December Already!

Making an advent wreath has become an annual ritual that tells my lizard brain to catch up and understand that the year is drawing to a close. Of course, there’s still the holidays to look forward to, and I always enjoy those. Christmas this year will be a quiet affair, as will New Year’s, seeing that we’re confined to our homes – not the worst place to be, when it’s cold and dark outside, and we’re warm, have food and our loved ones. These things are not to be taken for granted, and it bears remembering that every once in a while.

Like many others, I have a tendency to fall into the pre-Christmas trap, the mad rat race of consumerism. Buying things just because, and ultimately confusing the indisputable joy of unwrapping gifts with holiday cheer. Mind you, I do like presents, receiving them and giving them. Nevertheless, I’ve been trying to downscale material needs and stick to my mantra for this year: I have everything I need.

I am trying to give a few hand made presents this year. (Wherever practical. For transatlantic gifts, unwilling to pay ridiculous postage, we’re resorting to Jeff Bezos‘ enterprise, and creative as I may be, I am unable to crochet a functional Switch game ;-)). I have a mere 10 days left for finishing my projects, but I’ve done 1,5 of 3 knit hats already, and my daughter’s sweater only needs finishing – which requires a steady hand, decent morning light and peace and quiet. That will have to wait until the weekend.

So the Covid scare remained just that – thank you for asking. Thank goodness! It’s a mystery how my son managed to not get infected after he and his girlfriend spent a whole weekend wrapped up in each other. Some say it’s his blood type (he’s an 0). But at this point, I’m just grateful we were spared, again.

In other health news, my dog was bitten by a fellow canine two weeks ago. We’ve been in and out of the vet’s, there were shots, and antibiotics, and fevers, and swelling, and no doubt considerable pain. He’s been very clingy, and he’s been sleeping a lot, even more than his usual 17-18 hours a day. It was a horrible, traumatic experience altogether. Why people with dangerous dogs insist on walking them without a leash, I’ll never understand. Charlie’s still on antibiotics, and the vet says if these bites get infected, it’s sometimes necessary to have surgery to get rid of the necrotic tissue. Yikes. Hope with me that the antibiotics will take care of it!

It was difficult not to feel like I let my dog down. I wasn’t fast enough to save him, and I feel I should have been. Also, I must confess that the place feels haunted to me now. It was only yesterday that I dared to go back. First, Charlie wasn’t up for longer walks, and now that he is again, I find myself shying away from that spot. Yesterday my husband took us, to exorcise the ghost, as it were, but I have yet to go by myself. I know I need to. That place is one of our favorite hikes, and I’m determined to be able to enjoy it again. Acknowledging the trauma is a first step. (The dog seems to be less affected by this than I. He seemed quite happy and unfazed yesterday, to my relief!)

In the meantime, I learned to appreciate our little park close by, once more. The Gingko tree is always the last to shed its beautiful foliage, and I’m grateful for the final dosage of yellow of the season.

As I told you, we were cooking Thanksgiving dinner the weekend before last, and this seems as good an opportunity as any to share the stuffing recipe I love. It’s great for turkey, and it was equally yummy for a chicken:

It’s the simplest recipe, and this is probably the reason why even my daughter appreciated it. It’s also pretty cool because it uses Johnny Cash’s cornbread recipe :-).

Cornbread Stuffing

1,5 cups cornmeal

1 cup flour

1 TSP baking soda

1 TSP salt

2 TSP sugar

1,5 cups buttermilk

1 large egg

4 TBSP vegetable oil

1 onion (or 2 shallots), diced

Mix ingredients together, pour into a baking dish and bake approx. 30 minutes.

Other cornbread recipes I’ve made use melted butter, some call for more sugar, or more eggs. I find the combination above particularly good. If you get the ratio right, it’s soft and a little bit moist, and can be enjoyed with a bit of butter, or avocado, or bacon, the next day. It’s the onion that gives it a distinctly savory character – which other types of corn bread don’t necessarily have. I love corn bread, can you tell?

After baking, let cool and wrap. Use no earlier than the next day, or bake 2 days in advance.

On the day of cooking, dice:

2 celery sticks

2 onions or 3 shallots

Add 1 tiny (or 1/2) parsley root, chopped

2/3rds of the cornbread, cubed (1 cm)

Prepare about 300 ml vegetable broth.

Chop 1 small handful fresh sage leaves, and pull off the tiny leaves from a good 6-7 large twigs of fresh thyme.

In 1-2 TBSP butter, sauté the vegetables. Add the herbs and cook for a few minutes until onions are translucent. In a large bowl, combine all ingredients. Careful with the broth. You want the mixture to be soft and moist, but the bread cubes should keep their shape, so don’t add too much liquid. Season with salt & pepper. You can be generous, because when you stuff your bird, you won’t have to season it from the inside. I’m not too fond of touching the uncooked meat, so to me that is a bonus :-).

To roast the chicken, stuff it and put it in a fireproof dish of your liking, brushed with oil. Season with salt & pepper. Leave in the oven for about 1,5 hours. Basting every 20 minutes is key for a crisp skin, which looks prettier as well. Your meat is done if a clear liquid runs out when you poke a thigh with a skewer.

Trimmings in our case consisted of a very modest spread (in comparison to what I’ve seen people do). Cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, corn, a salad and corn bread. It was lovely, simple food, and it pleased both kids so much that we decided to make the same thing for Christmas dinner.

Dessert was more elaborate than I usually do: I made my first ever layered cake, a Torta al Pistacchio.

There it is, and it looked impressive, I thought. It was very good, too! However, next time, I will try making the frosting a little less fluffy and moist, and use buttercream instead, maybe with mascarpone, but definitely without whipped cream (like this recipe called for. If you’re interested, it’s on the same food blog I recommended a few weeks back, unfortunately only of use to those who can read German, mi dispiace!)

That was it for today, I think. I wish you a peaceful, happy, and most of all healthy final month of the year.

Thank you for reading.