christmas

Spotting Santa

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I cannot help licking my lips as I watch Gary cover the sponge cake with dark-chocolate frosting. There is a certain finesse in the way that he applies each layer, just gentle enough to kiss the surface, but merciless enough to make sure that it stays on. I know that there is work to be done, and that in approximately four minutes and twenty-three seconds, Chef Pierre will be screaming out my name for not having done the dishes. This would be followed by him thundering into the room, picking me up by the collar and rattling me like a toddler’s toy. I should know - we’ve followed the same pattern of events every Christmas eve, for the past eight years I’ve been employed here. Despite that, my gaze is fixed on the piece of art that Gary has been perfecting for the past three hours. And as I stand there, hiding behind the thick curtain that separates my kingdom of grease-laden pans, grimy cutlery pieces and soap suds of various shapes and sizes, there comes the booming voice calling out my name. “Georggggge….!”. I sigh loudly. Not because of my name being called out incorrectly. I sigh because a large blob of glistening dark chocolate frosting has broken the ranks and smoothly slid onto the floor, where it will soon form a dark, brown pond of melted chocolate liquid, which is of no good to anyone. Oh, what I wouldn’t give to taste that delicious cake that is being constructed!

But wait! Where are my manners? Let’s start again. This time with an introduction. My name is Jorge. Jorge Gabriella. And I’m all of ten years old. And before you call me ‘George’, let me stop you - it’s pronounced ‘Hor-hey’; Yes, I understand the difficulty. And yes, I blame my immigrant Colombian parents too. At least, I think they were Colombian. You see, I’ve never known my parents. I grew up in an orphanage in Jersey, and when I was two, I was kidnapped and then sold to Roberto Maquis, the owner of this grand restaurant that I work in. Or so I've been told. And today, I reign as the undisputed leader of the ‘Clean Pots, Utensils and Pans’. Or the C-PUPs, as I call them.

I know what's passing through your mind. Why don’t I run away? There is a good reason for that. In exchange for my cleaning the PUPs, I get all the leftovers that I want and a comfortable bedding made from the empty sacks that the onions come in. I don’t go to school, but I do get $10 every week, something I have been collecting for as long as I can remember. I also don't run away Mr. Maquis says he has a lot of connections and that he would find me, break every bone in my body, and not give me any food. And if I’m honest, I don’t want to risk it. Plus I don’t really know where I’d go if escaped.

But there is something that I’ve always wished for. To celebrate at least one Christmas like how they show in those movies. With friends. With family. Waiting for Santa. Opening presents. Have a nice roast for lunch. Watching lots of television. Drink lots of egg-nog. And then go to sleep with a tummy full of food and heart full of warmth and love. Not that I don’t enjoy my Christmases. I have a day off on Christmas. But since there is no one to look after me, I’m usually locked up at the restaurant. I know it sounds awful, but it really isn’t that bad. Gary usually leaves a piece of roast chicken with some mashed potatoes in the fridge for me to have on Christmas Day. Of course, Chef Pierre or Mr. Maquis doesn't know about this. They’d fire Gary in a heart beat if they come to know. Thankfully, they both leave early on Christmas Eve, so it’s usually Gary closing up.

I normally spend the rest of my Christmas Eve up in my little corner in the attic of the restaurant. It gets quite chilly there at night, but I like to sit by my little circular window and look outside. Last year, I even tried to stay awake through the night, so that I could catch a glimpse of  Santa as he slid down ‘The Humberg’s’ chimney to deliver little Ethan his presents. Sadly, I fell asleep. Not this year though.

Gary has offered to take me to his apartment this year. He even got me a camera - a shiny, red one - so that I can capture a photo of Santa delivering presents. He also told me that I shouldn’t be upset if I don’t actually get to see Santa. But I’m sure I will. Gary lives in a really, tall building across town - one of the tallest, he says.  I like Gary - he’s the only person here who cares about me. He gets me presents and cooks me nice meals, without any one else knowing. I wonder why Rachel told me to be careful around him. Rachel, is one of our station chefs by the way. She likes to make up stories about people, sometimes. I asked her why, but she wouldn’t tell me.

