Just over a day from now, members of my family will get together and open what are, really, extravagant gifts. This is something I've lobbied against openly for a few years, now; while I like giving gifts that I know will make the recipient happy, I hate having to fulfill "lists" just because it's Christmas, and I don't feel like I should have to get an expensive gift to show someone I love them. In the past few years, I've actually gotten a "wish list" from my 30+ year old brother, and he asks us to send him a list, too. The whole thing feels contrived. I don't like getting extravagant gifts, either; they make me feel uncomfortable, especially when they're not exactly a good fit.
The best kinds of gifts are the ones that take us by surprise; they're not often even the largest or most expensive ones (in fact, most often, quite the opposite), but the ones that come from the heart.
Today we went to New York to travel to the top of the Empire State Building, and to show I. the tree, the department store windows, the Rockefeller Center ice skaters. He loved it all (except for the fact that he had to walk a long way in the icy wind). As we were standing there in Rockefeller Center, marveling at the height of the tree, I remembered a gift that I'd gotten here over 15 years ago. It was a day or two before Christmas, and I was with my then-boyfriend. It had just started to snow, and it was late enough so that the pedestrian traffic had started to dwindle. Looking up at the start high up in the tree, the snow falling gently all around me in the city lights, it felt almost magical, hopeful somehow; I remember wishing I could capture that feeling and keep it for the days when I felt sad and alone. The tree-guard, who was watching us, saw me looking up at the star and the tree through the gentle flurries, and approached us, slowly reaching into his pocket. "I have something for you," he told us. Smiling at me, he pulled out of his pocket a single blue bulb from the string of lights on that giant tree, one that he told us he'd found no longer worked. For more than fifteen years I'd saved that bulb. Today, after we got back home, I gave it to my little boy. It was a reminder of his trip, of looking wide-eyed for the first time at a tree taller than any houses and most buildings that he knows, a reminder of the way the world can feel magical sometimes. He held it to his heart, and put it in his "treasure box," for safe keeping. I hope that he keeps it for another fifteen years.
amazing fellow blogger who knows all too intimately about repeated loss, to remember our lost loved ones. I don't know if you can see the silver snowflakes in this picture, but they're there. The gift brought tears to my eyes; it's the kind of gift whose simple thoughtfulness and generosity take my breath away. I put it in a place on our tree where it stands out among the other ornaments; and I noticed, hanging it, that it was the same color as the bulb I'd just given to my little monkey ... as if a reminder, again, of the people and the places and the feelings that are always there, even though we miss them.
another blogger: I'd sent her some Chocolate Toffee, Sugar Cookie Cutouts, and Jam Pinwheels. she sent me her Triple Chocolate Chunk, Ginger Cookies, and Peppermint Bark. They were so beautifully packaged, I couldn't help but feel bad about the poor Tupperware I'd sent off (in an attempt to ensure that my cookies arrived in one piece). And they tasted wonderful.
These were simple gifts, but in so many ways, they've touched me and made me happier than I suspect the pile of gifts from my non-immediate family will on Christmas morning. This is the Santa Claus that lives in all of us, the one that the editor of the Sun wrote to Virginia about those many years ago..
In celebration of simplicity, I thought I'd share a simple recipe for soup. I love Madhur Jaffrey. I know I've talked about her here and here, but I needed to say it again. If I had to purchase one cookbook these days, it would be Jaffrey's World Vegetarian. This happens not to come from that book, but from her Quick and Easy Indian Cooking. In my house we have been eating one-bowl meals for what seems (to my husband at least) like weeks, and I see many more in our future, especially with this child expected in just about a month. Because sometimes the simplest of things just seem to fit better.
Here's wishing you a holiday--and a new year--filled with the simple things and the kinds of gifts that give you glimpses --however brief -- of joy.
Gingered Cauliflower Soup
3 T . vegetable oil
1 med. onion peeled and chopped
1 1" piece fresh ginger peeled, slivered
4 cloves garlic -- peeled and chopped
1 t. ground cumin
2 t. ground coriander
1/4 t. ground turmeric
1/4 t. cayenne pepper
2 med. potatoes, peeled, 1/3″ cubes
1/2 lb (2 c.) cauliflower florets
5 c. chicken stock
salt to taste
1/3 to 2/3 c. heavy cream
Set the oil over medium-high heat in a good-sized saucepan. When hot put in onion, ginger and garlic. Stir-fry for about 4 minutes or onion is somewhat browned. Put in cumin, coriander, turmeric, and cayenne. Stir once, put in potato, cauliflower and chicken stock. Stir and bring to boil. Cover and turn heat to low; simmer gently for 10 minutes or until potatoes are tender. Put soup into a blender and blend or use a hand blender to purée. Add cream and reheat gently.