A Christmas Journal

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January 1, 2018

Mt. Yamnuska at Christmas

Early Days:

The journey starts in November—early November.  Right after a flurry of grandchildren’s birthdays. There is much that occurs between then and Christmas Day.  Included is the busiest time of the year for the Calgary Girls Choir, in which three of our granddaughters sing.  Tickets need to be bought and calendar events made.  Given our unstructured thinking these days (read ‘hazy’), forgetting is quite possible without the aid of a marked up calendar.

With nine grandchildren ranging in age from a toddler to an older teenager, gift shopping looms as a daunting process.  We adults don’t exchange gifts anymore, but our own family funds a joint gift to a local charity.

The first thoughts of Christmas Day and the Christmas dinner occur.  Where will it be this year?  What will we have as the main course?

That’s it.  The journey has begun.  Anxiety looms on the horizon.

December Arrives:

Some gifts have been bought, but others are still vacant holes in our thoughts.

Attention to the Christmas food is required.  Some thoughts are about food gifts for friends, but the main focus is on Christmas Dinner.

Food has always been important to me at Christmas.  My mother made a fantastic Christmas Pudding, complete with hard and soft sauce.  I have missed this touchstone of Christmas for too many years, so I’ve decided to make one myself.  I settled on the recipe of one of my favourite chefs, Delia Smith.  I figured I should look to a British chef for a dish that originated in Britain.  The ingredients are straight forward, simple, in fact, with the exception of a couple.

One that was difficult to find was proper suet.  Yes, the real pudding requires beef suet.  I thought, at this time of year, living in cattle country, suet would be available locally.  It was, sort of.

I searched our local grocery store, but couldn’t find it, so I went to talk to the butcher.  The butcher, a rather short, obnoxious character, when asked, came roaring out from behind his meat counter talking at me in a non-congenial way.

“Follow me.  It’s over here.  It’s all we have.  We don’t have any other kind and won’t be getting anything different in.  There,” he said, thrusting his hand into a cooler and presenting me with a white bag.  He turned, handed me the bag and went swiftly by me without saying anything more.  I thought of asking him another question, just to be annoying, but I didn’t.

I looked at the white, cloth bag in my hand and saw the word suet in big print.  With a string tie holding it closed, I thought it looked rustic, belonging to the olde world.  Then I looked at the list of ingredients.  Yes, suet was at the top, but I was surprised to see that the list continued with flour, and hydrogenated something-or-other.  What’s more, the price was about $4.00.  I put the bag back and left.

I headed into Calgary to the exclusive, Bon Ton Meat Market.  Suet, they had, and lots of it.  The label said ‘suet’ and nothing else.  The price was $1.65.  Perfect!  I bought it and left.

The pudding ingredient that I didn’t know anything about was barley wine.  This is a beer derivative that has an alcoholic content similar to wine.  Evidently it is a creamy, malt flavoured beer with fruity tones.  I say evidently, because we couldn’t find it anywhere, even when we visited a sophisticated wine store in NW Calgary, known for its large selection.  The wine merchant was very knowledgeable and explained that barley wine was a big deal in Western Canada about five years ago, but no longer.  Because the recipe also called for a stout, I decided to add more stout to make up for the loss of barley wine.  I hope it works.

I was impressed with the wine merchant.  After all, how many around town would use a Venn Diagram to describe a stout to me.  Maybe he started adult life as an engineer, but found a far better way to make money and probably have more fun.

Back home, I mixed the pudding ingredients and, following instructions, added brandy and stout, then pressed the mix into a glass bowl, sealed it and started the eight hour steaming process.  That done, I carried it out to the garage where it was appropriately cool and left it to meld its discrete flavours into one.

Next step in the journey was to sit back and relax for a short time before the arrival of Christmas Day with our family festival and church activities.

Two memorable events during that time were the Calgary Girls’ Choir Christmas Concert and a unique performance of the Nine Lessons and Carols by the choirs of the St. John’s Choir Scola, where most of our grandkids are students.

The Nine Lessons and Carols turned out to be an unexpected treat.  The opening number,
Once in Royal David’s City is usually sung by a young, soprano boy chorister.  I was wondering how the choir would pull that off as it starts a cappella and requires some very good voices.  Well, they did it perfectly.

The Calgary Girls Choir presentation was an incredibly professional performance.  The collected voices in the choir created a magic that evening.  One of their final carols, O Come All Ye Faithful was done to the arrangement by David Willcocks, accompanied by a real pipe organ, with all the appropriate descants sung perfectly.  As happens every Christmas, it choked me up and I had to wipe my eyes.

Christmas Day arrived and was focussed on our family festival.  This year roast beef took the place of turkey and I must say, it was a great idea.  The noise and excitement that arose from the eleven children in the house was just the way it is supposed to be.

My pudding came out of its final steaming and was served to the few that liked it.  As far back as I can remember, traditional British Christmas Pudding has had this mixed response.  I thought it was great and the brandy, cream sauce perfected the whole thing.  The smell and taste of the pudding sent me back, momentarily, to my own childhood.

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The Pudding, with hard sauce melted over the top.  Delicious.


As 2017 draws to a close we are grateful for our health, our family and friends.  I feel fortunate that I get to experience what 2018 will bring.