Sunday, December 28, 2008

Christmas 2008!

So, Christmas! Despite the crazy snow (a new all-time record for Portland), we did make it across town to my parents' house, but only because my father heroically got his car down their icy, snowy, steep private road to the nearest ploughed route, and set about chauffeuring everyone paintakingly back -- slowly, with tire chains clanking. This was the night of the 23rd, because with another storm predicted for the next morning, we didn't want to risk not being able to make it there. So we all -- including my dear friend Alexandra, stranded alone in town and on-call (she's a psychotherapist who does crisis prevention for the county) for the holidays -- headed up to the hills for a big cozy house party.

I love my parents' house. It's at the edge of Forest Park, which is the largest urban forest reserve in the U.S. -- a huge swath of green just above the city, safe forever from greedy developers! The trees rise all around their house and up and up into the hills, and it's like being in a treehouse, a really big treehouse. It's one of those cool houses where you enter on the top level and then the house sort of stair-steps down a hillside? It's got really high ceilings and lots of glass, decks aflitter with dozens of kinds of birds, bickering at feeders and chasing each other and perching sideways on icicles (I saw a woodpecker try this trick and slide right off). And then there's this whole extra strange living space down beneath the *regular* house, beyond the bedrooms and living room and kitchen and all the rooms you expect to find in a house. You go through this doorway that seems like it should just be a closet door, like you've discovered the whole house, but lo, it's not a closet, it's a hallway, that wends around to become a staircase, that descends to a whole unexpected split-level space we call "the pit." And from there another staircase goes UP, further beneath the house, to more rooms. I don't have the best of pictures, but here, sort of, is the lowest level of the pit, seen from above:
On Christmas Eve we all sort of took turns in the kitchen, prepping whatever we were cooking for that night or the next day, and there was a lot of lolling around, reading, napping. Jim and Leroy hung out in the second-to-lowest level, drawing:
While Alexandra staked out the fireplace in the pit:
And my sister Emily nested under the NEST letters I made my mom on a previous Christmas crafty binge:
So cozy! Before they moved to Portland, my parents were in Marin County, north of San Francisco, which is a crazy-pricey county, and their house was wee compared to this one, so that when we all converged there for the holidays we were stepping on each other all the time and there was nowhere to be (thought it was beautiful, too). This house could hold a much bigger clan than ours, comfortably. {Portland, I [heart] you! This is what Portland is like: a beautiful city of hundred-year-old homes, built at the convergence of two great rivers, with forest on all sides. And it's afforable, has great restaurants, lots of artists and musicians, skiing, hiking, river-rafting, unique shopping, a symphony and ballet and other "big city trappings", but with the feel of a small community. And if you want to see crappy strip malls and big box stores, you have to drive way out to the suburbs. You won't accidentally see them in the city. There aren't any. You can live here and pretend the world is free of strip malls. Portland is the best. California, I don't miss you at all. Just some of the people still living there!}

Anyway, Christmas Eve. It kept on snowing, while we stayed cozily inside. Check out the cluster of icicles on the cat fence!
(My mom has never been a believer in indoor cats, but living in coyote territory, she has had to adapt, hence a cat enclosure beneath the house where they can at least stalk some birds.)

We celebrated my birthday a few days late. I suspect some people with Christmas birthdays might suffer from joint giftage, you know, "here's your birthday-slash-Christmas present," but not me. I am a spoiled girl with no complaints :-)
From Em, a gorgeous Indian vase, and a book to feed my fascination with parasites!
Playing dress-up as I went, new earrings, headband, hair clip, and necklace, all at once (ah, what an ensemble!)
The awesome monkey-flower necklace, from Jim, is a one-of-a-kind by local artist and friend,Maggie Kearns. Isn't it the awesomest? Here it is, against a gorgeous pink cashmere sweater from my parents:
Also from my parents, these journals that beg for something wondrous to be written in them:

We celebrated Leroy's 15th birthday too:
He got his own meat cake, with strips of bacon on top and a candle, which he did not blow out, but tried to eat.

