Monday, December 21, 2009

Christmas Preparations

Yesterday was our first full day home.

It was a beautiful day.

Andrew and I rose very early—we are still operating on East Coast time—and we took the dog to the park first thing.

When we got home, we gave the dog his cereal, cleaned up, and waited for Andrew’s parents to come downstairs. While we were waiting, Alex arrived.

Once everyone was assembled, we had a big, leisurely breakfast—grapefruit, cereal, Eggs Benedict, apple pancakes with apple sausage—and shortly after breakfast we headed for church. I nodded off during service, just like Helena, but I do not share her excuse of being merely one year old. Happily, no one but Andrew and Alex noticed that I had been dozing.

Back home from church, we had a very special lunch: Norwegian fish balls and potato pancakes. Norwegian fish balls are made from numerous kinds of fish, minced and seasoned and stored for three or four days before fried in butter and served.

The Norwegian fish balls were heavenly. They were tender and sweet and light as a feather. They are intended to be eaten with potato pancakes and nothing more, as any other foods interfere with the subtle flavor of the fish balls.

I had never had the fish balls before. When I told Andrew’s mother, she was surprised: “That means I have not made these since 2005. I didn’t realize it had been that long.” I hope she does not wait four years before making them again.

We spent all afternoon baking Christmas cookies. We made date-nut cookies (with the date-nut filling pressed between two layers of pastry), apricot cookies (with the apricot filling pressed between two layers of pastry), spritz cookies (which require a cookie press) of several different designs, anise cookies (which require a different kind of cookie press—and of a type no longer manufactured), Pfeffernusse cookies, and sugar cookies cut in the shapes of bells, Christmas trees and candy canes.

Everyone helped. Even Tim helped, because he was allowed to sprinkle colored sugar on the spritz cookies and on the sugar cookies.

By the time we were finished baking cookies, it was 6:00 p.m. There were cookies on practically every kitchen surface. There were so many cookies that it was impossible to find a free surface on which to prepare dinner.

Andrew’s mother was trying to decide what to do—I think she was planning to move as many cookies as possible into the dining room—when Andrew’s father turned to Andrew and said, “Why don’t you go out and get carry-out someplace and bring dinner home? I hear Perkins has carry-out. I’m told Perkins has improved considerably over the last several years.”

“Boston Market. Boston Market has excellent carryout food. Boston Market HAS to be better than Perkins” was Andrew’s reply.

“But Boston Market’s too far to go” was Andrew’s father’s response.

“Well, do you want Chinese?” was Andrew’s rejoinder.

“No Chinese” came from Lizbeth.

“Then how about Italian? I can go to Maggiano’s . . .or the Olive Garden” was Andrew’s next move.

“No Italian, please. Tonight’s not the right night for Italian.” This gentle plea came from Andrew’s mother.

“Well, I guess I can try Perkins” said Andrew. “But what should I order at Perkins? I have no idea what might be good there.”

Alec came to the rescue. “Let’s do Boston Market. It’s a little farther, but it’ll be worth the extra time. Decent chicken, decent potatoes, decent vegetables. No surprises, no disappointments. I’ll drive. Let’s go.”

There being no further comments, Alec’s words seemed to be the final ruling on the subject. Within two minutes, Alec, Alex, and Andrew and I were in the car, headed for Boston Market, where we bought whole chickens and tubs of mashed potatoes, stuffing, corn and green beans.

The food was still hot when we arrived home. It was a perfectly acceptable dinner, and everyone was perfectly content, including the dog.

Alec, Lizbeth and the kids went home immediately after dinner.

For the rest of the evening, Andrew’s parents, Alex, and Andrew and I packed cookies into colorful small Christmas gift boxes, one kind of cookie per box. Once the cookies were boxed, we filled colorful Christmas gift bags with boxes of cookies, six boxes per bag, each bag containing six different kinds of cookie. To complete the project, Andrew’s mother tied handwritten gift cards onto each gift bag.

It was 11:15 p.m. by the time we were done with our work, and we were all bushed. Alex soon went home, and within a few minutes of his departure we were all headed upstairs, ready for bed (but only after the gift bags of cookies had been placed in the dining room and the dining room doors closed—there being no point in tempting the dog during the night with cookies to eat and bright papers to chew on).

Today was cookie-delivery day. All morning, Andrew and I delivered cookies.

The dog wanted to come with us, but we could not allow it—not in a car jammed with cookies.

Our work was not arduous, because we simply drove around and placed bags of cookies on front doorsteps. We did not ring doorbells, or attempt to visit with anyone, because doing so would have turned our delivery project into a weeklong exercise. The most complicated part of our operation was matching the names of the recipients with the correct houses (no sense in offending Mr. and Mrs. Petersen by dropping a gift bag at their house bearing greetings for Mr. and Mrs. Christensen).

We started out at 8:30 a.m., and we were done by 12:15 p.m.

Christmas cookies delivered, we returned home, picked up Andrew’s mother, and headed to Southdale for Christmas shopping.

Andrew and I, intentionally, had delayed our Christmas shopping until this week. We knew that we had at our disposal almost a full week in Minnesota prior to Christmas Day, and we had decided to take advantage of the situation by doing our Christmas shopping at home.

We picked up a couple of things at Southdale this afternoon, but a couple of things only. Tomorrow we plan to hit the Galleria, but I fear that much of our Christmas shopping will be accomplished at the Mall Of America on Wednesday. We look forward to it and cringe at the prospect in equal measure.

We had pot roast for dinner tonight, accompanied by egg noodles, lima beans, stewed tomatoes and an apple salad. We had skipped lunch, so dinner hit the spot.

Tonight is our first quiet evening at home since we have been back for the holidays, the first such night without a houseful of people. We might have had Alex join us for dinner, but tonight was Alex’s office Christmas party.

We have been reading, and talking, and listening to music, and nuzzling the dog, and enjoying a quiet evening.

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