Everyone I know has some food item, the presence of which makes or breaks their holidays. For me, it's the buttery pastries, filled with stewed plums, and baked in every home in Finland during the week before Christmas. The Finns are a conformist people in many aspects of domesticity. I wouldn't be surprised to find their Christmas pastry baking to be mandated by national law.
The prune filled pastry clause might appear in a sub-part of the ordinance dictating that all citizens enjoy a sauna bath on Saturdays. The Grape and I fail on that quid pro quo of our Finnish-ness. Though not for lack of effort on my part. When I asked a contractor about procuring a variance to install a wood burning furnace that would feature an open fire and several hundred pounds of volcanic rocks hot enough to burn off your skin, to heat a space the size of the master bath to 200 degrees fahrenheit, the salty, work boot clad fellow from Southie actually blanched.
So, because I only bake the pastries once a year, and I apparently suffer from some form of mild dementia that blocks out what a pain in the butt the whole procedure is, I made a pastry dough the other night. Per my mom's instructions, I set it in the fridge to cool.
6:42 a.m. Grape is still asleep. Pre-heat oven, re-fill coffee, extract dough from fridge and place on freshly scrubbed, gleaming, spotless kitchen counter. Congratulate self on tackling baking project before slumbering toddler wakes. Attack dough with rolling pin.
6:44 Dough does not budge under weight of rolling pin. Discover that dough is a hunk of ice, from being stuffed in back corner of overly cold fridge.
6:47 Take deep breath. Nuke homemade pastry dough.
6:48 Pastry dough emerges from microwave as gooey mess, resembling custard in August. Re-wrap dough in wax paper and return bundle to refrigerator. Grape yells from crib, "Who's awake? Who's awake?" Pause to retrieve child, issue him breakfast, etc.
7:47 Remove pastry dough from refrigerator once again. Grape places the remains of his bagel, complete with cream cheese, between sofa cushions and announces, "All done, bagel!"
7:49 Clean couch, issue Grape more orange juice, re-new assault on pastry dough with rolling pin. When it refuses to budge, hack at it in manner of railroad man working sledgehammer. Call mother to make sure this is the right approach. She says it is not. Grape, in an attempt to mimick my actions in the kitchen, assaults the television with a Tonka truck.
7:50 Save television from destruction. Re-direct Grape to kitchen.
7:56 Grape unpacks all contents of kitchen cabinets onto kitchen floor, demands yogurt. Dough finally yields to my assault. Grape dumps yogurt shake into pot of flour sitting too close to the edge of the counter. "Paste! Yay!" he announces triumphantly. Silently curse pre-school for introducing concept of paste to child.
8:10 Garbage disposal is clogged with remains of yogurt/flour mixture. Grape undergoes wardrobe change. Dough, now rolled out and ready on counter, grows warm, soft and difficult to work with as I wrestle with the sole jar of Scandi-approved Christmas pastry filling I could locate in this or an adjacent zip code.
8:15 Jar will not open with any usual ploys. Dough growing far too gooey. The Grape grabs a corner and smears it into his hair like gel.
8:59 Dough is back in fridge, laid out in a pile of sheets separated by wax paper. Oven is off. I am dressed. Grape and I venture out to find plums to stew. Grape leaves house with dough in hair, but it's alright because he wears his hat. Call gym to cancel Grape's 10 a.m. nursery spot.
9:37 Return to house to stew and pit plums. Read stories to Grape by Christmas tree. Carols play softly in background. Silently congratulate self on lovely holiday tableau. Fail to register that I should be STIRRING THE DAMNED PLUMS.
9:58 Correctly identify stench from stove as hazardous at same moment building fire alarm starts to blare. Grape shrieks in panic. Tears stream down his little face as I stand on kitchen island, next to pastry dough, and smack ineffectually at fire alarm with handle of Swiffer Wet Jet.
10:01 Alarm falls silent, most likely of its own volition. Dump pot of blackened prune brulee into sink, fill with water, contemplate cost of replacing Calphalon. Reassure Grape that this is fun and traditional, and that these will be the best treats ever. Grape demands a Hershey kiss for his troubles. Commence re-washing counter.
10:20 Contemplate opening bottle of wine to help adjust attitude in desirable direction. Decide the Grape might tell on me if I do so before sunset. Give jar of pre-made plum filling one last, frustrated whack with back of knife. Impudent jar pops open on its own.
10:26 Newly energized by victory over prune jar, I roll out the dough and use a knife to cut the proper, prescribed by Finnish law, half circle shapes. Use every last drop of filling, in the hopes that said filling is discontinued, and its absence will mean I never have to bake these stupid confections again. Fold now room temperature dough into decidedly unprofessional-looking lumps. "They're still going to taste great," I assure the Grape, who has affixed his little body to my leg in the manner of a sailor tying himself to a mast in an effort to weather a hurricane in a broken boat.
10:52 Prepare egg glaze to brush onto ugly, unbaked pastries, to ensure they gleam just like my mom's do.
10:59 Open oven door with cookie sheet in hand. Oven is cold. Dump cookie sheet on counter. Commence re-pre-heating of oven.
11:00 Grape tugs precariously positioned cookie sheet of unbaked delicacies off counter onto kitchen floor.
11:01 Spend next fifteen minutes ridding pastries of any pet hair they may have accumulated during brief run-in with kitchen floor. Grape, in desperate attention seeking bid, removes all ornaments from lower half of Christmas tree and stuffs most of them between the sofa cushions.
11:40 Gas oven finally ready. Insert pastries. Pat self on back for remembering to set timer. Commence cleaning kitchen.
11:53 Timer dings. Rush to oven to extract the fruits of five hours of labor: a measly eighteen pastries, two of which might be fit to show company. The rest look like Danishes that got run over by a fleet of the Grape's Tonka trucks.
11:56 Sit down with Grape to spoil lunch. Grape takes one tentative bite, wrinkles his little nose, and requests Parmesan Goldfish.