The Christmas tree stands unadorned in my living room where it’s taken residence since the Sunday before last. The strings of lights and masses of translucent, opaque, and metallic red bulbs are ready to be strung and strewn throughout its natural, Douglas fir branches–waiting, just waiting, for the right time. As I scroll through Instagram during the quiet moments I see home after home decked out in an abundance of decorations. One person remarked on how she was taking a relaxed approach to decorating this year and had taken a week to trim her tree–she’d probably be shocked to see how much I have her beat!
The days of December and the weeks of Advent are passing by more quickly than I anticipated, and I’m choosing to be okay with that. I won’t manage to set up the entire ceramic Christmas village that has been in my family for years. I won’t bake as many cookies as I had hoped. I won’t be able to squeeze in every single Christmasy activity that I enjoy. December snuck up on me this year (perhaps due to a late Thanksgiving) and rather than trying to catch up, I’m choosing to relax and be okay with a calmer, quieter season. What I am striving for is a month full of special moments, quality time with loved ones, sweet activities at home with my family, and reflection on the reason we celebrate Christmas to begin with.
As I’ve worked through my calendar and my thoughts to come to that conclusion, I’ve reflected on the stress, frenzy, and overcommitments that might otherwise permeate the too-few minutes and hours of this short season. Rather than worrying about the faint dust that’s inevitably gathered on my bookshelf or whether I’ve put away the toys scattered around the family room (which are still in use into the evening) before guests come for dinner, I would prefer to do my best: to offer hospitality by warmly welcoming friends and loved ones through my door, ushering them into a peaceful and tidily lived-in home, and feeding them well.
That was the case with the lutefisk feast I served my parents and grandma last week. What I really wanted that evening was to treat those dear people to a meal full of tradition, memories, and love. There were still dishes in the sink when they came (I would have needed two dishwashers to keep up after that day of cooking!) and the table had yet to be set. But the food was coming together, and it ended up filling each family member with not just the satiation of a good meal but with the warmth and love that I had so hoped. There was the julekake that Grandma loves so much and the Norwegian rice cream with raspberry sauce that my dad’s late mother always served at Christmastime. I served lutefisk with melted butter for my family and with cream sauce for my husband who remembers eating it that way while visiting relatives in Sweden. Looking back at how content and joyful everyone was at the end of the evening, I wouldn’t have prioritized anything differently.
We’re slowly bringing out the decorations. The stockings are hung, the Advent candles on the dinner table. When I start to feel antsy about the progress–what seems like slow momentum relative to so many other households–I reflect on my goals for the season and remember that for many families in Scandinavia, the Christmas tree wouldn’t be decorated until Christmas Eve. This year I’m trying just to savor. My attempts will be imperfect–that is just inevitable–but it feels good to know that I’m trying.
Two Red Cabbage Salads for Your Christmas Table
I served the following two salads for last week’s lutefisk feast. While I love rødkål–the slowly-simmered sweet-and-sour red cabbage that’s a traditional Scandinavian Christmas side dish–I wanted to add something fresh and raw to what was otherwise going to be a rich and hearty meal. These two recipes have three things in common: red cabbage, apple, and walnuts. The first has a creamy dressing and the second is sweetened with lingonberry preserves. For either salad, you could certainly prepare the vegetables easily by shredding the cabbage using the slicing blade of a food processor and switching to the shredding disk for the apples as I did, which will result in a slaw-like consistency. Next time, though, I’ll try slicing the cabbage thinly using a sharp knife and cutting the apples into matchsticks. The latter approach is more work, but I think the vegetables will stand up better to the dressings.
Creamy Red Cabbage and Apple Salad
Adapted significantly from the Rødkålsalat in Ekte Norsk Jul Vol. 2 by Astrid Karlsen Scott.
2 cups shredded or thinly-sliced red cabbage
2 cups shredded or matchstick-cut apples (peels left on; 2 small apples or 1 1/2 medium apples)
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 cup plus 1-2 tablespoons roughly chopped toasted walnuts, divided
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Salt and pepper to taste
Place cabbage and apples in a medium bowl and toss with lemon juice to prevent the apples from discoloring. This will also help season the salad. Stir in 1/2 cup of the walnuts. Mix sour cream, mayonnaise, and kosher salt in a small bowl. Add just enough of the dressing to coat the salad. Taste, and season with salt and pepper if you’d like. Place in a serving bowl and garnish with the remaining walnuts.
Red Cabbage Salad with Green Apple, Lingonberry Preserves, and Toasted Walnuts
Adapted from Bon Appétit, January 2010, from Chefs Andrew Chase and Erwin Schrottner. The original recipe calls for blending part of the lingonberry preserves with part of the dressing, then stirring in the rest of the preserves later. I followed those steps and included that below, but next time I’ll try blending all the preserves with the dressing–that will make it easier to adjust the ultimate seasonings to taste.
4 cups thinly sliced red cabbage
1 large Granny Smith apple, coarsely grated
1/2 cup toasted walnut halves, divided
2 tablespoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons lingonberry preserves, divided
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup canola oil
Place cabbage, apple, and most of the walnut halves in a large bowl, reserving about a tablespoon or two of the walnuts for the garnish. Toss with lemon juice.
Puree 1 tablespoon of the lingonberry preserves with the mustard, vinegar, and salt in a blender. With the machine running on the slowest speed and a hand guarding the hole in the lid to keep the dressing from splashing out, slowly add the oil until incorporated. Taste and add salt and pepper if desired.
Add the remaining preserves and about half of the dressing and toss to combine. Add additional dressing until you have enough to coat the salad–be careful not to overdress it. Season with salt and pepper if you wish, transfer to a serving dish, and garnish with the remaining walnut halves.