Well we’ve survived another holiday. Friends and relatives or you yourself are home preparing for Christmas. Tummies are full, memories stored away, and turkey refrozen to reappear in soup or in creamed this or that somewhere down the road. Snow fell outside our windows the day before Thanksgiving. Lovely fluffy clumps gathered on our lawn furniture and along the gnarly ridges of the tree boughs. We enjoyed the beauty of it for an hour or two until the sun replaced the clouds reducing it to puddles as quickly as it arrived.
Black Friday passed uneventfully as well. I dropped a few dollars here and there on line and spent some time putting up my Christmas decorations. Our family tradition is the Christmas decorations go up the day after Thanksgiving and are put back in their respective containers the day after Christmas. Always when my children were still under my roof we made a yearly trip to a local tree lot to pick out a fresh tree. Either that or we went to a Christmas tree farm and cut one down ourselves. These days I have a “tree-in-a-box” which suits our needs perfectly. Though I do miss the piney smell and the act of acquiring a fresh one. For me I liked my trees flocked. This was not always an easy sell to my husband at the time. Preferring the clumpy flocking that looks as though you came across the tree in a snowy meadow to simply spraying the whole tree white it could create a flocking disaster getting it through the door. As somehow by default I had been assigned the title “Mess Monitor” I never understood what the problem was as most likely I would be the one cleaning it up once the tree was secured in the base.
Over the years I have added at least one new decoration each holiday season to my growing assortment. As the children progressed into adulthood I have given away some here or there to their families but still have boxes of old friends who adorn my tree as each year passes. When they were in high school we used to drive into San Francisco over the holidays, specifically targeting Ghiradelli Square. Inside the shopping area there was a store, I don’t know if it still exists, run by and for the handicapped. Each year all of us would pick out one ornament made by people who were physically or mentally challenged. They still hang on my tree. How beautifully crafted these ornaments are is a testament to looking beyond what we see when looking at a person and digging a little deeper to find what lies beneath. I can remember a young woman with Down’s Syndrome in particular. When we came in the door she would run up and wrap her arms around me. Such a sweet and loving girl, easy with offering a show of affection to a stranger. I have a small stuffed bear which she made, intricate stitches and a perfectly set bear face. He sits on the front of my tree each year and reminds me of her.
Traditions, to my mind, are a lovely part of the holidays. Aunt Barbie’s shortbread, the recipe for my grandmother’s magnificent stuffing written in her hand splattered with dots of gravy. For some people, it’s dinner out at a favorite restaurant, for others it’s the smells emanating from the kitchen on Christmas morning or the screams of the children as they tear through the gifts under the tree. Part of our “holiday rules” if you will, was no tearing through the gifts. We had a “gift fairy” (When young this was a much coveted position. As they got older the mere mention of it resulted in much rolling of eyes and muttering under breaths.). The gift fairy handed out a gift to each person. One by one we opened our gifts and admired the contents, being sure to include a thank you, before placin them back under the tree.
Once I attended a holiday party where the kids were set free to open at will. It was like a school of sharks invited to a sea lion party. Good Lord. Never have I witnessed so much carnage in such a short period of time. John was opening a present marked Matthew, and Michael was examining his new Barbie actually meant for Meagan who was trying to figure out how to open a box of plastic army men. One little boy whose name escapes me, opened a package containing a dump truck. Apparently finding the truck wanting he screamed and threw the toy on the ground breaking off the cab. His mother said, “Jacob (for the sake of the story), now that wasn’t nice.” At this strong admonishment Jacob pointed a fat little finger in his mother’s direction and said, “shut up”. Really? I hope Santa was on the ball the following year with his lump of coal. For me I poured a second glass of nicely laced punch. I will say this for my two pirates, they weren’t perfect (nor was I but don’t let the cat out of the bag), however they never disrespected me (at least not to my face). Certainly never acted in such an ungrateful way. They wouldn’t have had to wait for Santa’s short list to come out to hear about it I guarantee you, had they ever decided to.
So, we’re headed down the last lap of our holiday season. The push is on toward the finish line and I’m lagging behind. I find myself wishing Christmas less about presents and more about our time together, but without voicing it aloud, I sense this would be a sentiment not met with many supporters.
As my grandchildren insist on getting older no matter how many times I’ve suggested Nana would like them to freeze in place, the cost of Christmas increases in kind. Digital goodies arrive first on the list coming in with pricey tags to go with. I leave these to their parents to sort out. We concentrate on pj’s or socks for the bigger kids and toys for the younger of the group. I have a friend who goes totally wild during the holidays lavishing extravagant gifts on her clan. Last years Christmas, she told me was not paid off until August. WHAT? That’s nuts. Not that I wouldn’t love to give my offspring and theirs whatever their little hearts desire, but I believe there is so much more I have to offer them than a video game. The finite details of what these gifts are I have to give I have not isolated as of this writing.
This lasagna requires a bit of work, but in the end is well worth the trouble. I make the sauce the day before. I usually have about 1 1/2 cups of sauce left over which I freeze to use on another pasta dish down the road.
Two-Helping Spinach Lasagna
Rich Meat Sauce
2 lbs. ground beef
3/4 lb. bulk hot Italian sausage
2 large onions, chopped
8 garlic cloves, minceed
3 14 1/2 oz. cans diced tomatoes with juice
1 14 1/2 oz. can diced tomatoes with green chiles
4 6 oz. cans tomato paste)
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1/4 cup minced parsley
2 tsp. dried basil
1 tsp. dried oregano
4 bay leaves
1 tsp. rubbed sage
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. dried marjoram
1/2 tsp. pepper
In large saucepan or dutch oven brown beef, sausage, onions and garlic over medium heat until browned. Drain fat.
Transfer to 5-quart slow cooker. Stir in remaining ingredients mixing well. Cook on low for 10 hours. Remove bay leaves.
1 10 oz. pkg. frozen chopped spinach, cooked and squeezed dry
2 Tbsp. chopped parsley
1 pint low-fat cottage cheese
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp. garlic powder
Salt and black pepper
9 lasagna noodles, cooked and patted dry
1 lb. shredded Mozzarella cheese
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Mix together spinach, parsley, cottage cheese, 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, eggs, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Refrigerate until ready to use.
Cook 9 lasagna noodles according to package directions.
Spray bottom and sides of 9 x 13″ casserole dish with cooking spray. Spread 1/4 cup of sauce on bottom of prepared dish. Line three cooked noodles on top. Spread 1/2 of cottage cheese mixture evenly on top of noodles and top with 1/2 of the mozzarella cheese. Top with about 2/3 cup of sauce. Spread carefully over all the noodles. Repeat layers once.
Place last three noodles on top and cover with sauce, spreading evenly. Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup Parmesan.
Bake uncovered for 45-50 mins. until bubbly and brown. Allow to sit for 6 mins. before cutting. Serve with additional Parmesan cheese.