While Thanksgiving was a bit of a letdown compared to my normal big gathering of friends and family, I’ve been used to having a small Christmas since I was a kid. Growing up, we didn’t have any family that lived close by, so most Christmases were spent just me and my parents. However, in Poland, the big celebration is actually on Christmas Eve (Wigilia) rather than on Christmas Day.
If I’m honest, I used to hate the tradition of Wigilia when I was little. As a kid, I wanted to be like all the other kids – doing some sort of cozy activity with my family and going to bed early on Christmas Eve, then waking up early and tearing into piles of presents. Instead, my parents would drag me out to the house of some Polish family friends, where they would have an adult dinner party that went until well after midnight, while as the only kid there, I’d play with the cats, read some books that I brought, and fall asleep in the guest room at some point before being woken up and bundled into the car to go home. Back when I believed in Santa, I was always convinced that he would skip our house because I wasn’t asleep in my own bed like a good little girl. Once I stopped believing in Santa, I just hated the boredom of a (very long) adult dinner party rather than a cozy dinner at home with my family.
But this year – I decided to “take back” the tradition, and host a traditional Wigilia for my mom and J. When I researched the Polish tradition to plan my meal, I learned that it’s based on having twelve dishes – one for each of the apostles – which was something I could totally get behind. This was going to be a feast like Thanksgiving! For a traditional Wigilia, you’re supposed to serve each dish as its own course, but I took some liberties by simply putting it all on the table together. To get to twelve dishes (which is kind of a lot for just three people), I also counted things like the bread as a dish, though I did stop short of counting the wine 🙂
My menu was as follows:
- Oplatek – the traditional Polish holy bread; you start the meal by giving everyone a sheet of the oplatek, then you go around the table and give each person a piece of your oplatek while offering them personalized good wishes for the new year (e.g., I wished a successful last few weeks of chemo for my mom). Normally my mom orders this well in advance of Christmas, but since we didn’t decide to do this until a few days before, I substituted some matzoh that we had in the pantry. It’s the concept that counts!
- Challah – I cheated and bought this from Trader Joe’s; I figured it would go well with…
- Mushroom soup – This zupa grzybowa wigilijna recipe was delicious! The spices somehow gave it a “very Polish” taste, and I found the dried mushrooms at World Market. I would definitely make this recipe again, not just for Christmas.
- Pierogi – I found a local bakery that offered these homemade but frozen; I bought them in potato-cheese and mushroom-cabbage. Both were yummy! I made sauteed onions to put on top.
- Fried fish – Mom was in charge of this dish, but it’s a family classic! Take cod and dip it in flour, then egg, then breadcrumbs, and saute it up with a lot of oil. Soooooo good! Next year, though… carp in the bathtub! 😉
- Carrot salatka (salad) – I was planning to make this myself, but when I went to pick up the pierogis at Royal Bakery, I saw they had a jarred version for just $5, so I just grabbed that. Easy!
- Red cabbage salatka – I did use this surowka z czerwonej kapusty recipe to make the cabbage salad from scratch, and it came out delicious. Again, I’ll be saving this recipe to repeat before next Christmas!
- Potato pancakes – My original plan was to make these, but once again, I shortcut it when I saw Trader Joe’s had frozen potato pancakes. Much easier and still yummy!
- Buckwheat kasha – I had a heck of a time finding this! The only store in my area that carried it was Safeway, but when I found it on the shelf, it turned out to be the “medium granulation” rather than “whole granulation”. Without much choice, I grabbed that, but the texture came out more like couscous instead of the big meaty consistency I was used to. However, I’ve since found whole groat buckwheat on Amazon, so I ordered some to stock my pantry.
