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December 24, 2000
a year ago
three years ago

With Others

The day before Christmas and all through the house, very little was stirring, but the PlayStation.

It was a mostly nothing day. Which I was very happy to have.

John had everything he needed to brew beer, so spent most of the morning and early afternoon with deep, dark, chocolate malt and made this mocha-like stout with a really creamy foam. It smelled like chocolate. Okay, chocolate and hops. Between things being steeped in the big brew kettle, he played Ape Escape a lot.

I was still afraid of beating my hands up so I mostly just watched. I didn't read much or do much. Just watched him, watched some TV, watched the sky outside. An indeterminate day, a little grey, a little pale blue, and the mountains were just barely visible behind some water haze.

I kind of feel flat today. No real push to do anything, decide anything, even want anything. Just crispy and grey and burnt out.

John decided to make a pumpkin pie to share with the Hamiltons along with deciding that we'd go to Christmas Eve service with them at their church. I had no clue as to what kind of church we might want to do Christmas Eve service at, couldn't decide if we just wanted to go with someone we knew or go to a denomination that we knew we'd be more likely to be comfortable with, so John decided rather than making me decide. That was good. Better to not be completely alone on Christmas Eve.

So we decided to bring pie to the Hamiltons before the service and share dessert. Bob said that it was good as they were making an apple pie, too. Jamie is completely vegan and it only hit me, just before the phone call, that a fruit pie could be vegan but the pumpkin pie, with its eggs and milk, definitely wasn't. Ah well.

I did finally get some gumption up when it came to dinner. We had to get some stuff for the pie as well, so we went to the Safeway just before it was going to close for the holiday. I decided on beef tenderloins and real potatoes to mash. I was also mildly unhappy with how the pan-seared and then high-heat baked steaks had been turning out the last few times. I wanted the gentle pink throughout, rather than raw red in the middle and burnt on the outside, which meant a milder heat. I did want a flavorful crust on the outside, which meant searing. I also wanted some sear in the pan that wasn't burnt so that it could flavor a sauce.

2 3-4 oz tenderloin steaks
canola oil
1 big clove garlic (or 2 regular cloves), smashed and/or minced fine
1/3 cup dry marsala wine
1/3 cup chicken broth (I like Swanson's low-fat low-sodium broth)

So I took my Calphalon anodized pan, which isn't really non-stick. It's not coated with Teflon, but the hard anodization of the aluminum is so hard it almost acts likes non-stick so far as releasing most food. It does, however, stick and better yet it does keep seared off juices that have evaporated on its surface. A cast iron skillet would probably work just as well. But I just stuck it on a medium high fire. Then I broke the steaks out of their packet, washed 'em under cold running water, dried 'em, sprinkled kosher salt and a fresh grind of pepper on both sides of 'em, and then rubbed some canola oil all over them. By then the pan was pretty hot. So I just slapped the steaks onto the hot surface and let them sit for four minutes. Don't move 'em, or the crust won't form. I then used my tongs to flip 'em. I then turned the toaster oven to 200 degrees, just a little over 'warm', and let the steaks cook another four minutes while the little oven got to temperature. I took a dinner plate, flipped a saucer onto the middle of it and put the steaks onto the convex surface. This would allow the juices to run off the plate and not soak the crust and make it soggy.

I then put the plate in the toaster oven at the low heat. The steaks felt like they were still jelly between the seared surfaces, which meant that they were still pretty rare. The low temperature in the toaster oven would still allow the steaks to cook, gently, and the slow heat would mean a very even finish.

I took the now hot and sticky pan off the fire and dumped the chopped garlic in and just stirred it around. The residual heat was plenty to cook the garlic and it browned nicely with the contact with the evaporated meat juices. With the really lean tenderloins there was just a light sheen of beef fat, if I'd been cooking ribeyes, I'd likely have poured off all but just a bit of grease. Just enough to cook the garlic in well. I then poured in the chicken broth and the wine and put it on a high heat and used a wooden spoon to scrape off all the brown bits into the liquid and let it all just boil away until it was nearly a syrup. Just a few tablespoons of intensely garlic, flavorful syrup.

