Friday December 28, 2012

Ahhhh. The day after Christmas. I am fortunate enough to be enjoying a day at home. Our daughters are occupied and the dog has even found a play date -- elsewhere, leaving the house calm and quiet. Should I nap? Read a book? Not me, as over the years I have come to realize that what I really love to do during this peaceful time following Christmas is to reflect and reorganize.

There is something freeing about the close of Christmas -- almost like opening a new notebook and knowing that you have pages and pages to fill with whatever you choose. I think that some of this comes naturally -- we’ve been busy, busy, busy for a couple of weeks now. Then Christmas Day arrived and so many of the things that we’d been building up to came to fruition. Everyone was home, and we spent time together, doing nothing but what was important to us. We enjoyed each other’s company, browsed through new books, tried on new socks, napped on the couch and went for a magical, snow-dusted walk through the woods.

Later, we stopped by a party at some friends’ home and shared good food and holiday wishes. We spoke to family and friends on the phone, and felt full to the brim of calm and good cheer. A good tired consumed us at the end of Christmas Day, partly because we were up to all hours on Christmas Eve, but more importantly, because we allowed ourselves to rest in every aspect.

When I woke this morning, my mind was bubbling with ideas, as it does every year on Dec. 26.


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Yes, there is a trip to prepare for and a big mess under the tree, but to me, this is all part of my excitement. My creativity has been revived. Solutions are coming to light. The "project-er" in me is ready to get to work! Where to start?

I don’t want to be beholden to an actual list, so I will start where it seems logical and make the day a busy and joyous one. Laundry -- it has to happen anyways, and it’s a good way to get those new clothes into the rotation. Dealing with recycling will get us ready for garbage day tomorrow and get all that wrapping paper and those empty bottles into the bins in the barn. Things are looking better already!

I’m getting warmed up now. There are various emptied and washed dishes that need to be returned to folks, along with a forgotten hat and a couple of last minute after-the-fact gifts. I will organize them and then tackle the miscellaneous cookies that abound. Stale ones go to the chickens and the rest will be put in the freezer or eaten after tonight’s dinner.

Speaking of dinner, I should go to the refrigerator to see if I can find the back of it and check on the status of the contents. My brilliant husband suggested that we have Shepherd’s Pie for lunch on Christmas Day, which we prepared on Christmas Eve and was easily reheated while we finished opening gifts. With a salad it was perfect for an easy meal and I think that we will make it a tradition (it is also Christmas themed -- he thinks Chicken a la King might be good for Christmas Day dinner!). I know there is some of that left which I will serve to Margot and her friend Kiran for lunch today.

There are also the tenderloin tips left from cutting the beef tenderloin for the Beef Wellington I made for Sunday’s family meal. I’ll go through cookbooks to see what I might have on hand that would turn these into a delicious and comforting meal to eat in front of the fire tonight. I’m quite sure there are mushrooms, parsley, greens and egg noodles, so I think I can come up with something yummy.

While I’m in there, I might as well clean the fridge. It’s nice and cold outside so I can transfer things out onto the deck without fear of them spoiling. A sparkling clean refrigerator doesn’t happen as often as it should, and I’ll be ridiculously pleased with myself. I’ll be able to throw out any odd condiments without guilt. I also know there is an almost full container of eggnog hiding in the back. There must be something I can make with that -- how about a coffee cake to bring to the New Year’s Day party that we are invited to every year? I’ll head back to the cookbooks, sure to reveal the perfect eggnog recipe. Yesterday I noticed a recipe for oat scones that looks to be very close to the scones I have been trying to replicate since our last trip to New York. I will start the grocery list as I need to pick up oat bran at the co-op.

And why not begin cookbook-perusing in earnest? What other new ideas can I find? I’m sure there are a couple of books that I never use that might just be better to let go of. This, of course, will free up some prime shelf real estate in our small kitchen, so I’ll spend some time dusting and rearranging. I’ll also add a hook for hanging up our beautiful new pot holders, Christmas gifts from dear friends.

While looking at the wall, I’ll realize that it could really use a good wipe-down. This process will eventually lead to a top-to-bottom cleaning, including mopping the floor, which really could use it, especially because I’m quite sure that lots of sugar from all the cookie baking has collected in the corners.

I will end the day tired, but with a clean and reorganized kitchen, some new cooking inspiration and a great feeling of accomplishment. I’m looking forward to starting out 2013 in this revitalized kitchen, which is, after all, the hub of our family life. I know the kind of day I want to have and am lucky enough to be able to make sure that I have it.

Next year might be different -- there might be a huge snowstorm, and I might decide I’d rather go sledding with the kids. Or maybe I’ll visit a friend and we’ll decide to go shopping. Or maybe I’ll hole up with a book. But this year, I’m feeling motivated and ready to go!

Of course, at the end of the day, what actually happened was very different. I had a lovely cup of tea and a chat with my friend Sue, got lost browsing cookbooks (never actually culling any, but finding some more great new recipes), did several loads of laundry and lots of tidying. My husband and I had a very civilized evening listening to jazz and drinking a glass of wine while making dinner, something that doesn’t happen often in the whirlwind of after-school daily life. Do I feel guilty? Disappointed that I didn’t get all the things on my list done? Not at all -- these beautifully free days are too few and far apart, and I am happy to follow my heart and make the most of Dec. 26, 2012, the best way that I knew how. Take the time to make sure you do, too.

Julie Potter is a wife, mother of two, avid gardener and passionate cook who believes good food doesn’t have to be complicated. Share your thoughts with her at jpottercooks@gmail.com.