This year, like most other people, we weren’t able to do what we normally do at Christmas time. A chance to develop our new traditions, perhaps? Except… Will we really want to nostalgically recall anything from 2020?
So hey, best to focus on the now, and on the “what you can do” vs. what you can’t. In 2021 and subsequent, we’ll see if anything sticks.
Much of what typically do in the period wasn’t possible this year, of course: Crowed Christmas parties and dances, Christmas lunches and dinners in restaurants with friends and colleagues, office parties and food sharing, Canoe Club pot lucks, Christmas concerts…
A few of those got replaced by virtual events. For example, the company funded takeout lunch for everyone. Now, the logistics of ordering and delivering all those individual meals to all those individual addresses did not exactly run smoothly. But, it did give us something to laugh about during the MS Teams online lunch (1 hour late, as we waited for everyone’s food to arrive).
As another example, the KW Symphony did their Yuletide Spectacular online. I was wondering how that would work, given that for this show, the stage is normally crowded with dancers, choirs, singers, and hosts along with the orchestra. The answer: through the magic of video editing. The symphony played the music distanced and plexi-glassed on the stage, the hosts filmed the intros at various outdoor locations around town, the dancers danced masked in their studios, and some of the singing and hosting was done from homes (though some also on stage—including a star of the Broadway show Beautiful, who returned to hometown Kitchener when New York shut down). Then it was all edited together.
It was quite lovely, really.
I also had some Google Meets with friends, and mailed out actual Christmas cards. The region encouraged us to put up Christmas lights up early, and we did some walking at night to have a look. We also got inspired to join in—lazily—by sticking our tiny Christmas tree in our front window, and adding a lit garland and wreath.
Christmas baking and cooking
Not something I typically do much, since we don’t tend to host at this time (just mooch, as guests). I have, however, annually made a single tourtière around this time, following this rather untraditional recipe from the Globe and Mail: Tourtiere (which I then further adapt by using far less onion and replacing the 2 lbs of ground pork with 1 lb of ground bison and 1 lb of ground chicken or turkey). This year I served it with a really nice Cranberry-Pomegranate Relish (New York Times recipe) and Cider-Glazed Carrots (not pictured).
That was good, but was also gone in 3 days (a hazard of making only one tourtière), so I thought maybe I should try a few other homey recipes. I thought back to things my Mom might typically serve on the non-Christmas days when we were visiting: chicken pot pie, cabbage rolls. But instead of following her recipes, I made Chicken and Root Vegetable Pot Pie from Cooking Light magazine and Unrolled Cabbage Rolls from Looneyspoons. The chicken pot pie recipe was a do-over: really delicious, and a great way to use root vegetables. (Again, I use far less onion than the recipe says, though.)
Rolling meat and rice inside cabbage leaves always seemed way too laborious for me, so the unrolled recipe was ideal: You boil the cabbage, lay half the leaves out, top with a cooked rice and ground turkey mixture, put the rest of the leaves on top, then pour tomato soup over the whole thing. The 1 hour and 45 minutes recommended cooking time proved problematic, though, given the time of day I started working on this. So I first put it in the microwave at 70% for 10 minutes, then finished it up in the oven for 45 minutes. It was excellent!
I then decided I liked the idea of having Christmas cookies, but not the idea of making them. Not at all. So I bought a small assortment from a local bakery, Sablétine. Delish! While there I also bought frozen unbaked chocolatine to bake up ourselves.
I did make a stab at fruit cake, though (we like fruit cake)—just one, and again not following Mom’s recipe (too much stirring, too much brandy, too many cakes resulting). So instead I followed an LCBO recipe [did you know old LCBO recipes are no longer online? Good thing I kept the paper] for a single Dried apple, ginger, and amaretto fruitcake. It was quite easy, and very good. I also made a Chatelaine recipe for Peanut butter balls. Mmm. (Chocolate and peanut butter are good for you, right?)
I actually don’t have any movies I typically watch every Christmas? But this pandemic period, we have been doing weekly home movie nights, so for the month, we switched to watching at least semi-Christmas ones.
We had not seen Die Hard since it first came out (and even then, it was at a drive-in, and we’d just started dating, so we possibly missed some bits the first time). It was kind of fun. Violence more cartoony than upsetting. Great 80s hair. Very young Bruce Willis. Yippy ki yay.
