not sure about you, but I could use a bit more lazy and relaxing. I will put that on my list for the new year. Right under: don't expect so much from yourself all the time.
Hopefully this new year will be full of new recipes, warm memories, and happy holidays...whichever ones you happen to celebrate.