Managing a Gang on the Farm at Christmas

1 / 4
2 / 4
3 / 4
4 / 4

Santa is coming, and it turns out I am Santa running a country bed and breakfast. When the family arrives for Christmas it is a four-day event. There is so much to do here and instead of getting the tree in last night, I was busy sucking on a syphon to clean the 75-gallon fish tank. I had no choice, the water was turning black. The tank is full of the outdoor pond rescues – gorgeous but what an enormous amount of work. Living on a farm, there are always circumstances out of your control, not just the weather. Outside in the truck is a snow-covered Christmas tree that needs to be dragged in and decorated. The fun part starts when we try and fit it into the stand. It always need to have the stump re-cut.

I sit here typing and my mind is wandering off to worry about all the things that I need to get done. It reminds me about how I feel when the garden needs to get started and then maintained – it is all in the guilt. What won’t I get accomplished this year?

Will it be a white Christmas? If not, then what will we do? I like the outdoor activities. Who do I have to tell that they get to sleep on the blow-up bed that happens to have a slow leak? How do I get all the gifts and meet everyone’s expectations? I do not know how my mother ever made Christmas happen with eight children. I do recall helping her shop for my younger brother and sisters. I made sure to buy them lots of puzzles and books, just what they didn’t want.

Christmas for some people is focused on shopping, that is the part I enjoy the least. This is the time for food, family and sharing. I plan out for months what I will cook and then I end up making the same food everyone wants. Tradition comes first. This year I mentioned to my eldest daughter that I was not going to make turkey. I had decided to go ahead and make individually stuffed chicken breasts. This was because I was still recovering from the $65 Thanksgiving turkey that took me three days to make stock out of. I wanted to do something easier this time. Well, she was very disappointed and so I am off to look for a frozen turkey that is on sale. I can’t believe the prices – when I see $47 on a sign for a turkey I get sticker shock.

I have started the baking and this year I do promise to make shortbread. Last year I did not get the time as we lingered too close to Christmas Day in Colorado. I did get the coffee cake and rum cake and gingerbread cake on the menu. It is a personal tradition for me that I look through all my cut-out and collected Christmas recipes. I really enjoy looking back at what I thought would be delicious 30 years ago and that list has not changed much. Christmas baking is about taking more time to make more elaborate and hence thoughtful baked goods. I have a long tradition of learning how to bake both from my English godmother Clara and my European housekeeper. I still have the hand-written recipes that were passed down to me. For the European cookies, I had to write them out myself, as she never used traditional baking measurement utensils. My mother used to boast that she had never made a cake. She was not my go-to baking resource. But no one made gravy like her – even though it was ready long after all Christmas dinner was on the table. This goes back pre-microwave and getting hot food for 25 dinner guests was no easy feat. Lesson, as long as the gravy is hot the meat can get warmed up.

The festivities start on Christmas eve – what is on my table? Always shrimp, various cheese, blue, goats, cheddar and a baked Brie. The appetizer platter is served with nuts, breads, olives and my pickles. I also make sausage rolls, hot artichoke and spinach dip. New to the menu thanks to my sous chef Roland, fresh guacamole and our home-canned salsa. I made about 60 jars in the fall and it has become a family favorite. We decorate the tree – well, my eldest does and puts the tree topper on – the ceramic angel in a red dress. My girls love the Shirley Temple drink, any excuse for a maraschino cherry they say. Spiced and mulled cider is on the stove. For me its champagne … with a few cranberries floating at the top. For the men, it is ice-cold beer. We all head to bed after a night in front of the fire and after opening up the one and only mandatory gift – pajamas!!! Some people like to do the ugly Christmas sweater contest – for us it is the PJs. I get to pick them all out!

I haul out the coolers and leave them on the front porch to handle all the beverage overflow. I have had one or two bottles of pop and beer freeze on me. Be careful but take advantage of the cold if you can. I learned last year the hard way that you can’t leave food on the porch. It turns out that the country raccoons wake up for Christmas dinner.

After exchanging gifts in the morning, breakfast preparation begins. For me it’s when my labour of love starts. Breakfast is always one of the highlights of the day. As we have all gotten older, we sleep in much later. Hence it is never really breakfast, it is brunch. I make the same breakfast every year – my scrambled eggs are a favourite. Last year I added a second cook to my kitchen and now Roland does the pancakes. I like to buy a ham, marinate it and roast it and use it for breakfast or snacks – croque monsieur over the holidays. There is never any ham left.

While making and serving brunch, I am also cooking the main dinner. I always have two meats, and this year I am considering beef wellington -– but the price of beef makes it out of the question. So it will be the traditional turkey and roast ham. I make six to 10 side dishes because I love the variety and my girls like sides with less fat – so they get steamed fresh vegetables. I have to have my cauliflower and broccoli gratin and wild rice. I make cranberry sauce and serve it in antique molds that my mother bought me when I was about 13 years old.

I always like to set and decorate the table right after cleaning up brunch.

Each year I create a family Christmas card and personalize each one with a message. These cards are placed at each table setting. We must have Christmas crackers at the table that we open before we prepare to eat. We laugh and sit with the silly hats on, reading out the wretched jokes and trying to decide who got the cheapest trinket. I say grace and talk about my blessings. We take our time, sip our wine or water, tell jokes, share memories and feel full. Dessert is optional, but add vanilla scented whipped cream and no one can resist. I recently bought an ice cream maker, and I think I may just make some fresh ice cream. Ice cream makers have been known to put as many pounds on you as that bread maker. Besides, counter space real estate is at a premium – so too is fridge and freezer space. This often limits just how much I can prepare and store. After Christmas space is no problem as I send plenty of bags and plastic containers (buy some to have on hand) full of food. I make a white bean soup with the left over ham and it is a huge hit and a great meal for days afterwards.

I am headed off to try and pick out some gifts for the people I love. I have to scrape the ice off the car, shovel the long long farmhouse drive way and chase the wild turkeys away.

This year, Christmas will be like all the other years – something will get left undone, a present will be forgotten, a gift ordered on line won’t arrive, an unexpected gift will arrive, some one will fall in the snow, or get hit by a snow ball, someone wont get the present they dreamed of, an antique ornament will come crashing down, someone will step on a piece of the ornament, the entire string of lights wont work because one bulb is out. The tree won’t stand straight or it may fall down, we will argue over how many Christmas songs we listen to, red wine will spill on the white tablecloth that was hand made and we all will eat too much and promise to never eat again … and we will have a wonderful Christmas.

Merry Christmas!

Chef Elizabeth

See more travels, adventures and recipes at my blog.