The Christmas Hangover

Kung Pao Christmas

Kung Pao Christmas

This morning, I am awake feeling a bit raw and numb from the Ukrainian and mine’s inability to pull off a successful Christmas that was deliberately devoid of all traditions and expectations. For weeks, I had been confused as to why all the women on Facebook were fraughting over whether or not they would get “everything” done in time for Christmas. What is there to get done? I wondered. You buy a tree, string some lights, hang some ornaments. And then you go buy some presents (which can be conveniently done at midnight from Amazon. Free shipping!!). On Christmas Day, you open the presents and cook a big meal. Voila! Christmas in America.

(Sure, some people add more stress to the holiday. They take holiday photos of their pets children, upload them to a photo site, and then send out hundreds of Christmas cards. Others volunteer at retirement homes. While still others spend the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas baking endless batches of Christmas cookies and candy. But all this sounded like too much work to me. How can people enjoy their holiday, if they spend the months weeks prior working for it.)

But my ideal of throwing together a simple, no-fuss, yet super-yummy Christmas had a few flaws:

1) The Ukrainian would spend the 1st 1/2 of December preparing for his final exams while I would be studying new technology for my job. So no time prepare.

2) The Ukrainian and I would be on a mad tour of the East Coast  from the moment he finished his final exams until 1:30 a.m. December 23rd.

3) My thought that I wouldn’t have to work on December 24th and could thus recover from our E. Coast trip, go grocery shopping for our luscious Christmas dinner menu and a few last-minute gifts for the Ukrainian was thwarted by the fact that I learned on the 23rd that I *did* have to work on the 24th.  My opportunity to make it so much to a grocery store before its traditional early closing on Christmas Eve looked highly doubtful.

So on the eve of Christmas eve, I made an executive family decision. We would simply pretend we were Jewish. Or rather, we would take into account of the fact that 1/2 of our family is a Russian Orthodox Christian who doesn’t celebrate Christmas until January 7. Even then, a Russian Orthodox Christmas is merely a religious holiday and all gift-exchanges happen on New Year’s Day.

“Chinese food or Haute cuisuine Francaise?” I IMed the Ukrainian on Christmas Eve’s eve.

“Oh, Chinese for sure.” he replied.

Our fabulous Christmas dinner from 2007

Our fabulous Christmas dinner from 2007

“Are you sure you don’t mind we won’t have the Christmas salmon and all the other lush foods we were planning to have?” I felt the need in our young marriage to establish some sort of tradition. And last year, we cooked up a divine menu of Salmon-tarragon, risotto with caramelized leeks and sweet red bell peppers, a salad of mixed greens cranberries Maytag Blue cheese and caramelized walnuts and chocolate pecan bourbon pie. It was our best meal ever and I thought for sure the menu was destined to become the basis for all our future Christmas menus.

“Oh, I’m sure,” he said almost too eagerly. I could imagine him being so happy that there’d be no dishes to wash or kitchen to clean on the holiday. I, in the meantime, was sad that we wouldn’t be using my grandmother’s Bavarian china or the Tiffany’s silver that had been given to us on our wedding day. Remember, I thought. Remember the goal is a stress-free Christmas. For as much work as we’ve been doing, there’s been a lot of fun too. Who said we had to have instant traditions? We’d find our way…

Christmas Morning

The stockings hadn’t been hung and I awoke Christmas morning already feeling down. My late afternoon forays on Christmas Eve to find a few perfect trinkets to fill the Ukrainian’s stocking had been met with a bust. It never occurred to the Ukrainian either to hang and fill a stocking for me. I could forgive him as I couldn’t expect him to know all the English/American Christmas traditions in only his 2nd Christmas. But still…I had little in sense of anticipation.

And there was something else missing…there were no little ones rushing to our bed urging us to get up! get up! It’s Christmas!!! Let’s open presents!!! No, it was just the Ukrainian and I nestled snug under our down-filled duvet with our two lazy dogs asleep on the floor by the bed. The hours ticked by. 7 a.m. 8 a.m. 9 a.m. There was no hint of the Ukrainian awakening. No whinging from the dogs to be let out. 10 am. And still everyone was asleep. I was getting a headache from laying about so long doing nothing on a day that was supposed to be day greeted with excitement and anticipation and lots of eating and rushing about celebrating seemingly the pure joy of being alive and being surrounded by such great friends and family.