For Christmas Eve dinner we always have clam chowder, and this year my sister, not a huge fan of clams, also made a vegetable tart with honeyed goat cheese, and it was delicious. My family are all amazing cooks (including my brother Alex, who made us all fresh pasta and jars of his sauces, along with infused oils and cool kitchen goodies in baskets), and I love the holiday traditions of meals. Like for Christmas brunch, my mom makes several fresh breads (along with a store-bought panettone), like an apricot-almond swirl bread, and my dad makes a giant egg/sausage/cheese casserole that sits overnight, egg custard soaking into bread, and that gets baked while we open presents. To tide us over until then there are mimosas and coffee and sausage rolls and platters of Christmas cookies. Yum!

Late Christmas Eve night, Alex finally arrived from Seattle with his girlfriend Brandi and her daughter Malika. Jim and I had gotten Malika this tiger stuffed animal, which Leroy had of course been fascinated with:
And Malika, being an usually gracious two-year-old, was happy to share:
Leroy then gave the tiger a good cuddle:
It was all very adorable.

Last thing on Christmas Eve is the stuffing of the stockings, which I love love love to do. Stockings are So. Much. Fun. We've hooked in Alexandra, who is Jewish, to our traditions, partly out of the sheer joy of stockings. Here's my mom's:
If you click to enlarge, you can see the lollipop in front that has a real scorpion encased in it. What you can't see, grace of my sister, is that there is also a snack box of cheddar-covered larvae behind it. Ewwww! Where did she find those?? I don't know, but my mom's reaction, on glimpsing the scorpion, was the shriek, "Quick! Get it!" as if it were alive and lurking there! To my knowledge, no one taste-tested the larvae.
Sans larvae, mine and Jim's stockings.

It snowed more on Christmas morning, which worried my sister, who was to catch a flight to Honduras at midnight to study pink boa constrictors on a tiny island (she made it out), but though it was snowing, it was also warming up, which heralded an interesting new development: great sheets of snow and ice beginning to slide off the roof and come crashing down onto the decks with a sound like thunder.

Christmas was, of course, awesome. There were some presents:

Emily and I both got these gorgeous shawls from mom:
Emily gave me another one, made in Kashmir, that's sky blue and embroidered with pink flowers, so beautiful, so I must officially become a wearer of shawls now. And maybe turbans too. No, not turbans, but look at my new hat:
LOVE it.

Mom got her bird garland:
and got teary eyed that my grandmother, whose amazing crafts and afghans and quilts are all over the house, didn't live to see her granddaughter become crafty, or to experience the general craft revival/revolution that we have been experiencing, and loving, for the past ten years or so. Alexandra and Jim with Al's bird garland hanging from the mantle:
Alexandra and Malika played all morning:
And Leroy slept the way only a very contented old dog can sleep:
And Alex slept too, while Brandi crocheted madly to finish Jim's scarf:

Oh my word, there were so many good presents. Cool books, six-inch platform boots from Jim (SO awesome and tall-making. I will post photos), a beaver skull (yay! I love skulls!), and more. Exhausting, opening presents all day! We take turns, youngest to oldest, so it really does take hours, with breaks for food!

Speaking of food, my contributions to Christmas dinner were an orange salad and arancine, that is "little oranges" or Sicilian fried risotto balls filled with mozzarella and ham. Funny to confess, I've never ever ever fried anything before. Never! While I was googling "how to fry" on Christmas day, I thought how Southerners would laugh at me. But they came out great, and I highly recommend them. When I was in Sicily I bought these practically every day for snacks. First you make a batch of risotto. I made plain risotto, with just onions and chicken stock, white wine, and parmesan cheese (lots). If you haven't made risotto before, it's easy, you just have to stand at the stove for about a half hour. You use starchy, fat arborio rice, cook uncovered, adding simmering stock about a half-cup at a time, waiting till it is absorped, then adding more, until you have a pot of creamy, delicious, flavorful risotto:
Yum! You could add mushrooms, saffron, tomato sauce, dozens of other things. So many yummy ways to make risotto. To make arancine, you want to refrigerate it, then when it's cold, I stirred in a beaten egg to make it stickier, and shaped it into balls about the size of "little oranges" (hence the name):
Stuff these with chunks of chopped fresh mozzarella and ham. You could also use bechamel, or a meat ragu, or whatever you want. Then, when you're ready to cook them, dredge in flour, then beaten egg, then bread crumbs:
Then fry in about two inches of extra virgin olive oil (about 350 degrees, careful not to burn the oil), turning over once, just a minute or two on each side, until all golden and beautiful and filled with delicious, gooey, mozzarella:
So fun and delicious! I can't wait to make them again. Next time I think I will try a tomato risotto.