- Kluski (egg noodles) – this was my favorite dish as a kid; literally just buttered noodles with some parsley. But my babcie (grandma) made the noodles from scratch, and they were so delicious! I took a shortcut here and actually used pre-made German spaetzle noodles I found at World Market. They were much easier, though of course, not nearly as good :/
- Makowiec – I had actually never had this, but every article I read said that the makowiec is the key dish for Polish Christmas, so I used this recipe and did my best. Unfortunately, the dough was way too sticky when I added the butter, and against my better judgment, I left it that way and hoped it would fix itself in the first rise. But it did not, so I added more flour at that point (before the second rise). I’m not sure if it was the sticky dough or the fact that I let the second rise proof too long, but it was then beyond saving. While tasty, the final product came out completely flat (more like a tart than a round roll). Still good with coffee though? My mom has been eating it for breakfast ever since!
- Sernik (Polish cheesecake) – I didn’t find that recipes online looked all that different from traditional cheesecake, so I decided to ignore the Polish factor and instead try to make this a bit healthy. I used this recipe for healthier Greek yogurt cheesecake, and I thought it came out really good!
I kicked off my Christmas Eve cooking and making a few emergency grocery runs to pick up last minute ingredients (darn you, poppyseed paste!), then made it home in time for a special Peloton class – at 8:30am, I had plans to meet Theodora for Jenn Sherman’s 60 minute holiday singalong ride. I was planning to take it just for fun, but I soon realized I was well ahead of my output PR, so I started pushing harder and harder to see how much further ahead I could get. Well, I ended up PRing by 240 points, breaking 500 points for the first time! I was really proud of myself 🙂
After that, it was time to make the makowiec. As mentioned above, I had a lot of trouble with this! While it was on the second rise, I took Sadie out for a jog – and ended up doing a nice long six mile neighborhood sidewalk run. It was really lovely until the very end, when we turned onto a cul de sac to try to get a little extra mileage in. There was a scary-looking dog chained up in someone’s front yard (with no owners around), and as we came closer, he started snarling at us like he was going to attack. I couldn’t tell whether his chain was long enough to reach the sidewalk, so we jumped into the street to get away, and in our haste, I clipped the bumper of a parked car with my left quad – really hurting myself a lot. I limped for a little while, knowing I was about to have a huge bruise, and when I got home, I realized I had actually cut myself since I hit it so hard. I was really pissed at that family for leaving their mean dog tied up alone in the front yard like that! I have since thought about going back to leave a note for the owners so they don’t do that ever again, but honestly, today’s cancel culture has me worried that I’d come off as a “Karen” for doing so. But I now have a massive purple-and-green bruise about eight inches in diameter across my thigh that hurts to even put pants on, so….
When I got home, I hurried to shower and get ready for dinner, and then finished up the remaining dishes. It ended up being a lovely dinner, and I was really happy with the menu I had planned!
Afterward, J added a special treat of his own – Alton Brown’s aged eggnog, which J and I made six weeks ago and have been so eager to try. It came out really good, and was a perfect after dinner treat while we all curled up on the couch to watch the holiday edition of The Great British Baking Show!
On Christmas morning, I woke up before everyone else… and while little kids might sneak down to the tree to open gifts, my gift to myself was sneaking down to the Peloton for a 30 minute holiday-themed ride with Tunde 😉 I really loved the ride, and especially Tunde’s question to us at the end – if you could rewrite 2020, what part would you keep?! So many people have been looking ahead to 2021 and talking about how 2020 “stink, stank, stunk” (to quote a popular meme parodying the Grinch). But while 2020 certainly had a lot of bad things happen, I believe that if your year stunk, that was on you.
You can’t control a lot of things (like… a global pandemic), but you can control how you react to them. Sure, most of us were stuck in our homes and had our lives completely upended. But what did you do with that time at home? I’m proud of myself for fostering rescue dogs when I couldn’t do my usual volunteering, and spending my former commuting time working out hard and getting in much better shape. I recognize that different people had different challenges in the pandemic (some got sick, some lost their jobs), but I don’t think it makes sense to compare or play a game of “who had it the worst”. For my part, I definitely struggled with anxiety and loneliness – it was not easy to be completely alone! But every cloud has its silver lining – and while I am certainly not happy (to say the least) that my mom got cancer, her coming to live with me for treatment is an example of how good things can come out of bad. Honestly, it made my Christmas seem pretty darn amazing that I had my mom and Sadie living here with me, compared to being all alone like I was this spring!
