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Raise your hand if your holidays have been more depressing and dark then merry and bright. Raise your hand if there’s a shortage of comfort and joy in your life at the moment. Raise your hand if you are weary to the bone of all things related to COVID-19 and politics. Raise your hand if you’d give almost anything for a pre-pandemic life. Raise your hand if the world feels more upside down every way.
My hand is raised. And although I put up Christmas decorations before Thanksgiving in an attempt to make things merry and bright, all they did was remind me of holidays past, and how this would be a Christmas unlike any other.
Now, I cannot wait to get those suckers boxed up, and when I do, I’ll write myself a note for my 2021 self to find. I’ll mention what 2020 was like (as if I could forget). I’ll ask if the coronavirus is gone, and whether 2021 was a better or worse year than 2020. I won’t tempt fate and ask how it could be possible to have a worse year than 2020. Let’s just leave that alone.
Confession: I owe you an apology for being such a Doni Downer, for getting so wrapped up and bogged down in COVID, politics, the militia and feelings of sadness, loss and doom that I didn’t publish my usual holiday recipes for things like my Sour Cream Coffee Cake and Challah and Refrigerator Rolls and cookies and Rob’s Mother’s Mustard Sauce. I rationalized; that’s why God created the search bar. I’m sorry. Please forgive me. As token of my remorse, click here to see a 2015 encore story about traditional Thanksgiving recipes.
I was feeling pretty low about the holidays, and if you felt the same, you can raise your hand again, but while you do, please know you are not alone. We are in good company.
Then along came an email in my inbox from Doug Cushman. I felt a flutter of excitement and expectation. He’s a friend; an American who lives in France, formerly of Redding. Every year since this website’s inception 13 years ago, Doug – a brilliant artist, writer and illustrator – has sent a holiday illustration for me to publish on Christmas day. That’s the 2020 illustration, above. I laughed when I saw it, because it was signature Doug. I loved how the animals and snowmen were wearing facemasks. Leave it to Doug to use humor and whimsy in the middle of a pandemic to cheer us up. It did the trick for me. (Thank you, Doug.)
It dawned upon me that Doug was an example of how to deal with these bizarre, uncertain times: Keep going, keep doing what you’d normally do, but adapt and be flexible. In Doug’s case, he submitted an illustration, as he always does, but his characters have face coverings, showing how even his illustrations reflect the reality of the coronavirus.
That’s when I decided that for me, few things would make me feel worse about an already crappy 2020 than to pretend it’s Christmas as usual, because this year is the most unusual Christmas ever. For that reason, I gave myself permission to not prepare anything that resembled Christmas dinner. I felt liberated and relieved at the thought of forgoing anything remotely traditional. No turkey, dressing, cranberries, yeast rolls and pumpkin pie.
This year my meal will be shared with twin Shelly, who’s in a similar holiday boat, sans kids, grandkids and large gatherings. I could not ask for a better COVID bubble mate than my wombmate. I feel so grateful we have each other.
We will have pizza, beer and chocolate cake. We will eat on TV trays while we watch a movie. We may have two beers. If so, Shelly can spend the night. And then we may throw the entire carb-watch out the window and have French toast and mimosas for breakfast.
We can crawl back onto the keto wagon the next day. It’ll wait for us.
In the meantime, I have one eye on the calendar, and the upcoming new year with equal parts hope and reservation. I want to go into 2021 with both eyes wide open, prepared for anything. Frogs falling from the heavens? Volcano eruptions? Earthquakes? Locusts? Few things would surprise me at this point.
I’m thinking about a recent Facebook post in which someone invited friends to share some real random advice. I liked that idea. Think of all the collective experience we have, and how many errors and mistakes could be averted if we could learn from one another. With that in mind, my New Year’s Eve column will be about exactly that: our advice to one another. About anything. Well, almost anything. For this one day, can we please avoid comments about politics, Bethel Church or the pandemic?
I will publish that advice-compilation column on New Year’s Eve. If you have anything you’d like included that column, send your advice (and its back story, if you like) to me at email@example.com. Or, you can start thinking about it now, and post your advice in the comments section. The advice can be from the simple to the profound. We need it all.
I have a few things in mind, mainly cautionary tales, things I wished someone had warned me about. I see this advice column as a way to allow us face 2021 with girded loins, well equipped for 2021. Forewarned is forearmed.
Until then, I’ll start working on my letter to my 2021 self now, since so much happened in 2020 that it could take a while.
Meanwhile, I wish you and yours as happy, healthy and joyful remaining holiday season as is possible, considering, well, everything, no matter what you have for dinner. (But if you want to share what you’re having for Christmas dinner, I’d love to hear it.)
I wish you a merry Christmas, and most of all a very un-2020-like 2021. I’m so glad you’re here. There is comfort and joy in knowing we’re not alone.
My gift to you is my recipe for Sour Cream Coffee Cake, wonderful to bake all year, not just for the holidays. Enjoy!
Sour Cream Coffee Cake
Pecan halves (to place in the bottom of the pan, but this is optional)
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
2 c. white sugar
2 c. sifted cake flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 cup sour cream
2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 cup chopped pecans, optional (or walnuts, or almonds, or whatever)
1/2 cup sugar
1 T cinnamon
Generously butter and flour (or spray with Pam) a Bundt pan (or any pan with a hole in the middle).
Cream the butter with the sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs. Set that bowl aside.
Sift the dry stuff together (I usually sift it onto one of those flexible cutting mats, then you can just make a spout of one end when you need to slowly add it to the wet stuff).
Gradually, with mixer running (or by and with a wooden spoon), add the dry stuff to the wet stuff, mixing well. Now fold in the vanilla and sour cream.
Sprinkle a few spoonfuls of the topping into the bottom of the pan. (Note, sometimes this topping in the bottom of the pan makes the cake stick … so, if I were you, to be safe, I’d leave the topping for the inside and make sure the pan is well-greased so the pan releases well.)
Dollop about 1/3 of the batter in the pan and spread it evenly around the pan. Sprinkle about between 1/3 and 1/2 of the topping over the batter. Carefully dollop more of the batter over the topping, using a spoon to carefully cover the topping without messing it up. Sprinkle almost the rest of the topping over that batter. Dollop the rest of the batter onto the topping. Finish with whatever topping remains (if any). (Note: If this business of too many layers bugs you, just do batter, topping, batter topping, and call it good.)
Bake in 350-degree oven for about 1 hour (but this is only if you have a deep Bundt pan … otherwise, you’ll want to check it sooner, like 25 minutes). Do the toothpick test to make sure the batter’s baked through.
Stand back and bask in the compliments.