I must go now. I need to finish those vessels before we close for the day. And then I shall go home with Gary today. He has promised to make sure that I have a good time. And maybe I will spot Santa this year, after all.


[This post is written for the Project 365 program at We Post Daily aimed at posting at least once a day, based on the prompts provided. Was there a toy or thing you always wanted as a child, during the holidays or on your birthday, but never received? Tell us about it.]

Image courtesy : HDwallpaper.com

Grandpa Bubs

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Jamie was wide awake. He knew that it was past his bedtime, but the excitement was much more than what his little heart could take. He’d spent the last hour tossing and turning in bed, shaking his legs repeatedly trying to fall asleep. But sleep just wouldn’t come. He turned on his side and quietly watched the luminous second-hand of the wall clock complete a full circle in an efficient sweeping motion. There was still plenty of time to go before he actually had to get up. But for that, he needed to sleep first.  

The biting December wind rattled the window panes slightly as it gathered more speed.  As if on cue, the cold duvet ruffled slightly against Jamie’s feet; he giggled loudly as he felt tiny goosebumps develop over his arms and legs. He held his breath briefly as he heard Ted, his elder brother stir in his sleep. As Ted’s loud snores filled the otherwise quiet bedroom, Jamie slowly sat up on the bed. In the distance, he could hear the church bells toll ten times in quick succession. Jamie got off the bed and slid his feet into the tattered, yet comfortable pair of fuzzy slippers. These had been handed down to him once his brother's unusually large feet grew out of them. He walked across to the window, parted the curtains and peeked out through the frost-lined glass pane.  A thick blanket of fresh, snow from earlier in the evening covered the length and breadth of the ground. In the distance, Jamie could see the lights around the church dim down to a minimum. Despite the poor visibility, Jamie noticed small wisps of smoke escape from the chimneys of a few houses. "They must be warming them for Santa to slide down", he mused joyfully, as he watched a group of carol singers slowly disappear into the distance, their melodious chorus of “Silent night” providing a feeling of warmth on an otherwise cold and frosty Christmas eve.

 

"Yes, it’s almost here!", he thought, rubbing his tiny hands together with glee. His entire 3.5ft frame tingled with the excitement and anticipation about tomorrow. He’d always hoped for it, but never in his wildest dreams did he imagine that it would come true so soon. It was going to be his first family christmas.  In the five years he’d celebrated the event, there had never been a period where everyone was around. His father, Clive, was a Colonel with the US Army and had been away on duty for every single Christmas so far. Not this time though. Jamie had even renounced all Christmas gifts he would receive and in exchange had requested that his father be home for the festivities. Though he wasn’t entirely sure if that was the reason that his father had refused a new posting, Jamie liked to believe that it was. His mother, Tracy had even pulled out all the stops and was making  some amazing roast turkey and honey-glazed ham for their Christmas dinner - something that Jamie had only seen on TV. But it wasn't just the food or the presence of his father that excited him the most. The most important reason was because this would be the first Christmas that Grandpa Bubs would be attending, since Grandma Marny had passed away two years ago.

 

Chandler Maylor was their maternal grandparent. However his rotund figure, cheery disposition and penchant for talking had earned him the name Bubbles, which soon got shortened to Bubs. And the name had stuck. There wasn't a single person in town who hadn't encountered Bubs and needless to say, he was held in the highest esteem. For little Jamie, Grandpa Bubs was more than just a grandparent - he was his best friend. Despite being the oldest and the youngest in their family, Grandpa Bubs and little Jamie got on like a house on fire. They were inseparable and his mother could be often heard complaining that baby Jamie preferred listening to Bubs over playing with toys or his elder brother.  Bubs, who was a Maritime sailor in his younger days, had lots of amazing stories to tell little Jamie. And unlike Ted, who was more outdoorsy, Jamie loved to listen. His brown eyes would often shine as Bubs put Jamie on his knees and regaled him with stories of his adventures on the seas and about the different people that he’d met on his many journeys around the world. Because their father was away a lot, both Grandpa Bubs and Grandma Marny would spend a lot of time at their house. However everything had changed when Grandma Marny had died.

