A Not So Ordinary Holiday

By Kate Kristiansen

If you only knew, the story behind most photos would it appear as picture perfect? Our Christmas Day photo, next to the sparkling tree hid the frosty fueled craziness before dinner.

For many reasons, I wanted this year to end on a good note. 2014 kicked my butt.

For twenty years, we’ve celebrated with an annual gathering at Christmas, which has since grown with friends and family traveling great distances to begin the season at our house. There is carol singing, nibbles to nosh on —a memory we cherish. The truth is those occasions take a lot of work to make “picture perfect”. The groan of people who hate to sing, the endless hours of food prep, tree decorating and the general hustle we all feel at this time. This year the decorating and planning came to a halt when we got the call that hubby had to work over Christmas. Hubby works away most of the year and is on a project with a tight deadline in California. He would be working through the stats, but there was no way we would not be together at Christmas. Family means no one gets left behind. We planned to spend what time he had to enjoy those moments. So the tree we were waiting to decorate until he got home remained empty this season. Friends had to make new traditions of their own; the Kristiansen’s packed up and flew to California for the holidays.

Hubby arranged a real Christmas tree for our arrival. The plumped up version of a “Charlie Brown tree” its green limbs sprouting plastic balls lite up the hotel room we’d be sharing for the holidays. It was different to the beautiful balsam pine that typically stands in the center of our home filled with the collection of old ornaments from the years. We expressed gratitude that we had a tree and were together. The stockings from home, we strung along the desk in the corner of the room, and we sang from the song sheets loud and out of tune just like every other year.

The hotel was full. It was different sharing our holidays with strangers. Some were taking time out to check out Disney, or visiting family nearby, and others with extraordinary circumstances. Some, the insurance companies had relocated to the hotel while their homes were being fixed due to flooding. A great reminder of how lucky we were. The staff was warm and generous in spirit making us all feel at home.

The reality is that nothing is ever perfect. Those cheery Facebook updates hide the messy dysfunction called life. The mask slips, every other version of ourselves revealed in the love of a family.

Christmas Day hubby had to work. My daughter and I slept in, had a relaxing day and casually dressed for our Christmas Day booking at London, Gordon Ramsey’s West Hollywood restaurant. It was a treat for someone else to cook, and do the clean up— it promised to be a superb ending to the year.

We dressed in anticipation, Dad rushed in dirty and tired from his early morning working day, but we all were excited about the meal that lay ahead. Washed, dressed and fully primped, as perfect and superficial as Hollywood implies— we were ready. However, deep down the disappointment of Christmas far from home hovered in the air.

The car ride frightfully unraveled the dynamics of a Christmas lost and a different holiday memory we were about to create. The struggle fueled by hubby’s pokes at my LA driving, our daughter’s music requests from the back seat, and the continue prattle on about work craziness. A typical family conversation wherever you are. (At least in my family.)

We parked the car through squabbles and walked through the grand white and gold marble hallways of the hotel to the bustling restaurant. We should have been gleaming with happiness, but we could hardly string a sentence together by the time, we stood in front of the Maître d’ who ushered us to our table.

The London offers Gordon Ramsey cuisine re-interpreted by Executive Chef Anthony into California lifestyle. The restaurant offers five private salons and a cocktail bar elegantly central.

Our table was fit for six people, a white leather sofa for four along one side and two deep bucket seats, another reminder of just how small our party was this year. A view of the entire restaurant and the LA skyline speckled with lights, I was certain that everyone in the room could see the tension from our little family as we sat silently reading the menu. Hubby had left his cell phone in the car after being scolded by our daughter for talking about work on Christmas Day. I could see his mind and fingers twitching from an email he had received minutes before we parked the car. Like most people we have a rule, leave work at work. At times, a difficult practice for us all.

A set three-course menu featuring traditional British fair souped up for the holidays helped us unravel our bitterness and warm our hearts.

We started with chestnut soup with a duck confit (a salty, sweet soup I am still dreaming about), creamy squash risotto, and fresh green salad. The mains a pesto encrusted salmon, tender beef filet and a seared duck breast. All were melt in your mouth and beyond extraordinary. Food brings people together. We shed off our frantic arrival, sunk ourselves into each bite, oozing over the flavors and relished the time together. The large sofa proved useful as we leaned back, full and sated after desert of apple tartin with fennel ice cream and sticky date pudding. Great too for scanning the room — full of families, friends and those, perhaps in even strangers joined together on this day to share a meal. My daughter proclaimed it was the best meal she had ever had, with the perfect portions, tastes, and ambiance.

In reality, while it took us a moment to remember to be appreciative, (something we aren’t proud of) it was together breaking bread as a family that was the best part. The over-priced dining experience while a bonus was not a replacement to what each of us brings to the table. These times include weird, wacky stories, heated arguments and joyous laughter, food and memories made —some simple and others not so ordinary wherever we are. Picture perfect? Never.

If you have a restaurant of foodie biz suggestion, email me at ladydinesalot@gmail.com or follow me on Facebook, Twitter and my blog LadyDinesAlot.com.

For the Love of Chestnuts!

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Chestnuts roasting by the open fire commonly spark thoughts of the holiday season. These smooth red-brown edible nuts taste good and are packed with healthy benefits.

Since a young girl, my friend Helen eats these as a snack year round—nibbling away on bags of fresh and sometimes roasted ones. She loves to crack the hard chewy shell, eating the creamy white fleshy goodness inside.

Given their nutrition value these morsels are hailed as a symbol of longevity and fertility by many North American nomads. Chestnuts drop from their deciduous trees in the fall, so are also a sign of harvest and abundance. Many other cultures have also valued their health benefits, China, Korea, Japan and the Mediterranean. Greeks deem that the chestnut is superior to the almond, hazelnut, and walnut. (My friend, Helen is Greek, and she would agree, through mouthfuls of these delicious bite-sized nuts that they are far superior.)

Unlike other nuts, chestnuts are low in fat and high in starch content. The fibre content of a chestnut is 3.1 g per 100 grams. Their high fiber content makes them a low glycemic index food, one that raises blood sugar slowly. Chestnuts are high in vitamin C, minerals, such as potassium, copper and magnesium, amino acids and antioxidants. They also provide 195 calories per 100 g serving, mostly coming from their carbohydrate content, according to Livestrong.com.

They can be crumbly in texture; mild and sweet to taste, and eaten boiled or roasted. I enjoy them in my annual holiday stuffing, and have seen them in soups, and ground down to flour for baking. In addition, they are high in essential fatty acids and the best part they do not have gluten (the binding protein in grain which can upset the small intestine.)

Many grocery stores sell chestnuts throughout the winter or find them canned and bottled. When buying chestnuts look for smooth, shiny shells, which do not rattle inside their hull. Store in a cool, dry place, and after hulling keep refrigerated.

The classic way to eat them is by roasting. Slice a thin line in the hull, so they do split or burst in the oven or fire. Roast in a pan for approximately 25 minutes, until the hulls become darker. Do not eat, until they are cool despite how scrummy they smell.

Chestnuts act as a tonic for muscles, nerves, and veins. To treat, it is advisable to eat for a few weeks. Edible chestnut leaves are recommended as a sedative on respiratory organs and can aid in treating bronchitis.

Raw chestnut can be unsafe and poisonous, only eat sweet edible chestnuts found in spiky pods, not Horse Chestnuts. Find the good ones, roast or boil them up and eat them like candy. Share and enjoy!

Happy Holidays.

If you have a restaurant suggestion or foodie biz email me at ladydinesalot@gmail.com, or follow my blog at LadyDinesalot.com, on Facebook or Twitter.