a peek inside the fishbowl

02 Jan, 2019

The Christmas post that isn’t really about Christmas

Posted by andrea tomkins in: Misc. life|parenting

It’s been a very lazy week here at Casa Fishbowl but I’m totally ok with this. I am really enjoying having the family around. We’ve almost polished off the chocolate, eaten all of the cheese, and finished the Annual Christmas Puzzle. (It was a doozy this year.) We’ve watched a lot of Netflix too, but just so you know, we haven’t been sitting around on our butts the ENTIRE time. We went for a lovely walk in the woods and enjoyed a skate on the canal on New Year’s Eve.

The eldest daughter is home from school. The youngest has been dividing her time over the holidays between home, work, and friends. She also started drivers ed (!) this week. She opted for the “get it over with” session, which means a stretch of 8-hour days in a classroom before the in-car part of it begins.

Santa left lots under the tree for all of us this year. Even Piper received a few things in her stocking. If you follow her on Instagram (and I know many of you do!) you already know that one her gifts was decimated in record time. Frankly, I question whether I should bother buying her anything at all. She finds such pleasure in toy death and dismemberment… who I am to take that away from her?

What do teenagers get for Christmas? Good question. Well, the youngest needed a Chromebook for school, so that’s what she got, along with a book and some stocking stuffers. The eldest, now that she’s on her own, needed a bit of everything, including a few practical purchases such as a new phone case and charge cable, water bottle, and clothes. And of course, everyone always gets socks here at Casa Fishbowl, because the gift of warm feet is the best gift you can give anyone.

I didn’t necessarily want to share a big Christmas recap here today, but I did want to jot down a few thoughts about something that’s been on my mind and I’d love to get your take on it.

Perhaps let me start with this question: what do you make for your big Christmas dinner? Are you a traditionalist who makes the same dishes every year based on family favourites, or an experimentalist who likes to come up with a new menu every year? Perhaps you delegate dinner by going out or ordering in? I’m guessing you’re something in between or a combination of all three.

We shook things up by going out for sushi on Christmas Eve. I’d call that a big win and would definitely do it again. (The year before we ate fondue, which I really liked but I suspect I was the only one.)

For Christmas Day dinner we usually have a turkey with cranberry sauce and stuffing and mashed potatoes and a salad. There’s usually green beans and carrots in there somewhere as well. I like to try new dishes because I get bored of the usual rotation so I like to include an element of NEW.

For the second year in a row, I found myself baking a cake recipe via Canadian Living. This is the one we made last year (it was a win) and this is the one I opted to try this year.

This cake has had me doing some soul-searching ever since. WHY I am the kind of person who tries a new multi-step dessert recipe on my family on the biggest celebratory dinner of the year? I am not even that great of a cook, and what’s more, my baking experience is fairly low. So why I do this to myself?

My Christmas dessert personality disorder really hit home when the girls and I were about to ice the cake at my inlaws house on Christmas Day. We had made everything the night before (HAHA! So smart, right?), and although the cake didn’t rise as much as I had thought, I figured we were in the clear. The icing was delicious and at the time I was glad my daughters and I had made the leap and tackled the recipe together.

Fast forward to Christmas Day. The icing, which we thought we could make ahead of time, was a curdled mess. We brought it back to room temperature but it separated and no amount of beating could bring it back together. I was so disappointed; near tears, in fact. We put our heads together and added a few spoonfuls of icing sugar. This held it all together but the lovely whipped coconut texture was gone.

Our youngest was pretty matter of fact about it. Perhaps there is a lesson to be learned here. She bustled around the kitchen with the icing sugar and the beaters, cool as a cucumber. “Sometimes baking projects don’t work out, mom,” she said. Of course, she’s right. Baking is an art and a science and any number of things could go wrong (and in this case, they did).

We decorated our cake and served it up. It looked ok, but wasn’t the light and fluffy pièce de résistance we were looking forward to:

Christmas cake 2018

Everyone was too polite to say anything, but the texture of the icing was almost like straight up butter. (And how could it not? We used three cups of the stuff. And where was the subtle coconut flavour?) Ugh. What a waste.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the failed cake. Why did I choose such a dessert like this, with a recipe like this? And why was I so upset when it didn’t come out right?

