Oh, friends. I think I might finally be getting the hang of this whole Christmas thing. And while I'm sure no one will be very impressed by this - I am getting dangerously close to 40, after all, and this is my eighth Christmas as a parent - it is a monumental feat, nonetheless. See, I was raised by a Christmas heretic, so it's a wonder I can handle this holiday at all, much less without medication, and truth be told, I'm just not terribly good at traditions, at being fully present for entire holiday seasons, or at spending money unnecessarily. Which character faults pretty much preclude any sort of Yuletide success.
But I persevered, I'm telling you. For the sake of the kids (there are two of them now).
Our Christmas tree still looks a little bit like Charlie Brown decorated it, and even though I'll probably be sent straight to hell for saying it, I remain steadfastly in the Christmas-crafts-are-stupid-wastes-of-my-time camp, so, well, there is clearly some room for improvement here.
I actually did do a few things right this year. Using a warped piece of foam board for a backing, a stack of sticky notes (so that I could change the activities to suit our schedule), and an old classroom bulletin board calendar set, I created an advent calendar of Christmas activities following the examples of much more talented ladies on Pinterest (mine looks NOTHING like the one in the picture on the link). The kids loved it. I may have gotten even more of it out it than they did though, because the daily attention to this seemingly silly idea kept me fully aware of the Christmas season. Every single day - even if only to take a minute to listen to a Christmas song or to sip a cup of cocoa. It was, I have to admit, rather lovely.
There were other tiny achievements as well. Candies and baked goods were made for family members, sugar cookies were baked for Santa (using dinosaur cookie cutters and pink icing - hey, we're homeschoolers, what do you expect?), and we made a Christmas budget and stayed well within it.
I screwed up more than I got right, of course. The number of times I played the I'm-calling-Santa card and made Princess Hazelnut cry and scream with fear is more than a little embarrassing, and, like I do every year, I ran out of sugar before I finished all my baking. I still couldn't get it together to send out Christmas cards. And then there was the matter of my sugar cookies tasting truly crappy after an entire day devoted to baking and decorating of said craptastic treats.
But let's not get hung up on the details, mm-kay?
When it was all said and done, this morning was my sort of perfect Christmas. We had a simple kind of celebration, with stockings for the kids, a very small number of well-chosen presents per person, no plans to leave the house, and lots of time to sit around in our pajamas and play with new toys, watch Christmas movies, and just be together.
Our big meal for the day was a late breakfast of Creamy, Dreamy Cheddar Grits (you would be shocked to hear how often we eat this particular recipe) and French Toast Casserole. God bless the French Toast Casserole, right? I had zero intention of standing at the stove this morning, flipping individual slices of toast in the skillet and missing out on the present-opening fun, and I was so grateful when I made this recipe a few weeks ago and the whole family enjoyed it.
My first attempt at french toast casserole was a few months prior, and it was a dud. A soggy, gooey, tasteless dud. The concept was appealing though, and I kept running across new recipes and hearing others rave about their favorite versions, so it stayed at the front of my mind for recipes to be on the lookout for.
This particular one - the one I made a few weeks ago, and that I subsequently baked again this morning - turned out just the way I wanted, crispy on top, eggy on the bottom, and soggy in the middle. Made with a dense cranberry-walnut bread, the bread cubes held their shape nicely, and baking it in a shallow dish allowed for more surface area to crisp up from the cinnamon-sugar topping. The wider dish also allowed for more control over how much of the casserole would get soggy, and the caramelization from the cinnamon sugar gave such a glorious toothsome texture to the top.
I kind of love it, you see, and The Boy Wonder, who eats like a bird, ended up devouring two giant platefuls. Such a perfect recipe, the sort of thing that can make a weekend morning feel special, the kind of special treat that goes hand in hand with lazy, happy holidays.
Oh, it isn't healthy. Not at all. So don't worry about that yet. December is a time of excess, a month in which sugar for breakfast is perfectly acceptable, and let's face it, nothing of any consequence is going to get done for the next week anyway. Let's keep the intemperance going for now. We can reconvene here in January, and talk then about cleanses, and anti-inflammatory diets, and the swearing off of processed foods. Until then, my friends, let the decadence continue.
FRENCH TOAST CASSEROLE, adapted from allrecipes.com (serves 6)
Use the densest bread you can find. Most supermarket delis carry a breakfast bread, like cranberry-walnut, that will work wonderfully. I made mine in my bread machine, and left it out overnight to get stale and crusty. Stale is good in this case, and will help the bread cubes to hold together firmly.
- 5 cups bread cubes (approximately 1 to 2-inches square), from a very dense breakfast bread
- 4 eggs
- 1 1/2 cups milk
- 1/4 cup sugar (brown, white, or raw), divided
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 Tbs butter
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- Lightly butter an 8x10 (or slightly larger) casserole dish, and pour bread cubes into pan. Go ahead and let the bread cubes sit unevenly in the pan. There is no need to press them down and make them behave.
- In a large bowl, beat together the eggs, milk, 2 Tablespoons of the sugar, salt and vanilla.
- Pour egg mixture over bread, attempting to saturate most of the pieces of bread.
- Cut the butter into tiny pieces and dot them over the top of the casserole.
- In a small bowl, stir together the remaining 2 Tablespoons of sugar with the cinnamon, and sprinkle over the top of the casserole.
- Bake at 350 degrees for 45 to 55 minutes, until top is golden.
- Serve warm, topped with maple syrup.