Our Christmas Crèche

 

I have no memory of the day my grandfather gave us his hand-made Nativity set. I don’t know how he got the idea to build the stable from a disgarded fruit crate. He cut out Mary’s and Joseph’s kneeling silhouettes from veneer scraps – then used his oils to paint their beatific faces and traveling robes. I’m pretty sure that Baby Jesus was a dime store dolly before Granddad swaddled him and laid him in the manger (crafted from glued-together pieces of wood). Every December, Mom would position the figures on a table and to complete the scene, she’d add pine cones, fir branches and lights of some sort. When she had finished, she always stood back, smiled, and said how much she loved it.

I would cringe because I felt too guilty to admit that I thought our crèche was too plain and too simple. I thought we should have a much fancier one.

Oh how I admired my friend’s elaborate Holy Family figurines. They were made from fine porcelain and dressed in flowing brocade. A heavenly host of angels, three wise men on camels, shepherds and their sheep, an ox and a donkey stood in adoring attendance.

Years passed, I moved to Mexico, and our family always spent the Holidays there. In many Merida homes, the decorated tree takes second place to an elaborate reenactment of the holy birth. I could never look at my sister-in-law’s without remembering the “plain and simple” one I grew up with.

I will be traveling to Mexico in a week’s time, but before leaving Kamloops, I wanted to put up some Christmas decorations around my apartment. My sister Barb brought over a cardboard box containing baubles, strings of lights… and the old family crèche!

Nostalgia overwhelmed me as I set up the Nativity scene in a corner and surrounded the vintage pieces with pinecones, votive candles and fir branches. I stood back and looked hard. The Christmas crèche is still as “plain and simple” as ever – but my eyes see it differently than when I was a child. Now it looks “plain-ly and simp-ly” beautiful.

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The Pumpkin Patch

The weather has turned cold in Kamloops. I don’t know exactly how cold, but when I go outside, within seconds my fingers and toes feel like they’ve been dunked in ice water and my nose starts running like a tap.

But staying cooped-up all day is not an option either. So, yesterday when my niece, Kelly invited me to join her and her daughter, Emily on the Grade One  outing to the Pumpkin Patch, I dressed in five layers (literally) and off we went.

After about a half-hour’s drive we arrived at Pete Murray’s Corn Farm . Wow – I had forgotten that little Canadian kids are tough – the cold didn’t faze them at all. They wanted to forego their cumbersome gloves, hats and scarves. But when the teacher said, “II fait froid” (this is a French immersion class) they allowed her and the rest of us adults to button, wrap and zipper. And all bundled up, out they clambered from the bus and onto the hay wagon!

The hay wagon

We jostled along through dried corn stocks until we reached a paddock with dozens of sheep (les moutons) – and those sheep know what a wagon full of kids means for them.  Each child had been given an ear of corn each to feed their wooly friends.  Ba-a-a-a-a-a – Ba-a-a-a-a-a – Ba-a-a-a-a-a!  means, “Watch out for your fingers – I’m hungry!”

Watch your fingers!

Now, on to the main event. Pumpkins  of every size lay scattered around, and the kids got to choose one to take home. But there was a catch – they had to be able to carry it themselves. Whooping and laughing, they B-lined to the bigg-est, bright-est,  orange-est pumpkins. But when they straddled the biggies with their little legs, and tried to encircle them with their arms, they found out that pumpkins are heavy! All except for one tough little guy, ended up with much smaller pumpkins than they originally chose.

Which is the perfect pumpkin for me?

The hay wagon brought us back to the entrance and after eating our snacks, we set off on the nature walk. By this time I was freezing, but the kids were still going strong. We dodged “sheep pies” all the way to the river bank, and there we found piles of dead salmon. The teacher reminded her students that salmon lay their eggs in the river and then die. Eagles swooping overhead were intent on having their fill. The little troopers were fascinated.

On the nature walk

For the children, this day was one of experiential learning at its best.

  • Bundling-up and constant movement will keep the body warm (thermodynamics)
  • The bigger the pumpkin, the heavier the load (mathematics)
  • Never let your fingers get between the cob of corn and a hungry sheep (actions and consequences)
  • Another thing about sheep – they have “efficient” digestive tracts (biology)
  • The life cycle of salmon includes their demise while ushering in new life (ethics)
  • Eagles help “clean up” the environment (natural sciences)
  • Spontaneous use of French words and expressions (language and cultural studies)

Emily and all her hardy classmates reminded me that FUN and LEARNING are one – and this can happen wherever you are. Looking at life through the eyes of a child is a sure path to joy.

Fall foliage

 

 

Mole Poblano – A Recipe From the City of Angels

MOLE POBLANO

(for 8 persons)

Place the following ingredients in a large pot and completely cover with water (about 3 quarts). Put on the lid and bring to the boil, then lower the heat and stew everything for 1/2 hour.

  • 2 chickens, cut into quarters, skin removed
  • ½ med. white onion, chopped coarsely
  • 4 whole cloves of garlic, skinned
  • 1 T. salt
  • 10 whole black pepper corns
  • 2 tsp. dried oregano

While the chicken is stewing, cook and char on a stove top griddle:

  • 1 lg. white onion, skinned and left whole
  • 1 lg. red pepper, veins and seeds removed
  • 2 lg. whole Roma tomatoes

Cut the vegetables (charred skins and all) into large chunks and put them in the blender. Add:

  • 2 oz. of dark chocolate (La Abuelita)
  • 1/2  tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 T. chicken consommé powder (Maggi)
  • the contents of 2 jars (235g. each) of (DoñaMaria) mole paste.

When the chicken is cooked, remove the pieces and set them on a platter to cool for ½ hour – then remove the meat from the bones in as large pieces as possible. Set the chicken pieces to one side. Discard the bones.

Strain the broth, discard the onion and other bits, and then take out enough broth to cover the ingredients in the blender. Process until smooth. If your blender’s glass is not a large one, do one half of the ingredients at a time. Transfer the mixture to a clay cooking pot or other large pot.

Reserve 4 cups of the broth so you can use it when making the rice, and add all the rest to the blended mixture in the cooking pot. Stir well and put the pot on medium heat. The mixture will be “soupy”, so you need to let it reduce by about a third, or until it has the texture of a creamy sauce.

Add the chicken pieces to the mole sauce and simmer for 20 minutes.

Measure out:

  • 2 cups of rice

And prepare it as you please, but instead of using water, use the:

  • 4 cups of reserved chicken broth

To the steaming rice, add:

  • 2 envelopes of condimento español

(this is basically turmeric and is available at you corner store or in the market)

Optional ingredients::

  • ¼ cup of toasted sesame seeds
  • light cream
  • red onion
  • cilantro leaves

To plate:

Mold ½ cup of rice on one side of the plate. Spoon the Mole beside it. To garnish the mole, I sometimes run a line of cream over the top and sprinkle it with the toasted sesame seeds. Sometimes I place thinly sliced red onion on top or I use cilantro leaves.

I serve guacamole, fried plantains and hot corn tortillas with this meal. I pair it with a robust red wine.