a Christmas well spent

It’s the 25th of December and I’m not in Winnipeg. I’m not even in Canada. I’m in Massachusetts, a state I’ve never visited and still need help spelling. Perched on the edge of the Berkshires, a small range of hills in New England, Mark and I are spending our first Christmas ever “just us.” Each of us had previously spent only one Christmas away, so we’re not exactly practiced in family-free holidays.

Risotto with mini Brussels sprouts, Vermont sausage and blue cheese

As I reflect on our time so far, I must say that it has been great. We’ve stayed up and slept late, watched movies and meandered around pretty towns. We’ve visited small-town bookstores, cafes, and gourmet food shops. We’ve sipped eggnog at 2 am while stringing popcorn for our “tree” (a fake plant in the hotel room).

P.E.I. mussels with white wine, garlic and butter; salad with pecans, blue cheese and pears; Hob Nob Pinot Noir.

This Christmas will be memorable for many reasons: the quiet, the togetherness, and of course, the food. My mom’s (and mom-in-law’s) food this has not even paralleled. But it has been ours.  We’ve dined out on fancy fare and stayed in to cobble together what we can on a tiny electric range.

This smorgasbord post is not meant to provide any inspiring holiday dishes, but to help me remember what we ate on this first Christmas—gathered around a cheap pine table, happy, but yet so far from home.

George DuBoeuf 5$ Beaujolais

Dinner for two: Crispy Yellow Tail and Fire Dragon rolls

We saved our special meal out for Christmas Eve, and taking the advice of our mussel-monger reserved a table for two at Perigee in South Lee, M.A. The contemporary, mid-scale restaurant is only five weeks old and boasts “Berkshire cuisine.” We settled on two bowls of their French Onion Soup (made with Berkshire Brewing Co. porter beer–good, but not as good as my Mom’s!), an order of their crab cakes (delicious), and two plates of the Juniper-scented Venison Osso Buco.

I was a bit worried when the main courses arrived looking more like country beef stews than something a fine restaurant might serve. But once I dug into the first shank and the meat melted off the bone into its moat of lightly juniper-scented stew, I was changed. Once we were given our marrow spoons, I proceeded to dig into the bone, excavating every last morsel of fatty, earthy-sweet tissue. Their wine recommendation—Château Fleur Badon St. Emilion (a Bordeaux)—was juicy and bright, but a too light to keep up with the heavy texture of the venison. Service was sufficiently cordial, but a bit awkward and uneducated. (What kind of server uses a plastic rabbit-ears corkscrew anymore?)

New England Crab Cakes starter

Venison Osso Bucco with Root Vegetables

Never a fan of the ubiquitous dessert tray that our server proffered, we headed back to Lee to try out Chez Nous. Their offerings were much more appealing, and we settled on a blondie sundae with sea-salted caramel, rum-soaked raisins and Tahitian vanilla ice cream. Second in line was a chocolate-hazelnut Yule Log rolled in ganache and adorned with “traditional garnishes,” including a meringue-turned-toadstool and candied orange peel.

They were the perfect hits of sweetness to keep us up through the gorgeous service at St. Stephen’s Episcopal in Pittsfield.

Today, after a luxurious night’s sleep, we feasted on eggnog-spiked apple-bread French toast and those same Vermont sausages. With apologies to my brother-in-law (whose eggnog scrambled eggs I apparently rebuffed last year), we were delighted by the leftover egg-and-nog batter we scrambled up in the pan. For dinner, we sauteed turkey livers with loads of red-wine caramelized onions. Later tonight if I’m missing home too much, at least I’ll have my Ward family nuts n’ bolts to offer solace.

And while I’m sorry that I haven’t been sharing many recipes as of late, I have been enjoying tracing this shifting life of mine, and tracking the noshes and nibbles that keep bringing me such delight.

“And they all went to bed tired and happy.” – line from my favorite childhood Christmas story

5 thoughts on “a Christmas well spent

  1. usansay
    December 26, 2009 at 4:33 am

    Merry Christmas, Jen. Aaron and I also had our first just-us Christmas this year. I thought of you and Mark in the Berkshires, together with us in alone-togetherness. Love, susan

  2. brenna
    December 26, 2009 at 8:40 am

    beautifully descriptive and wonderfully entertaining as always, jen. a new post from you is always such a treat! safe travels back to dc
    & merry christmas! xox

  3. Sheri Ward
    December 26, 2009 at 5:10 pm

    Ah, daughter of mine, so lovely to read your Christmas day musings! I LOVE all the photos (your hair looks GREAT!!). I found the yule log and toadstool “mushrooms” photo especially charming! It goes without saying that you were very missed, yet we are so happy that you two have this wonderful time together.
    What WAS the title of that Christmas book?…just can’t remember….

  4. Illa
    December 30, 2009 at 9:56 am

    Jen, you have the ability, not only to creatively describe, but to make even the seemingly simple sound exotic! What a gift you have, and are!

  5. Emily Hollywood
    December 30, 2009 at 6:37 pm

    we actually were pretty close to you guys! pete’s parents are about a half hour north, and my parents about an hour south of the pittsfield area. hope you enjoyed your new england christmas :)

    and i can’t wait to have a christmas “just us” someday…