I went out and bought a Christmas tree today. Not a live one, but a good quality fake one. To be honest, I prefer it that way at the moment.
I grew up going to the tree lot every winter with my family and getting a real one. We would go the day after Thanksgiving while everyone else was at the mall fighting to the death over Tickle-Me Elmos and half-price cashmere pashminas. My brother and I would race down the tight coniferous alleyways, slapping into branches and inspecting every Douglas and Blue Spruce in order to find the fattest, tallest, and fullest tree we could. Eventually, we would find it and call over our parents to come see and approve. Then the tree would be hogtied and strapped to the roof of our car. Dad would set it up inside and we would all begin the lavish decoration.
However, these days my dad isn't here to do the heavy lifting. He also isn't crawling under the tree to water it every morning. My mom isn't vacuuming up the fallen needles or cleaning up the bits of tinsel the cat has thrown up. Honestly, I don't have the energy for any of that. It's a pain in the ass.
Personally, I love a good fake tree that can be stored in the closet during the year and be propped out during the holidays. These days you'll find that a high quality fake tree is nearly indistinguishable from a real one. It's almost shocking. My mother went and got a fancy one that, swear to God, unless you touch it with your fingers you would never know it didn't grow in the ground from humble little seed. Given, I do miss coming into a room on a cold morning and having it smell like winter in the high Sierras, but it's a sacrafice I am willing to make.
And, yes, I am aware it's November and that it isn't even Thanksgiving yet. I grew up putting the Christmas decorations early so it seems natural to me. I'm like WalMart, I begin to think of stringing up lights and mistletoe before the Trick-or-Treaters have even knocked on the door. BF hates it, but that's his business. At least, there aren't fuzzy, Santa-faced toilet seat covers in the bathroom. Not like when I was a kid. It was like Chris Kringle hosted a Yuletide orgy at our house. Candles, bells, crystal angels, throw pillows... we went all Christmas'd out. I loved it.
Now that all the kids are out of the house both mom and dad do it a bit more tasteful now. Christmas chic. Martha would be proud of Mom's giant tree covered in white lights and designer ornaments and ribbon in gold, cream, and mauve in its many tasteful shades that I didn't know mauve had.
Of course, the reason I had to buy a tree at all this year was because of the fire. It's the only thing I hadn't replaced yet. The fire had happened two days after Christmas so the tree had still been up. It was also a fake one, a high-quality one, with the ornaments and garland in a trendy color scheme of key lime, navy blue, and teal, which I was ecstatic over for the fact that it matched my living room. When I wandered into the wreckage the next day I found my tree smashed onto the floor. Bent and broken, then firemen had knocked it over and in order to get upstairs had continued marching over it. I don't blame them as they were just doing their job, and a plastic tree isn't something they're going to concern themselves with when the roof is on fire. Anyways, everything was destroyed that night and the tree was just another casualty.
As I stood there in the husk of my old home, the carpet black and wet from ash and melted water pipes, I carefully bent down through the wrecage and moved some of the collapsed ceiling off of the tree. I found that a few of the ornaments were still intact. Somehow, miraculously, these big delicate objects had survived the carnage. I picked up one of the big teal glass balls and blew some of the debris and dust off. A little rub and it was shiny as ever, and I could see my fisheyed reflection looking back at me.
I hurled the ball as hard as I could against the nearest wall. The explosive pop was exciting. The shards tinkled in the air, like diamond dust, and fell to the ground with a hushed applause. I picked up another and hurled it too. And the next one. I laughed as each one burst like a miniature fireworks. My own little bombastic display. It was fun, and I laughed with each one.
It was cathartic. I guess. I'm still not sure what I was thinking then. I know that part of it was enjoying the simple act of wanton destruction. In that roofless room it didn't really matter what I did. I could be a small engine of pure ruination. I reveled in the sound of each delicate sphere crushing into a cloud of colored dust and cheap glass. It felt great to be so damn careless.
How often do we really get to experience something like that? Probably not often enough.
Normally, I wait until after Thanksgiving to put up a tree. This year, I did it earlier. The tree was the last part of putting my life together as it once was. Maybe, I'm just poorly psychoanalyzing myself but that's how it feels. This year, I just needed the tree up and I needed it now.
Still, part of Christmas for me isn't just the tree in your home or the people you enjoy it with. It's also the food. Not every year, but some, my family would make gingerbread cookies. One or two would get decorated and I would pierce the top of the cookie with a ornament hook and hang the cookies on the tree. Edible decorations that added the scent of spiced bread to the room. I loved those ornaments, but I loved the cookies that we saved to eat even more. (We also lost a freshly made plate of cookies in the fire. Ugh.)
These cookies are an adult version of the classic gingerbread cookie. Something a bit more daring and adventurous. A cookie for those with a trendy tree who want to take a small step outside of the traditional holiday treats. This gingerbread cookie is spiced with a hint of chipotle chili powder, a small suggestion I picked up from renowned rock-n-roll baker, Elizabeth Falkner. The chipotle adds another layer of heat and a slight smokiness that enlivens the gingerbread and warms the palate.
The base recipe comes from Kate Washington, a local food writing celebrity here in Sacramento. She, in turn, got it from a random woman named Mrs. Morrissey, whom she met in line in a grocery store. Encouraged that this was the best recipe ever, Mrs. Morrissey gave Kate her address and told her to stop by her home and pick it up. Kate did, and she has never used anything since. I can see why too, it's a flavorful cookie with a snappy texture. A perfect cookie for lighting up the holidays (you know, in a good way).
Chipotle Gingerbread Cookies
Makes 4-6 dozen, depending on size of the cookies.
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 cup brown sugar
2/3 cup molasses
1 egg, beaten to blend
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon chipotle powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1. In a stand mixer cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in molasses and egg, being sure to scrape down the sides and bottom, until light and uniform.
2. Sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and spices. Mix in the dry ingredients to the butter mixture until the entire thing comes together in one uniform batter.
3. Divide the dough into two equal parts and put them on a swath of plastic wrap. Roughly form each piece into a disc. Wrap well in plastic wrap and chill for three or more hours. The dough will still be somewhat soft for a chilled dough.
4. Preheat oven to 325F. Generously flour a flat work surface and the dough and roll out the dough to 1/4-inch thick; cut into shapes and place on a cookie sheet, preferably lined with parchment paper. Bake for 12-15 min; do not let brown. Cool on the sheets for a minute or two before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.