Paladini Potpie

Adventures within The Crust!

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Emily’s Christmas Story

Today I’m posting a sad, victorious, and thought-provoking article by my good friend Emily Cotton. Emily is a historical fiction writer, and sometimes blogger.  Watch for the release of her upcoming book, Barbarossa’s Barb.  And in the meantime you can read her posts on Cotton Unraveled, and visit her on Facebook

EmilyI’m grateful for Christmas.
December 1961 was my Christmas without Santa Claus. I was eight years old, and my youngest brother was in the hospital dying of leukemia. He was the second brother I had lost to that dreaded disease and so I had no hope that he would come home again.

My parents spent most of their time with him. The usual pre-Christmas round of buying gifts with our hoarded allowances was hurried and subdued; the Christmas lights never went up, and the decorations looked like the efforts of four kids aged 4 to 11, with the occasional oversight of a distant older brother home from college break.

It’s not that I ever believed in Santa. We never had a fireplace, and I wasn’t dumb enough to think reindeer could fly. Besides, being an extremely literal family who didn’t go in for religious nonsense, all us kids knew that nobody could cover the globe in one night, let alone give every person their just deserts for a year’s behavior. But since the whole culture did the story, like the Easter bunny or the tooth fairy, we joined in singing ‘Up on the rooftop, reindeer pause; down comes good old Santa Claus!” (Except I always thought it was ‘reindeer paws’ and thought the lyricist should have known that all deer have hooves.) I never liked the Santa-themed carols much. They sounded stupid.

Not so the traditional carols. The ageless tunes spoke to my starving soul, and the words even more: Peace on Earth, Goodwill to men! Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
I learned every verse of every carol, even to the last stanzas, the ones rarely sung. “Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying, sealed in the stone-cold tomb.”

I thought that if you were going to dwell on a fantasy, the God one beat Santa all hollow. Wouldn’t it be amazingly wonderful if there really were a Creator of the universe, of me and of my sick little brother, who actually, personally cared about us? If he really became like us, starting as a helpless infant, conceived under the shadow of bastardy, to be teased and rejected by the other children? If he really were born to an unwelcomed homeless couple sheltering in somebody’s cattle-shed, in a backwards conquered country under the heel of a totalitarian empire? If, despite all that evil could throw against him (and evil can throw a lot against a child on the bottom) he really lived through all that without once giving back wrong for wrong?

Wouldn’t it be amazingly wonderful if, because of that god-man’s sacrifice on our behalf, all our own wrongs would be erased, and there would be no more death?

Little Paul Harlan left us on Christmas Eve. My parents were anti-religious, so there was no church or temple or synagogue or mosque to help our family cope. No funeral. No neighbors bringing food, and none of the comfort Good Religion provides the bereaved. Over the next five years, while our family fell apart, I saw that my parents’ godless philosophy only worked in fair weather. It didn’t hold up to the storms.

That sad holiday was the beginning of my investigation into what works. With my limited knowledge, and a skeptical, cynical, materialist viewpoint, I started a groping search for the answer to pain and death and disease and evil. I had one tool at my disposal: I had history. And even a child could see that all of history bent around the short life of the man named Jesus of Nazareth.

It took me another 12 years to realize that he still lived, and that he wanted me. Hot-tempered, self-centered, loud, impulsive, negligent, buck-toothed, unpopular, trouble-on-the-hoof me. With infinite patience Jesus poked and prodded, lured and wooed, until at last I was desperate enough to hear his call: “Come. Rest. Give me your burdens. Take me as yoke-fellow; I’ll do the heaviest part, and if you watch me and listen, you’ll learn the commands too. Help me pull this planet in the right direction, for I have work perfectly suited to your abilities and passions. And don’t grieve, because your brothers are here in my keeping. You’ll see them again.”

nativity-scene1I’ve proved him for 40 years now. He’s kept his promises, and I trust he will keep them forever.

“For lo! The days are hast’ning on, by prophets seen of old, ‘till with the ever circling years shall come the time foretold. When heaven and earth shall acknowledge the Prince of Peace their king, and the whole world give back the song that now the angels sing.”