 

His once frequent visits started to dwindle gradually, and eventually stopped. Jamie remembered how he used to perpetually pester his mother about Bubs to give him an answer. Finally, his mother had told him that Bubs had taken ill and was at the hospital. That image of a tired, frail and bony Bubs lying on that hospital bed with all sorts of wires and tubes connected from head to toe, was something that the then-five-year old Jamie had struggled to cope with. Even though he knew that Bubs wouldn’t be visiting any time soon, little Jamie continued to hope and pray that his beloved grandpa would get better in time for Christmas. After all, he’d promised Jamie a surprise for Christmas. That had been two years ago.

*****

Christmas morning dawned with bright, blue skies and chirping red-breasted Robins. It had snowed again overnight, and most of the neighbourhood children were out making fresh models of Frosty, the snowman and having snow fights. Jamie woke up to the sound of Ted rushing down the stairs to open up his Christmas presents. He rubbed his eyes and let out a loud yawn. He put on his soft Terry cotton dressing gown, one of the few items that wasn’t a hand-down from his elder brother. As he tightened the gown, his whole body started to tingle again. The excitement, that he had been trying to contain for the past week, was starting to bubble up again and he wondered what surprise Bubs had in store for him. "Maybe it is one of those Santorini magic kits", he thought. Jamie had so badly wanted one ever since he’d seen the advert for it. As he skipped down the stairs, Jamie noticed that Ted had already opened up all of his presents and was on his way out to try the new sports bicycle their parents had got him. There were just three unopened presents left under the tree, and they all had Jamie’s name on them. With a smile on his face, Jamie leapt over the bottom three steps and ran towards the Christmas tree.

 

The first of the two smaller presents was from Ted. Jamie opened up the crinkled wrapping paper and frowned when he saw what it was. Ted had “gifted” him one of his older handheld gaming consoles. "Yet another hand me down", he thought, as he opened up the next present, which was from their cousin, Thomas. It was a collection of Enid Blyton books. Jamie’s frown turned into a smile. He loved to read. Eager to find out the contents of the impeccably wrapped large present, Jamie ripped through the packaging. His smile was replaced by a wider grin as he read the name on the box. It said The Great Santorini magic kit  and a picture of the famous magician dressed in his sparkling attire and top hat, adorned the length of box. Jamie quickly looked at the card accompanying the present. It was from his parents. They had gotten him a present after all. Gripping the box tightly, he quickly ran over to his mother who was busy in the kitchen and hugged her from behind.

 

A loud honk from the driveway caught his attention. Still clutching the present, Jamie rushed towards the front door and threw it open. His father and his brother were helping Grandpa Bubs onto a wheel chair. His grandfather flashed him a weak smile as his father pushed the wheelchair towards the door. Jamie felt his eyes start to well up. His once-chubby and almost Santa Claus-like grandfather cut a poor figure. His pale, wrinkled skin was stretched over his pencil-thin frame and covered in spots. If it wasn’t for the mischievous twinkle in his blue eyes and the familiar, yet slightly lop-sided smile, Jamie may not have even recognised Bubs. As he watched his father push the wheel chair to a corner by the fireplace, Jamie wiped his tears on the cuff of his dressing gown. The excitement that had been building up all week had suddenly vanished; like the stars extinguished by the rising sun. “Jamie…”, he heard his grandpa’s raspy voice call out to him.  He walked across to the fireplace and smiled at Bubs.  “Close your eyes…I have something for you!” said Bubs, flashing Jamie a smile that was still capable of exuding warmth and love.  As Jamie closed his eyes and stretched out his hands, he heard Bubs fiddle around with the bag on the side of his wheel chair. Feeling the sudden presence of a warm, fuzzy object in his hands, Jamie opened his eyes. Staring back at him was a small, black and golden brown puppy.

 

Holding the puppy, Jamie ran over to Bubs and hugged him tightly. “You remembered!”, he said to his grandpa, tears of joy starting to flow down his chubby cheeks. “Of course, Jamie. I’ve never broken a promise.” whispered back, his grandfather.

