On a recent long layover in New Orleans, I was inspired for my First Christmas Dinner with Doc. In the weeks leading up to the holidays, my schedule had been quite devoid of longer layovers. While exploring the ragin’ Cajun streets of New Orleans’ French Quarter, my crew and I happened upon The Spice and Tea Exchange, so we nipped in. After a whirlwind tour of the store, I wound up walking out with a couple of items which quickly transformed into my dinner menu.
Though I am a Jersey Girl at heart, I was raised in the South… well, South Florida. Some might say, I actually overshot “The Proper South,” but I would like to think between attending the University of Florida and working in Atlanta, I can still consider myself a ‘Girl Raised in the South’. In the last year, I have taken a shining to Southern Living and Garden and Gun magazines. Although, I am a far cry from canning my own jams, regularly serving afternoon tea, and mastering the shotgun, I am starting to discover my personal style for at-home life.
One of my long running jokes is “what’s the hardest thing for a flight attendant to do?” For those playing at home: it’s unpacking. I never thought I would finally discover the desire to dial back my wanderlust and begin thinking about designing a lifestyle that didn’t revolve around living out of a suitcase. Constantly being on the road makes me appreciate the time I get to be at home with my loved ones, so I wanted to go the extra mile and make Christmas dinner special.
It wasn’t until I got home and actually read the included recipe card, that I realized original recipe was for more ambitious than I was prepared for. I was determined to put the freshly mixed spices to good use, so I chased up a simple, yet yummy Turkey meatloaf recipe in lieu of making a rather heavy Cajun feast of Chicken Fried Sausage Balls and Gravy. In The Pleasure’s All Mine: Selfish Food for Modern Life, Suzanne Pirret discusses the ultimate pleasure and necessity for dining for one. (It’s a great book with fantastically decadent recipes). After dining pretty much alone for the last ten years, I’m still reeducating myself on how to cook for more than one. In that vein, I needed to consider multiple dietary preferences and restrictions. My thinking cap got thrown on, as I needed to substitute ingredients. Also, great recipes sometimes require creative thinking when it comes to cutting calories and selecting replacement ingredients I’ve never tried before (like the coconut oil).
- Selected 99% Lean Ground Turkey instead of Sausage
- Substituted Coconut Oil for the butter
- Substituted TSTE Cajun & Lemon Garlic Pepper spices (1/2 TSP each) for the Worcestershire sauce, garlic cloves, and salt and pepper
- Reduced sugar ketchup (75% Less!)
- Omitted Bacon
Simple sides includes pre-made garlic bread, and frozen vegetable medley with zucchini, yellow squash, and carrots. For an added dose of healthy at the holidays, I mixed in some kale! Next time, I should pick a smaller onion because hoooooo-doggy the turkey loaf was full of it. I only used a 1/2 TSP of both the spices purchased from TSTE because I didn’t want to over spice it. I wound up with a subtle flavor, so next time, I might be a little more adventurous in the hopes of making a more flavorful dish.
In the spirit of the holidays, I selected one of the sparkling wines I purchased last winter at EPCOT. I am quite the fan of the Once Upon A Vine series, and finally I found my someone special to share my winter Enchanted Woods Bubbly. Master Sommelier, Andrea Robinson, noted that sparkling wines can be used on any day you want to make into a celebration, so what better way than on our week early Christmas. The weather cooperated, so I set up the patio table for some al fresco dining as the sun went down.
With the break-neck pace of holiday flying, my desire and resources for holiday decorating were quite minimal. We decorated our little Christmas tree Thanksgiving weekend, but as fate would have it, I wouldn’t make it back to my parents’ house to fish my ornaments out of storage until just a few days before our scheduled Christmas dinner. It was fun mixing together old and new ornaments on our little tree. Turns out, Doc and I are staunchly in opposite camps on the colored versus clear lights! As a compromise, we entwined strands of both, and simply used white lights to decorate the rest of the living room.
