Look What We Did With the Old Tree

If it wasn’t for coffee, I wouldn’t even be alive right now. So, thank you, coffee, for all you do.
Even our dog has a hangover. And the leftovers? We could live three months on pie alone.
Meanwhile, I am one Christmas cookie away from being mistaken for Buddy Hackett, or perhaps the great Totie Fields (ask your grandparents).
On Tuesday, a personal Pyrrhic victory: I went 90 seconds without consuming a sweet of any kind.
Other than that, I’ve been rather indulgent. The word decadence comes to mind, not in any pejorative sense. Opulence. Indulgence. Decadence. Life’s too short, right?
Obviously, cardiologists must make a killing on Christmas, pardon the pun. How ironic. The holiday with the most heart. …
Therapists too. Happiness makes some people sad. Indeed, in our family, Christmas is like a nervous condition. In medical terms, we have eggnog on the brain.
“Don’t be sad it’s over,” goes the saying. “Be glad it happened.”
Oh, it happened.
At our house, the holidays look like some sort of Harlem Globetrotters stunt: high energy, kind of unnerving … belly laughs and confetti and water in the face.
Pow! Hallelujah!
Yet, there is a certain sophistication that is captured in the tiny touches.
Like, the side salad my lovely and patient daughter made: arugula, pears, pomegranate seeds, gorgonzola, candied pecans, sprinkled with diamonds, rubies, frankincense and myrrh.
Honestly, Michelangelo spent less time on that ceiling.
Yet, I realize that my daughter’s desire to make everything perfect makes for us a splendid little Christmas.
Smartacus, on the other hand, lets the holidays come to him. On the couch.

These spoons and kitchen tools were made from my grandbaby’s very first Christmas tree.

“I have a different mindset,” my son explains.
My dad celebrated Christmas this same way, as did Posh’s dad, as do many dads.
Me, I still can’t wrap a gift to save my life.
But I recognize this discrepancy in the way the genders approach the holiday. Christmas speaks to the selflessness of women in general, their kindnesses, their poetry.
Santa gets too much credit. It’s the moms who bring us Christmas.
Let’s just talk about cookies for a second. The lovely and patient older daughter makes these little wreaths out of cornflakes.
I can’t even make cornflakes out of cornflakes.
After a lifetime of watching women exhaust themselves — my mama, my late wife and now my amazing daughters — I’ve tried to step up with better gifts.
When Christmas ended last year, I took my older daughter’s discarded tree off to a woodshop. There, my buddy Serdar turned the tree trunk into a series of wooden spoons that commemorate my grandbaby’s first Christmas, even branding them with the date.
I hope Finn and my daughter have these spoons in 50 years. Most likely, they will run across one of these custom pine spoons in the back of a junk drawer and think: “Where did we get this? Oh well …”
Maybe they’ll put it back in the junk drawer. Maybe they’ll just toss it. Oh well.
I also tried to honor moms by re-creating an egg casserole that my own mama used to make on Christmas or New Year’s mornings. My sister sent the recipe, handwritten by my mom. Then she sent a translation of the recipe.
See, my mama was bilingual. She spoke fluent English but wrote in some long-dead alien language that was as indecipherable as the woman herself. I mean, everyone loved Mom, but she was this hybrid of French effusiveness and stoic Midwesterner. Basically, she was like Cleopatra — if Cleopatra liked to shovel snow.
And she was Christmas.
Anyway, Mom (and Posh) loved this egg casserole, which became a generational tradition at Christmas or New Year’s.
Basically, you layer croutons in a greased 9-by-9 baking dish. Then you layer shredded cheddar over the croutons, then another layer of croutons and another layer of cheese – four layers in all. Over this, you pour a mixture of four beaten eggs and two cups of milk, seasoned with salt and a plop of powdered mustard or Dijon.
You can sprinkle the dish with cooked breakfast sausage, but that’s optional.
Let it soak, meld and make sweet love in the fridge for at least an hour, or preferably overnight. Then bake at 350 for an hour.
Tastes like, well, 50 years ago.
Hallelujah.

Yes, I will check with Serdar to see if he plans to do more soup spoons. Don’t hold your breath. They are a lot of work. Email me at Letters@ChrisErskineLA.com if you’re interested. In the meantime, Happy New Year’s to all. Cheers!