Once upon a Christmas Eve, while Eddie and I lived on Crestview Rd in Clintonville Ohio, there was an ice storm. It was so bad that it derailed my friend Nick’s travel plans to Toledo to visit family (road conditions never bothered him). So we extended a dinner invite to both him and our motorcycle friend John. While it was fun to watch big old burly gruff John struggle parking his truck, and then coming in for help, what I remember about the day is beef bourgignon.
We’d all been friends for a very long time even at that point in our lives. The funny thing about friendship, they may come with an instant connection, but the trust and reliance that goes deep builds up over years, growing over time. I suppose that in 2004 the four of us had crossed over into the extended family territory. Which is probably why Nick reached out feeling down and blue about spending Christmas alone happened.
I was in an adventurous space at the time and was home cooking more frequently, maybe because Clintonville was a restaurant dessert and, perhaps, the fact that we lived next to one of the best food co-ops at the time. So it was that I found a French recipe that sounded accessible and really damn good.
I remember leaving work Christmas Eve that day to bus home from out by the airport near the company where I worked. This is an hour long endeavor and a space where I did a lot of reading, thinking and listening to music/spoken word. Now this ride, cold, gray and cloudy and, as always, with a slightly blue end of another year patina over everything you did and didn’t do in a years time. That and the expectation for tomorrow leaving one feeling both anxious and regretful at once. This is where David Sedaris came across the radio performing the “Santa Land Diaries.”This was the first time I heard it and, to this day, I remember laughing so much along with the track that I could not help but to feel immensely cheerful.
Once home, I remember staging the dish and then cooking the whole package of bacon in the large Dutch oven only to <turning page in cookbook here> “discard bacon and transfer chuck roast cubes to simmering bacon fat.” OMG. Even then, I was remotely aware of what was heart healthy or not, this was probably way out in the red zone risk wise. Still, that was before the events of 2015. And this is the most amazing thing I’ve ever smelled. Already.
I get through all the steps and had a pot of the most amazing beef stew I have ever smelled before simmering in front of me. As luck would have it, it turned out great. The four of us sat around the table together that night while our Christmas tree burned bright, the wine flowed, laughter ensued and bellies were full. These are the moments where traditions begin.
Even during the time period Eddie and I lived in Texas, Nick came out every year to spend the Christmas Holiday with us. This all makes me think of things like this home made tree topper that we found in a thrift store some 20+ years ago. It’s seriously corny. A Jello mold with glued glitter on the inside and one of those plastic electric candles. Seriously. Tragic. Yet we were young and having fun so we smashed the topper into the middle of the tree. We called it the heart. We may have been making fun of either E.T. or the 1990’s “Titanic.” Dunno. But the funny thing is, that we have the same topper sitting in the middle of our tree tonight. Tradition.
We spent the evening with Nick at Dodd Hall tonight. Eddie cooked up some of the best beef bourgignon in our entire history. Nick ordered someone to get him out of bed so he could wheel down to the common room and spend another Christmas Eve together while he ate. It was an act of normalcy and strength that just makes my heart sing and break at the same time for the harmony.
While I am not a Christian, I enjoy this time of year for the coming together of family and friends. As a time to remember our departed loved ones and to celebrate and be thankful for another year together. With all of the challenges that 2017 brought, both scheduled and the surprises that lay in store for us, I am writing this with wishes to all my friends and family of love, warmth, enough to get by and find enjoyment within.
Merry Christmas one and all.