Christmas is done, and I am mostly recovered. Still, I think getting away for a week and a half to the tropics is about what I need to return all the way back from the brink of madness.
The church had a very charming Christmas Pageant as the Liturgy of the Word on Advent IV (the last Sunday before Christmas). We've taken to calling it the "chaos pageant" to reflect the just-in-time nature of how we put it together. We tried, in past years, to do more sophisticated pageants with memorized lines or, at least, blocking. But we can never get nearly enough rehearsal time with our kids. So last year we created a format that would allow us to plug in the kids with as much flexibility and as little preparation as possible.
So, this year, we started off with the chairs in the square format we have been using for a few weeks, now. In the centre, on the rug, was the wooden coffee table from my office. Upstage and to one side was a rocking chair, a reading lamp, and one of those fake electric hearths.
As the pageant started, one of the grownups with a good reading voice comes out and sits down in the rocking chairs and starts reading the story of Christmas from a children's book. As he does so, the kids come out in costume to listen and sometime pantomime the action. The story is cut up with a series of thematically appropriate carols.
Henry, now twelve months old, got to play baby Jesus. We put a Moses-basket style cradle on top of the coffee table and he managed to lie in it for a few minutes. When he got squirmier the kids held onto him, which is he quite used to by now.
When the story was complete we announced the peace and cleared most of the set away. But instead of using hip-high altar to celebrate the Eucharist, I simply sat on a stool and used the coffee table. That way, the kids could gather around like we do for baptisms. Someone later noted that it was remarkable how comfortable the Messiah kids are surrounding me at the altar when I'm singing the preface and doing all those priesty things. It's a very "Messiah" style way to do things. I loved it.
Because I was sitting and the Deacon and Sub-deacon were sitting and the kids were sitting, it only made sense to have the congregation seated as well. On person said that really opened his eyes to an entirely new set of perspections of the sacrament. Cool.
That afternoon we had the annual Lessons and Carols service. Very nicely done, as always. I especially appreciated that it was all Messiah talent--to outside performers this year. It's a nice way to spend a Sunday afternoon.
Christmas Eve, itself, was intense as you would expect. Christmas Day had a light feeling. We had decided to do a BCP (that is, Canadian BCP) Traditional Communion Service. The language is beautiful, but there is a lot of it. It's also strange to get used to having the Creed before the sermon and some of the other idiosyncratic pieces. Still, I was pleased to note that Eric and I are perfectly capable of doing a well-executed, polished BCP Traditional Eucharist (with hymns, of course). Too bad attendance was so low.
The Sunday after Christmas also had sparse attendance. We anticipated this, but it still can be discouraging.
Meanwhile, at chez Moss, I was cooking up a storm. For Henry's birthday it was lobster (it's a Moss tradition to have lobster on your birthday). For Christmas Day we had goose, and Sunday Supper was cassoulet.
I was particularly proud of my first cooked goose. A little trickier than turkey, but it's a nice change of pace. I think I might actually prefer the meat of goose to turkey, anyway. Green beans, salad, and one of the best gravies I've made served as sides for this Christmas day feast. Sparkling white to drink. Creme Brulee for dessert.
Sunday afternoon we had Cassoulet. I made Anthony Bourdain's version--which is an epic undertaking. First off, I had to find a butcher with all the pieces. Grace Meats turned out to be perfect. Then, you have to prepare the dish over three days! The first of these is just to make a simple Duck Confit. That is a cool trick. There is a moment when you pour four cups or so of rendered hot duck fat into a dish with duck legs and rosemary and it all sizzles in the most appetizing way. Then you cook it in the oven for a long time, then it goes into the fridge where all that fat solidifies around the duck lucks to preserve them. Very cool.
Making the Cassoulet itself involved sauteing sausages in duck fat, cooking beans with pork belly, making a very cool paste from onions sauteed in duck fat and then pureed, and then layering these various meats and beans into a casserole dish for a long cook in the oven. Like I said, epic.
I might try doing this recipe again a few times and then posting it here with my modifications, as I did for the boeuf bourguignon recipe. But considering the time involved, I'd be curious how many people would try it when there are much simpler versions of Cassoulet available.
The beneficiaries of all this cooking were my wife's parents. They came up for the Christmas holidays and had a good time playing with Henry and eating. Henry's favourite Chistmas gift this year was probably the crawling tunnel they gave him.
Henry is finally getting over his bug. For a while he simply wasn't very interesting in food, but over the last few days his appetite has improved. I could hardly believe how much he packed away at lunch today. So then I offered him a bottle of big-boy milk for the first time, and he gobbled it right up without a blink. I've heard of people having trouble switching over to cow's milk from formula, but Henry has always been an adventurous eater.
Now... we rest.... some work, but mostly rest!