This year, I am trying to reclaim Christmas.
The last three Christmases I took a pass – 2006 it was just three weeks after Charles died, and I was pretty much in a fog. One of the last things he did on this earth was put up Christmas lights. I remember watching him teetering on a ladder, tweaking the weather beaten strings in the crabapple tree and wondering if he was ever going to come in for dinner. I’m looking out the same window now and I can see those strings of lights blowing in the wind, nobody in the family having the heart to cut them down. He was obsessed with Christmas lights – we are still finding boxes of vintage bulbs he hid in the attic and bags of brand new strings he forgot in the barn.
In 2007, we were still adjusting and making it good for the kids, but feeling our way, and making a lot of jokes about getting to pick out trees WE liked. An oft quoted Charles anecdote was of Christmas tree hunting in the snow on a bitterly cold day in a local tree farm. Daughter-In-Law and I found ourselves standing in a cold, bleak field with darkness sifting down around us, not knowing where Charles and the kids were. The lights went out in the vendor’s shack, only a few cars left in the parking lot. After about two hours, an ancient school bus lurched into the lot and Charles and the two boys fall out the door, laughing hysterically. They had taken a BUS to a distant field in search of the perfect tree and … didn’t find one. This was funny to them at the time, but not funny to DIL and I for another five years.
The upshot of this is that I have a PINK fake tree covered with girly ornaments. The lights are already on it, and you just plug it in.
However, to keep the Ghosts of Christmas past from casting a pallor on all future Christmases, I am trying to do new things, start new traditions, and feel Christmassy. So I have to act Christmassy. I decided to make Christmas gifts for friends.
(My family does not want homemade gifts. We do enough of the touchy-feely Walton’s Mountain kind of crap every day, they want the hard goods like appliances and bling.)
I didn’t want to bake cookies. It seemed toooo hard. I’ve been making soup like a fiend, but I don’t want to give anyone food poisoning by mistake. It’s just what would happen.
So, I decide on something that LOOKS Christmassy, suits the majority of my friends, and would be fun. This is how I arrive at Homemade Cranberry Liqueur.
It’s a beautiful red – so it’s Christmassy. It’s alcohol so it suits my friends – sort of a liquid one-size-fits-all. And it looks more like “compiling” than cooking, so it would be fun.
I’ve had my eye on these huge Ball jars with bales and rubber gaskets at the local hardware store, so when the liqueur is done, I use them for something else so it also fits the “gift for me” category that I was ashamed to list above.
First step: research. I read about fifty recipes online, all of which seem to be cut and pasted from an original one.
Second step: buy the ingredients and amass the tools. (I even buy a new vegetable peeler because I realize that the one I have is not very sharp, and I bought it in 1978.) I have to go to the liquor store to buy the vodka. In Pennsylvania, you have to buy wine and liquor (except rubbing alsohol) at a special state owned store, with state employees, during restricted hours. If you want beer or malt beverages, that’s another store. But not on Sundays, at all. I think that this is a holdover from our Quaker heritage, not that I know many Quakers who don’t bend an elbow. I googled the subject but got more complaints about the system than information on its history. However, Pennsylvania was also the location of the Whiskey Rebellion – moonshiners fighting government regulation of home stills. However, here I am at the liquor store, buying three huge bottles of vodka. I can read minds, so I know that everyone in the store has noticed what is in my cart and has decided I am an alcoholic. I fight the urge to explain the purchase to the clerk, because A) I know he thinks I am an alcoholic, and B) I know he doesn’t care. I trip going out the door and feel that everyone has confirmed their suspicions. I have been to the liquor store about four times in my life and felt this way each time. More pointless self-loathing.
Third Step: mulching the cranberries and pouring the vodka in the big jars. You also have to make a sugar syrup – which IS cooking, but I didn’t notice at first, but really easily accomplished, until I have to pour the hot syrup in the jars and find that they are too tall for me to reach easily when on the table, too heavy for me to move to the floor or the chair. So I climb on a chair with a pot of boiling sugar syrup and risk my life. Well, it is Christmastime, and I haven’t been to the emergency room yet.
It’s gorgeous! In a couple of days I will decant this into smaller jars and wow my friends with my thoughtfulness and creativity. If you are one of my friends and reading this, feel free to thank me now.
I hope this is good enough to repeat next year. It’s sort of a decoration for the kitchen in addition to a gift, so it’s really a win/win. I hope it gives my friends a warm glow on a cold night, sometime in the next month or so. Because really, that’s the best we can expect in this life.