As a child I grew up Catholic. As a child, Christmas time meant going to Midnight mass on Christmas Eve. The excitement of dressing up in fancy clothes and staying up late into the night is one that left an indelible mark as a child.
My brother and I were with our grandparents on most Christmas Eves. Their church was about 3 blocks up from their house in a tiny little town in Louisiana. That meant that we walked to midnight mass and this unassuming day time walk added an entirely new thrill to the unknown walk that would take place late into the evening.
I didn’t quite realize at that age that I lived in the south and that meant warm weather year round. You wouldn’t know we didn’t really have any winter to speak of by the way people dressed for Midnight Mass. I remember one year wearing a rabbit fur coat that was roasty toasty warm. Another year I remember having a little fur muff that I could poke my hands into in order to keep away the frostychill of the midnight air.
The walk was only 3 blocks, but at age 10 or 11, it seemed miles away. My active imagination turned that walk into quite the adventure. I distinctly remember how the trees seemed to weave their way through the midnight blue shade of sky. They seemed much taller and fearsome than they did during daylight. I knew that there were holly bushes that lined the walkway. With their sharp little prickly leaves, it was going to take heightened awareness to keep away from this danger.
It was difficult to stay away after supper time until midnight. All dressed up and hair in tight curls, I tried desperately to maintain alertness so that I wouldn’t miss any of the adventure of going to Midnight Mass. Hot bowls of steaming gumbo filled with seafood, chicken, and sausage is traditionally eaten before Midnight Mass. With that meal having been long gone hours ago, the pressure was on to remain wide awake in order to brave this once a year tradition.
After skirting the holly bushes, the looming cathedral seemed to reach up a point that poked the top of the velvet black sky and held it up. It wasn’t really a cathedral but at a young age, it sure seemed to tower up into the night sky that was capped off by the twinkling midnight stars. I don’t really have many more memories inside the church. I’m pretty sure that wrapped in a rabbit fur coat, listening to the hollow chords of choral music, I must have fallen asleep soon after the service began. It was always the anticipation of the walk outside late at night and the approach to the church all lit up with lights that stands out most. Traditions and memories were made then and are continuing to be made now as we start our journey far from southern Louisiana up here in New Hampshire.
We’ve had some wondrous Christmas outings in this first new year of our lives in New Hampshire. Down coats, warm boots, and cozy mittens are always piled up nearby. The small country roads of New Hampshire are dark as black velvet ribbons as they weave in and out and up and down. It always feels like an adventure to get on the narrow roads to travel from one place to the next. Because it is so dark, the stars seem like a fishing net cast over the sky that is studded with bright sequins. The skies here are magnificent with the twinkling stars hanging seemingly low overhead. Most farms turn off all of their lights at night…no porch light or anything, just a blank canvas as if surrendering artificial power to a higher much more natural power above.
Our first winter outings here in New Hampshire will forever be imprinted in my memory as a new resident of this beautiful state. One was our trip up to the Mount Washington Resort up in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. I wrote about it in this article here. The remote location of this resort, the looming snow capped mountains spread across the vista behind the resort, and the glistening historical white resort topped with red turrets was a magnificent sight as we drove up the long windy drive.
Wild turkeys ran across the open fields and ducks flapped and splashed in the large pond spread out before the resort. The resort was like a brilliant jewel sparkling in the middle of pastoral scene. The jewel and the countryside don’t seem to go together but in this case, the scenery is transfixing and timeless. Because it was the holidays, we were able to experience Mount Washington all dressed in holiday attire. Everything inside glistened and twinkled as soft music crooned in the background.
I have been so excited to spend our first holidays as New Englanders buried deep within our farmhouse. Much of the first phase of our renovation work has been finished. I filled the house with our Christmas decorations that we had not taken out of boxes for two years. I lined up our Christmas menu while relishing the idea of being back in the kitchen in full swing, working with my new stove, and trying out traditional recipes as well as new ones, too.
