Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Two Dinosaurs and a Pig

Two dinosaurs and a pig are making their quiet way towards the Nativity.

Well, they are supposed to be Wise Men (or, as we have sometimes said, Wise People). And one year the Nativity was of dinosaurs, as I recall, since my partner put it together. During the 12 days of Christmas they search and wander, and I move them ever closer to their goal.

Yes, we celebrate all the 12 days of Christmas. While others are stripping down the ornaments and piling tinsel in boxes, we are barely started. We celebrate other things as well; this time of year I am game for just about any moment that brings light and delight into my space, but I am fondest of these 12 days.

It takes that long for me to start to come to terms with a sense of return and birth and light; I'm slow on the uptake. It also eases the push to Do Everything!!! Only So Many Days to Buy!! Our Christmas Day was always simple as our children grew; yes, Santa would bring trinkets, and created gifts would be exchanged. I'd be seeking a bit of joy and light; we'd light more candles and sing (badly). Sometimes we'd festoon the dogs and cats a bit; my now departed yellow lab would put up with red hats or bows and glitter fairly well; just another human folly.

And, the evening before, baking.

I've been careful to avoid most vows in my life. I take them too seriously to give them away freely; no piecrust promises, no easily sworn and forsworn words. But when my partner and I got together lo these many decades back I did promise him I'd bake his traditional bread. At Christmas, at Easter, and sometimes for his January birthday. Somewhere I still have a stained index card in his mother's handwriting with the original recipe for the nut filled Slovenian bread, potica. (the "c" has a funny curl at the bottom when properly written). It's a typical traditional recipe, in which the instructions are vague: you put in "enough flour for a soft dough"; you grind "enough nuts to make a filling".

This Christmas Eve we were busy; partner had places to be and a radio show; I had things to do as well. We didn't connect in the same space until it was coming on 10 that night, and my youngest had already fallen asleep, talking of angels.

I told Paul "I don't see how I'm going to make potica this year--maybe for new year's or something". He was kind of willing to compromise "you made that great Finnish bread last year" he said wistfully. I pointed out that the baking of a yeast raised bread is not a quick task, and our space was cold; the bread would rise so slowly.

And I thought "really, how unrealistic, how stupidly demanding". Oh, yeah, Christmas. Merry merry.

Champ woke me at 3 in the morning. Gabriel was awake. Gabe was persuaded to not venture near our Christmas twig (well decorated, a bit of a fir tree from the land) until, as I said, the sun was up. I plugged in the little heater and the hot plate and made some tea for both of us. Gabe was still talking of angels.

"Want to help me with the bread?" I asked him. Yeah, that sounded okay. I helped him pour some rice milk into a pan with a chunk of butter and some brown sugar. We heated it. We folded in some finely ground whole wheat flour mixed with a bit of white. We added yeast dissolved in a bit of warm water and put it all aside and played with some toys a while. I realized after the first rising that the eggs were supposed to already be in the dough. Well, okay. We separated a bunch of eggs (the recipe takes 8 of them). Yolks into the dough. Squish. More flour. A bit of salt. The fun of kneading (Gabe is good at this). More rising.

Beating the eggwhites takes a long time, especially if it is still dark and you are thinking probably you have lost your mind. We did it, added ground almonds and sugar and a bit of cinnamon. The cinnamon is heresy, but that's how I like it. For that matter, the almonds are heretical too--walnuts are the proper nut, according to the original recipe.

Couldn't find the bread board. Well, who needs a bread board. We kind of stretched out dough in mid air and tried very hard not to drop it on the dog or the cats; really it is supposed to be stretched paper thin, but I've never had the patience.

Balancing it on plates we spread the filling, rolled it up, put it in bread pans (two loaf pans, one bundt pan). To the circular loaf's filling I added cut up apples and raisins. More heresy. Let it rise yet again.

And...into the toaster oven, the only "oven" I have at the shop. The tops burnt, but the loaves were delicious.

When Paul got up Christmas morn, when our daughter and her love joined us, when my eldest son and his girlfriend stopped by--yes, there was, as promised, potica.

A miracle, I think. We still have one slightly stale loaf left; Paul is dunking it in his tea with much pleasure.

But I was talking of the dinosaurs and the pig, wasn't I? I figure they wander around a bunch. They've heard of something amazing. They've seen signs. But it takes a while to get there. A while to take it in.

As when we fall in love--so quickly--and take decades to let the truth of partnerships grow in our stubborn hearts.

Merry Christmas. Happy New Year. A thousand blessings.

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Blogger Jan said...

Falling asleep, talking of angels...what more could one want at Christmas?!
Lovely post, Jarvenpa.

10:36 PM, January 04, 2008  
Blogger Lori Witzel said...

The miracle of the loaf!

Alas, I just had some dental work done, so am not in my best commentator form...but wanted to leave a smile rather than lurk more.

11:02 AM, January 05, 2008  
Blogger David said...

Happy New Year Jarvenpa! :) I never heard of dinosaur wise men, but I like it! ;) I like to bake breads and other stuff, but it can be a lot of work. A few years ago, I got a bread making machine. You just dump in all the raw ingredients and the machine does the rest. It works really well! However, sometimes, its just fun to mix everything up by hand. :)

12:24 AM, January 09, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, Cute post...off the subject: you refer to your husband as "my partner"-- Is this because you aren't married? Or is it a throwback to the hippie days, when marriage was seen as "patriarchal" and part of "the establishment"? Best wishes in the new year, jeffzekas@yahoo.com

11:35 AM, January 09, 2008  
Blogger jarvenpa said...

Jan, thank you. Lori, I have been thinking of how many miracles are connected to bread. I hope your dental pain has eased by now.
And hello David; I have friends with bread machines, but for me the best part is the kneading and shaping of bread.

11:52 PM, January 11, 2008  
Blogger Margaret said...

We have THE PLUM PUDDING a similar recipe, passed down long enough to become obscure in meaning. Add enough milk to achieve right consistency, tie the bag tight, tighter than you think. After my mother's stroke my father and aunt argued yearly over the appropriate sauce, the one their mother used to make, while my mother struggled for lost words. Turned out she'd been using the white sauce recipe from the Joy of Cooking, with a hint of lemon, they'd never noticed. Family traditions are funny things.

7:41 AM, April 29, 2008  

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