I think, for me, it boils down to this: I was subconsciously using the cake to show my love for my family and when it didn’t work out, I was crushed.

Sidebar: I forced myself to eat a slice the next day – mostly because I loathe the idea of food waste with every fibre of my being – and the rest of it ended up in the compost bin after a few days of looking sad and lonely in the fridge. I just couldn’t take it anymore.

It has also occurred to me that the way I show my love by serving my heart on a tray isn’t how others show their love, or for that matter, really appreciate or understand it.

For example, the other day our youngest was leaving for work and I told her to zip up her coat. The eldest overheard our exchange and laughed. “Mum, you will always and forever be telling us to zip up,” she laughed. I laughed too, because she’s right. This is how I show my love, but our teens, well, they might not see it that way. We are not on the same wavelength about coats in cold temperatures, but how can she not understand that I tell her to zip up is because I love her and don’t want her to be cold?

The way people some show their love is not compatible with other peoples’ ideas of love and how it should be received. We want to love people freely, on our own terms, but sometimes other people might not want to be loved that way, or really even recognize our words and actions as love.

It sure makes things more complicated, doesn’t it? We tell our teens to zip up and put on a hat but they don’t want to hear it. We bake a cake and it falls flat. We give someone a big hug when the target of that hug needs her freedom in that moment. So how do we find a middle ground? Maybe the giver of love should be more mindful of dishing out bone-squeezing hugs at inopportune times, and maybe the recipient could remember that a cake, is not always just a cake. Maybe the answer is to meet in the middle.


4 Responses to "The Christmas post that isn’t really about Christmas"

1 | Jinjer

January 2nd, 2019 at 10:22 pm


Normally I feel like I need to make something extra special for Christmas because…Christmas.

This year it was just me and my Mom and she is not into food AT ALL so I’m like “Why am I going to kill myself shopping for and cooking some big fancy meal that only I am going to appreciate?” That’s ridiculous!

I double and triple checked with Mom that she would not be the least bit disappointed if I didn’t cook a fancy meal and we decided to get takeout from the local Chinese buffet.

In the end I didn’t want to get dressed and go out and Mom still didn’t care what she ate so I ended up making yummy mushroom & swiss sliders! The side was a citrus crunch salad kit.

It was super simple, super easy and sauteing mushrooms & grating cheese required just the right amount of effort. I felt like I was making something kind of special but it wasn’t exhausting or grueling or time consuming.

I totally understand why you want to make a showpiece for your family to show them how much you love them, but reading your posts I can also see it’s completely unnecessary. You give so much of your time and your self to your family. Doing so many fun, awesome things with them!!! There’s no doubt that they know how much you love them. Next year, a delicious, fast, easy dessert is all you need. :-)

2 | Jen_nifer

January 3rd, 2019 at 9:29 am


For big meals (Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas) we rotate hosting, and everyone brings a dish.

It was our turn to host Christmas this year. My husband cooked crown roast of pork. Side dishes were: scalloped potatoes, rutabaga (formerly known as turnip), peas, stuffing, bread, brussel sprouts, apple sauce, cranberry sauce and gravy. Apple and sugar pie with or without vanilla ice cream was dessert.

15ish years ago I had a new dessert fail me for a party. It took me several years before I was ready to try to make a pie again.

3 | Natalie Robichaud

January 3rd, 2019 at 3:29 pm


Andrea have you heard of the five love languages? Sounds like it might help. Happy New Year :)

4 | Susan M

January 4th, 2019 at 1:02 pm


I don’t know the answers but your post reminded me of an episode of Gretchen Rubin’s Happier podcast about the 5 love languages: https://gretchenrubin.com/podcast-episode/podcast-80-five-love-languages

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My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our dog Piper who is kind of a big deal on Instagram. We also have two human offspring: Emma (24) and Sarah (22). During the day I work as a writer at the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999. The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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