Thursday, December 13, 2012

'Tis the Season

For those of us who celebrate Christmas, putting up the tree is a highlight of the season. I had never cut down my own tree until moving to Vermont, and we’ve since followed this tradition every year. It would be a heck of a lot easier to just walk across the street to our neighbors who sell trees as a fundraiser. These trees are already cut down, of course, but also trimmed, shaped, cleared of debris, and ready to plop right in your stand. But whenever Chris and I raise this as an option, Isabel and Faye always insist that we cut down our own.

For many years we went to our friends the Brynns, who used to grow Christmas trees on part of their property. But they’ve shifted out of the business, so we now go to Trout Brook Tree Farm, owned and operated by the husband of Isabel’s longtime piano teacher. One of the many nice things about living in a town of roughly 2000 people is that everyone you know is somehow related to someone else in town.

Aside from the two Christmases that we were in France and bought our tiny Charlie Brown style tree at a street market, 

we’ve been tromping through the snow every year in search of the ideal tree. It has often become a competition, with each daughter arguing the merits of her chosen tree. 

But this year it was different. For one, there was no snow. 

The temperature was almost balmy, and we didn’t really need our hats and gloves, usually essential this time of year if you’re spending any time outside.

These strange shifts in weather patterns are a less dramatic, but still disturbing, reminder of climate change than Hurricanes Irene and Sandy. The other difference this year was that the girls didn’t argue about whose tree was best. I think this may have something to do with the fact that Isabel will most likely be off at college at this time next year, so it may be the last year for certain holiday traditions to remain as they have been for as long as the girls can remember.

Once we pull in the driveway with the tree tied to the roof of our car, the girls get absorbed in other things until the tree is trimmed and dry and perfectly balanced in its wobbly tree stand, adorned with colorful, twinkling lights. Much occurs between these two points in time, though, involving hoisting, and more sawing, and sweeping, and groaning, and sometimes swearing--often due to the lights. One string is invariably twisted in knots or faulty, necessitating a trip to the store to buy more. Chris always takes charge of the lights, as I remember my dad doing also, with similar frustrations.

Then comes the best part, when we pull out all the ornaments and trim the tree. Out come decorations handmade by the girls when they were little, 

and some made by me and Chris when we were children; the souvenirs from trips we’ve taken; 

and the fragile, antique glass ornaments that trimmed my and Chris’s parents’ trees when they themselves were young. 

As Isabel says, what makes a Christmas tree special is that it’s really a “memory tree.” 

Later, the girls and I make chocolates. They’re nothing fancy, just a simple pretzel, dried apricot, or nut dipped into melted dark chocolate and then allowed to cool.

I also make truffles at this time of year, which are just slightly more complicated, but never fail to impress. (An article I wrote about demystifying the making of truffles, by the way, will be in the February/March issue of the new food magazine Whisk.)

If you’ve always wanted to make chocolates, and like me have fantasized about being a chocolatier ever since you saw the movie Chocolat, then dipped chocolates are a good place to start. It’s as easy as melting dark chocolate over a double boiler and then dipping the pretzels, dried apricots, and nuts—we like pecans and roasted, salted cashews—into the chocolate. 

We then lay them on a cookie sheet covered in waxed paper to cool and harden. 

They keep for up to one week in a cookie tin—if they last that long.

Happy Holidays, everyone!

No comments:

Post a Comment