Kitchen Experiments: Tasting a memory…

A few weekends ago I put up the Christmas tree and decided to tackle the daunting task of baking my Grandmother’s Christmas puddings. I was clearly feeling my strength, for I had NO idea what I was in for – especially when I got to the part of the recipe that called for 15 eggs and a bucket.

Fast forward to the next morning when I have a counter full of puddings cooling and the worst anxiety induced headache ever, I realise that Christmas really is less than a month away. Since I have to wait for them to cool to see if my attempt was a hit or miss, I decide to get the wheels of Christmas turning. Later that night when I cut the tester pudding and took the first bite, tears came to my eyes. That was, literally, my experience of tasting a memory.

Since moving into my grandparent’s house, I’ve had to taken on the “family entertainment” responsibilities. This includes hosting Christmas dinner. I have only missed that event at this house twice in my entire life. Last Christmas was a very painful and emotional one – Grams wasn’t in the kitchen, she wasn’t at the table – it just wasn’t the same. Three days later, she wasn’t with us anymore. In short, I haven’t really been looking forward to it the way I usually do. Even so, I’m somebody’s mom and have a family to feed – it’s time to get on with the show.

After knocking heads with my sister and uncle for a while, we’ve decided on our menu. Having family members who are vegetarian to dinner for the first time posed a challenge, but after some thought I managed a few yummy options since we tend to go overboard with meat >> Ham, roast beef, roast chicken, lamb, baked snapper, rice & peas, macaroni & cheese, candied sweet potatoes, cornbread stuffing, broccoli & cauliflower au gratin, tomato & cucumber salad with apple cider dressing, baked plantain, Swedish pickled cabbage and cranberry sauce We decide who is making what and the madness begins…

The week before Christmas seemed to fly by, with a trip to the supermarket EVERY day – even with the best made list, I always got home realizing there was something else. I’ll spare you the drama of the Christmas linens. The short version: they’re still missing. I scrambled around town and managed to find a white tablecloth and a red & white runner. I found Gram’s silver candelabra and with some random ornaments, ribbons and candles managed to organize a centerpiece for the table. It’s now Christmas Eve and over the past few days I’ve tried to do as much of the early preparation as I could with things like baking the cornbread for the stuffing and freezing it. Nervous wreck doesn’t begin to describe me at this point. Fortunately there were many moments of levity from my “elf” who seems to have a real fascination with gift wrap trimmings – read: bows and ribbons everywhere imaginable in the house and all over him.

5:30AM Christmas Day: I fly out of bed as if there was some sort of disaster. For no apparent reason. Figuring going back to bed was a lost cause, I made myself a cup of coffee and grabbed a sheet of paper and a pen. The monster to-do list for the day didn’t look as bad as I thought, so I made breakfast for my dad and my elf. For the record, my dad is awesome – from putting out chairs, to washing serving dishes, grating cheese and everything in between. Fortunately the elf went to Christmas lunch with my mom, so the kitchen was relatively safe for a couple hours. Before I got down and dirty into cooking – let’s set the table and make sure there’s enough space for all the food. Dinner has always been buffet style for Christmas at our house – it was Gram’s formula, it worked, I’m not trying to fix what ain’t broken.

I think I’ve found a home for every dish, wrapped the silver and made napkin rings out of Christmas tree ribbon. Panic attack #1 ensues – what am I forgetting?? Decide a glass of sorrel (loaded with white rum, of course) is the shot and roll up my sleeves and get to cooking. Yes, when my first guests arrived I was still in my sweats covered in flour and other ingredients. My friends and family are awesome however, and everyone rolled up their sleeves and helped with getting everything from the oven/fridge to the table.

One race through the shower and into clean clothes, I hosted my first Christmas dinner in this house. In the end, 16 members of family and friends (with a surprise 17th later – thanks D) had Christmas dinner. Thanks to everyone who cooked, special thanks to everyone who stayed and washed dishes and help pack up the leftovers. The look on my grandfather’s face when he came in and saw the table will stick with me for a long time. The hug and the “great job” after dinner meant even more.

Thanks to my sisters – one in the flesh, one in spirit – because I couldn’t have done it without you. I’m going to ramble if I write anymore, but I’ll share a couple of the recipes another time like the Swedish Red Cabbage, one of my favourites that Grams only made at Christmas. And without further ado… Christmas dinner was served…

Dinner is served

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