Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Blogmas Days 1-4

In California we have two seasons: the hot dry one and the cool and occasionally rainy one.  As a matter of fact, I can count the number of times I have seen snow on one hand and still have enough digits left over to express my feelings about the white stuff.  Lack of traditional winter aside, there are many things I enjoy about the festive season.  To kick off my grand Blogmas  

Day 1: Favorite Winter Tradition 
There are several traditions that my immediate family observes throughout the season that are particularly special to me.  My family exchanges gifts a few times during December-- notably on Sinterklaas, Christmas Eve, and Christmas.  

We also put up a "solstice bush" and decorate it with whimsical ornaments we have bought over the years to commemorate various people (furry and otherwise), events, shared experiences, or interests that distinguish our little family.  One of my favorite tradition of mine is play high stakes dreidel for candy and promised treats.  You have not lived until you have cashed in a "dreidel latte" on a torrentially rainy day. 

I live a wild and crazy life, people. 

Day 2: What This Time of Year Means to You 
This time of year doesn't hold a major religious significance to me in the same way it would someone who is of the Christian persuasion; however, I do recognize the season as an opportunity to stop and take stock of the miraculousness of life.   

All too often we focus on the petty gripes and minor annoyances without paying mind to how, in the grand scheme of things, most of us are fortunate beyond measure.  For all of my annoyance with work and family or the sadness I have felt at recently losing someone I love very dearly, I know that I am blessed beyond measure: I have love, I have means, I am resilient, and I have the good sense to recognize my good fortune.   

Sometimes, I like stop and remind myself that, had I lived one hundred years ago, the depression and anxiety I have suffered from my entire life would have precluded me from normal life.  Had I had the same catastrophic accident I suffered last year a decade before, I would probably have had to have my leg amputated due to infection.  I'm thankful for these small twists of fate in my favor and I try not to lose sight of them during my not-all-that-un-frequent Morrissey moments.                                                                          

Day 3: Favorite Winter Themed Movie 
I don't like Christmas movies.  I've always thought they were obnoxiously cloying, poorly conceived, and enforced a WASP-y normalcy I have never identified with.  That being said, I love Scrooged and Die Hard more than I love peanut butter.   

I love Scrooged because BILL MURRAY and also because of its quintessential eighties-ness.  There is something overly broad, frizzy, frazzled, and too bright about Scrooged that makes it simultaneously hideous and hilarious.   Also, Bill Murray's character guzzles Stoli and Tab throughout the movie which is worth the price of the DVD alone.  

Die Hard is arguably one of the best Christmas movies ever made and is certainly one of the five best films made in the eighties.  There really isn't much to the story-- Bruce Willis is a New York cop who goes to LA in order to win back if wife who has relocated for a new job; terrorists take over the office Christmas party; Willis has to save everyone from said terrorists while unarmed and barefoot; and . . . Bruce Willis saves the day with the help of the dad from Family Matters-- but somehow the film manages to strike the right balance between action film explosions and stupidity and tongue-in-cheek brilliance.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   
Day 4: Favorite Winter Food 
Even though I believe in staunch adherence to seasonal dress codes (dark lips and tips only in winter, no white after labor day) that traditionalism does not extend itself into my dining habits.  I don't even like any of Starbucks's seasonal beverages, they all taste like bile. 

The foods I enjoy the most in winter are foods that I eat throughout the year.  In fact, most of the foods that are considered "seasonal" make my stomach churn.  I cannot fathom an instance where I would willingly consume a fruit cake or yule log; both Christmas delights smell/ look/ taste like they have sat around collecting dust since the Victorian Era-- we have electricity now, we don't have to eat this shit! 

What I do enjoy eating is hutspot, a Dutch braised beef and root vegetable dish that is a real comfort after a long workweek, and sufganiyot or oliebollen, doughnuts that are commonly filled with jam and sometimes topped with cream or powdered sugar.  

 Hutspot holds a special place in Dutch culinary history.  The dish dates back to the sixteenth century and is said to be inspired by the bits of boiled potato the Spanish left behind when they were defeated during Siege of Leiden in the Eighty Years War. There is a festival in the city of Leiden on 3 October every year to commemorate the event.  At the festival it's traditional to eat herring and white bread (gross) and hutspot.  It is relatively common to eat hutspot or stamppot (different veggies and usually a smoked sausage) during the winter, too.  I like either variation on the dish. 

Sufganiyot and oliebollen are round doughnuts (often times filled with jelly, cream, or dried fruits) that are eaten in the lead up to New Years in the Netherlands and during Hanukkah.  The two phenomena are related.  There's an old folktale that oliebollen are eaten on New Years Eve because the Germanic goddess Perchta would fly around between Christmas and Epiphany and slice open the gut of anyone who had been a creep that year.  If you had consumed your body weight in oliebollen (totally feasible), Perchta's sword would slide right off of you because you had consumed so much grease.  However, the suggestion that a pageant goddess would fly around trying to disembowel you during the twelve days of Christmas is a bit dubious.  In all likelihood, today's oliebollen were probably sufganiyot that made their way to the lowlands during the sixteenth century, when an influx of Iberian Jews settled in the religiously tolerant Dutch Republic. Whatever their genesis, they are little oilly masses of delight.

What treats, films, and traditions float your boat during the holidays?  Let me know in the comments.

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