Friday, December 1, 2023

The Rookie Mama: The hap-hap-happiest holiday hacks and the passing of the tourtiere torch

By Michelle Cote

It’s a great one, this time of year.

And never do I appreciate my working toward preparedness more than during this yuletide blitz that stamps the last month of the calendar.

Michelle Cote
Over the years, I’ve learned through trial and much error that it’s helpful to plan ahead for budgets and organization as I ready myself to dive in to the fa-la-la fantastic time of year.

I’ll start with something I admittedly never put into practice until only this past year – and what a game changer – I created a savings account fund specifically for contributing a bit monthly in the lead up toward eventual Christmas shopping.

For the past several years, I’ve done this for various ‘adulting’ expenditures if you will – plowing, heating, summer travel adventures, the like – all fund buckets into which I deposit small amounts monthly so when big payments are needed, I’m ready to rock.

How did we manage before online banking, anyway?

During the last quarter of the calendar, costs for many of us increase because we’re inundated in holiday shopping here and there all around the square, and so it’s easy for our December-end balances to creep up.

So for anyone who could use that same ease during the holidays; just add an approximate twelfth of what you think you’ll spend into a Christmas fund beginning in January – 12 months prior – and your credit card statement will give you holly jolly vibes when Christmas comes around, rather than a heavy figgy pudding dread.

I suppose this is theoretically layaway for yourself, with the purpose to leave you in fiscally cheerier bliss.

Other ways to plan ahead for the holidays –
• Create a spreadsheet early to help stay on budget, list gift ideas, people, and keep track of purchases.

• Prepare crafty, creative gifts first – Handmade presents require the most care and time, and are most meaningful. Save store-bought purchases for afterward. Our family loves to make photo gifts, hand-made ornaments, canned goods from our family farm, painted signs, to name a few. Sincere and expressive, but time-consuming on the creation end.

• Designate and organize a space for Christmas gift prep – Make Post-Its your best friend.

• Buy holiday wrap on clearance Dec. 26 to prepare for the following year.

• Don’t buy gift bags. If you know, you know.

Plan ahead for what you can so you can allow yourself room to adapt when plans go awry – I’m looking at you, unexpected cold and flu and that other illness named for a beer.

Finish your Christmas shopping early so you can spend quality time all December long doing what you really love, surrounded by the joy and cheer of those you hold dear. Our family prefers to spend these ‘Advent-ageous’ weeks soaking up traditions – making gingerbread houses, watching old Christmas movies, baking seasonal goods to deliver to neighbors as we tour locales lit up for holidays.

If I can get the Amazonian task of shopping out of the way ahead of time, these days will sure be merry and bright.

Joy and cheer and quality time segues perfectly into this next segment – Keeping holiday traditions alive folks, as we weave them in with new customs!

My family’s French-Canadian heritage celebrates Christmas with tourtiere – or pork pie. It’s the traditional dish passed down through generations of our Quebecois family, the showcase of many dinner tables as, say, turkey reigns supreme a month earlier.

My husband and I both come from French-Canadian ancestry, so tourtiere was a staple at both our Christmas tables throughout childhood. We are also partial toward mustard on pork pie, which gives it a spicy kick, much to the chagrin of, well, most people we know.

Traditionally, diners of tourtiere prefer ketchup as the condiment of choice.

I find this revolting.

And the debate that ensues each time we mention the spiced brownish-yellow goodness is always a deeply controversial one for the ages.

But however everyone chooses to consume this delicious, hearty pie, there’s no denying what makes this tradition truly treasured is that it’s unique to our heritage, warmly passed through the generations.

Many traditions and customs forever changed in 2020 for all of us. My husband and I made the most of our lockdown times by inviting grandmothers, aunts and uncles to join us for a ‘Pork Pie Zoom,’ where we each Zoomed from our kitchens and baked our pies as we shared stories, recipe deviations and hacks, among other family traditions. It was a positive and modern spin on a years-long tradition, which we continued for three holiday seasons – a Covid-era cooking show that allowed us all to bond like potatoes, pork, onion and garlic in a whole new way.

Last week, I asked my mother when she planned to make her pies.

She sighed subtly; I braced myself.

She asked if I wouldn’t mind making the pies this year, since I had brought it up.

And with that, she had slowly, gently tiptoed out of a decades-long role she’d owned and maintained so proficiently.

She was ready to pass the tourtiere baton, with an unspoken understanding between us that I’d too one day pass it along, lest my boys and their eventual partners become inevitable vegetarians.

As soon as she walked away, I was left with a counter-full of rolled pie crusts, spices, and a whole bunch of meats, taunting me. The pressure was real.

Here we go.

I baked tourtiere pies solo, folded in the comfort of knowing that this curated tradition will carry on, among other holiday conventions we’ve made our own.

So cheers to making time for your traditions, the old and the new, and glad tidings and wishes of pork pie with mustard to you!

­­– Michelle Cote lives in southern Maine with her husband and four sons, and enjoys camping, distance running, biking, gardening, road trips to new regions, arts and crafts, soccer, and singing to musical showtunes – often several or more at the same time!

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