Finally, at 1/2 past 10, the brown dog stared us straight in the face with her emphatic look that can only be translated as “Give me my breakfast NOW!” The Ukrainian and I quickly conversed over who exactly should be the one to do dog-duty on the holiday. He was too tired. I was too depressed. Finally, we agreed we would suffer through it together and then head over to our local Chinese restaurant, Wild Pepper, for our own Christmas breakfast brunch.

And it was then that we began the sort of marital argument that plagues all newly married couples:  the division of labor for household chores.

It all started innocently enough. I rationalized that since we were experiencing a rare San Francisco winter’s day without rain, we should take the dogs to the park. The dogs seemed to agree and took off racing down the street leading to Dolores Park. The Ukrainian, however, was not so enthused. “The park is muddy. They’ll get dirty.” He whinged. I didn’t care. And I didn’t care to put enough thought into my reply. “So wash them! They’re dogs. They get dirty!” In my mind, as long as the dogs didn’t smell of dead rat or the like, I didn’t care if they had a bit of mud on them. We have hardwood floors. They, too, wash. But in the Ukrainian’s mind, he already spent too much time — a total of 3 hours or so a week on housework/dogcare — that he had no desire to do anymore.  In my mind, 3 hours was nothing.

The argument was one where we both had perfectly legitimate views. The dogs *did* need exercise. The Ukrainian *was* the one who did wash them when they became too filthy to cohabitate with us and thus *should* have a say in their dirt-level. But the reality of the discussion was that we were both too tired from our Grand Year of Perpetual Life Changes to take on any more responsibilities and couldn’t even handle the basic task hanging and filling stockings for Christmas Day. What right did we have to want to add a child to the mix? If taking care of 2 dogs was a lot of work, what did we think taking care of a child would be?

And so, in that moment, all our hopes for a grand, tradition-free Christmas busted. One of us stormed off. Doors were slammed upon the return to the house. The idea for the MSG-ladened Chinese brunch became impossible. When time for lunch came, we each took out a selection from our respective supplies of frozen dinners and silently shared the microwave. Each attempt at conversation threatened to explode our relationship to the breaking point. And, so, silence seemed the only option. It was not a Christmas of Peace, but rather one of a renewed Cold War whose battle lines had been drawn across the middle of our kitchen table — the one that had been desperately needing an oil for the past 3 months. But neither of us had gotten around to doing it.

I took a nap in the living room. The Ukrainian claimed his space in the bedroom. From time-to-time, one would deliver a package to the other and then walk away while the recipient was left to ponder whether to open the gift or not. Suddenly, no present seemed like the right present. There was nothing that could be given that would bridge the gulf that had opened up on Christmas morning. The Gift of the Magi we certainly were not. Each gift from one to the other seemed to suggest a frantic Christmas Eve afternoon spent trying to find few trinkets that would please the other in the final few hours before the shops closed. Neither of us had spent much time to acquire anything the other truly wanted. No sacrifice had been made.

Blini mix

Blini mix

Darkness came. A public dinner was still out of the question. A trip downtown to the theatres seemed an even worse idea. We did nothing. There was no Christmas spirit. No bigger meaning to be learned. We started to be nice to each other simply because we needed each other. The Ukrainian needed help making his blinis on which he wanted to put the caviar I had thrust in his hands earlier in the day. I needed help with the food processor so I could make a traditional Christmas Cheese Ball in an attempt to salvage some bit of Midwestern American tradition of out of holiday.

And finally, 9:30 p.m. came and we did the only thing anyone could do when they’ve had a no good, very bad, terrible day: go to bed and hope for something better tomorrow.

Caviar for the blinis

Caviar for the blinis

And now, it’s tomorrow. We have no good lesson to be learned other than the fact  the Ukrainian are still getting to know each other. We are still trying to find our way in our nascent marriage. We can’t instantly create traditions. And our marriage is strong enough to surive all these trying-to-find-our-way bits.

And, oh yeah, we have a housekeeper coming tomorrow for a trial run. The best solution to a fight-over-work-that-never-ends? Outsource it. It’s much, much cheaper than a divorce. And much better than fighting.

Williams-Sonoma: You make it look so easy

Oh so easy Ebelskivers

Oh so easy Ebelskivers

Oh Williams-Sonoma, you make it look so easy. You dazzle me with luscious foods that look oh-so easy to make if I simply come into your store and drop a benjamin on some special tools and mixes. You say, “Oh yes, you too can look the part of a gourmet cook with no effort at all!” Usually I’m pretty good at resisting your tempting ways. Everyone knows that Sur La Table has better deals on kitchen supplies and it’s where the real cooks go. Besides, I’m a pretty fab cook and baker on my own accord and I own enough tools to outfit 1953 housewife with 6 kids and an executive husband who likes to entertain clients in the home. But none of this was enough to resist a sultry Ukrainian husband who looked down at your catalog we received in October and declared, “I want that!” pointing to your beautiful picture of perfectly rounded and stuffed Ebelskivers:  Danish filled pancakes.

