Each year as the Christmas holiday approaches, I feel a slight anxiety begin to rise in me, but not for all the reasons that you might think.
I don’t get anxious because I’m concerned that we won’t get the “right” gifts for people; I don’t feel anxious because we’ll spend too much money during the season.
No, my anxiety is one that centers around an affair of the heart, of the spirit, one that has everything to do with the concern that my family and I won’t end up relishing enough of the coziness, merriment, love and warmth that can potentially be experienced during this festive time of year that so quickly is over and gone.
Somehow, the last few Christmases just seem to have utterly flown by; and then afterwards, my husband and I find ourselves feeling like the whole occasion was a bit of a blur, like Christmas wasn’t quite as much like a Norman Rockwell painting as our hearts had so desperately longed for it to be.
For us, Christmas is the perfect opportunity to reflect, fill our hearts with gratitude, and surround ourselves with all the precious little cozy things that we love and that we don’t typically surround ourselves with on a regular basis—like twinkling lights, hot chocolate, mulled cider, a flickering fireplace and extra-special meals or rich and velvety sweet treats.
We crave the type of peace that perfectly wraps itself around our shoulders and holds us tightly like one would hold a little child, and keeps us safely tucked away from all of the not-so-cozy things we experience daily in the world outside.
I suppose I’m looking for us to feel like we’re in a fairytale, for at least a brief moment, for at least this special time of year.
But once the holiday is over, and I find myself looking back upon it, I end up feeling like the totality of the Christmas season wasn’t as “picturesque” as I had imagined that it would be, and I end up feeling a little melancholy that we’ll have to wait another year before we try to get it “just right”, all over again.
But I really want to move on from that.
I want relief and a new perspective for this special season, and I think it’s to be found by saving all of those cozy little things for one particularly day, truly making that a special and set-apart “fairytale-like” experience, and having that be perfectly sufficient.
Our family celebrates Christmas in a very “low key” way.
Sure, we exchange a few little gifts, and participate in a holiday party or two, but we truly try to keep the stress level to a minimum when it comes to the more material aspects of the holiday.
For us, it’s about trying to create a space in our hearts that is set apart and a little more special than the usual space in which we dwell when living day-to-day.
The beauty of Christmas is that it naturally has a bit of extra love, caring, blessing, joy and thankfulness built right into its very fabric, if it’s celebrated in the way that it was truly intended; and I see such potential for something wonderfully unique and even magical to be experienced in celebrating it with those qualities in mind.
I had a small epiphany the other day when I realized that perhaps I’ve been trying to make the entirety of the season—the weeks leading up to Christmas Eve and Christmas Day—feel fairytale-like, and that was what was so challenging.
That perhaps instead, I would get some relief and ultimately experience that “bliss” by focusing my attention on one extra special and set-apart day—Christmas Eve itself—and fill it with all of those precious little cozy things we all love, like the twinkling lights, the hot chocolate, the mulled cider, the flickering fireplace and the after-dinner velvety, rum-spiked eggnog crème brulee, and then relishing that completely.
And you know something?
I know in my heart of hearts, that would be enough, indeed. Because as long as one day is kept completely set apart and filled to the brim with all of those beloved, comforting accoutrements, then that would be memorable enough, and beautifully suffice and satisfy until next year.
At the end of it all, I think what this really is all about for me is learning to not get too discouraged about the fact that life is hectic, and that it’s more challenging than I’d like to think to make something seem as preciously “quaint” in real life as it is in my imagination.
To be really honest, I wish I could make every day feel like a Norman Rockwell painting.
But setting apart one day as extra special, and then filling that day as much as possible with magical coziness and conscious love, caring and sharing, creates that special feeling within, and that’s all that I really crave, anyway.
Because when we relish every sweet, velvety bite of something we’ve set apart as special for ourselves, then it can feel “fairytale-like” enough to sustain, and leave us wanting for nothing more.
Taste what’s good and pass it on.
Eggnog Creme Brûlée with a Hint of Dark Rum
by Ingrid Beer
Yield: Serves 6
• 2 cups heavy cream
• 2 cups eggnog (not low fat)
• 1 vanilla bean
• 8 egg yolks
• 1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar, plus extra for caramelizing
• 1 1/2 tablespoons dark rum
• Pinch nutmeg
• Berries for garnish, if desired
-Preheat the oven to 325°, and place 6, 6 ounce ramekins into a roasting pan or a large, deeper baking dish.
-Add the cream and eggnog into a large saucepan or pot; split the vanilla bean down the middle, and scrape out the inner paste, and add both the paste and the scraped bean into the cream/eggnog mixture; place the mixture over medium heat, and bring just to the boil, then turn off and allow to steep for 10-15 minutes.
-Strain the cream/eggnog mixture, and reserve the vanilla pod for another use, if desired; set the cream/eggnog mixture aside for a moment.
-In a large bowl, add the yolks and the sugar, and whisk until pale and thickened; next, slowly add a ladle-full of the hot cream/eggnog mixture into the eggs, whisking all the while, to temper and warm the eggs so they don’t scramble; then, slowly pour the remaining cream/eggnog mixture into the yolks/sugar and whisk, and then add the rum and the nutmeg, and gently whisk to incorporate.
-Pour the custard base into the ramekins set in the roasting pan, and skim off any foam you may see on top; place the roasting pan into the oven, and then pour enough hot water into the roasting pan to come about half-way up the ramekins (this will help keep the custard moist, and cook it evenly), and bake the custards for about 35-40 minutes, or unit they’re firm but still jiggle slightly in the center when moved.
-Allow the custards to cool in the fridge for at least 2 hours, or even up to 3 days; then, when ready to serve, sprinkle about 1-2 tablespoons of sugar on top of each, and using a kitchen torch, caramelize the sugar until browned, candied and shell-like; garnish with fresh berries if desired, and enjoy immediately.