I have all these romantic, fond memories of Christmases when I was a kid. We’d drive about an hour away to a tree farm to chop down the “tallest of allest” we could find, then spend half the afternoon struggling to get it inside the house. My dad would carefully string the lights, determined to fix any tiny broken bulbs and bring 10-year-old strands back to life. We’d unwrap cheesy handmade ornaments (which I can’t believe my mom agreed to save) as we listened to anything from Bing Crosby to Handel’s Messiah.
On Christmas Eve, I’d gently shake the boxes under the tree, trying to choose the one gift I was allowed to open that night. The next morning, I’d run to the family room and stand in awe of the overflowing stockings and sea of boxes waiting to be unwrapped, counting down the seconds until I was allowed to wake everyone else up. Eventually, with plates of scrambled eggs and Mom’s homemade Swedish Tea Ring in hand, we’d begin the rounds of gift opening.
Over the years, the magic of the season has waxed and waned. Some years, the snow falls at the perfect moment on Christmas Eve while I’m sitting in front of the fire drinking eggnog, and it’s like I’ve stepped into a Norman Rockwell painting. Other years, it’s anything but magic. Christmas Day is spent unexpectedly in a hospital waiting room, or the grief of an absent loved one is tangibly felt. Sometimes, the monotony of everyday living takes over – kids still get cranky on holidays, the flu sweeps through the family, the house needs to get cleaned, and any attempts to savor the season seem futile.
As a parent now, I want my kids to look back on Christmas with the fondest of memories. I want them to feel surrounded by love and joy. I want to enjoy a special meal together and see their smiles as they open gifts. I want to laugh with them, play in the snow, and watch them admire the lights on the tree. I want them to carry on traditions we had when I was a kid, and I want us to enjoy starting our own traditions. I want to preserve the magic.
Yet more than anything, more than the presents and the lights and the food, I want my kids to truly celebrate Christmas - even when the magic fades and the holiday seems less than festive. When there’s no huge feast or a room full of gifts, when the day is punctuated by conversations with doctors, or the dark night of the soul seems to extinguish every twinkling light, I want them to know that “joy to the world” is more than a flippant phrase, and “peace on earth” is a sure promise to which they can cling.
I want them to know that whether or not the season feels merry and bright, there is an even deeper beauty and an unwavering Hope that we celebrate during this season of Advent.
Orange + Spice Pancakes with Buttered Bourbon Syrup
Yields 3-4 servings
1 cup buttermilk
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 Tablespoon maple syrup
1 Tablespoon orange juice
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 Tablespoon orange zest
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
Preheat a griddle or large skillet to medium-low heat.
In a medium bowl, beat the egg slightly, then whisk in the buttermilk, melted butter, maple syrup, and orange juice. In a separate bowl, stir together the dry ingredients (flour, orange zest, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cloves).
Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir gently, just until incorporated. It’s OK if there are a few lumps.
Spray the griddle or skillet with cooking spray, or grease with butter. Ladle the batter onto the hot griddle. When bubbles rise to the surface and the bottom of the pancakes are slightly browned, flip them over. Cook for another couple minutes, until the second side is browned and the pancakes are cooked through. (Note that your cooking surface will get hotter after each batch of pancakes, so you may need to turn down the heat or shorten the cooking time as you make subsequent batches.)
Top with Buttered Bourbon Syrup, walnuts, and orange slices (or whatever else you like!). Serve and enjoy!
Buttered Bourbon Syrup*
1/2 cup maple syrup
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
2 Tablespoons bourbon
Add all the ingredients to a small saucepan. Heat over low heat, stirring frequently, until the butter melts. Serve warm over pancakes.
This recipe yields just enough syrup for the quantity of pancakes above. Feel free to double the recipe, then simply rewarm on the stove or in the microwave when you’re ready to use.
*The alcohol in this syrup does not get cooked out, so this is intended for adults only.