Sunday, December 22, 2013

Almost Christmas, 2013

Sunday, December 22, 2013: it's a little after midnight, and I'm in my kitchen, wearing slippers, flannel pajama pants, and an ancient, comfortable, faded red cotton pullover, listening to music (Jason Isbell's excellent Southeastern), sipping a little red wine and making beef stock that I'll use later this week, when I make Julia Child's beef bourguignon for Christmas dinner. Right now, I'm browning about 6 lbs of beef bones in olive oil in an enameled cast iron pot on top of the stove; mostly neck bones, supplemented with some short ribs. When they're a nice deep brown I'll put the pot into a hot oven to finish up the browning process before I add the other ingredients, prior to beginning the long, slow simmer that's essential to producing a decent beef stock.

Looking at the bones as I did the initial browning on the cook top, I found myself thinking this will work, but it would have been better if they'd been chopped or sawed into smaller pieces. Stashed away in one of the uppermost cabinets in my kitchen, there's an awesome, ferocious meat cleaver that I got years ago, in Chicago, when I was a young and tender bride. It's from the well equipped kitchen of a friend's grandmother; I got it when I was invited to walk through the grandmother's beautiful, empty, soon to be sold house in one of the genteel, northern suburbs of Chicago with her granddaughter, who'd been invited to help herself to anything that was left. She didn't want either the meat cleaver or the old fashioned, doctor's beam scale in one of the bathrooms, and told me I was welcome to both. I happily accepted both items and took them home, all excited at both the prospect of being able to weigh myself accurately, and to chopping up bones to make stock.

A few months later that same year, on Thanksgiving night, I produced the ferocious cleaver and proudly handed it to Anthony, my husband, and asked him to use it to chop up the turkey carcass so I could make stock. Anthony picked up the ferocious cleaver, and hefted its weight in his hand, then curled his fingers around the handle and wielded two supremely confident whacks that split not only the turkey, but the not insubstantial cutting board on which it was sitting into 3 well delineated pieces. I laughed so hard I almost peed in my pants, and after that single use, I retired the awesome cleaver. But tonight I was thinking maybe it should have come out of retirement to chop up those beef bones.

Mike flies in from Tucson tomorrow, so I'll have 3 of my 4 little chickadees here to spend Christmas with me. Of course, all of them are now grown, and Ali and Katharina each have children of their own. 2 days until Christmas Eve, when we open our gifts, and I still have so much to do! I haven't wrapped a single present. Each year I swear that next year it will be different; I won't do this again, and yet each year, somehow, when December 22nd rolls around I find myself in the same overcrowded boat, happily but frantically rowing to keep it from going under.

Will it be different when I retire? I'd love to think yes, but I honestly don't know. I just know that I've always loved Christmas, and for whatever reason, scrambling to get everything done in time seems to be an essential part of that.