Chestnuts Roasting…

imagination“Chestnuts roasting on an open fire…”  I’ve always pictured a couple – seen from the back – sitting on the floor gazing into the fire.  They have their chestnuts sort of setting on the hearth, near the flames, maybe just inside the fireplace…and they wait for the nuts to pop open from the heat.  And then the guy reaches over and pulls one of them out. They laugh merrily as he waves his hand around.  “They’re a little hot,’ he warns, holding the fragrant chestnut meat invitingly toward her…

This was not the scene that played out in our house last night.

undauntedI was so excited to finally see chestnuts for sale. I had looked all over for them last summer, when I was making several Italian meals that called for chestnuts. “They are a seasonal item,” the produce man told me.

So finally, ‘tis the season!  I saw them for $4.75 a pound and promptly bought two pounds. I wanted to have plenty to last all year for those Italian recipes, and John and I had become obsessed with the idea of bringing Mel Torme and Bob Wells’ song to life right in our own home!

So how do you roast a chestnut? I looked at several sites on the internet and found all kinds of – often conflicting – instructions.  Most people roast them in the oven or on the barbecue grill.

Combining bits of information from here and there, we came up with our plan.

photo2To begin with, the nuts need to really be above the coals to roast. Not on the hearth near the flames. In fact the flames should be pretty much gone while the coals need to be very hot. So while we were waiting for our nice roaring fire to die down, we came up with the idea of using an 18” pizza screen, and sort of setting it across the metal basket that holds the burning logs in the fireplace.

photo8You are supposed to cut an “X” in the top of each chestnut. Which is not easy. The shells are hard and the slippery. I even discovered that there are special knives for cutting that “X”

My X’s were more like little slit holes.

photo 11It takes 20-30 minutes for the nuts to roast. Or 15-20 – depending on which instructions you follow.  And probably on how big the chestnuts are, and how hot the coals are.

And you are supposed to move them around so they won’t burn. Sure.

I have to say they smelled wonderful about 10 minutes into the process!  The shells were burned on the bottom, but they hadn’t popped open so we turned them over and let them go a little longer.

roasted nutFinally we figured they had to be done.  Once again, the scenario didn’t match the one in my mind. The guy had to carefully pull the pizza pan from above the coals, being careful not to dump the nuts into the fire. Balancing it in his oven-mittened hand he carried it to the roasted nuts burnedkitchen and plunked it down on the counter.  You have to open them while they are still hot or it will be hard to get the shells off. So the man and woman worked together, both of them waving their hands around…   “Hot, hot, hot!”

Most of the nuts were too hard to bite into. John said he is certain that song was really written by a dentist.

But one or two were perfect!

roasterSo here I am, still with about two pounds of chestnuts. ($4.75 a pound)  Undaunted, I will try again, but the next time it will be in the oven in this cute little chestnut roaster I found at a yard sale.

“And so I’m offering this simple phrase to kids from 1 to 92. Although it’s been said many times, many ways Merry Christmas to you!”

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Our Christmas Tree Burl Chain

Our Christmas decorating begins today, so it seemed like a good day to do a reprise of our Christmas tree memory chain. It’s always the first decoration to go up in our house.

Paladini Potpie

We call it our Christmas Tree Burl Ornament, but we should call it our Christmas tree memory chain.

I got the idea from a Mother Earth Magazine the first year we were married. Mother Earth: I guess that’s how the burl idea got planted and rooted so firmly in my mind. (okay – no more puns in this post. I promise.)

The dictionary says a burl is “a hard, woody rounded deformity in a tree, often due to an injury to the bark.” (Think burlwood coffee tables and decoupage art…Mother Earth…) Our “burls” are just slices of tree trunk.

John slices a circle from the trunk of our Christmas tree when he levels it to put it in the stand. And then we store it away to dry completely. (The burl, not the tree.)

The following year as Christmas approaches we pull out the burl and pictures from the previous…

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