Keeping Christmas

“Are you willing to stoop down and consider the needs and desires of little children; to remember the weaknesses and lonliness of people who are growing old; to stop asking how much your friends love you, and to ask yourself if you love them enough; to bear in mind the things that other people have to bear on their hearts; to trim your lamp so that it will give more light and less smoke, and to carry it in front so that your shadow will fall behind you; to make a grave for your ugly thougts and a garden for your kindly feelings, with the gate open? Are you willing to do these things for a day? Then you are ready to keep Christmas!”
― Henry van Dyke

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It’s time to roll up our sleeves, knocking out some of that holiday cooking!! I always start with one of my husband’s favorite accompaniments to any holiday meal— featuring that most holiday festive little red orb, the cranberry. But to accompany those tart little beauties, a citrus is necessary. . .hence, our story of the lowly calamondin and it’s cousin the kumquat.

A couple of months ago you may remember the picture of my kumquat tree–it was heavy laden with nice bright green round orbs. I was in a bit of a panic as the green orbs needed to hurry up in order to turn a luscious orange before the first frost. Long story short, the tree is now living in the basement with green orbs which are finally deciding to turn orange, slowly but surely.

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The reason behind the need for a kumquat tree is actually for the provision of a key ingredient in a highly guarded important seasonal family recipe. My aunt, who lives in south Florida, yes the one now minus a kidney, who by the way is doing quite marvelously thank you very much, use to make a delightful holiday relish. It was called Martha’s cranberry calamondin relish. What’s a calamondin you ask? It’s a sour little orange looking type fruit and is a key ingredient in the cranberry calamondin relish–hence the name.

About a year or so ago I asked my aunt for the recipe, thinking I’d try my hand at this amazing little relish rather than wait for jars to arrive via a visit or UPS. My aunt was a little shady about the whole thing. What’s the deal I was wondering. Is she going to give it to me or not? Finally I wore her down. I wrote feverishly as she recalled the ingredients over the phone, and double checked the accompanying e-mail. The last sentence of her e-mail was chilling.
“Immediately delete this e-mail and don’t you tell anyone this recipe or I will have to kill you”

Hummmm. . .I think it’s written down in some sacred tome that it’s ok for relatives to say that sort of thing to one another as I think there is a fine line between love and hate in families—as no doubt many of you are currently discovering during your own balancing act during this lovely holiday season.

My aunt can be a scary person so I heeded her ominous words.

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The recipe is simply divine. My husband loves it. He eats it by the spoonfuls. It’s tart and sweet all rolled into one. A heady concoction that pairs so beautifully with holiday meals. It is somewhat reminiscent of a wild lingonberry sauce. I once had something similar served alongside a hearty plate of sauerbraten when traveling throughout Austria. Something about the sweet tart coupled with a gamey savory—a beautiful amalgamation of tastes converging in one’s mouth.

Yet the one huge glaring missing key to the success of the recipe, if I was going to try my hand at tastebud heaven, were the calamondins. Has anyone, who lives outside of some tropical region, ever heard of a calamondin? I for one had not.

Think, think, think. . .

What could I use as an alternative??? I know, what about those kumquat things they sell at the grocery store–the ones I only see during the holidays as if they are imported small treasures from some exotic land. . .aka Florida?!

Which brings us to the small purchase I made a couple of summers ago—a small burgeoning fruit ladened kumquat tree. Sadly, I realized much later, that my little tree would never produce the required amount of fruit for the recipe so I would still need to supplement from the grocery store’s seasonal stock pile.

And I suppose it is safe for me to tell you that I have tailored this recipe to me and my own culinary skills—adding a little bit of this and a little dash of that—yet it is the image, that is burned on the inside of my retinas, that simply forbids me from sharing verbatim the full recipe here with you today. I will, however, share the images of it all coming together- – –


Step 1, you will need a bunch of these:

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and a bunch of these succulent garnet beauties—

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Assemble all your ingredients—oops, I forgot to showcase a couple of key players. . .oh well, just use your imagination as to what they may be—

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Oh, and you’ll need one of these. . .

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WAIT!! Is that a Coke?! You didn’t say anything about a Coke!! Well, I saw a leftover can sitting on the counter. . .so just a splash, as I am a true southerner, Coke goes into everything we consume.

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Don’t forget to release the Kraken—

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Simmer away listening to the pop, pop, pop of those little scarlet gems

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Voila–Cookie’s new and improved cranberry kumquat relish—–

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And let’s not tell Martha we talked about any of this shall we. . .

And as I heard him exclaim, ‘ere he drove out of sight,
“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!”

Anticipation

“Well,” said Pooh, “what I like best,” and then he had to stop and think. Because although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn’t know what it was called.”
― A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

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(image of the Nandina bush in the front yard / Julie Cook/ 2013)

Anticipation.
It is most usually a positive state of life… be it the giddy excitement leading up to a vacation or trip of a lifetime, the welcomed relief of a loved one’s long awaited homecoming, the expectant arrival date of the birth of a child, or even the sweet relief to the end of a school term…all are looked upon with a delightful sense of expectancy, joy, and the visualization of something most exciting and / or pleasurable which is about to take place. It’s what gets us over the humps and through the low doldrums of life.

