As the big day rolls into sight, Santa must be loading up his sleigh and checking his spark plugs in preparation for his big night. This time of year always brings to mind a story about my daughter when she was young.
As I’ve mentioned countless times I’ve traveled a lot in my life, having notched close to forty moves on my belt over the years. At the time my children were preschoolers we lived for three years on the east coast in a small bedroom community called Wakefield, Massachusetts.
Our home their remains one of my favorites. Built in the late 1800’s, it was imbued with character, as old homes often are, boasting several porthole style windows on the second floor as well as a large bay window seat in the master bedroom that framed the view of the lake across the street. Many hours were spent there during the summers reading to my children, or reading myself, often nodding off with the smell of gardenias from my garden wafting in through the open windows in the afternoon breeze.
As winter moved in pushing out the heat, we battened down the hatches. Storm windows went up, heaters were checked, and shorts and flip-flops were stored to make way for snow gear and fur-lined boots. It was cold, bone chilling cold in New England that time of year. The thermometer often hovered well below zero. When the first snow came, however, it was a post card picture. Pristine drifts piled along the banks of the frozen lake and the colorful scarves and knit hats of the skaters were visible from our bedroom window. Our children learned to skate on that lake, got their first sled from Santa that second Christmas, made snow angels and built their first clumsy snowman in the front yard in Wakefield, just as I had in Nova Scotia, when I was a girl.
During the winter of my daughter’s fourth year a bitter cold moved in in mid-December and brought an icy wind for company. Standing in the kitchen the mat would move across the kitchen floor as if pulled by an unseen hand as the wind seeped in from under the door. Firewood was piled high beneath tarps along the side yard. That year we consumed several cords. Snow quickly turned to slush on the roads as the temperature traveled up and down the thermometer between storms.
The week of Christmas itself the weather turned particularly raw, a heavy dose of snow blanketing the state. Outside a steady sheet of white blew diagonally beyond the window pane. Originally having made plans to travel to Nova Scotia for a few days, we decided instead to ride out the storm at home with the children tucked warmly inside.
That year we had cut down our tree, a large symetrical fir that dominated one side of the living room. Even though the room itself had unusually high ceilings for an old home, the tips of the angels wings perched on the top branch nearly reached out to touch it. Being on the other side of the country from our families, we had started our own traditions for Christmas Eve. Dinner each year was steaming bowls of hearty beef stew, warmed loaves of French bread, and salad. Afterwards the children were bathed, dressed in warm pajamas, and allowed to open one present each from beneath the tree.
Filled with anticipation of Santa’s arrival, it was a chore to settle them down. After a book and a cup of hot chocolate lids would begin to droop, and with old Pooh Bear and Mrs. Beasley in tow they reluctantly allowed themselves to be tucked into bed.
A steady whistle echoed down the chimney that night as if to remind us of the storm lurking just outside. Inside, however, was warm and cozy. The lingering smell of stew hung in the air mixed with a hint of peppermint from the candy canes hanging on the tree. Large oak logs crackled happily in the hearth, stopping occasionally to spit a spark or two on the rug. Candles projected flickering shadows along the walls, and “Silent Night” played softly on the stereo.
Having bathed and slipped into warm pajamas, I began my nightly routine of clearing and rinsing dishes. A small tug on my pajama leg prompted me to look down only to find my little girl standing at my feet. Opening my mouth to admonish her for being out of bed, eyes wide, she shook her head putting a small index finger to her mouth and took my hand.
Guiding me around the corner, we climbed the old stairs noting their familiar creak on the fifth step. Once at the top we made our way down the long hallway to my room. Without turning on the light switch, the only illumination once inside came from the street light shining in through the the open drapes. Not a sound being said, she walked to the window seat and gestured for me to sit. Hopping up beside me she pointed outside. On the street corner below bathed in the lamp’s glow stood a rather corpulent man of some years. A long white beard rested over the buttons of his heavy tweed overcoat. On his head he wore a felt hat, and on his feet black leather boots with silver buckles. Glasses were perched on the tip of his nose, and over one arm rested a wooden walking stick. With eyes now the size of dinner plates, my little girl mouthed the word “Santa”.
We sat for a long time watching him there. As though waiting for a ride, his head turned from side to side occasionally, but for the most part he just stood there allowing the snowflakes to gather on the shoulders of his coat. Finally, unable to stay awake any longer she allowed me to carry her back to bed. I returned to the window a short time later to find him gone and the snow quickly filling the holes where the impression of his boots remained. One wonders. For me, I’m putting cookies and milk out just in case. Have a great holiday everyone!
Dutch Baby with Maple Sausage and Cheese
4 large eggs
1 cup whole milk
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp. butter
8 maple sausages, cooked and cut in 1/2″ slices
1 cup sharp cheddar cheese
2 scallions, chopped fine
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Whisk together milk, eggs, salt and pepper in a medium bowl. Add flour, whisking vigorously, until smooth and slightly lumpy. Allow to rest for 5 mins. and then whisk again.
Melt butter in 10″ ovenproof skillet (preferably cast iron). Add scallions and ham, cook 5 mins. Pour milk mixture into skillet. Place in oven until pancake is puffed and golden brown 17-20 mins. Without removing from oven sprinkle with cheese and turn oven up to broil. Broil until highly puffed and brown. Serve immediately. Serves 6.