For the past seven days I have struggled with the challenge I set last week, the challenge of anonymous giving and do-gooding to revive my waning Christmas spirit. Anonymous giving is not nearly as easy as I thought it would be, accentuating my completely irritating Type A-ness instead of increasing the spontaneous flow of love energy that we Type A-ers (speaking for myself) weren’t wired to channel.
Do not laugh at this next bit, although it is laugh-worthy: I found redemption on Pinterest.
I was searching for ideas for Christmas brunch. I promised the children this year I would not make the usual big production, no customary 72 hours of forced labor to ready our disaster of a house for company. There will be no frantic Christmas Eve silver polishing or linen ironing. We won’t be hand-washing china all Christmas afternoon. To underscore that it’s not a traditional fancy Christmas brunch, everyone has been invited to wear pajamas, as my daughter’s one lament several weeks ago was that hosting brunch meant she couldn’t spend all Christmas day in her PJs. Problem solved – check!
So I was searching Pinterest for fun brunch ideas that were festive but not fancy and that the children might enjoy helping put together. In the process, I stumbled upon this letter, which has probably been circulating for a while but didn’t enter my peripheral vision until now.
“The answer is no. I am not Santa. There is no one Santa,” Martha Brockenbrough writes to her daughter. She continues, “Santa is bigger than any person, and his work has gone on longer than any of us have lived. What he does is simple, but it is powerful. He teaches children how to have belief in something they can’t see or touch.”
My mother died on New Year’s Day; I was 39. The week before, on Christmas morning, under her tree were presents labeled “To Jennifer, From Santa,” as there had been every year of my life, even though I’d become wise to the real program when I was in 4th grade. There was also a present for Mama’s friend Rosalie. “Mama, isn’t Rosalie Jewish?” I remember asking her gently, mistakenly thinking her faculties failing. “Oh, Jennifer, she’s not that Jewish. Besides, everyone needs a good cheering up now and then.”
This year, while I won’t be taking her china from the top shelf or ironing her linens, that good Santa’s helper will be everywhere, even if I can’t see or touch her.
Thank you, Martha Brockenbrough, and Merry Christmas to all.
Food this week will be very casual at our house, so there’s no formal dinner plan. We have a few items in the freezer that need to be used, as I’m certain you do also. To supplement I’ll stock the refrigerator with the fruits and vegetables that are most popular with my people:
I will get the produce prepped and ready for snacking or adding to a hastily made lunch or dinner plate. I’ll also stock up on:
- frozen pizza (we like the 365 pizza from Whole Foods)
- Ian’s fish sticks (which also make good quick fish tacos)
- Wholly Guacamole
- cured meats (this is the one of the few weeks in the year when I allow them)
- boiled custard
In the pantry we’ll have the usuals: tortilla chips, Goldfish, Triscuits, sandwich bread, and Pepperidge Farms Chessmen cookies (which my children still call Cheese-men).
For Christmas brunch we’ll be having:
- cheese grits
- mixed berries (with whipped cream)
- bacon & sausage
- green salad
- hot chocolate
For dessert (and here’s the one recipe for the week), I’m going to make my mother’s signature chocolate roll, better than a traditional bûche de Noël, in my opinion, because peppermint ice cream is more Christmasy-delicious than buttercream filling. One word of caution: this recipe, like all of my mother’s, requires a fair amount of basic kitchen and baking confidence. It’s worth it, though, and it tastes yummy even if it doesn’t look Pinterest perfect.
Betty Larkey’s Chocolate Roll
- 8 oz. semisweet chocolate (she used Baker’s baking chocolate)
- 3 T. cold cream
- 1 c. sugar
- 6 eggs, separated and at room temp.
- 1 container peppermint ice cream (softened but not dripping)
- Whipping cream
- Sugar (to sweeten cream)
- Fresh mint sprigs
- Crushed peppermint candy
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (I butter it; my mother did not.)
Place the chocolate, cream and sugar in a double boiler and cook on low temperature until the chocolate is just melted, whisking regularly. Take the whisk from the warm chocolate and beat the yolks to warm them; add the yolks to the chocolate and mix well. Beat the egg whites until stiff. Fold them into the chocolate mixture.
Spread the mixture on the baking sheet, tapping lightly on the counter to level it.
Bake 10-15 minutes (fully set but not cracking).
Remove from oven and cool on a rack for a few minutes.
Here’s the tricky part: cover the cake with a damp (very slightly damp – not wet!) dishtowel and invert the cake on the counter. Lift off the baking sheet, then test to see if the parchment paper will pull away cleanly; if not, wait another minute or two until it cools sufficiently.
When the parchment is removed, spread peppermint ice cream on top of the cake, leaving about an inch clear on one long side. Using the dishtowel to help you, roll the cake, jellyroll style. Lift the dishtowel and cake together and place back on the baking sheet.
Note: I’ve read several different techniques for rolling; some use plastic wrap instead of a dishtowel, and some suggest pre-rolling the cake while it’s still warm. I use the dishtowel method just because I’m used to it. I do remember my mother’s talking about pre-rolling the cake, but I can’t remember whether she was for or against it. I don’t pre-roll; it’s just an extra chance for the cake to break. All in all, do what works for you.
Freeze the rolled cake until ready to serve, at least one hour. To serve, top with freshly whipped, lightly sweetened cream, fresh mint sprigs and crushed peppermint candy.
Merry Christmas, Jennifer!
And to you, capt’n Anna!
What is boiled custard?
It’s eggnog without nutmeg (or booze): milk, eggs, sugar and vanilla cooked (not boiled, despite its name) in a double boiler until thick enough to coat a spoon, chilled and served in small glasses. Tastes like melted vanilla ice cream!
My mother used to make that long, long ago…!
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