In the midst of today’s cooking and prepping, our neighbors called us up to see if we were interested in joining them in their New Hampshire traditional Christmas Eve outing. They told us that they drive out to an even smaller town than ours (which means reeeeally tiny), cross over a covered bridge, pass about 10 beautifully lit farmhouses, each having candles flickering softly in their windows, and gather together with about 200 others in front of an impossibly quaint charming historical “meeting house”.
We jumped at the invitation. We followed our neighbors car and it seemed we were headed to the middle of nowhere, but before long the headlights of cars started to line up one after the other until we each pulled over into the grass in front of an old school house building next to the meeting house. From tiny newborn babies to the elderly, this traditional gathering of families on Christmas Eve really punctuates the quaintness and effortless charm that the people of this state embody.
The inside of the meeting house was dimly lit. Only a few gas lanterns hung from the ceiling. A pot belly stove sat in the middle of the floor with its black pipe soaring up into the rafters of the building. A simple choir gathered upstairs. Children blinked at one another in the flickering light. Everyone gathered together to sing Christmas carols about one historical Christmas story after another.
The beauty of living in New Hampshire is the beauty of the simplicity of the people. People are so genuine here. They live for moments like tonight where gathering together in good will is better than any bigger than life over the top sparkling event. The beauty here is enjoyed by joining together in front of a meeting house at the end of a long peaceful windy road, bundling up shoulder to shoulder as the sounds of everyday folk sing aloud historical Christmas songs, and all gather together to watch the full moon shine hazily through the misty night providing the only glow of soft light that envelops the evening.
Back at home, holiday festivities are underway in earnest fueled by the spirit of pure enjoyment of the evening together with new friends tonight. Tomorrow, 15 of us will gather together and feast on the good wishes of each other as well as the good food that will be brought together. Spiced Roast Goose, Cherry Herb Sourdough Stuffing, Roasted Squash with Maple Glaze, Angel biscuits, and Sweet Potato Pecan Pie are some of the dishes on the menu.
I decided to make individual desserts for everyone this year instead of my traditional Buche de Noel. After steeping some cream and sugar in spices like cardamom, nutmeg, cloves, and cinnamon sticks, I added egg yolks to the mixture to make pots de crème. Crushed peppermint, chocolate leaves, and whipped cream top off the dessert. After a rich meal of roast goose, I thought this smooth creamy dessert would be just the light finish to our Christmas meal.
I want to say a very special thank you to all of the readers who stop by here at “Thyme” to say such kind words about my world. Each one of you is so interesting, unique, and appreciated. I enjoy so much visiting your worlds through each other’s blogs. Who would have ever thought that making friends this way would be possible? The goodwill that is spread through blogging and sharing our lives with one another must be what weaves an important layer of understanding and goodwill among one another. Here’s to another wonderful year ahead of continued friendships, shared experiences of our world, and the continued spreading of goodwill to one another…one blog at a time.
- 3 cups heavy cream
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1 cup sugar (plus a little more for bruleeing)
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 12 whole cloves
- 2 one-inch piece of ginger, thinly sliced
- 2 teaspoon black pepper corns
- 12 green cardamom pods, lightly crushed
- 8 egg yolks
- 2 eggs
- Heat the oven to 300˚ degrees F.
- Add cream, milk, sugar and spices to a sauce pan and bring to a boil.
- Turn the heat off, cover and let the mix steep for 30 minutes.
- Get a kettle of water to boil.
- Strain out the spices.
- Whisk the egg yolks and egg, then whisk the cream/spice mix into the eggs.
- Distribute among ovenproof glasses or ramekins and set into a baking pan.
- Slowly and cautiously fill boiling water into the baking pan so that it comes up to about 1½ inches of the glasses.
- Transfer the baking pan into the oven and bake until set (30-40 minutes).
- Let cool completely
- For the Peppermint Cream, I used cream, peppermint extract, and powdered sugar
To make the Chocolate Leaves, I followed this video tutorial:
(Hint: Do not use bay leaves. They are too stiff and the leaves will crack. Mint leaves are very flexible and work very well.)