Happiest Season is a new one. After a positive CBC review, I got so eager to see it, I paid $5 (five whole bucks!) to rent it from Cineplex, not realizing it would be showing up on Prime a week later. I quite enjoyed it—rather feel this was the best of our home Christmas movie festival?
Somehow we had never seen You’ve Got Mail before. (It semi-qualifies because part of it takes place during Christmas.) It is quaint, with the modems and the email and the book books! But hiding who you really are online? A reminder that this is hardly a new thing. Jean kept commenting that he disapproved of the level of deception involved in this budding romance. I guess that without said deception, this would have been a mighty short film, but yeah… Makes it a slightly uncomfortable romantic comedy. (Even before you get to him putting her out of business.)
Jean’s Mom tends to have the TV on all the time, whether people are visiting or not. Last Christmas she had it fixed to a channel playing nothing but Hallmark Christmas movies—dubbed into French. I therefore felt we were qualified to watch a spoof of those films, Cup of Cheer, on Tubi. (I’d heard of Cup of Cheer because the female lead is from Kitchener and was featured in the local paper.) The humour is very broad—and sometimes gross—but other times kind of self-referentially clever. And now I can’t even watch commercials for Hallmark Christmas movies without giggling.
My family decided to do a “Secret Santa”–type gift exchange this year anyway, and everyone managed to get their presents bought and shipped to the recipients in time. We then booked a Zoom meeting for gift opening Christmas morning.
Jean’s family decided to forego their large Réveillon gathering and celebrate within family units instead, and therefore also cancelled the small gift exchange we normally do then. On Christmas Eve, I thought it might be nice to make us an all-appetizer dinner, which would be at least vaguely reminiscent of the food served at the Lefebvre Réveillon.
The dumplings, pork bun, and hummus were all just purchased. (Hummus is easy to make, but we already had some on hand, so…). I made a bruschetta salad, Crispy Feta With Lemon Recipe (New York Times), and Lime Coconut Sweet Potatoes. The salad recipe came from a cookbook I bought in Portugal, and was most notable for calling for 1/4 cup of garlic! For 4 people! I used a teaspoon or two. Anyway. Otherwise, it was tomatoes, olives, croutons, goat cheese, olive oil, balsamic—very good. The crispy feta was quite nice as well. The sweet potato flavoring was good, but I’m not sure about the advice to serve it at room temperature. I think warm would be better.
When Jean spoke to his Mom about it a bit later that evening, she was a bit mystified that we’d already had our Réveillon? But I saw no need for the two of us to stay up and eat late…
Christmas morning we had chocolatine and mimosa, and enjoyed the family Zoom gathering. (I received a book about some band named Queen that I’ve meaning to learn more about.) We also did another Zoom call in the evening, after everyone’s respective dinners. (In Timmins, Dad and my brother’s family were able to get together.)
Our Christmas dinner was pretty traditional…
The organic chicken I bought was huge—over 8 lbs! It turned out well. The mashed potatoes were cooked in the instant pot, seasoned with butter and coffee cream. The squash recipe way underestimated how long squash takes to bake. I did my microwave trick again to move it along, then added the cranberry topping for final baking. The sesame/ginger broccoli was just so-so. The cranberry/apple pie (sugar reduced by using monkfruit) for dessert was terrific.
Mother Nature was kind this year, giving us pretty snow for Christmas. On Boxing Day, we were able to take advantage and do some snowshoeing, as we typically would in Timmins.
And the day after that, we were even able to have some company, since it was all outside and easy to distance… Gorgeous day and a great walk in our local Columbia Forest.
And since I was on vacation, we even did one more special meal. We normally have duck in the weekend before leaving for Timmins, but this year, I made it a few days after.
I have Jamie Oliver to thank for the roast duck and rosemary roast potatoes recipes. This cranberry sauce was livened up with candied ginger. The Brussels sprouts were microwaved, then fried in butter and orange juice. Dessert was an ice wine Sabayon—egg yolk, wine, and sugar whipped, basically. Only I used Sauternes, as that’s what we had open. This all turned out great. (No, I haven’t weighed myself lately; why do you ask?)
And our final Christmas movie… Only Christmas-sy in that it’s Disney, I guess…?
Mary Poppins Returns was, frankly, pretty disappointing. Just flat, despite the efforts of actors and effects specialists.
But to end on a more positive note, the cats were definitely in the spirit.