Santa’s #1 Elf and brussels with pancetta

Meaghan is not able to come home for Christmas this year. She will be celebrating the holidays with Theo, in their new home. She asked me to come to Calgary and help her to decorate because Theo is not really into it…

I remember when Ralph and I celebrated Christmas together in our first home. I spent a week ‘decking the halls’, while he was away working. I could not wait for him to come home and see how festive everything looked. His reaction was less than stellar!

“I feel like I am in a department store.”

It turned out that Ralph was not a big fan of Christmas.

Santa’s number one elf found herself married to Scrooge!

I love everything about Christmas. The decorating, baking, music, shopping, wrapping, entertaining, being with family, card writing, parades, parties, church services, special holiday foods – not necessarily in that order. Every year, on November 15th, I am overwhelmed with anticipation and happiness. It is absolutely the best time of my year.

Ralph – not so much!

And so we attempted to tolerate each other during the holidays. He would suffer my boundless excitement. I would ignore his complete lack of interest.

It did not work. I could not accept that the love of my life was not sharing the joy surrounding us. Over several years, I did everything that I could to pull him from the dark place he slipped into at Christmas time. All efforts were in vain.

I have a huge capacity for understanding, when it comes to my family. It is the one virtue that I confidently own. Unfortunately for Ralph, another not-so-attractive trait of mine is the inability to stomach self indulgence! I knew my husband’s strength. There was nothing that he could not overcome. Watching him wallow in this holiday anxiety, while our three daughters’ puzzled over why he was not happy, made me crazy! How could he not allow himself to be more affected by their happiness?

Fifteen years ago, on the Sunday morning of our annual treck to the tree farm, I told Ralph that he would not be spending Christmas day with us. I asked him to make arrangements to stay at a motel. Then, I packed the three girls into my Rav 4 and away we drove.

It was a spectacular day. A crystal blue sky, powdery snow, rows and rows of beautiful Christmas trees waiting to be chosen and three little girls completely unaware of their mother’s breaking heart.

It took the girls a couple of hours to choose the perfect tree. We had wandered deep into the orchard paying little notice of how far back we would have to drag our tree. Their choice was gigantic. I had never sawed down a tree before. I breathed deeply – exhaled and, in unison, the girls yelled ‘Daddy” I turned and saw Ralph walking towards us. The girls ran to him. I did not move.

“How did you find us”?

“I could hear the girls laughing”.

We never discussed his change of heart. There was no need. His joy was genuine.

My family was happy.

It no longer mattered to me whether Ralph wanted to help trim the tree or put up the Christmas lights. What mattered was his willingness to see Christmas through the eyes of his family. To focus on the happiness of others.

Last week, Meggie and I trimmed her home from top to bottom. Theo put up the outdoor lights.

She was delighted!

Meg and I spent a bit of time trying out new recipes to use over the holidays. This one is a cracker! We used the recipe from Williams-Sonoma’s Entertaining with the Seasons and tweaked it a bit…

Brussels with Pancetta and Red Onions

Serves 6-8

1/2 lb. red onions

1/2 lb. thinly sliced pancetta, sliced thinly

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 1/2 lbs. Brussels sprouts, halved lengthwise

3 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Cut the onions crosswise, into very thin slices, then cut the slices in half and set aside. In a frying pan over medium-high heat, cook the pancetta, stirring occasionally, until it is crisp and has released its fat, 8 to 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the cooled pancetta to a small plate lined with paper towels to drain and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Add the butter and one tablespoon of the olive oil to the fat in the pan. Add the onions, reduce the heat to low, and cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, until deep golden brown, about 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Meanwhile, put the Brussels sprouts in a bowl and add the remaining 11/2 tablespoons olive oil and one teaspoon of the balsamic vinegar. Stir well to coat. Sprinkle with the salt and pepper. Transfer the Brussels sprouts to a nonstick baking sheet and spread in a single layer. Roast until tender when pierced with a fork and the edges are lightly browned, about 20 minutes.

Add the roasted Brussels sprouts to the onions along with the reserved pancetta and remaining one teaspoon balsamic vinegar. Cook over medium heat, turning to mix well, until the flavors are blended, four to five minutes. Transfer to a warmed serving dish and serve at once.

I thought it would be fun to share my ‘getting ready for the holidays’ with you. I am going to try to blog each day of my preparations. Hold on – this is not for the weak of heart!

Thanks so much for reading.