Don’t “they” say that most horrible emotional crises happen during the holidays? Like, if there was ever a time to yell, stomp, scream, cry, and down-right pout, now would be the time? Of course these tantrums happen to sneak up at inopportune times, taking only one, very small piece of straw to break the camel’s back. It seems quite paradoxical, actually, a grown-up having a fit among a-bit-too-loud cheery Christmas songs and smiling cut-out advertisements exemplifying holiday spirit.
Well, I’m glad to say that I did not yell, nor stomp. I did not scream. And while the I-really-am-trying-to-have-a-good-time-but-my-face-says-otherwise pouting did inevitably lead to leaving tear stains on Rob’s flight suit, the wonderful workers at the Home Depot Garden Center would probably classify me as one of “those” people.
Remember that wonderful Christmas tree farm in Oregon where we got to cut our own tree? It was always cold, festive, pine-y, and everything you would imagine out of a Courier and Ives picture-scape. Rob did NOT cut the tree the first year (leading to much teasing on my end), and the second year Rob so acutely DID cut the tree, thus having it land perfectly on me. Payback is, well, what I was when I teased him endlessly I guess.
This year, Rob and I lovingly walked, hand in hand, to pick out the most perfect Christmas tree for our new home in Northern Florida. We met right after work, making a bit of a romantic date out of the occasion. Except the Christmas-tree-picking ambiance we’ve become so accustomed to was tainted somewhat by 1) the hardware store, 2) the 80 degree weather, and 3) the fact that when we walked up to the trees, they were all wrapped perfectly in twine for take-home ease. So, as both of our shoulders hunched over just a bit at the loss of rustic sentiment, I turned, and without restraint, nor dignity, let some tears slip out. My adoring husband held me and let me cry into his shoulder, and with similar sentiment to my breakdown in the grocery store a few Thanksgivings ago, his deep voice called, “Clean up in the Garden Center!”
In all efforts to make the Christmas tree shopping situation feel more festive, Rob reached into one of his many, many pockets, found his flight knife, and started tearing into those trees like Paul Bunyan. One by one, he vehemently sliced through twine, letting each tree open, boughs falling with ballet grace and exuberance. The free-ing of the trees almost let out audible sighs and I could swear a couple started whispering, back to the dirt or bust!
I watched as the lady at the checkout eyed us with a suspicious who-are-these-hippie-freeing-tree people look on her face. A couple of customers walked up for their own tree, but saw the rally and turned the other way. Rob, at this point, was hidden among the full figured pines, and I stopped him from cutting another.
“Oh, just one more – this one in the back looks good!” Swipe went the knife. “AND it has some fallen Oak leaves on it!”
He knew that would sell me as my last name means “Grove of Oaks.” It worked.
Sap and pine-needle dusted, and a bit sweaty, Rob and I purchased our Home Depot tree and tied it to the roof of his car. At home, just like we would do in Oregon, we made some nibblies, had a cocktail, and put up our tree. It is a gorgeous tree. In fact, I think it could give the big ol’ pines in Oregon a run for their money.
Today, our tree is decorated, fragrant, sparkly, and beautiful. We even positioned it in front of the outlet connected to the wall switch. So rather than crawl under the tree and risk blindness and choice words from pine branch poking, we simply have to flip the living room switch for twinkle light galore.
To celebrate, I created a cocktail perfect for the holidays. It is festive, fun, tasty, and perfect for this time of year. The best part of this cocktail is the simple syrup: sugar, fresh cranberries, water, basil, and fresh ginger. It simmers until all the cranberries pop, pop, pop, and the syrup gets thick and rich. But that’s not the best part! After straining the mixture, the syrup leaves behind a beautiful blend of thick, sweet, stewed cranberries, better than most chutney I’ve ever had. In fact, we dolloped it atop some super sharp cheddar cheese and an apple slice, and had a perfect hor’dourve to match our drink.
Like every other Christmas that Rob and I have shared together, this one started off in its standard way: a funny story to tell, and a libation with which to retell it. Enjoy the holidays, and enjoy the chutney and cocktail!
Cranberry Ginger Martini (with Cranberry Ginger Chutney as a bonus)
For the simple syrup:
- 1 c water
- ½ c sugar
- 1 c fresh cranberries
- 1-in nob of ginger, peeled and finely diced
- a handful of basil
Heat over medium-high heat, and give the mixture a stir, until all the sugar has dissolved. Let it sit and bubble, until all the cranberries have popped, and the mixture has thickened (this will only take about 5-7 minutes).
Using a fine mesh sieve, strain out the syrup, and keep the solids – discarding the basil leaves – as a wonderful chutney.
For the cocktail:
Combine 2 tbsp of the cranberry syrup, 3 oz vodka, juice of ½ a lime, and some ice into a shaker. Shake until cold and mixed, and strain into a martini glass. Serve with a garnish of lime and a basil leaf.