We had the traditional roast beef, plus my mom's beautiful pastry "timpano" or Italian savory pie. I'm not sure if it is a traditional timpano without the pasta, but it's basically a layered savory pie in pastry crust, with cheese and pesto, roasted peppers and other good things inside. It was SO GOOD:

And my orange salad, which was simply sliced oranges (supposed to be blood oranges but we couldn't get to the store) sprinkled with: sugar, marsala, toasted almonds, and pomegranate seeds. Yum!

Look at the adorable handmade stockings (by Chary) for the individual place settings. LOVE them.
And English "crackers" from which we extracted toys and hats.

Well, whew. That's our Christmas. I know this is a long post, but it kind of is the record, for me, of the day. Which makes me think I should turn it into a "blurb" book or a shutterfly book, to both indulge my love of laying out books, and make an actual physical photo album, which are in too short supply in these days of digital photography. Maybe I will!

I hope you all had wonderful holidays too! Oh, our snow is almost entirely melted now! I am mostly finishing up the last few Cybils books I need to read before Wednesday. It is lazy work, and it is almost over. As wonderful as the books have been, I will be glad when this is over so I can get back to WRITING. I will be kicking off the new year of writing in a wonderful fashion: a weekend writing retreat at a beautiful beach house with local YA writers Lisa Schroeder (whose second book Far From You just came out), and LK Madigan, whose first novel, Flash Burnout, comes out in '09. Can't wait!


Sara said...

Risotto is one of my favorite meals in the universe---but I had no idea you could fry it!! My mind is blowing with the possibilities...

Anonymous said...

Everything you make (including food) is so beautiful. Sounds like you had a wonderful holiday. I'm glad you got to be with your family.

Lisa Schroeder said...

Oh my gosh, that hat is SO CUTE!!!!

None of our family made it here. Boo hoo. So it was a quiet day at home like the other eleven days before it. :-)

Last night we went to a CELEBRATE THE THAW party at a neighbor's. Celebrate indeed! A little snow is nice, but that was a bit much, don't you think?

Unknown said...

Can I come and spend Christmas with your family next year? It all sounds so wonderful: the people, the crafts, the food, the dog, the presents. And the house is made of awesome! I love that it has all those cozy spots that people can stake out when they need some time to recharge. And the pit sounds so cool!

I'm glad that you had such a wonderful Christmas and Birthday.

Granny Smith said...

You sound as euphoric about your Christmas as I feel about mine! But you write about yours so much more graphically. I love reading your posts, seeing examples of all the beautiful things you make or attract, and just absorbing your wonderful enthusiasm. You remind me of my daughter-in-law, Kristin, who, like you, is definitely one of a kind.

Happy New Year!

Cuppa Jolie said...

Oh my! Such goodness. From the cool parental the cutest pictures of the presents that look like a gifty path that leads to the tree...and all the yumminess.

So glad you made it there and were able to celebrate both your birthday and Christmas with your family.

Heather said...

I'm having Christmas at your parents' house next year! Looked like so much fun!

lkmadigan said...

What a wonderful Christmas! I'm so glad you escaped your house.

See you soon.


Amber said...

Wow wow wow! Tooooo much goodness! What a wonderful Christmas. :)

I love your vase, btw. Great colors.

Merry Christmas, and happppy new year!


johanna said...

What a lovely time! I love these photos! (Gabe and I nearly got a tiger very much like the one pictured, for my nephew for Christmas!)

Also, I love the bird garland below. So beautiful.

Happy late birthday, and happy New Year!

Stephanie Perkins said...

There is SO MUCH goodness here that I don't even know where to begin. I'm (nearly) speechless. What a PERFECT Christmas! Everyone looks so happy, and your mom's house is beautiful.

BUT . . . six inch boots??? Holy bejeezus. I would trip & break something! I would be basketball-player sized! How tall are you? (I remembered you being tall, but were you wearing seven-inch wedges that day?) Are you bigger than a Smurf? Smaller than a leprechaun? Does Jim carry you to the grocery store in his shirt pocket? Can you ride Leroy's back like David the Gnome? Now you HAVE to show us these fab new boots.

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