Holidays in full swing

Looks as if a crafty Christmas extravaganza blew up Chez Bluestalking, as I prepare to greet the holidays with a gusto that frankly surprises me. I’d given myself permission to skip it this year, in favor of pared-down, basic decor. Maybe a wreath on the door, I said. A poinsettia plant if I’m feeling fancy. I’ve been working loads of hours and I honestly wasn’t feeling it.

Once I decided to buy the tree, things just snowballed of their own accord.

Home Depot will deliver live trees at no additional charge! This is a Fraser fir.

There’s something about a Christmas tree that commands drama. You can’t leave it standing naked, and since I gave most of my holiday decorations to my daughter last year I was basically starting from scratch. A lot of stuff came from resale shops; I extended a couple of work lunches and ran out in the evenings. Before I knew it the place was filled and festive. It wound up a whole lot more expensive than a wreath on the door – which I already owned, by the way. That, and a tall, skinny fake tree I wound up sticking my office.

I blame Pinterest for what came next, the obsession with dehydrating fruit and hanging it in garlands around my apartment. It’s pretty and feels like an accomplishment. My evenings were a lot more varied working on that. It’s nothing I’ve done before and I’m happy with how it looks. If it lasts more than one season I’ll be doubly pleased.

In addition to gluing it to candles, I made ornaments and the aforementioned garland:

So pretty and festive.
Dried pears, oranges, and limes strung with cranberries make lovely rustic ornaments.

Every year it’s been getting harder and harder coordinating with my kids for our traditional meal. They all have partners now, plus my divorced status forces them to make time for each parent, as well. Last year I did appetizers and desserts instead of a proper meal. When I mentioned making lasagna from scratch this year my two sons were pretty enthusiastic.

When I make lasagna, I make my own red sauce. And when I make red sauce, I put in a crazy amount of garlic and wine and simmer it all day. I haven’t made it since I’ve been divorced, which is seven years now – wow, time’s been flying. I have the basic recipe memorized but I never make it the same way twice. It’s not an exact science, it’s a matter of splashing out the money for quality ingredients and devoting the better part of a day to chopping and sauteeing, simmering and pouring it in containers.

The resulting smell is pure heaven, not to mention the taste. Once you’ve had homemade red sauce, that jarred stuff tastes like absolute garbage.

Basic, traditional focaccia bread topped with rosemary.

Baking focaccia bread, however, does require precision; yeast breads rely on a specific ratio of warm water and sugar to produce the gas that creates those wonderful bubbles. The taste relies on salt, rosemary (in this case), and lots of olive oil. Loads of it, in the dough itself and over every inch of the top. Olive oil makes a soft crust and delectable taste. They say it’s a healthy fat, and I certainly hope so considering the amount I’ve consumed these past two weeks.

I baked two focaccia breads before I was happy with the result. Focaccia makes glorious toast; the first test loaf has all but disappeared. The other two I’ve thrown in the freezer, and I’ll probably make more before Christmas. There will be six of us and, at this rate, I’ll be sending bread home with the kids.

I hope they take lots of pictures, because this may become the stuff of Christmas legend. It’s dangerous cooking this much in a given year, lest they begin to expect it. How thoroughly and unusually domestic of me, from stringing cranberries and dried fruit to making real food. If I do it once a decade, it proves I’m still capable of it. It’s good to flex that culinary muscle every now and then. It feels like a personal challenge putting in the effort to prove I am still capable of creating extraordinarily delicious food.

I guess I’m set for the next decade, if the pattern holds.

Meat sauce, ready to meet the fridge.

In the midst of all the holiday prep, I’ve been working on my Best Reads of 2022 list. I think I have it decided, though in the course of creating it I bolted off on several tangents.

I participated in a few online book group reads this year, speaking of things I haven’t done in ages. I already mentioned To the Lighthouse in my last post, and the experience, though rushed, re-ignited my obsession with all things Woolf. The group finished it in just over the two weeks allotted (our moderator bumped things out after a few of us expressed a problem keeping up) and I’d like to go back through everyone’s summaries to tie it all up in my head.

Then the Booker Prize – another interest re-kindled. I re-visited that as I was toting up numbers and examining reading patterns.

For next year’s reading, I’ve purchased a bespoke, dedicated reading journal. It’s incredibly organized, with built-in pages for listing books read, books bought, books I’m lusting to buy, brief reviews, and even an adorable blank bookshelf where I can color in the volumes and write the titles as I finish. Pricey as hell, but if it keeps me better organized it’s worth it to me.

It’s a short work week – this week and next, actually. Over the course of the next few days I’ll be juggling the planning of tasty cocktails, wrapping the last of the gifts, baking, and writing my end of the reading year posts. I’m not taking extra time off for the holidays. My hours are flexible, plus we get banker’s holidays. Between Christmas and New Year’s I’ll get it done.

In the meantime, I’m hoping your holidays aren’t fraught with negative things. Mine aren’t without their share, but at least this year my coping mechanism of going over and above is working pretty well.

Take care of yourselves, friends. I’ll be back to talk books soon.