#Outlander, Christmas, and Rereading Books

Books are my touchstones. I carry them with me…battered copies tucked in my bag, a library of books on my phone, and always, always books in my heart. So many of my old photos have books in them, and I can tell you what was going on in my life by what I was reading.

Christmas 1984 – loved stories, and history, and losing myself…that was my Laura Ingalls Wilder period. Still love history.

Christmas 1985 – middle school, awkward, one foot in adolescence and one in childhood…ahhh, yes. Sweet Valley High and Flowers in the Attic. Don’t’ judge.

Christmas 1987 – young, broody…that would be my Sylvia Plath period.

Christmas 1991 – idealistic, romantic, and nostalgic…that was the year I discovered Norman Maclean.

Fast-forward to 2015, and I am re-re-re-reading Outlander. Yes, yes, I know. I have read it a *cough* few times. But there is a very good reason for that: It’s worth rereading.

Outlander-blue-cover-198x300I have mentioned before that the Outlander series, quite literally, helped me survive my husband’s heart attack this past March. I read while he rested in the hospital. The books were my refuge, my companion, my escape, my comfort. They still are.

So, when I realized that I wasn’t feeling all Eggnog-and-Holiday-Cheer, I tried to slow down and take a breath. It helped…a bit. I felt less stressed, but there was still the voice in my head whispering about the Christmas lights that were still in boxes, and the decided lack of Christmas cookies, this year’s non-existent Family Christmas Card, and the fact that Christmas is two freakin’ weeks away and I have done exactly NONE of my Usual Christmas Traditions.

We have not gone driving around to look at Christmas lights even once, I have not watched my traditional Christmas movies (The Family Man; Love, Actually; The Holiday, or It’s A Wonderful Life), and I have bought exactly…nothing. So, basically, I feel like I am sucking at this whole Mom Thing.

*Insert holiday induced pity party here.*

So, after a nice cup of fortifying tea, I started wondering what the holidays would have been like for Jamie and Claire. (Well, not that first Christmas. We know exactly what THAT was like for poor Jamie…let’s not go there. *shudder*  Oh, and not that incredibly rage inducing and misguided Hogmanay with Laoghaire. *makes sign of horns*)

No, I mean the later Christmases…those at Fraser’s Ridge. Actually, in The Fiery Cross Diana told us (she’s good like that) what the holidays were like. Spoiler: They were nothing like the holiday season as we have mangled it.

Despite all the of the responsibilities of being Himself, Jamie still found time to carve Jem a wooden horse, and he also carved Claire a new wooden ladle with the image of a mint leaf carved on the handle. And, despite all the time spent physicking, Claire gave Jamie “a new shirt with ruffles at the throat for ceremonial occasions.”

As Diana reminds us:

Catholics as many of them were—and nominally Christian as they all were—Highland Scots regarded Christmas primarily as a religious observance, rather than a major festive occasion. Lacking priest or minister, the day was spent much like a Sunday, thought with a particularly lavish meal to mark the occasion, and the exchange of small gifts.

I imagine a lovely meal courtesy of Mrs. Bugg (God rest her soul), and perhaps Claire would make some of her molasses cookies. And I am quite sure there was a wee dram to be had. Perhaps a song or two as well. Likely no cherry bounce or jigs and reels. But it was enough.

There was no tinsel, no movies, no stampede of crowds. There was no competing to get the biggest or best present for kids or grandkids. There was no social obligation filling every spare moment. There was food, and family, a fire in the hearth, and food on the table. And it was enough.

Once again, books steady me, comfort me. And this is why I reread books…because, like an old friend who knows me well, books bring me back to what matters.


Preparations (and #whisky cake)

Home and hearth.

The rest of the house sleeps, but the early hours–the hours before the sun breaks over the ridge–are the hours that allow my thoughts  to percolate…and my preparations for the things that lies ahead.  The  morning moments, before the bustle of breakfast or the scurry of the workday, grant me peace; I accept the offering and try not to squander it.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving.  The amazing abundance that makes it the table is a labor of love.  I tend to plan my meal months in advance.  Some of the dishes will be found at tables across America, and others are simply family favorites.

Last night I brined the turkey.  Last year was our first year to brine the holiday bird, and it was such a success that it was quickly decreed that All Birds Henceforth Shall Be Brined.

