Every year I re-enact Dickens' great Christmas tale, literally and figuratively.
First literally - On the Sundays of Advent I read it aloud after church, to a small but devoted crowd. Reading aloud has all but died, and what a shame. For generations this was the way most people 'read' a book. Reading Dickens is especially fine because he wrote it to be read aloud, I think.
Much of the humor and insight is in the words, you see, and not just the dialogue. The anonymous narrator's voice begins the tale and ends it, and along the way embellishes and explains and critiques the whole story. Even fine cinematic versions lose this. Reading silently, though also fails as the sound of the words, the clauses piled on clauses, gives pleasure to the ear as well as the mind.
I am contemplating recording it as a podcast. Copyright is no problem of course. Would you like that? Do let me know.
Figuratively - I am an Advent Grinch. The whole run-up and hoopla and constant racket of Christmas merriment drives me to distraction. Scrooge had three ghosts to contend with, but I have thirty, for each day between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Mine are less terrible but they make that up in sheer volume.
But Christmas Day and the week between it and New Year's are among the most pleasant of the year. Exhausted by the lunacy, there is a lovely calm to the days as the two holidays are too close to attempt serious work, and too far apart and too different to blend together. They force us to leave off serious plans and just let the days pass.
The best thing so far this season was Christmas dinner, a large affair even for the four of us, as it requires roasting some seriously fine beast, and surrounding it with suitable companions. The menu varies slightly each year, but this year I fired on all cylinders and there was as much huzzahing as there was at the Cratchit's table when the goose spilled forth.
In case you are interested here is what made the perfect meal for us.
1. Boneless rib roast. Departure from tradition, the boneless part. And I seasoned it with a coating of 2-3tb soy and 1-2 tb Dijon mustard mixed and layered on, upon which I stuck thin slices of onions, over which came another lathering, followed by generous grindings of salt and pepper. This sat for 30 minutes or so until it went into a 450 degree oven for 20 minutes, reduced to 350 for an hour and reduced again to 300 for another hour. I took it out and let the juices settle before slicing it.
2. Roasted vegetables. Most years there is something mashed along with something cooked. But the simplicity of cooking with the roast made me try this. Yellow squash and zucchini chopped into 1.5 inch hunks, along with carrots and potatoes of similar size. Two whole onions, peeled of course. Bathed in olive oil and rosemary leaves and more salt and pepper, they sat in that until the 70-75 minutes of the roast.
3. I needed a something with a different texture and character, and decided on cucumber salad simply dressed with whole milk yogurt based tzatziki sauce and a hefty seasoning of dill. This was mixed up first actually, and allowed to get acquainted while I prepared the first two.
Then I was free for most of the next two hours.
After the vegetables went in I prepared the kicker, Yorkshire pudding, or yorkie puds as my son's Canadian friends call it. It is completely unhealthy - flour, milk, eggs and fat from the roast. But once a year is forgivable. The "Joy of Cooking" has the basic recipe but you don't need to refrigerate it long. Just let is cool enough to settle down.
This year though I followed the advice of the Minimalist and cooked it in muffin cups. First I put the muffin pan in the oven, which was not back at 450 while the roast cooled a bit. Leave the veggies in for the next 15 minutes. I put the roast back in for this portion to keep it from getting too cool.
Remove the pan and quickly slosh some rendered tallow from the roast and melted butter in the bottom of each cup and then spooned enough batter to fill each half way. Back in the over for 15 minutes. Turn down the heat to 350, remove the veggies and the roast. Cook the pudding for another 10-15. They become extremely rich popovers with tiny flecks from the beef roast on them like a dusting of cocoa.
In those ten minutes slice the roast, and when the puddings come out plate it all lickety split. Memorable, I promise you. Made me want to exclaim, "God bless us everyone."