Christmas Compost


It’s almost upon us, the Day itself, with presents and turkey and another round of A Christmas Carol (black and white, with Alastair Sim). I love everything about Christmas. Well, almost everything. A few weeks ago, we were in North Vancouver and spent a few hours at a mall, wandering around, thinking that we ought to be buying presents. But that’s not really the kind of Christmas we do, so I (at least) left empty-handed. And kind of sad-hearted. For that time we were there, I felt that maybe I should be thinking Larger – gadgets, fancy cookware, gift certificates for elaborate clothing or electronic equipment.

This morning, the old feeling has come back to me as I make some special treats. Butter crunch with hazelnuts and two kinds of chocolate. Angie wanted milk and Brendan, dark. I have big blocks of Vivani this year, a lovely organic chocolate from Germany. And I’m in the process of making candied orange peel, some of which will be dipped in dark chocolate. “What are you doing?” asked Brendan as I cut the peels from three big oranges. When I told him, he laughed and said, “Candy from compost?” Some of these old recipes do hark back to thriftier times, I guess. Cakes and breads dense with fruit carefully dried in autumn or else bought and hoarded for the mid-winter when their flavour is so welcome. Sweet morsels of toffee, shortbreads, gingerbread boys dark with molasses, their silver dragèe eyes and bright Smartie buttons the same every year. When I was a child, mandarin oranges came in wooden boxes and we had one of these to last the holiday. I loved the way the segments came apart so easily and how delicious they tasted, rationed out until the box was finished. And the apples in the toe of our stockings were always McIntoshes, crisp and spicy.

This will be the 29th Christmas we’ve spent in this house. We moved in on the eve of John’s 35th birthday in 1982, a month before Brendan’s birth. Our house wasn’t finished but we had my parents and younger brother Gord with us (he’d helped us move in) and it was a wonderful housewarming – woodstove crackling on Christmas morning and the stockings laid out on the brick hearth.

29 years of watching the salmon in the nearby creek, draping the windows with ivy, cutting a tree and decorating it with a steadily growing collection of ornaments, ranging from homemade (school art projects) to vintage(Japanese paper lanterns from John’s grandmother in England) to elegant (glass stars made by our friend June), of waking on Christmas morning to the stillness of our woods, and sharing dinner with family members, some of whom have passed away, or friends new and old.

This year Forrest and his bride-to-be Manon aren’t here. They’re coming a bit later, in January, but their box arrived yesterday, brightly wrapped presents and three jars of preserves from their garden in Ontario. And Brendan’s girlfriend Cristen will come after Christmas for a few days. Angie’s here until New Year. Hopefully some of them will help me celebrate my birthday which happens to fall on Epiphany. A season of comings and goings and celebrations one after another. The case of Autumn Gold wine from Wild Goose arrived the other day (free shipping during December!) and has been tucked away in the back of the house. John’s about to thread lights through the wisteria outdoors and we’ve just hung the Santa that Brendan painted in kindergarten. Isn’t he insouciant?

So a kind of compost after all…

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