Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Yuletide Sentiments

Ten more days. Just ten more days. With every twinkle of the lights, every tear of tape while presents are being wrapped, every friend's card or letter received in the mail, every carol sung, every lick of the fingers after another scrumptious treat is devoured, every ornament placed on the tree . . . the anticipation grows.

Each year I am older, I come to more fully understand Christmas. Or at least I feel so.

When Christmas caroling with friends around a local assisted living retirement home, I met Betty. At about eighty-five years old, she sat by herself at a table in her wheelchair, her head in her wrinkled arthritic hands, tears streaming down her thin cheeks. I stopped singing to go to her side and hold her hand, which she graciously accepted with a weak smile. After asking her a few questions, I realized that we would not be able to chat and was really only able to understand Betty's name. As strangers, we simply sat with one another, our palms connected and our souls uplifted by the unexpected camaraderie. I tried to imagine the reason behind her tears. Is this her first Christmas without a loved one? Is her health deteriorating? Did the song remind her of more joyful days past? If I had to guess, she was simply grateful for a simple act of strangers spending an afternoon to come and see her.

the Lord provides

This is the first Christmas ever that we are not putting a single dollar on a credit card and are truly sticking to the budget that we put together a month ago. For about half of the month, it seemed very doubtful that our budget would allow Jason and I to buy gifts for one another. But after a few costs were smaller than anticipated, we found out that we would be able to and I have never been so excited to buy my husband a present, as small as it may be.

the Lord provides

Because we've been really cutting costs lately, we haven't been buying things as soon as something breaks or is needed. We've just been getting by. This means that when my family has asked what we would like for Christmas this year, we have had very useful answers for them and some of our needs will possibly be taken care of this holiday.

the Lord provides

We buy three gifts for each of our two sons, one of which is shared, for a total of five gifts, plus a stocking with some candies, an orange, and a couple of items from the dollar section in Target. Our thought is that the baby Jesus received three gifts, so this helps to keep the meaning of Christmas alive in our home, as well as to keep spending limited. It also helps us to put a lot of thought into those three gifts. Well, after we had already completed all of our shopping, our two year old son, Noah, began showing a lot more interest in music, specifically in guitars. He spent a few hours (which is A LOT for a two year old) playing with a friend's child-sized toy guitar in their home, causing me to wish that I hadn't already purchased his gifts. Sadly, I thought this gift idea would have to wait until his birthday in May. The very next day, his aunt e-mailed asking what the boys wanted for Christmas and I replied with a list of possible options. She chose to give Noah the guitar.

the Lord provides

Two thousand and nine years ago, a Babe was born. His mother and father were not welcomed anywhere, but eventually found a barn in which the Son of God could be delivered with the livestock. In a world of imperfect people, the perfect Emmanuel came down to be with us, to live among us.

The Lord, our Father, sacrificed and let go of his only Son, knowing that He would be killed. What parent could do this? What father would willingly endure this agony?


Why would the Lord voluntarily give up his Perfect Child?

It is because the Lord loves all of his children with a parent's love, and although we are so unworthy, in giving up Jesus, God knew that He would then someday be reunited with his Son and with all of us.

Our lives are journeys. Hopefully, as the years pass, we gain wisdom and overcome some of our faults.

But will we ever be perfect? No.

Will we ever be worthy of this love of the Lord's? No.

Will we ever be worthy of heaven? No.

And yet, God has loved us unconditionally and given his promise of life after death with Him someday.

the Lord provides

I wish you all the blessings this Christmas and in the year to come. And I hope that you too will allow Christmas to touch your heart.

***** If you are searching to find more meaning in Christmas than gift cards and shopping malls, I would invite you to watch a video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eVqqj1v-ZBU Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Dinnertime - Mamma Vintage Style

Something about my Mamma Vintage persona is that I am a big believer in the comfort, beauty and therapy found in a home-cooked meal. Hence, I was in heaven last night as I watched Julie & Julia in a discount theater as I savored a few dark chocolates. The lights were dimmed, the seats a little scratchy and noisy, the smell of stale popcorn hung in the air, but I was unaware of all of my surroundings as I watched Meryl Streep perfectly portray one of my newest of heroes; Julia Child.

