Aspen Princess: Finding the right balance for the Best. Christmas. Ever.
December 26, 2018
If you haven't already seen the "Best Christmas Ever" skit with Matt Damon on "Saturday Night Live," you should Google it. Do it now.
This hilarious bit features Damon playing a husband cuddled up on the couch with his wife over a glass of wine reminiscing about what a perfect Christmas they had. Flashback to what really happened — one horrific scene after another, from their children waking them up at 5 a.m. and fighting over toys to families fighting over politics (the "she's racist against whites" line had me clutching my sides with hysterics).
Like most funny things, there is a lot of truth in it. For those of us who are being honest, the holidays are way overrated.
I have it pretty easy compared to most people. I don't have to host a big family gathering with politically incompatible people; it's just our little trio — a quartet if you count the pug — and thank god we're all Democrats. I don't have a jam-packed social calendar. In fact, the opposite seems to be true. I'm thinking people have finally given up on us because I didn't receive any invites at all except the obligatory ones from my architect and Ryan's work party. I don't really have to worry much about buying gifts — it's mostly just about my son Levi at this point.
I don't have to travel anywhere, since Ryan only gets Christmas Eve and Christmas off so there's not really time to even consider taking a holiday vacation. Good thing we happen to live in the place where everyone wants to be.
The point is, I have nothing to complain about, and our Christmas was the stuff my dreams were made of back when I was single and would spend the holidays trying to get drunk enough early enough in the day to just pass out and be done with it.
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We spent Christmas Eve at Buttermilk where Ryan and Levi lapped Panda Peak while I tried out my new skinning gear on Tiehack. Afterward, we indulged in fried ribs (not something I would normally eat but, oh my god, it's worth every calorie) with death relish (which I would eat on literally almost anything) and strong IPAs for that mid-day beer buzz that's survivable.
Not a fan of ham, I decided to go with the Italian Christmas Eve tradition of the Feast of the Seven Fishes as a nod to Ryan's Italian roots and made Seafood Cioppino, a fish stew with mussels, clams, shrimp and whatever other decent fish you can find in the middle of the Rockies. The tomato-based broth has fennel and white wine with chili flakes and cooks slowly for a depth of flavor that is genuinely restaurant quality. I served it in wide, shallow bowls with gremolada toast, which is the simplest thing ever; just slices of toasted baguette spread with butter mixed with salt, lemon zest and fresh parsley but takes the whole dish up a couple notches and is the perfect thing for lapping up all that delectable broth.
This meal was not only delicious but fun to eat, digging into shells and getting different flavors with every bite, namely a taste of the sea that always feels so very far away from us. It was light and spared us that rock-gut feeling you get after eating a rich meal. We loved it and I plan to make it every year from now on.
We were pretty stoked for Christmas day with our little guy, even though he really didn't seem to grasp the whole concept at first. I almost respect him for not falling for it 100 percent. He crawled under a blanket on the couch and demanded milk and had no interest in seeing what was under the tree. When I pointed out that Santa had eaten the cookies we left out, he shook his head vehemently and said, "No, I ate it."
We eventually coaxed him into present-opening mode. And while I did limit it to three gifts, I didn't fully consider that number grew exponentially with the gifts from other family members into a cool dozen. After the sixth present we kind of started sneaking wrapped boxes into the closet to save for his birthday. Too much stimulation.
Then it was onto Aspen for my favorite holiday event of the year: champagne brunch with old friends. They make egg bake Midwestern style, biscuits and gravy, the whole nine. Now that I've quit eating in order to stay thin in middle age, I stuck to champagne with a couple of strawberries thrown in for good measure and was nice and fuzzy by the time the noon siren blared. From there, we did a quick cross country ski up Independence Pass to Weller Lake while babe napped in the chariot. My mid-day buzz evaporated in the cold wind and thin air and gave me just enough of an appetite for the elk and lobster surf and turf I planned for Christmas night.
And still. There was a heaviness in my heart I couldn't quite put my finger on. Was it that I longed for a larger family gathering, a house filled with noise and activity? Was I sad that I hadn't received more invitations from friends, even though I've made it crystal clear not to call me after 8 p.m. unless someone has died? Was I bummed that we don't have the time or money for an exotic holiday escape to warmer climates? Was it the fact that I feel like a bit of a fraud, what, considering I'm Jewish? Was it that deep down, I wish I could have another baby like so many of my friends who are pregnant with their second child?
My darling husband, who is always so observant and in tune with my ever-changing moods put his hand on mine, gave me that goofy half grin and said, "Honey. Best. Christmas. Ever."
The Princess is already planning the menu for New Year's Eve. Email your favorite recipes to email@example.com.