Mashed potatoes and the steaks went on dinner plates. The juices that had flowed from the resting steaks was then added to the syrup and stirred in and then I poured about a tablespoon each of the stuff on the steaks and on the potatoes. Not a lot of liquid, but a ton of flavor. It came out really, really tasty. The steaks were crusty on the outside and a perfectly even medium rare through their centers. I'd had a moment of doubt when I pulled them out of the toaster oven as they seemed to be too solid when I first poked 'em, but cutting into them they were juicy and perfectly tender. The sauce lent really intense taste to both the steak and the potato. John made a beautiful red and green salad of tomatoes and fresh lettuce and that went really well with the rest.

Soon after dinner I took the still warm pumpkin pie in my lap and we got into the Baby Buggy and drove north to the Hamiltons. It was fun to just gather in their kitchen and cut the pies and eat a bit of each kind with them. Jamie had found this really interesting stuff called "Hip Whip -- Too hip to be cool!" which was soy based, sweetened with juices and actually tasted really good on the pumpkin pie. She had it on her apple pie happily. That was fun.

We then piled into our cars and went to their Presbyterian church. It's large compared to Eastgate, nearly 500 people, but small compared to the 2000+ the Hamiltons were used to attending in Redmond. The sanctuary was cozy, with most of the pews fairly close to the lectern. It felt mildly odd to be so comfortable. To recognize the bulletin, the order of worship, how to find a hymn, what to listen for so far as their communion invitation went, and the very structure of the service was very close to how Eastgate's pastors used to structure their Christmas Eve services. It was oddly comforting. The one missing thing was a homily from the reverend, there really wasn't a message tonight, just lots of readings, hymns, and carols. They were also, pretty clearly, far more conservative than John or I was really used to. Enough 'only through Christ is anything worth anything's to make me narrow my eyes just a bit. Love, faith, joy, and hope are worth something no matter the deity one worships, I think, and the whole 'one and only one' path will always be something I can't swallow. There was, however, enough of the more universal aspects of it all that it was satisfying. Also, the table was spread for anyone that believed in God, and that was enough for me.

The Fish wiggled a lot during the carols. I can't quite read if it's 'cause the Fish likes 'em or doesn't, but he was very active during the singing. Then again, since I was singing, too, it might have just been from the extra oxygen he was getting.

It ended with the lighting of the candles. Everyone had a handheld candle and they were lit from the Christ candle in the Advent wreath while we all sang "Silent Night". The congregation then filed out of the church with their little candles still lit and as we stepped out they started singing "Joy to the World". People were stacked up going out, so we shuffled slowly towards the doors and when we actually got outside I saw why folks had stacked up. It was snowing.

Big, fat flakes of white against the black night and whirling under the street lights. There was a little wind, enough that I protected my flickering little flame with the bulletin. I heard small, soft hisses under the singing as flakes dove into the fire. I happily sang and watched my breath steam white and it was good. When the carol was over, we hugged the Hamiltons and they hugged us and wished each other a very Merry and White Christmas.

It's good to not spend Christmas Eve alone.

I'd offered, to John, the possibility that he could go home, to Seattle, for Christmas while I stayed here. He's refused and I'll admit, now, that I'm very, very glad for his company. I think I would have been much more depressed completely alone and I wouldn't have had the gumption to actually have tried this, and it turned out to be something familiar enough and comforting enough that it was very useful with my mood of the last few days.

John agreed. Lots of memories with the rituals, and all the things that gave it all meaning. I think we're going to have to find a church for the Fish. One with the good things that John got out of it and none of the bad things that I got out of it when I was a kid. A church school that doesn't just preach, does actually teach about what it's like to make moral choices, does help kids figure out what they can do about the broken bits of the world, and doesn't just tell them they'll be damned if they don't obey whomever. It'll be interesting to see how we go about it.

As we went to sleep, we talked over memories of Christmas's past, too. All the things he remembered as a kid and how his three older brothers helped in the conspiracy to keep him believing in Santa Claus. What I remembered of winter mornings in Indiana, the cold wood floor and the orange and yellow bed covers in our room and getting up and finding my robe and running into the carpeted, beautifully decorated livingroom with Kathy trailing after and yelling and tackling the huge Santa gifts that had magically appeared in the night. Fun things. I remembered the Advent workshops at Eastgate, with all the kids running around making decorations, playing, building, helping decorate the tree, and thought about John doing all that and having it be a part of every year.

We'll make our own traditions. Next year there will be a Fish to make them for.

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