Now the Ukrainian isn’t much of an asker. He’s a giver, always bringing flowers, perfume and whatever else my little heart desires. Rarely does he ask for anything. So when he does, I truly do my best to deliver.

Prepwork

The KitchenAid mixer from our wedding registry

The KitchenAid mixer from our wedding registry

(Earlier in the day, I made homemade vanilla pudding to stuff the Ebelskivers. Sadly, I have no pictures of that. )

First order of business was to whip out the new KitchenAid Empire Red Artisan Stand Mixer we had bought the prior week. We had put it on our wedding registry as it seems you can no longer be married in America anymore without possessing such an appliance, but no one gave it to us. So we finally bit the bullet and bought it ourselves.

The Ukrainian unpacks the KitchenAid

The Ukrainian unpacks the KitchenAid

Here, the Ukrainian unpacks the KitchenAid. It is his rightful duty as a man to help out his wife who is cooking him beautiful stuffed pancakes. 😛

*Surely you realize that I am kidding here with the sexist tone of language.

mekitchenaid Here I am working quite hard on mixing up the Ebelskiver batter. Unfortunately, there are no pics showing how 3 separate bowls are required to make these babies. One for the egg yolks, butter, and milk. A second for whipping up the egg whites (which then fell flat for me because I was juggling bowls.) And a 3rd to fold it all in together with the dry ingredients. Must buy more KitchenAid mixer bowls now. Oh wait, no. No more shopping for me anytime soon because I have been busy buying shoes (see post to come in the future)

Gross! in my opinion. Yum! In the Ukrainian's.

Once I gave the batter a good whipping, mixing, and folding, I tasted it. Gross! Honest to God, I do not like Ebelskiver batter. My first temptation was to add more vanilla, maybe some sugar — anything to get rid of this oatey-barley-bitter flavor. But before I could reach into my pantry shelf for some nice sweets, the Ukrainian rushed, grabbed my arm, took it was from the sweets shelf, and had his own taste of the batter. “Ohhhh…this is good. Do. not. change. it” The Ukrainian loved the very flavor I had just choked on. And people wonder why we do not share so very many meals together? And why I don’t put on my 1953 wifely-talents to use more often?

Gross! in my opinion. Yum! In the Ukrainian’s

And then I almost set the kitchen on fire
I followed the Williams-Sonoma instructions precisely. How could anything go wrong? Unfortunately, I don’t think the instructions took into account that I’d be using their very modern coated ebelskiver pan over a circa 1939 Wedgewood open flame stove.

So much bubbling butter. So much bubbling batter. There is an open flame beneath it all.

So much bubbling butter. So much bubbling batter. There is an open flame beneath it all.

I tried reducing the amount of butter (thank god it wasn’t oil), and that did decrease the scariness factor in the cooking. But, in turn, it increased the burning factor of the ebelskivers. I was frightened that the Ukrainian would come in and see the brown-black ebelskivers with pudding leaking out of them and turn his nose up at them and then just politely eat one. That’s what I would’ve done. They looked pretty gross to me.

I present the slightly-burnt, leaking Ebelskivers to the Ukrainian.

I present the slightly-burnt, leaking Ebelskivers to the Ukrainian.

I called the Ukrainian into the kitchen for his sweets. But before I could even apologize for the sorry mess of his much-desired treats, the Ukrainian exclaimed, “Baby! Those look soooo good.” And, let me tell you, the Ukrainian wasn’t bullshitting. I know his bullshit. He has that beautiful Russian way of smiling and agreeing to everything good, when really he is thinking “No way in hell.”

The Ukrainian takes a bite.

The Ukrainian takes a bite.

The Ukrainian did not choke on the first ebelskiver, so he happily eats another.

The Ukrainian did not choke on the first ebelskiver, so he happily eats another.

The Ukrainian is quite satisifed with his ebelskivers.

The Ukrainian is quite satisifed with his ebelskivers.

I am pleased to report that out of 21 ebelskivers made on Sunday, the Ukrainian ate 10 of them that night. 5 on Monday morning. And the remaining 6 that Monday evening. Then, over the course of the next few 2 days, he ate all the remaining vanilla pudding — not once thinking I might want some pudding. He truly is a hero!