Today will be filled with All Things Cranberry: the traditional Cranberry Relish, our beloved Neil Gaiman Cranberry Sauce, and Sugared Cranberries.  (Seriously, there is nothing more precious than hearing a small child say, in his best Holiday Manners, “More Neil Gamain Cranberry Sauce, please?”)

Desserts will also fill the oven today.  Whisky cake*, pumpkin pie, and pecan tassies.  The sugar  cookie and Pfeffernüsse dough were made over the last weekend and are ready to be baked on Thanksgiving night as we drag all of the Christmas decorations down from the attic.

Today I’ll make fudge (pumpkin, and peppermint, and chocolate), peanut brittle, and rum sauce.   Candy dishes will be filled and refilled as little hands sneak “just a taste” when I turn to stir a pot or peek in the oven.

Tomorrow is for side dishes and things-that-go-on-trays.  Pickle trays, cheese trays, olive trays, veggie trays…  Heaping piles of side dishes will be prepared: mashed potatoes, praline sweet potatoes, salads, quinoa and wild rice with cranberries and carmalized onions.

Tomorrow is for last-minute vacuuming by over-eager children with energy to burn (likely from the rush of stolen sugary-things).

Tomorrow is for trying to fill the table with all the foods that represent home, and family, and tradition; for wishes of a winter filled with Enough…enough food, enough warmth, enough family and friends, enough Love to make it through the years Dark Days.

As you go about your last minute preparations, I wish you Enough.


* If you will be having family over for the holdays, or going to visit family, I HIGHLY recommend making a whisky cake.  My version is very, erm, “bracing.”  Just the thing for a lovely day with the in-laws. 💕

Just the thing for some Holiday “Spirit”

Today was the Thanksgiving “muncheon” at work.  Ever the rebel, I decided that I would liven up the festivities with a nice Glenmorangie cake.  I placed the cake in the break room at 8:30 a.m.  It was completely devoured within the hour.  Although, admittedly, I did eat one piece myself.

The holidays mean relatives descending upon your sanctuary.  They come from far and wide and, even if they aren’t staying for longer than it takes to eat The Meal, they still bring a lot of baggage with them.  Slights, resentments, and betrayals unknown or unrecalled are all stirred up.

In order to prepare for the inevitable drama, it is best to have plenty of strong tea on hand (or coffee, if that is your thing).  Perhaps some eggnog–well fortified–will help, too.  But, at my house, I go with a very special cake to help get me in the holiday *ahem* spirit.  This Glenmorangie cake is just the thing to fill my stomach, settle my nerves, and help those passive aggressive remarks slide by unnoticed.


Glenmorangie Cake

1 c. softened butter (no substitutes)
2 c. sugar
4 eggs
3 c. self-rising flour
1/2 c. milk
1/2 c. Glenmorangie
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350° F.  Grease and flour one 12-cup Bundt pan AND one 6-count cupcake pan OR one eight inch round pan.  (This makes more than just the one Bundt cake, and I tend to snack on the “extra” cake and keep the “fancy cake” for The Meal.)

Using an electric mixer, cream the butter until fluffy.  In a separate bowl, combine dry ingredients and set aside.  Add the eggs one at a time to the creamed butter.  Slowly add the flour mixture.  Then add milk, vanilla, and whisky.

Divided the batter 2/3 in the Bundy pan and the remainder in the cupcake pan or eight inch round.

Cook until golden brown.  (The Bundt cake will take longer than the others, so keep an eye on it.  It will take about 1520minutes for the cupcakes and about 35-45 minutes for the Bundt, depending on your oven.

When the cakes are done, remove from the oven and let them cool.  While the cake is still warm, brush it with the Glenmorangie Glaze.

GlenmorangieGlenmorangie Glaze

1/2 c. butter (no substitutes)
1/4 c. water
1 c. sugar
1/2 c. Glenmorangie

Melt the butter in a sauce pan.  Stir in water and sugar.  Boil 5 minutes, stirring continuously.  Remove from heat and cool slightly.  While warm, gently pour in the Glenmorangie.  Spool/brush onto warm cake.  Let cool.  Store in air tight container.

Serve with coffee, tea, eggnog, or more Glenmorangie.  Let the festivities begin!