Holiday time! We Wenches decided to do some idiosyncratic holidayish blogs, but since several of the Wenchly declared themselves already sick of Christmas carols by November 26th, the interpretations will be idiosyncratic indeed. There may even be some recipes of varying degrees of uselessness.
The lovely muted snow scenes were shot by our whipmistress, Sherrie Holmes, and be I’ll throw in a deer picture I shot from my living room. (Eastern white tailed deer journeyed to suburban `Maryland, and lo, they found it good.)
Those who keep track of such things might have noted that this should be Edith’s day, but since I’ll be away for a few days starting tomorrow, she kindly swapped dates with me. So I’m kicking off December Casual with a Christmas in the country story.
Cats in the Christmas Tree
I grew up on an actual farm in Western New York, the sort of place where you really could slog through the snow and cut down a Christmas tree in the back 40. My father would take his ax and we’d tag along, vibrating with excitement. And would return to the house with our boots and snow pants soaked and all of us ready to be warmed up.
These days, good solid tree stands are readily available, but we used an old coffee can. The physics of a coffee can when supporting a sizable spruce tree are not good, so the tree would be set up in a corner of the living room with guy wires (doubled string) connecting it to a couple of secure points. Generally this worked.
Except when some of the cats decided to explore their inner panther and swarm up the tree. Usually this would be signaled by crashing and general sounds of disaster. We’d rush into the living room, where the cats were usually flying in all directions.
We averaged five cats at a time. These were not aloof barn cats by any means. They were lazy, manipulative indoor/outdoor felines who slept on the heating vents and enjoyed a life of ease. In cold weather, if they couldn’t coax someone to let them into the house, they’d go into the basement via a window and drape themselves over the rectangular vent pipes that carried heat upstairs. If you went down into the dirt-floored basement and looked up, you’d see feral reflections from golden eyes. But I digress.
Apart from a few broken ornaments, the tree crashes weren’t too disastrous. We’d clean up the mess, re-erect the tree, and hope that the current felines had been alarmed enough to stay on the ground for the rest of the season.
Nonetheless, I learned my lesson well. These days I have a substantial tree base that would be hard to knock over. It’s designed so a cat can’t get its head in to drink the wild water. And the lower levels of ornaments are always unbreakable, in case one of the kitties thinks it’s a particularly irresistible new cat toy.
Sauerkraut for Christmas
I’m going to throw in a holiday recipe as well. Sauerkraut as an essential side dish to the Thanksgiving turkey came as a great Baltimore surprise when I first moved to Maryland, since I’d never liked sauerkraut, but I found a recipe in a Crockpot cookbook that looked promising, and modified it so that it hardly tastes like sauerkraut. I consider this A Good Thing. <G>
Sauerkraut with Pork, Apples, and Onions
This is peasant food, so quantities are approximate.
Three to four pounds of fresh sauerkraut, drained
About 1 ½ – 2 ½ pounds of pork chops
Two medium to large onions, sliced
Two apples, cored and sliced (don’t need to be peeled.)
A tablespoon or two of caraway seeds
Half a cup of water with half a teaspoon of salt dissolved in it
Trim fat and brown the chops on both sides, seasoning with salt and pepper to taste. Then cut the chops into pieces. The size depends on whether you like large chunks of pork or small ones. The cutting up is easier to do if you get the expensive boneless pork chops, but any will do.
Using a standard size crock pot (slow cooker), layer the ingredients, starting and ending with sauerkraut and scattering some caraway seeds as you go.
Add the salted water, cover, and cook in the crock pot on low for six to eight hours. (Pork should be tender and falling apart.) Slow cooking on stove top or in the oven would probably work, but would require more watching.
This can be either a side dish with turkey, or a main dish served with mashed potatoes and maybe applesauce on the side.
People tend to like this dish—sometimes to their surprise. <G>
Lastly, I’m going to give away a copy of the reissued Christmas anthology, A Stockingful of Joy. Susan/Sarah is also in it, along with Jill Barnett and Justine Dare. It must be a good anthology, since this is its third time around. <g>
My story, “The Best Husband Money Can Buy,” was inspired by a small newspaper filler piece about a Spanish businessman who visited a church in Stockholm and noticed the coffin of a recently deceased man in a side chapel. A devout Catholic, the Spaniard prayed for the soul of the departed and left his name in the guestbook, noting that he was the only one who signed. A month or two later, he was contacted by a Swedish firm of lawyers and told that he would receive the entire and substantial estate of the deceased man, who had no family and said his money would go to anyone who prayed for him.
Such a great story! Loretta was pondering what to write next and I offered her this idea, but it didn’t excite her. So when this novella turned up, I used the story. The heroine, Emma Stone, is an orphaned governess who allows herself one day a year to think of her happy childhood holidays when she and her parents would gather at the grand palace of the Duke of Warrington, where a whole extended family of Vaughns would celebrate Christmas for a fortnight every year. It has been ten years since Emma attended, though the dowager duchess still sent invitations.
Then an unexpected legacy makes Emma a young woman of means—and more than anything else, she wants a husband and family. So she asks her lawyer to find a suitable gentleman. Then she learns that the highly unsuitable cousin she’d always adored is in need of a rich wife…
Marriages of convenience are great fun because two people who are already legally joined must figure out how to get along with each other, and hopefully enjoy their new state. Since this is not only a romance but a Christmas romance, you can pretty much guess the ending. <g>
There are two interesting sidenotes. First, when the anthology first came out, there was a review on a minor site that complained that the hero and heroine were cousins, eeuuuwww! Which proves that not everyone reads carefully, since it was spelled out that they were second cousins once removed, which is perfectly legal and not at all incestuous.
Secondly—a couple of months ago, a reader e-mailed and said that in fact the original story that inspired mine seems to be a fabrication, though it ran in legitimate newspapers. Here’s a link for it. http://www.snopes.com/luck/will.asp What a hoot! It doesn’t matter if the story isn’t true, because it was still a great inspiration. <G> And I adore the sentimentality of Christmas stories.
Anyhow, a free, signed copy of A Stockingful of Joy will go to a commenter on this post between now and Tuesday midnight. It won’t get sent out instantly because I’ll be away for a bit, but you’ll have it before Christmas.