They say this is the season of hope and anticipation. In the Catholic Church, Advent is a time for reflection and preparation, as we await the return of Jesus. In our society, December is a giant rush of parties and presents; the chaotic countdown to very corporate Christmas.
As a little girl, it was a season of impatience – four weeks of unbearable waiting, followed by one night of breathless clock-watching. On Christmas Eves past, I would lie awake in my twin bed, straining my little ears, wanting desperately to hear sleigh bells ring. Then, when Christmas morning finally arrived, my siblings and I stood at the top of the stairs – our patience long since exhausted – as my dad started the video camera and asked us all if we thought Santa had stopped at our house. We’d roll our eyes, stomp our feet and (rather rightfully) whine “Daaaaaaaadddd!” Six Thesing children, all in matching (and embarrassing) pajamas, wanting only to storm downstairs, and dive into Christmas.
But, over the past several years, Christmas has lost some of that … charm. I’m not sure what exactly has happened. But that great anticipation (and the impatience that accompanied it) disappeared. Perhaps, I grew older, wiser and more patient. Perhaps I lost some of my innocence, and the wonderful magic of the day dwindled. Perhaps it’s just that I honestly don’t “need” any new things (not that I ever “needed” a Pound Puppy or an American Doll, but you get the point). Do I love making cookies, belting Michael Buble, and, yes, opening presents? Of course. But do I need that stuff, in the same way I needed to hear Santa’s sleigh-bells as a little girl? Sadly, no. I miss that desperate excitement. I guess I just miss the Christmas I grew up with.
Sure, I still get excited about Christmas – especially to spend time with my family. As a 26-year old, who lives too far away, that is honestly the best part of the Christmas season anyway. But the magic and that amazing anticipation aren’t there. They got lost in the chaos of life, and as a result, the overall Christmas excitement just isn’t the same. It’s not what I used to know and love.
But this year, the charm, the magic – and the anticipation – are back – and bigger than ever. I cannot remember the last time I was this excited for Christmas. While I won’t be wide awake on Christmas Eve and listening intently for sleigh bells, or standing at the top of the stairs in the some hideous pair of matching PJ’s, eagerly waiting for the “go” from Dad, I will be watching, and waiting, with my sweet baby girl. Christmas is truly back, and it’s all because of Lyla.
Although she is still too young to have any idea of who Santa is, to listen for sleigh bells herself, or even unwrap her presents, I am bursting with excitement to witness her very first Christmas (and not just because we can make her wear some silly, seasonal pajamas). I’ve been missing the innocence of Christmas, and I am pretty sure that I am soon to find it again. Because this year, and next year, and for so many years to come, I’ll get to witness Christmas through Lyla’s eyes.
For the past few weeks we have been prepping and preparing for Lyla’s first Christmas. We got our very first real tree, strung it with lights, decorated it with ornaments and topped it with the perfect lighted star.
We’ve been finishing up our shopping, wrapping up presents, and placing them under the tree – to the point that I can now attest a certain Miss Lyla is going to come out on top this Christmas season. I think Santa may have gotten a little carried away.
I even set up Santa’s workshop where all the wrapping and decorating has taken place.
Yet, after all that work, and all that bustle, we were still two weeks away. Yes, I got a little impatient. And so yesterday, after we had finished the last of our Christmas shopping, after the husband had strung the final string of lights on the balcony, after we had happily hung our brand new “Baby’s First Christmas” ornament, and after Lyla had decided all of this “waiting” was far too exhausting…
…I decided we needed our very own Christmas meal to celebrate. So I cooked and I cooked, and as the aroma of a stuffed flank steak filled the kitchen, it finally felt like it used to; the magic of Christmas was back.
To make our (pre) Christmas meal, I used a Williams-Sonoma recipe, but made a few changes of my own. I first butterflied (stopping before reaching the other side) and pounded out the flank steak with a meat mallet.
Next I made the rub using 1 tablespoon of red wine vinegar, 1 tablespoon of paprika, 1 tablespoon of tomato paste, and 1 tablespoon of olive oil. I left 1 tablespoon of the rub aside to be used later and spread the remaining on the steak. Next I layered the steak with all of the following: thinly sliced proscuitto, spinach, freshly grated carrot, sliced onion, 2 roasted red peppers, fresh basil leaves and a mixture of panko, thyme, parmesan cheese and salt and pepper to taste.
After all of the layers had been added, I rolled the steak from the long end into a cylinder and secured it together with cooking toothpicks. Preferably, I would have used kitchen string, but I did not have any left and the toothpicks got the job done.
I then seasoned the outside of the meat with oil, salt, pepper and thyme and placed it in a frying pan with a little bit of oil. I browned the meat on all sides before transferring it to a roasting pan.
Next, I brushed the meat with the remaining tablespoon of rub that I had reserved from earlier and then put it in the oven set at 350 degrees to roast for 45 minutes. Once the 45 minutes had elapsed, I removed the pan from the oven and added 1/2 a cup of white wine to the bottom of the pan. I then let the meat cook for another 45 minutes.
When the meat was almost done I started to prepare the pan sauce. To do so, I added 1/2 cup of Marsala to the frying pan that I had originally used to brown the meat. As the Marsala heated, I scrapped down the bits from the pan and then added 1 cup of beef stock, 1 tablespoon of Worcestershire and 1 tablespoon of tomato pasta.
Before adding the tomato paste I first combined it with a bit of warm water to thin it out. In the past when adding tomato paste to sauces it always clumped up, but this little trick that I learned ensures that it will mix perfectly.
Finally, I let the sauce cook for a few minutes and reduce down.
By this time the meat was done and ready to be sliced! Although the original recipe did not call for this, I added some of the drippings from the roast pan into my pan sauce for a little extra flavor.
I ladled a little bit of the pan sauce on each slice of steak and it was wonderful. A perfect little Christmas meal that helped to bring back even more of that Christmas magic. And now we just wait. Two more weeks before the best Christmas yet; our first Christmas with Lyla.
She’s pretty excited herself. And next year I think I’ll listen for sleigh bells with her.