Today, as part of the 2016 Giftmas Blog Tour I am hosting Barbara Tomporowski. Please enjoy her story which is ostensibly about Christmas dinner, but really is about family, and tradition, and shortbread 😉
The Weight of Christmas Dinner
“The day that oven dies, I’ll smash it.”
My son perked up. “Cool!”
“Really?” My boyfriend asked mildly. “With what?”
Having never owned a crowbar, let alone used one, I knew I was trapped. “What I meant is that the day that oven quits in the middle of cooking our Christmas dinner will be the last day of its mechanical life.”
My dad cringed, probably at the thought of purchasing a new stove. My boyfriend shrugged and said, “At least it’ll be cheaper on Boxing Day.”
“I meant today.” They both winced. Neither would want to brave the press of last minute shoppers in any store Scrooge-like enough to sell major appliances on Christmas Day.
Heat blasted my cheeks as I opened the oven. The temperature was probably too hot, but at least the bird was cooking. I would be thankful if the unreliable thermostat in my parents’ stove, a relic from the ’70s, cooked the turkey thoroughly enough that no one got salmonella.
I peered at my daughter’s efforts to make our family’s traditional bean salad. Seeing her rinsing lentils and chopping celery, I offered Mom a wooden spoon. “Could you do the shortbread?” Since her stroke, Mom often seemed lost in a lonely and confusing fog, but that day she seemed happy to be with us in the kitchen. She nodded, I set her to creaming the butter, and the rhythmic, sloppy sound soothed my holiday dinner anxieties.
Nobody makes shortbread like my mother. Although the recipe is simple, mine never turns out. Mom claimed the secret was to cream the butter by hand, with a spoon instead of a mixer, but I suspect there was some secret ingredient she kept from me so I would have to come home.
My life changed after my mother’s stroke. Despite having children of my own, I never felt like more of an adult than the day I was solely responsible for the weight of Christmas dinner.
Christmas was – is – a big deal in my family. The tree, the lights, the singing. Parties and families and guests. As a child, the anticipation of Christmas Eve interrupted by Midnight Mass. I liked the carols and the figures in the Nativity scene almost enough to make up for the never ending church service. Afterward, I would help my mom make a midnight lunch: cheese, pickles, crackers; pepperoni and farmer’s sausage; cherry tarts, butter tarts, and of course the shortbread cookies.
On Christmas morning I would wake early, run to the tree and marvel at the presents. After ripping through my stocking to examine what Santa brought me and my brothers, I would fidget until it was late enough to wake my parents and open the gifts. Next would come Christmas breakfast and washing those dishes, just in time to dirty more as we sliced onions, peeled potatoes, stuffed the bird and boiled the dreaded Brussels sprouts. I could never figure out why Mom insisted on cooking a vegetable nobody liked, and we three kids slurped apple juice from wine goblets to disguise their bitter flavour.
As a grownup, wine replaced my apple juice and I helped my mom with midnight lunch. After banishing the kids to bed, I stuffed their stockings by the peaceful glow of incandescent lights and woke, as my parents must have, to gleeful shrieks from the living room. And then my mom had her stroke, and everything changed.
My dad survived an aneurysm a few years later, and every Christmas since has been in the care home where he now lives with my mother. That first year, I brought them a Christmas dinner wrapped in foil and packed on ice for the three hour drive. We had to borrow plates and warm the turkey, gravy and mashed potatoes in a stove that was, happily, newer than what we’d finally hauled out of my parents’ house. There wasn’t enough space for all of the food in the oven, and the turkey was cold by the time the gravy was steaming. No Brussels sprouts, though; even a Christmas cook must draw the line somewhere.
Last year, my boyfriend persuaded me to be easier on myself by ordering supper. My shortbread still isn’t as good as my mom’s, but I compensate with caramel squares and my father doesn’t notice while I bring him his favourite butter tarts.
A couple of weeks ago, my brother announced that he will fly home for Christmas, and Dad’s anticipation of the holiday meal is surpassed only by his joy at the prospect of having us together. So I’ll make Christmas dinner again, but my boyfriend suggested assembling plates of food at my house and driving them to my parents. Meals on wheels, family style. Still packed on ice, of course, and no Brussels sprouts. But what would Christmas be without shortbread and butter tarts?
Maybe this year I’ll try the wooden spoon.
Barbara Tomporowski writes fantasy, justice-related nonfiction, and Christmas blog posts. She chairs a writing group in Regina, Canada, and was recently chosen as an apprentice in the Saskatchewan Writers Guild Mentorship Program. You can find her on Facebook.
A big part of this blog tour is us attempting to raise money to help the Edmonton food bank. If you haven’t already, please click here or on the image below and donate to help feed a family this month — whether it’s a dollar, ten or more every little bit helps! And, as a bonus, all these donations are in Canadian dollars so if you are American, for example, your $10 donation might only cost you $8 (I don’t know the exact exchange rate). Also, if you use PayPal to donate they will add 1% to your donation. Once you’ve donated come back to enjoy the recipe I have to share and enter my rafflecopter to win a cozy prize!
And if you can’t help monetarily, there is still something you can do — help us spread the word about this fundraiser. As with donations, every little bit — every tweet or Facebook share — helps. We can’t reach our fundraising goal without you!
To thank you for all your help I’m also hosting a giveaway. The winner will get a cozy crocheted throw (homemade by me!) in whatever colour(s) they choose. I will ship it anywhere in the world, and though the odds favour those people who donate to the fundraiser (even $1!), you can also earn entries by tweeting about the giveaway or just by showing up because everyone gets one free entry as my gift to you 🙂