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Are you tired of all the pretty pretty pictures yet? We’re not…
I’m not really a sweets person. I’ve been told I should stay away from them because they do tricky things to my blood sugar (apparently, so does beer and wine, I just figure I’ll save my daily allotment of sugars for those goodies). There are certain things I have a hard time saying no to: chocolate covered almonds being one, any sort of berry pie being another. Cake, however, is not one of them.
I don’t like cake. Yep, I said it. I didn’t have one at my wedding, because why would you pay for something you don’t want to eat? At birthday parties I usually skip it. I especially don’t like boxed cakes, or the cakes you buy at the grocery store. They just taste like cotton candy–all sugar, no substance and they tend to give me a headache. And all that frosting? Gross. Blech. No thank you.
To say my husband has a sweet tooth would be what we call an understatement. And he is non-discriminating. Baked goods? Yes, please. Chocolate? Sure. Coconut? Yep. Pudding, mmm, pudding. Sweet-tart gummy candies? Even better. He had a hidden stash in his desk drawer that he NEVER TOLD ME ABOUT until we’d been married for months. And when I found it and teased him–well, his face looked like a kid who just got caught. It was amazing.
A few days before Christmas Brian mentioned that he was craving chocolate cake. I pondered this. I’d already planned to make him homemade cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning–which, my friends is no small feat. But I thought, eh, I could throw together a cake, right? No biggie.
I am not so much a baker. Mainly because I don’t like to follow directions (I know, insert exclamations of surprise here). I like to improvise. I’m really good at soups and salad dressings and sauces that say in the recipe “season to taste.” That usually means do whatever you want, and/or add more garlic. I have a whole shelf full of cookbooks, some of which I’ve never used. So, to bake–which requires strict adherence to the directions–not one but two things in one weekend was risky.
So I made this cake. I didn’t have enough white sugar, so I only used the brown, and substituted a bit of coffee for milk but otherwise followed the recipe to the letter. I mean, people, this was the most amazing cake I’ve had in a while. It was moist, it was dense. It was rich, but not heavy. It was sweet but without that toothachy sweetness. It. Was. Amazing.
Please excuse the poor quality of this photo, it can be attributed entirely to the shaking of my hand as a result of a massive sugar high.
I sit here and try to read or write or do ANYTHING and I think about that cake. I swear I’m dreaming about the cake.
And so I sneak over and steal a forkful. From the middle, naturally, because that’s the best part. And I saunter away, pretending nothing happened. And then I think, oh, just one more bite. And then, oh, I’ll just have a bite with my afternoon coffee. And then I leave the fork in the cakepan, because jeeze, Sarah, you’re dirtying up all the forks already.
I must be stopped, but I can’t do it. I thought, “oh, just take it to work, let your coworkers have the rest and you won’t be haunted by it.” And the unreasonable, addicted, snarling Sarah reared her ugly head “Why would I do that? I don’t like them that much. They won’t appreciate this cake for what it is.”
What is it, you ask? SUPERCAKE.
I write this not because I’m proud of what I’ve created or even because I think it’s a funny story. I write this so you will SHAME ME INTO NOT EATING ANYMORE.
I kinda expected to be sad today. I’d planned for it. I mean, we’re 2,000 miles from home, all alone, just the two of us, with no plans and no place to go for the holidays.
And then I thought about it, and thought, holy hell, that’s awesome!
Thanks to the miracle that is technology, we were able to talk to all of our family via video chat–except my parents, though my dad did say today “Gwen, why aren’t we in the new world?” as we talked to him on their old-fashioned landline. You know, one of those phones that you can’t take with you in your purse or car? Yeah, they still have one.
We talked to all the other parents and siblings, and even had a nice doggie rendezvous between Em and my sister’s dog Lucy. We joked about the fact that we needed a day-planner for all of our Skype dates. And about the fact that even though we weren’t in the same city with these family members, we were still scheduled all day long.
And while it isn’t the same as drinking wine together in the same room, toasting the season with my sister and her husband is about as close as you can get, and it was great. I talked with my aunts and uncles and grandma for the first time since we’ve been in Seattle (I know, bad granddaughter). My parents called to play us silent night on the guitar and dulcimer. We got to see our nephews and niece all crazy and over-sugared.
But the best thing about the last 48 hours? Lunch.
After we did the morning cinnamon roll gorging and coffee with “cheer” drinking, after we video chatted with the fam, we decided (well I suggested, and since I was up at the crack of dawn making the cinnamon rolls, Brian gritted his teeth and went along with the suggestion) to go for a walk on the beach. Beach as in the Puget Sound beach, not the Lake Washington beach, which requires us to get in the car and drive a wee bit. So, there we are, walking into the stiff wind, watching the ferries cross the sound, gazing upon the Seattle skyline from the west, listening to the harbor seals. The dog is chasing the seagulls, the sun is ducking behind some mean looking rainclouds and I point out this awesome burger joint on the beach. And then I point out the open sign. And all the faces in the windows.
We looked at one another, and it was decided. What better way to spend Christmas afternoon than eating dive-y greasy burgers on the beach? And sure enough, we walked in and the whole place was aglow with Christmas lights and décor, the holiday music ringing. The Asian couple behind the counter was chipper and cheery, and the burgers were juicy and the onion rings to die for.
