Remember what's important
The holidays are a time to enjoy friends and family
“God invented Christmas as a trial for women,” a friend said to me many years ago. I laughed — it was funny — but I also felt a little sad that she was so cynical. Every year since then, however, her words have come to mind as I begin to prepare for the holiday season. Christmas certainly can be a trial — and however far we’ve come in equalizing the roles of the sexes, in most cases the burden of holiday preparation falls more heavily on women than on men. My friend may have been cynical, but she certainly had a point.
December is especially hectic for singers. As a performance voice major in college, I was always rehearsing and performing multiple concerts between frantic studying for finals. Later, with all three of my children involved in music, the weeks leading up to Christmas were often a blur of school concerts, symphony concerts, and other performances, culminating frequently in Christmas Eves with the kids in two different church choirs and me belting out “O Holy Night” at three services from 6 p.m. to midnight.
I have to say, however, that the craziest years were when I was catering. Adding catering to the mix of music and family preparations was truly overkill. Even though I kept my promise to myself and my family to not take any bookings after Dec. 20, I was so exhausted that I was essentially a nonfunctional blob, capable of little more that hanging out on the couch while my forgiving and patient husband and children did all the work.
The thing is, I really enjoy Christmas and all its attendant preparations, and I’ve always felt a little cheated when I haven’t been able to do as much as I’d like. I love decorating and making holiday specialties, though I’m less enthusiastic about shopping, as a rule. However, I’ve finally realized that the most important thing of all is to get rid of any feelings of guilt about not doing enough. Enough for whom? That’s really where the “God inventing Christmas as a trial for women” thing kicks in. Many of us (me included) have had an image of a putting on a “perfect” Christmas — whatever that is. Of course, there is no such thing, and driving one’s self crazy trying to get there is counterproductive. Decorate if you like to decorate. Cook if you like to cook. Shop if you like to shop. But whatever and however much you do, always keep in mind what’s really important about the holidays: that it’s a time to enjoy your family and friends — and it’s also a time for your family and friends to enjoy you, which they can’t do if you’re a stressed-out bundle of nerves.
In case you do like to cook for the holidays, here are some recipes my family enjoys. They’re nice to have on hand and make good gifts that are a departure from the usual cookies and cakes.
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1/2 cup vegetable oil, such as canola
1/2 cup honey
Zest from two large oranges
4 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
2 cups raw wheat germ
1 cup raw sunflower seeds
1/2 cup raw sesame seed
2 cups chopped walnuts or other nuts, such as pecans, hazelnuts, or a mixture
1 1/2 cups dried cranberries
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. In a saucepan, heat the oil, honey, and orange zest until it is just beginning to show a few bubbles. Meanwhile combine the remaining ingredients except the dried cranberries on a large sheet pan, mixing to combine. Drizzle the honey/oil mixture over the dried ingredients and stir with a spoon until well mixed. Place in the oven and toast, stirring frequently, for 30 to 40 minutes or until browned to your taste. Allow to cool completely, then stir in the cranberries. Makes about 12 cups.
2 cups sugar
2 tablespoons grated lemon peel
12 large egg yolks
1 cup lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter, cut into small chunks
If you have a food processor, combine the sugar and the grated peel and process until the peel is ground into the sugar. Put the sugar and lemon peel into a heavy-bottomed saucepan and whisk in the egg yolks. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens and coats a spoon. It should register about 168 degrees on a thermometer. Do not allow the mixture to boil! Remove from the heat, still stirring constantly. If you have not ground the sugar and peel together, strain the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve. Continue to whisk for a couple of minutes, then begin adding the butter, a few pieces at a time. When all of the butter has been incorporated, pour into jars and refrigerate. Makes 2 pints.