Of course we can counter the positive anticipation by coupling it with a sense of dread, worry or foreboding— as in the stressful prepping before a major test, the nervous waiting for a required surgery, an isolating time of servitude, or the poignant end of something most special.

Either way, the anticipation aspect of any event is 9 times out of 10 the most potent component of any situation— with the actual event taking a bit of a backseat to any sort of “lead up” time.

How many times, as children, were we overtly full of such rapt anticipation, awaiting Christmas and the visit of Santa, that we were beside ourselves with energy, delight, agitation and sensory overload?! It was as if by the time Christmas morning finally rolled around, we felt somewhat let down, disappointed or either our eyes were so glazed over from the anticipatory overload that we found it difficult to maintain the exhilarating high we’d been riding since Thanksgiving.

Our western culture seems to have mastered the art of anticipation—as you are no doubt hearing Carly Simon singing her most notable song in your head as you visualize ketchup slowly making its way from bottle to bun…anticipation sadly or joyously drives our economy.

For my generation it was the arrival of the 4 inch thick Sears catalog. I would spend hours eagerly marking page after page, item after item, for mom and dad, and of course Santa, to fill my hopes and dreams. For today’s kids, it is a true sensory overload as they absorb larger than life, high definition, clear images on their 50 inch plasma interactive televisions of the latest gadgets and gizmos, jewelry and designer this and that which they must receive in order for their lives to, sadly, be complete.

Times Square screams such with it’s constantly moving, undulating, bigger than life, ever-changing advertisements… as the same can be said world wide from Tokyo to Hong Kong, to London to Pairs—bright lights, bright colors, big, large, giant images and pulsating sounds of which are all intended to hypnotize us into a glazed trance of believing that we must have, be a part of, or become these glamours images in order to reach our individual utopias as we are dressed and sporting everything the same as the person next to us…hummmm

I say all of this with a bit of reflection. It was the other Sunday evening when I accompanied my poor husband, who owns a small business in our community and who has spent his entire life in retail, as he went to check his store—just as he does each Sunday evening, the only day the business is thankfully closed.

As we made our way back to his truck, having completed the week’s deposit, in the darkened nearly empty parking lot, we couldn’t help but notice a small bevy of vehicles parked just outside of Bath and Body Works. It was well after store hours as all the other businesses were dark and shuttered for the night. There were a dozen or so employees busily decorating the store for, what else, Christmas. It was November 3rd.

My husband let out a long heavy sigh. “I can never remember a single Christmas or Thanksgiving that I have ever really enjoyed” he sadly lamented. I’ve been married to him now going on 31 years— I know this. He is 64 years old and from the earliest time of memory he has spent the “holidays” wrapped up in his family’s business giving way now to his own business. It is indeed a love / hate relationship which sees owners and employees moving momentum from one holiday to the next, riding the perpetual holiday wave as it were.

The hours, the time, the energy, the demands, year after year, have grown exponentially. Way back when, back in a vastly different time in this country, businesses closed at noon on both Wednesdays and Saturdays with all businesses being closed on Sunday. Slowly that has all changed. Businesses, if they expect to stay competitive or just viable are open 7 days a week at least 12 hours a day. Add to those hours during the Holidays.

Black Friday does not signal Christmas, a time of our Holy anticipation, that of the Advent leading to the birth of a Savior, but rather it is the marking of a feeding frenzy. A need to feed an unquenchable thirst and hunger of and for consumerism which gives way to our obsession with materialism. It has nothing to do with what Christmas, or even Hanukkah, is actually all about but rather it has everything to do with our economy and the need to feed it.

My daughter-n-law “to be” lamented this morning that her cherished pumpkin lattes from Dunkin Doughnuts are on the last call list as they are making way for the Christmas flavors. It is November 5th. I thought Pumpkins and Spice were the sights and scents of November… as in Thanksgiving, as in the end of the month, not the beginning of the month. Weren’t we just trick or treating last week?

A dear friend of mine in Florence, Italy, whose family has had a business in that most magical and historical city for almost 150 years, was recently lamenting that the Ministry of Commerce and the governing officials there in the city of Florence are pressuring all businesses to stay open 7 days a week, 365 days a year and to forego the siesta hours of closing for lunch. An entrenched way of life and of a culture being told to change to meet the growing and insatiable appetites of a hungry consumer driven populace.

I just wish things were different. I wish we could all just slow down, savoring the time and seasons of our lives..relishing life rather than the empty things that we hope to gobble up in order to fill it all full…

Just like Pooh in today’s quote–the eating of honey is really wonderful but it’s the time, the magical time, leading up to the actual eating that seems even more sweet… Here is to the sweet anticipation to all of those magical moments in your life. . .make time to enjoy every moment.

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