And I looked around at the other customers and saw happy people—quite the opposite of what I expected. I thought we’d find sad old men with no families, or young people who couldn’t afford to make the trip home. Not so. They were couples and sisters and a mother and her grown son. They were obviously all engaging in what I’d call alterna-holiday, celebrating slightly outside the norm. And they were so happy and relaxed. We joked, exchanged greetings, and took pictures of one another. We watched the ferry boats in front of the heater and drank fountain sodas. And ate the best burger I’ve had in a long time, so good we decided not to make the beef tenderloin I’d been planning for Christmas dinner—still stuffed full of onion rings.
I reflected earlier about how to start a holiday tradition. It starts with great memories, I guess. Every year we spend in Seattle at Christmas on our own, we will be back to that dive-y little burger joint and it will represent something cheesy and ironic and perfectly weirdly Beahan-ly holiday.
So, it’s holiday time. I know this because I work in retail. Telltale signs: everyone around me is stressed out and cranky, they keep talking about numbers and sales and customer service. And all the music is playing. Everyone on Facebook keeps talking about their holiday shopping.
It doesn’t really feel like Christmas to me. Probably because other than working in retail, I am not doing any of the things that I am accustomed to doing around this time of year. I’m not finishing projects or studying for finals. I’m not negotiating the family holiday celebration timetable. I am not putting up a tree or making a list of what I need to cook for various gatherings. I’m not even really buying anything–between the hubs and the fam, we’ve all agreed to go simple this year. And while all of that sounds disappointing and vaguely grinch-y, it actually feels very…relaxed.
One of the things Mr. B and I have talked over and over about is how fun it’s going to be to start our own traditions for the holidays. For the first time in ten years, his busy season is NOT the last ten weeks of the year. For the first time since we’ve known each other, I am not in school for the holidays. And for the first time in either of our lives, ever, we are not going to be snuggling in to the big Beahan/Ratermann family holiday extravaganza this year. It’s like a blank slate…
It’s a lot of pressure.
I mean, how do you start a tradition? Does that happen consciously? Do you sit down with pen and paper and negotiate and bargain your way through a list of traditions you’d like to adopt? We don’t have kids, so it’s not like we’re discussing what’s best for munchkins. Just us.
What’s best for us.
Last weekend we spent our Sunday eating world famous doughnuts and walking around Capitol Hill. We oohed and ahhed over the view and then agreed to go home, make dinner and snuggle up on the couch.
I am not one to stick to plans, and I caught wind of an event that couldn’t be missed. At dusk, just when Mr. B had settled into his book and was contemplating a glass of wine, I tossed him his coat and said, “We’re going…”
The holiday boat parade was coming to Lake Washington.
Every year for the month of December these boats tour the various waters around the Puget Sound area. They are all lit up with twinkly lights and one big boat carries a bunch of carolers. They sing their songs and it’s very festive and charming and just a little bit eerie.
We walked up the hill and over to Lake Washington in the early evening darkness along with throngs of other residents in South Seattle. The family just ahead of us was decked out in super warm gear and headlamps, just in case the streetlights weren’t enough to light their way. The mother behind us was practicing Spanish with her toddler and I’m pretty sure that kid has better Spanish speaking skills that I do. Brian and I giggled about these Seattleites and their Seattle-ishness.
And then we came over the hill and the path along the lake was lit for miles with luminaries. I mean, for at least two miles, maybe three. Imagine what that looked like against the inky blackness of the lake and the twinkles of the lit up homes across the water on Mercer Island. Just ahead there was a bonfire going and kids and families were roasting marshmallows. Some one had set up a table with thermoses of hot cocoa.
And then came the boats. I mean, these things are ridiculously cheesy, complete with their over the top announcer and carols blaring so loudly you could hardly hear yourself think. The kiddos screeched at the sight and my dog huddled behind my legs. Fathers behind me passed flasks back and forth and mothers unapologetically drank wine from plastic cups.
I stood there like a freaking sap and wept. Because everything was so imperfectly, crazily, laughably holiday.
I’ll be honest. I’m pretty sure the Christmas boats did not hold the same magic for the hubs. When I lived here before I accidentally stumbled upon the parade finale on Christmas Eve. I was alone, my roommates had gone home to their respective families and I had one more night before I got on a plane for home. Something about the absurdity of the kayaks and the dinghy’s and the sailboats all decked out for the holidays, complete with this eerie music over the loudspeakers—it was what I needed that year to remind me that the holidays were the holidays everywhere, not just in my parents living room. So it holds a bit of sentimental significance for me. But all the crowds, the screeching kids, the jostling rude parents–not so much Brian’s thing.
Doesn’t matter. I stood there like a small child, agape and teary, sappy and thankful, full of grace and wonder. And he’ll do it with me again and again, because I’ll probably never get tired of it and he loves me. And next year he’ll be the guy with a flask who doesn’t watch the boats but instead watches his wife’s wonderment.
Just exactly the way I will sit with a six pack of beer and watch my husbands face as he adoringly watches Emmett Otters Jug band Christmas.
Please don’t judge the quality of these photos…it’s hard to take pics in the dark, ok? Just so you have some concept of what I’m talking about…