 

 [This post is written for the Project 365 program at We Post Daily aimed at posting at least once a day, based on the prompts provided. Today's prompt was : Tell us about the last thing you got excited about — butterflies-in-the-stomach, giggling, can’t-wait excited. Hence, I've tried to capture  "Jamie's excitement" with this short piece. It is inspired by a true incident]

 

Image courtesy of africa at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Christmas in a glass

Okay, so this really isn’t a “post” post. It’s a food post. Rather a drink post, if you will. But after all, it is Christmas. And keeping in mind the “spirit of Christmas”, I felt I should share a quick fire recipe for one of the “spirits” of Christmas - Mulled Wine. My first tryst with mulled wine was about five Christmases before, at my wife’s office party. Needless to say, I was hooked from the very first sip. If I were to describe the feeling, I’d say it is “warm and fuzzy”, and hence a perfect drink for the cold weather.

Now, mulled wine is a warm drink which is traditionally as Christmassy (is that a word?) as Egg-Nog. And it can be both alcoholic or non-alcoholic (it depends on the wine). Now, in most Western countries, mulled wine is available as a bottled product across the counters. However, nothing beats a good home-brewed mulled wine. So here’s the quick recipe for it. Oh, and for the purpose of the post, I’ll spare you the trouble and advise you to buy a bottle of red-wine, rather than make it.

It goes without saying that the taste for wine is usually acquired. You have to sample them, and let your taste buds get accustomed to the flavours that characterise the wine. Although the same goes for mulled wine, it's rapid acceptance is mainly due to the right blend of spices and sweetness.

Equip yourself with:

  • A bottle of Italian medium-bodied red wine. If you can’t find it or need suggestions, I’d say Zinfandel, Merlot, Chianti or Cabernet Sauvignon). I personally prefer merlot for this. Sometimes Shiraz can work as well because of the “berry” flavours

  • Couple of Oranges or Clementines. Keep one of them whole. The others can be cut. Use more if you’d like a more tangy flavour. I’d say two is a good number

  • Lemon x 1; Again you can use more, if you need the tangy and sour feel. But I’d recommend to use just 1

  • Cloves x 20 buds

  • Cinnamon sticks; I’d say 5 pieces should suffice

  • A small piece of ginger. It’s not mandatory if you don’t like the taste

  • A handful of raisins

  • Sugar to taste

Optional extras:

Vanilla Pod Star Anise Nutmeg (Needs to be whole, as it will need to be grated) This should ideally take about 10 minutes of preparation and 20 minutes on the stove

How to: 

  1. The best way to reduce the spiciness of the cloves is to stick them into “whole” orange. The rest of the oranges and lemon(s) can be cut into quarters and kept aside.

  2. Pre-heat a reasonable sized saucepan to medium heat. Add the whole clove-infused orange along with the rest of the orange and lemon pieces to the saucepan. Mix the cinnamon sticks, ginger, raisins and any left over cloves with the orange and lemon pieces.

  3. As soon as they start to slightly sizzle (which will take no more than 30 seconds to a minute), pour half the bottle of wine over this fruit and spice mixture. Just pour enough wine to cover the mixture. It’s important to create a syrupy base first. If you add the full bottle of wine, you would have burned off a lot of the alcohol content.

  4. Make sure the saucepan is on medium heat. Once you start to see a bit of steam rising, add the sugar.  I’d say use 6-8 teaspoons of sugar. You can add more slightly later. Give this a good stir, to ensure it mixes well. If  you do need to add the vanilla pod, star anise and nutmeg, this is the ideal time to do so.

  5. Reduce the hear to low and let the wine simmer. After about 5 minutes, you should start to see bubbles forming and more steam rising. Stir well and then leave on the low heat for about 10-15 minutes, for the flavours to infuse.

  6. After about 15 minutes, take a taste and if it is still too acidic for you, add a few more spoons of sugar. Add the rest of the wine and simmer it for about 5 more minutes.

  7. Once you’re relatively happy with the taste, take it off the heat and leave it aside to cool for a bit. Remember, mulled wine is a drink that’s best served warm or hot, so don’t let it cool down a lot. Carefully remove all the large pieces of fruits and other spices into a large bowl. Then empty the liquid wine onto the bowl as well.

  8. Using a sieve, carefully ladle out the wine into glasses which can withstand the heat. Add a cinnamon stick, some orange zest (and cherries if you have them), and you’re done.

Image courtesy TripAdvisor

There you go; You’ve just been served Christmas in a glass :)

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