The neighbor's yard decorations have inspired a few double-takes recently:
"Is that Vader?"
"I think it's a penguin?"
"Why's it holding a red light saber?"
Christmas prep is chugging along merrily here, at what would be a terrifyingly slow rate if I wasn't unfathomably relaxed about the whole thing this year. "Oh, there's twelve days of Christmas... I'll get ______ baked eventually." This is not me, and it's pretty weird when I actually think about it, but it's really nice to be so peaceful five days before Christmas! I've accomplished roughly one Christmas-prep thing off my list each day, and some days it's as small as moving the furniture around to make room for the as-yet-unharvested tree (yesterday).
What's left on the list? Well, the only things that really do need to be done before Christmas are wrapping presents, getting and decorating a tree, and prepping for Christmas dinner, I guess. Some time between now and New Years, preferably on the sooner end, I still want to make toffee bars, Hershey kiss cookies, fudge, stollen, and lefse. The stollen might have happened yesterday, but I used all of my yeast yesterday morning making four loaves of French bread for Matt.
Even though they work up through 5pm Christmas Eve, Matt's department is having their Christmas party today. He wanted to bring an elaborate Italian sandwich that he grew up enjoying: pan bagno.
There's a lot of prep work involved! You definitely want to have everything sliced before you start putting it together.
Because there are so many ingredients, he scooped some bread out of the inside of the top halves so they could settle down over things. The bread then got rubbed down with smashed garlic cloves, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar.
Starting on the flat bottom piece, he layered the sliced tomatoes, red onion, and fresh basil...
...diced kalamata olives, capers, and thinly-sliced gherkins...
...hard-boiled eggs, roasted red peppers, and flaked tuna, and then topped them off with full-length leaves of romaine and the top piece of the loaf. He wrapped them tightly---twice---in plastic wrap, then a layer of aluminum foil, and put them in the fridge with a cutting board and a bunch of free weights on top overnight. I wish I'd gotten a photo of that!
I read somewhere that December 23 is the busiest shopping day of the year. Hopefully, we will be able to avoid it; last night we hammered out a menu for the first Christmas dinner we will ever have made together, so that I can try to finish the shopping today. (There's also the uncomfortable fact that we are completely out of meat, again, so I have to go to at least one store today anyway.) Our plan for Christmas dinner: a moose roast in the crock pot, oven-roasted root vegetables with rosemary, green beans sautéed with garlic and pine nuts, dinner rolls, a strawberry-rhubarb gelatin salad, and pecan pie. It's kind of a ridiculous amount of food for three people, one of them a toddler, but it's a major feast day! And I'm looking forward to having leftovers around.
Quite possibly the best decision I made this Advent was starting to bake mini loaves of quickbreads and freezing them at the beginning of December. Now whenever someone calls and asks if they can drop by, I don't panic over running around trying to find not-too-dark cookies (yes, all of my cookies got "toasty" this year... sometimes the toddler has to be carried out of the kitchen more than once before you can open the oven...) to put together a plate for them; I just pull a loaf of Christmassy bread out of the freezer, maybe even stick a bow on it if there's no one clinging to my ankles, and voila.
It's been a season of firsts. First time doing Christmas dinner at home as a family. First time attempting the lefse (a soft Norwegian flatbread with potatoes) and Christstollen (German fruit cake). First time baking, oh, most of the cookies I've done so far! First time making sugared almonds---which are way too hard to stop eating, and should definitely be made closer to Christmas next year. First time Little Bear has seen candles (on our Advent wreath), and been very excited to try and blow them out. First Christmas with a child old enough to, not understand what's going on yet, but be caught up in the wonder of all of the changes slowly happening. It's been such a special Advent for us, and I'm sure the Christmas season will be as well.
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