Last week, just moments after Joey and the girls got out of school, we hopped in the car and drove to Maine. We needed some Portland, and the ocean soothed us all. The girls wanted to take the little rickety hot-chocolate-fueled train ride, but we were on a budget, and so they settled a walk along the train tracks, pizza slices from Micucci’s and a candy cane milkshake from Duckfat (one cup drained by 4 straws).
Then we were home again, and wrapping presents.
On Christmas Eve, I set out to roast a duck. It had been given to me by a friend out of the back alleys of his freezer. He handed it to me with an apology and the disclaimer that he had no idea how old it was. When the time came, I soaked the thing in brine like Jane Grigson told me to, and then it went into the oven.
By 5:30, the smell in the house was so horrible, it was hard to breathe. My mother and I took the duck out of the oven and left it on the porch to attract the limping bear of the neighborhood. And then there I was, at the supermarket just a few minutes before closing, standing in front of that strange heated case that holds all of the rotisserie chickens. That would be me (yes, the one who wrote this book) trudging through the empty Big Y, defeated, with a rotisserie chicken in each hand. I fried a few leeks to spoon on top, and we had a feast.
Since the girls were born, we always take a walk on Christmas morning. It’s a tradition that Joey and I started together, and we’ve kept it going whatever the weather. We all walk, and then we come back and open presents. For the last few years, we’ve gone up the hill that is just opposite the old house I grew up in. The path sneaks its way onto a ski slope at our local ski resort, and so this year we crossed over from the dry path to the snowy one. We’ve had no snow since that blizzard just before Halloween.
Rosie said, “See? I told you we’d see snow on Christmas.”
The girls have started to cling to these traditions that we’ve made. They insist on their pre-present walk. They speak in terms of “always” when they refer to these events. When I was little, I craved traditions- I made them up then! And somehow we’ve succeeded in making our own, and these rituals are becoming more real and full as the girls incorporate them into who they are. We eat pomegranates on the Solstice. We take a walk on Christmas morning. We cook on Christmas eve, but get Chinese food on Christmas. I like to think they will always walk on Christmas morning.
Today, we sat over breakfast and talked about our favorite parts of the year. The girls decided they would make a poster where they could list each favorite thing. We’ve been moving furniture, cleaning out drawers, taking stock of our surroundings.
I’ve been thinking about the year ahead. About how Sadie will finally get to have her ears pierced. I never thought she would actually be nine. About ways to stay inspired, and to learn new things. Not goals or resolutions really, but more like a setting of the tone, a whoosh of something good to push me forward.
We’ve been practicing a drink for our little New Year’s party (another tradition around here). Last week in Portland, my friend Sarah told us about her friend, Jenny Claster, who had created something magical, good hot or cold. She called it “the grudge”.
I send thanks to this friend of my friend who thought to combine apple cider and scotch. It warms and brings on a blush in the best way, and it smells as good as it tastes. And in these days of taking stock and letting the year flow into the next, you can hold this grudge, and let the others go.
The Grudge (serves 1)
with thanks to Jennifer Claster (may we someday meet over this fabulous drink!)
1 cup apple cider
1 shot decent Scotch (big or small shot, depending on the moment, and we’ve been using McClelland Highland, which is delicious!)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
For a hot grudge: Heat the cider until it steams. Pour into a mug. Add scotch and lemon and stir well. Garnish with a twist of lemon or a cinnamon stick, if you like.
For a cold grudge: Combine cider, scotch, and, lemon in a cocktail shaker with a handful of ice cubes. Shake well, then pour over ice. Garnish with a twist of lemon, if you like.