After my workout, I turned the Wigilia dinner into breakfast – poaching eggs to put on top of the leftover potato pancakes, and then turning some of the mushroom soup into gravy to put on top. It came out really yummy!
While I had my mom and J with me, that wasn’t all the family I wanted to see, so my dad and brothers (and their kids) met up with us on Zoom for some family time, which was great. I really miss seeing my brother Lars, his wife Andrea, and their kids – in the last few years, I’ve gone to visit them in upstate New York every holiday season (alternating between Thanksgiving and Christmas), and it’s been really tough to not see them (or my dad) for almost a full year now. That is one thing I am looking forward to changing in 2021!
Before we opened presents, J and I took the dogs for a walk, and ended up doing a big three mile loop up and around Wildflower Park. It was such a gorgeous, sunny, blue sky Colorado day – with temps in the 50s! My mom couldn’t believe how warm it was, and I had to remind her that this is actually quite normal for Colorado 🙂 I think she’s had some bad luck with weather in the past when she’s been with me for shorter stints, but the perfect weather here is definitely a selling point to get her to move permanently.
Finally, it was present time – I was thrilled to see what mom and J thought of the gifts I had picked out for them! For my part, I got a lot of kitchen things, which was delightful; I definitely love to cook 🙂
Speaking of which – for Christmas dinner, I went with an approach of making all the best recipes from this year’s extended Thanksgiving. That turned out to be cocoa crusted pork loin, maple dijon roast brussel sprouts (this sauce over some pan-roasted brussel sprouts), sweet potato cornbread, corn pudding, and cranberry sauce. Yum!
J planned to head home after that, so he could be ready for his kids to come over first thing in the morning for their Christmas with him, but I followed to deliver a giant aquarium I bought for his daughter that wouldn’t fit in his car (he drives a small Tesla). It was a quick roundtrip, and then my mom and I settled in to watch California Christmas on Netflix, which I really enjoyed as a nice holiday movie that wasn’t quite as vapid as those on the Hallmark channel 😉
As far as the rest of my weekend? It was pretty lazy – lots of working out, though I kept procrastinating on running with Sadie until just before it got dark out. On Saturday, though, I finally dragged myself out the door at 4pm, and ended up running well after dark as Sadie and I just kept going, and going… until we had done 10 miles. Woo hoo! As a post-run dinner, I threw together a stir-fry with the leftover kasha, roasted pork, and some frozen veggies, and then Mom and I settled in to watch the first episode of Bridgerton on Netflix. I wasn’t too impressed, and we agreed to give up on it. Someone let me know if it actually gets much better!
On Sunday, I hit the gym first thing, doing an 80s tour on my Peloton bike along with some Peloton Reddit friends. A “tour” is basically just a bunch of classes stacked into a pyramid – we did a 15 minute 80s ride with Jenn, then a 20 minute 80s ride with Alex, then a 30 minute 80s ride with Kendall, and then back down with another 20 minute 80s ride with Alex and another 15 minute 80s ride with Jenn. An hour and forty minutes of cycling sounded like a lot ahead of time, but I was pleasantly surprised that the pyramid went by very quickly. However, I also knew within minutes of getting on the bike that my legs were already toast and not up to pushing hard. Who would have thought it was not a good idea to prepare for a long ride by running 10 miles not 12 hours earlier? Oops! 😉
I took Sadie for a short easy jog since I wouldn’t be running her for a few days, and then packed up and headed out – to the mountains! I was going to be teaching ski lessons at Beaver Creek every day of my consulting firm’s shutdown, and I was pretty excited about it. Before heading to my mountain house, I headed to Beaver Creek to get my uniform, and I have to say, I am in love with it.
I hope you and your family had a merry Christmas, and are looking forward to a fun (but safe and at home) New Year!