Simple Pleasures To Fight the Season's Doldrums

This last year has been a very stressful, busy one.  In talking with friends and business acquaintances, it seems to be an epidemic.  As we head into the holiday season, I feel weary and the spirit of fun has been alluding me.  When the kids were young it was so much easier as their raw enthusiams filled the air and I could just breath it in.  Now that they are adults, they have a whole different outlook on the season.  It's time for desperate measures and I started a couple days ago

A Fire A Day Keeps the Blues Away - An old fashioned fireplace still has the place of honour my in home.  While finding a regular supply of wood is a problem, I have discovered the second best option - Crackle Logs.  They have small seeds that pop and crackle as the log burns.  It's such an easy choice, I have put in a supply and light a log every chance I get.  Add in some great background music (NEVER under estimate the power of music to lift one's spirit) and it's my first line of attack to fight the winter blues and get ready for the upcoming festivities.

Hot Buttered Rum - It's been years since I've had a hot buttered rum so it brings in that nostalgic element.  When I first moved to Seattle, there was a restaurant near my workplace we all frequented at lunch time.  This drink was one of their standard offerings during the holiday season.  It warmed you up in body and spirit.  I have decided this is the year I'm pulling out all stops and going to try to make it at home from scratch.  Here is a recipe found on the internet that has a alcoholic version and a non-alcoholic version (for kids and those who don't drink). I have never seen one with ice cream in it, so have my doubts, but adventure is my middle name.   It's not tested it yet, so try it at your own risk.  According to the source, one recipe makes a ton.

1c.granulated sugar
1c.firmly packed brown sugar
1c.sweet cream butter (Land O Lakes)
2c.vanilla ice cream, softened
Rum or rum extract
boiling water

In 2-quart saucepan combine granulated sugar, brown sugar and butter. Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until butter is melted and sugar is dissolved (6-8 minutes). In large mixer bowl combine cooked mixture with ice cream, beat at medium speed, scraping bowl often, until smooth (1-2 minutes). Store refrigerated up to 2 weeks. For each serving, fill mug with 1/4 cup mixture, 1 ounce rum or 1/4 teaspoon rum extract and 3/4 cup boiling water; sprinkle with nutmeg.

Here is what I think is probably a more traditional recipe for those faint of heart from TV chef Emeril Lagasse.

With Rum -
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 cups light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • Pinch ground cloves
  • Pinch salt
  • Bottle dark rum
  • Boiling water
In a bowl, cream together the butter, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and salt. Refrigerate until almost firm. Spoon about 2 tablespoons of the butter mixture into 12 small mugs. Pour about 3 ounces of rum into each mug (filling about halfway). Top with boiling water (to fill the remaining half), stir well, and serve immediately.

Create a Few Yearly Traditions That Are Easy to Maintain - It is so important to keep this simple or they will just fall by the wayside one year never to return.  I knew a family that decided to have Chinese food on Christmas Eve as a yearly tradition.  It could be shared with others or eaten just with their immediate family.  Dinner could be made from scratch, ordered in or eaten in a restaurant (reservations obviously needed.)  I always thought this was a brilliant idea.  For my family, when the kids were young and my mum was visiting, she suggested roasting hot dogs in our old fashion fireplace (real wood is a must for this).  We spread a big blanket on the floor to protect the carpet and went to town. Just for a special treat I added Home Made French Fries.  It was a such a hit that it quickly became our Christmas Eve meal which we still enjoy to this day - grown kids and all.  Some years we also make Smores.

There are lots of other great ideas.  Have a special book, tape or movie that the family enjoys each season.  I LOVE the Opus book, A Wish for Wings That Work. It has such a great holiday lesson.  Some fun movies are listed below as well if this one calls you.  For my husband, he started a couple years ago to listen to a famous recording of A Child's Christmas in Wales read by Dylan Thomas.  Glen finds this offsets the commercialism that can creep in this time of year and he loves the image of an old fashioned holiday season.  Last of all - Christmas day at our house would not be complete without a jigsaw puzzle.  It is placed on the coffee table in the living room. Not everyone works on it, but it draws everyone to the same place.  Those not as comfortable just sitting and chatting find themselves still in the middle of the group listening while they try to be the one who puts the last piece in place (my kids used to hide one piece in their hand).

