Yes, I’ll admit it – I’m a bit of an Anglophile. And, with the holidays just around the corner, I don’t simply dream of a white Christmas, but a Dickensian one. I imagine a holiday with Victorian carolers strolling snow-covered cobbled streets, a cozy Cotswold cottage lit with candles and scented with crackling roast goose and steamy figgy pudding, pulling Christmas crackers with family and friends around the table, and nibbling treats like these very British Eccles cakes.
The Eccles cake may have been created about 20 years before Dickens was even born, yet these are just the type of sweetmeat I imagine gracing Mr. Fezziwig’s overladen Christmas Eve party table.
An Eccles cake is a small, heavily spiced pastry filled with currants and candied orange peel wrapped in a flaky (rough puff) pastry. The origins can be traced to the town of Eccles, formerly within the Lancashire boundary, but now a suburb of Manchester. Weights are in grams, nodding to their British origin.
Stir together all filling ingredients in a small bowl. Microwave for 45 seconds to 1 minute until butter is melted. Cover and set aside for the flavors to meld and currants to soften. Refrigerate. Once cold, the filling should bind together without extra liquid. Drain if necessary.
Pulse flour, salt and butter in a food processor until butter pieces are pea-sized. Gradually pulse in about 100-125ml cold water until mixture comes together into a dough. Do not overwork.
Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured surface into a rectangle three times as long as it is wide. Fold the top third down into the middle, then the bottom third up over the top, then rotate the pastry 90 degrees so the fold is now vertical. Roll out again and repeat then wrap in cling-wrap and chill for 20 minutes. Repeat the rolling, folding, rotating, rolling and folding one more time. Chill for an hour.
Roll the pastry out on a lightly floured work surface a little thicker than 1/8th of an inch, then cut out rounds about 3 ½ inches wide. Put a half-tablespoon of filling in the center of each, then dampen the edges of the circle and bring the edges into the middle, pinching together to seal well. Put on a parchment-lined baking tray smooth side up, and squash slightly until flattened. Repeat with the rest and chill for 20 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 400 F. Remove pastries from refrigerator, brush with egg white and sprinkle with turbinado sugar. Cut three slashes in the top of each and bake for about 20-25 minutes until golden and well-risen. Allow to cool before eating – the filling will be hot.
If rituals provide us solace by allowing us a tiny bit of control in a world that is essentially mysterious and uncontrollable, then what happens when our rituals disintegrate?
I’m facing the fast approach of two long-held family rituals – Thanksgiving and Christmas. With both parents now dead, I’m not sure how to face these holidays. My family celebrated in my childhood home until about eight years ago, when the tradition moved to my current home. Each year, the foundation of these rituals crumbled a little bit – first with my father’s passing and then as my mother’s illness stole her mind. Last year’s attempt was feeble and now, with her death, these traditions seem hollow – out of habit rather than heart.
For this Thanksgiving, my inclination is to run away. There’s a yoga retreat (retreat – the perfect word) a few hour’s drive from my home. Here, I can practice my yoga, soak in a hot tub overlooking the ocean, graze on healthy food prepared by someone else – and hide from the reality of my world.
Yes, I realize this is escapism, but what are my options? I can host Thanksgiving again, hoping that a least a part of my family shows up. I can volunteer at a soup kitchen, as other holiday orphans do. Frankly, the thought of scooping congealed over-salted gravy on cardboard turkey and flavorless stuffing doesn’t warm me – even if it is for a good cause (yes, I realize I need to work on my altruistic and compassionate tendencies…knowing you have a problem is the first step, right?) The other option is staying home alone or tagging along at a friend’s dinner – pathetic options even to my own ears.
When I was a child, the Christmas wait was long and interminable. It seemed the time between Thanksgiving and December 25 was a lifetime.There was plenty of time for gift shopping, present wrapping, cookie baking, tree trimming, card writing and carol singing.I ask you, when did it all change?
I’ve reached the conclusion that, with each year added to our birth date, each hour shrinks by 30 seconds. In other words, you get 60 minutes in an hour before you are one year’s old.There’s only 55 minutes once you turn 10,At 30 years, our hours have shrunk to 45 minutes and once you reach the big 4-oh, you must do an hour-long project in exactly 40 minutes. Therefore, instead of 36,000 minutes between December 1 and December 25, we have a mere 24,000 minutes to get it all done – less, when you consider we will spend approximately 9,000 of it sleeping.
No wonder it’s December 16 and I have not:
Bought, addressed or mailed Christmas cards
Creamed eggs, sugar and butter
Strapped a tree to my car
Heard, let alone sung, a Christmas carol
I’m not a Grinch or Scrooge.I like the holidays.I don’t see them as sources of depression, stress or anxiety.However, I do notice that as I get older I must pare down the grandiosity of my celebration due to limited time.I’m now ordering my Christmas non-fat and decaf.It’s Christmas bare bones and assembled over the impending weekend – a couple of last-minute gifts, a manageable tree, no frills wrapping and a few rudimentary cookies.
And, before I know it, I’ll be commenting on how quickly 2009 has flown by.