Between dinner and dessert, we cleaned up our dinner plates. Not wanting to pack in desert into our rather full dinner bellies, we took an intermission to exchange gifts. Personally, after living in Japan, I have a preference to open gifts either alone or simply with my gift-giver. I find the moment of reveal becomes more personal and intense, and from a personal stand point, I don’t feel like I am bragging about all the fab stuff I just got. Being constantly under a microscope at work, I find myself shying away from the spotlight and I have never been a fan about being the center of attention. I find it exhausting.
After attending Meghan’s Charmed by Charity event, I won’t lie: I made quite the extensive dream wish list. Sadly, over half of the items I had selected vanished in the wake of Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and general Holiday Hoopla. The original list I assembled was for a give away contest by Alex + Ani, but now I am taking time to revise it. I wasn’t expecting anything from the list, but Doc knocked one out of the park by selecting the Skeleton Key charm bangle. It was the first item I selected for the list, and thankfully, one of the ones that still remain. With the silver finish, it looks great with my other two.
I know that not every Christmas will be this quiet and simple, so I took the time to enjoy it. It isn’t that I don’t love rounding up the family at the holidays. I truly do. I have discovered that in light of my current occupation, that my preference for smaller gatherings are more manageable because I walk away feeling that I have spent enough quality time with each person. In a job were conversations are often marginalized for the sake of competing against the clock, it truly is nice to sit and talk with someone without having to yell over engines or the increasing volume of others. If this leads to multiple, smaller parties in the future, so be it. At least my brain won’t be fried by the end.
I actually prepped and cooked dessert, before throwing everything together for dinner. Doc had scored some Betty Crocker cake mix, so I chased up this killer Putter Pecan with Apricots cake recipe. Truth be told, this recipe was inspired by the two bottles of Abita Pecan Wheat that I brought back from New Orleans. I was not sure how to incorporate the beer without potentially ruining the cupcakes, so I omitted it for the time being. (Note: The beer pairs fantastically with the finished product!) I will need to half-bake the cupcakes before putting the dollops of jam on the inside. Sadly, the preserves sunk to the bottom, requiring delicate nibbling above a plate to avoid an unwelcome surprise.
- Substituted Coconut Oil for Vegetable Oil
- Added 1/4 TSP of Apricot Preserves to each cupcake on the inside!
- Made cupcakes instead (same temperature; 17 minutes baked in foil lined cupcake wrappers)
- Half were covered in Betty Crocker Whipped Cream Cheese Frosting
As Doc made a fire outside, I brewed some Mint-Chilla Chai-Nilla Pur-eh Tea from TSTE. With the sweetness of the cupcakes and frosting provided more than enough sugar, so we drank the tea straight. It had been a while since I had brewed a pot of loose tea using my Bodum Assam Tea Press. With it’s heated plate, we were able to keep seconds warm while we slowly enjoyed out tea by the fire. Using the Capresso H2O Plus electric kettle my sister bought for me last Christmas, I managed to heat up extra water in a snap!
I often joke that flexibility is the “other f-word” in my line of work. Like most holidays, my job keeps me from being with my loved ones, so I have to seek ways to make an ordinary day extraordinary. While I did end up spending several hours in the kitchen, I added another trophy to my kitchen confidence shelf. Both recipes worked out great, and I think with some tweaking, I could make work them into the regular dining rotation.
This holiday season take the time to be thankful for who you have in your life instead of focusing on what gifts were omitted from the final haul. If you are traveling, take the time to thank the folks helping you get what you need to celebrate the holidays. I’m not just speaking about flight crew either. Many transportation and travel employees give up their holidays (not always voluntarily either) so as to help travelers get safely to their final destinations. Also, think about all those market, retail employees which work suicide shifts battling all the holiday shoppers. When you shop or travel, take a beat to put the humanity back into the holidays. Unplug, make eye contact, smile, and say thank you. It may make the difference in someone’s holiday away from their loved ones.