I first had the idea to make Christmas cake over a year ago. The Beast and I had visited George Washington’s Mount Vernon in November, 2012. There was a special food exhibit detailing what the Washingtons would’ve eaten in the late 18th century. There were even recipe cards. One was for Martha Washington’s Great Cake, which was likely served as part of their grand Christmas dinner.
I had this in the back of my mind when we visited the duty free shop in Las Vegas a year later. I decided to buy a giant bottle of rum to facilitate my Christmas cake making, but not without quite a bit of deliberation.
Beast: Come on. We have to go.
Foodie: What kind of alcohol are you getting?
Foodie: Should I get this eight-year-old Bacardi rum? It’s such a good deal! And it’s “reserve”!
Beast: How much rum have we gone through in the last 10 years?
Foodie: Not much, I suppose. But I could sure use it to make Christmas cakes come Christmas time!
Beast: Do you even like Christmas cake?
Foodie: [Pause] I don’t think so. Do you?
Despite neither of us liking Christmas cake, I bought the rum and then several weeks later I began Googling and going through my cookbooks to look for recipes for a cake that I do not like. I found a recipe for Joey Smallwood’s wife’s 100-year-old Christmas cake. I found another in my Canadian Living cookbook. And another one from popular British cook Delia Smith.
I decided to take the best elements of them all, including Martha Washington’s, to create a perfect Christmas cake.
The first step meant abolishing any candied citrus peel. I reasoned that they were responsible for my disdain of Christmas cake. The second step meant buying about $40 worth of dried raisins, cherries and pineapple. The third step was baking two Christmas cakes plus a mini one that were really dry and tasted solely of dried fruit. The fourth step was wrapping them up, hoping they’d get better with age, then unwrapping them and pouring brandy into the little holes I poked on top, then wrapping them back up. The fifth step was making a batch of royal icing, with a touch of almond extract, to try and improve the shitty Christmas cakes I made.
The Beast tried the Christmas cake and said he didn’t like it. I tried it, about six or seven times, never deciding if I liked it or not. Both my mom and dad told me they enjoyed it. But I don’t know if they were just being supportive parents. In the end, I don’t feel like the money and effort I spent making Christmas cakes was a total waste. I might even attempt to make them again next year, along with the snickerdoodle and gingerbread cookies that I made.
By the by, my biggest baking successes this Christmas came with a little help: I used store-bought pizza dough to make these cinnamon buns on Christmas morning.
And I used my friend’s pastry, which she’s just starting to sell, for a steak and Guinness pie I made for Christmas dinner at my mom’s (the Beast suggested baking the crust right on top of the Creuset in order to save washing up more dishes. It was a great idea.)
And a torta rustica that I made for the Beast and me last night for dinner (I will include the recipe below because it’s that good.)
But back to that erratic behaviour I exhibited with the Christmas cake-making. I admit that it wasn’t the only thing I obsessed over this holiday season. I also became a bit of a maniac during the Boxing Day sales. For several hours one day, I toured all six floors of The Bay at Queen and Yonge St. obsessing over a $400 duvet that was 60 per cent off, a pair of $995 Lanvin shoes that were 70 per cent off and a $280 Maje sweater that was 50 per cent off. I walked away without spending a single penny. I went back the next day and tried on the shoes again. Despite them being my usual size, they were very tight. I didn’t buy anything on that visit either.
But on the third visit to The Bay, I spent some money. Maybe it was because the Beast was with me and gave me the confidence I needed to commit to purchasing things that were final sales. In any case, we made our way through the department store like two merry maniacs, laughing and snorting and spending money. The people in the shoe department greeted me like an old friend when I finally purchased the shoes that are too small for me. “They’ll stretch, right?” I asked the Beast and our new pals. “You have to get them. They’re to die for!” The Beast said enthusiastically. “They’ll totally stretch! At least half a size!” The sales associates promised. “Besides,” one of them whispered, “they’re Lanvin and sometimes you have to suffer for fashion.”
On the second floor in the men’s Ralph Lauren department, we chatted with a sales associate who knows the Beast well as a regular customer. He showered him with compliments about his exemplary layering and mixed patterns. And when he purchased a striped Oxford button-up–to add to his 50-plus collection–the sales associate said to me, “I wanted to buy this shirt too, but I have a feeling he’ll wear it in ways that I never dreamed of.” I nodded in agreement. The Beast and I high-fived and then he went back and bought a beautiful sweater and a pair of pants. “You can’t beat these prices!” We said to our Ralph Lauren friend. “It would be a crime not to buy them!”
We were high on fashion and material goods. We were high on being fabulous.
On the third floor, I tried on the Maje sweater for the Beast. “Holy shit,” he said, “buy it now. It’s perfection!” I hugged him and squealed. Then I whispered into his ear, “This is the best fucking day we’ve ever had.” We hugged again. Then a sales associate snuck around the corner and told us there was a camera and everyone was watching us and laughing. In turn, we laughed some more. When I paid for the sweater, another sales associate seemed slightly afraid as I reached for my Bay points card and said, “Well, she’s a getting a pretty grand workout today! You know? I mean, we can’t stop! These sales are incredible!”
On the sixth floor we bought the duvet–a Queen size one to replace the twin size duvet I’ve used for the last 21 years. As we practically skipped over to the Eaton’s Centre, we dreamt of the white cotton duvet cover that we would buy online from LL Bean, or maybe Pottery Barn or maybe we’d find the perfect one at Home Sense. And I bought a skirt that I will never wear and a pair of white jeans that are too small from J Crew, because they were both 50 per cent off, which made them both practically free for the taking.
I wore my Lanvin shoes around the house yesterday, with a pair of thick athletic socks. After several hours, the circulation to my feet was completely cut off, so I took them off.
I’ve got them on right now. I think I’m making progress because it’s been a few hours and I can still feel my toes. Tonight, I will begin breaking in my white jeans so they are ready for spring.
In the meantime, Happy New Year, everyone.
Torta Rustica recipe:
Mix together a container of ricotta (about two cups), three eggs, a cup of grated mozzarella, a cup of grated pecorino romano (or parmigiano), about a cup of chopped Italian parsley, and 125 grams (a package) of prosciutto crudo torn up, plus lots of freshly ground pepper. (I fried my prosciutto to get it crispy but you don’t have to.) Then add this to a store-bought pastry shell, or make your own for all I care, and then bake for 20 minutes at 400 and then another 20 minutes at 350. Enjoy with a simple green salad.