I was also pleased to find out that although I am Mamma "Vintage," I am not necessarily a dying breed. Yes, I realize that Julia Child is now the late Julia Child, but the entire movie was made because of Julie; a real, young woman who shares my passion. I am not alone!

Oops - I must go and baste the chicken!

Yes, that's right, I am serving Julia's Child's roast chicken tonight and I have to say, it smells simply scrumptious.

There is something primal and luxurious and visceral and natural and absolutely lovely about food that you have prepared yourself. The satisfaction from a homemade meal is so much more abundant than from one that is handed to you in a sack. I'm not talking health. I'm talking pleasure. How much pleasure is derived from nourishment that you have no investment in? When you nurture your food, taking the time to learn the best method of preparation, when you put yourself into it, you receive so much in return.

It is the ying-yang of subsistence, the karma of cuisine - the more you give, the more you get.

Gotta go baste again . . .

Yep, basting every ten minutes. Now, I fully realize that many would respond in whiny, high-pitched voices, "Every ten minutes? I'm too busy! I don't have the time for that!"

But the more I cook this way, the more I want to do it. I make the time and plan ahead and prepare things in advance. Anyone who knows me knows that I am very busy. But when you really love something, you make time for it and that includes food. I simply love food and adore eating.

Who wouldn't be thrilled to sit down to a table set with a glorious platter of roasted chicken which was stuffed with sliced lemon, half an onion and celery stalks (all of which was only to flavor the chicken and were then saved to make stock for tomorrow's soup), and then basted every ten minutes with its own juices, accompanied by roasted carrots and onions and a baked potato? Seriously, I will make the time for that.

It's the same as making time for exercise or a manicure or a girl's night or a chick flick. It's therapeutic. By preparing meals that my family and I can enjoy and savor, I am actually pampering myself. Who knew?! I'll tell you who did - Julia Child.

I always knew I liked to cook. But now I'm sort of loving it. Sort of becoming obsessed with it. Like I sort of can't stop thinking about it. There's always an occasion coming up which needs a special dish, even if it's just a Tuesday night dinner. The ritual of sitting with loved ones to share a meal is worth celebrating. It's an opportunity - a chance to connect with one another, as well as to relish some magnificent food.

If you need somewhere to start, I would strongly recommend Better Homes and Garden's Cookbook, a masterpiece that has been updated at least fourteen times since it's first edition in 1930.

I have a few cookbooks on my wish list this year. If you're looking for one, I've done some research and am pretty sure that any of the below will be fabulous. . .

Ad Hoc At Home by Thomas Keller

Jason and I love to watch Top Chef, and I often look up the chefs who guest star on the show. However, most of the time their cookbooks offer recipes for snobby, trendy, "gourmet" food, which I am so not into. Well, Tom Keller was introduced on the show as America's greatest chef today. So I was thrilled when I discovered that he came out with a cookbook this year with home style recipes for family dinners!

Mastering the Art of French Cooking and The Way to Cook By Julia Child
Surprise, surprise, right?

I'm Dreaming of a Chocolate Christmas by Marcel Desaulniers
Okay, this guy is one of the top pastry chefs in the country, but this cookbook is filled with recipes that are perfect for the holidays and a bit easier than his typical feats. I borrowed the book from the library and have tried a couple of the recipes, and I have to say, they are delicious!

From Mom With Love . . . A Complete Guide to Indian Cooking and Entertaining by Pushpa Bhargava
I LOVE Indian food but I am a real novice in this ethnicity. This cookbook got rave reviews and has color pictures on every page, something I absolutely love.

So, if Santa decides I've been a good girl, maybe I'll be writing about a featured recipe next month!

Here it is - Julia Child's Roast Chicken with Carrots and Onion

Noah enjoying a drumstick

Joshua doing "the chicken"