Smaller Get Togethers - We all have many people we mean to get together with over the year and don't.  For some really dumb reason, we decide during the holiday season to have a mammoth party that includes everyone.  Not only is this stressful, you get very little time to talk with any one person.  Yesterday I held a birthday lunch (short and sweet) for a friend who became an honorary family member many years ago.  Instead of inviting everyone, the day was focused just on her.  We lit the fire and gave her our undivided attention.  The side benefit was we all took that afternoon to finally sit down and enjoy each other's company instead of being ships passing in the night.  Lunch was an easy stew that cooked in the oven in a large roasting pan while we all visited and homemade cornmeal muffins were popped in at the last minute.  The birthday cake was store bought, but no one cared.  It was short, intimate and utterly worth it.  Other options might be meeting for lunch with just a few close friends or a quick drink after work with a couple of co-workers.  Whatever you choose to do, keep it small and try to keep it as simple as you can.

Enjoy Some Comfort Food - Cold winters mean you need to be warmed by the food you eat.  While you can't do this every meal, be sure and include a wide variety of home made soups and stews with fresh quick bread.  A crock pot is a godsend for those that work, but with a litre of store bought broth, you can pretty much just add whatever vegetables, leftover meat and herbs you have to come up with a quick soup.  For stew, just have less broth, more ingredients, and thicken at the last minute with a mix of cornstarch dissolved in cold water.  Fresh Quick Breads can include anything from muffins to scones to 9 x 5 loaves.  An upcoming blog with have a few recipes including Brethren Cheese Bread, Cornmeal Muffins and more.

Watch some fun holiday movies - There are lots of sentimental favourites during the holiday season, but if you're struggling with the doldrums you really need to laugh.  Fortunately there are many movies to rent that can bring a little lightness to the season.  An oldie but goodie is always How The Grinch Stole Christmas - you have the choice of the short and sweet original animation from 1966 (my favourite) or the longer Ron Howard movie offering from 2000.  For something a little different, Tim Burton lovers can sink their teeth into the Nightmare Before Christmas.  Other options include - The Muppet Christmas Carol, The Santa Claus, The Polar Express and A Charlie Brown ChristmasI did find a site that listed their own top ten funny Christmas movies, many which I have not seen - Deck The Halls, Jingle All the Way, Eight Crazy Nights, Four Christmases, Bad Santa, Fred Claus, Elf and National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation.

Limit Present Buying - While this won't be popular with retailers, my entire family has cut back in this area.  All adults in our extended family just exchange cards and we truly get a kick out of trying to find the one that makes everyone laugh the most while not being mean.  My newly adult kids find this a great way to participate without having to by expensive, unwanted presents for older relatives.  We still purchase small gifts for the kids (and they for us), but  if any other family member wants to give gifts, they do it either for a birthday or just because they want to. No one feels the pressure of having to come up with a lot of gifts all at once.  Present buying is not longer dictated by the season, but by the moment and I for one enjoy this direction.  My only worry - my kids will marry into a family where it's really important to get lots of expensive gifts at Xmas.  I have no idea how they'll cope.

Bailey's Irish Cream -  Last year I had someone introduce me to a new way to drink this fabulous liqueur.  I thought I would end this column with it as it's one of the newest additions to my recipe book.  Take a beautiful glass coffee mug, the kind with the pedestal.  Fill half way with Bailey's and half with boiling hot water.  It's a bit like a hot chocolate and yet seems a bit more festive.  Okay, it is a bit high on the caloric side, but so is egg nog.  It just means you only have it occasionally when you need an extra boost and if you can sip it in front of the fire with a few family members or friends it's a bonus. For a recipe to make your own Bailey's from scratch click HERE.

Take time to step back from what is expected of you this holiday season and find a way to make it your own.  Invent some new traditions that are just yours, or find a new way to participate in the festivities that are more in line with what makes you happy.  Most of all, find it a way to celebrate the good things in your life including the family and friends that support you.

Happy Holidays!!