Over the years, the struggle involved in getting the tree home through crowded New York streets has become as much a tradition as trimming it. We used to buy the tree at the Union Square Greenmarket and hoof it back ourselves, huffing and puffing every other step, until I misjudged a turn one year and knocked over a peanut cart, and it was decided that for everyone's safety it was best to have the tree delivered from there on out. A tree lot opened up across the street from Matthew's the past couple years, and it was deemed close enough to begin carrying it back ourselves once more. While the lot was literally a mere 300 feet away, thanks to the first real cold snap of the season I still managed to nearly freeze to death waiting for the lone girl manning the tree lot to get to us. We also ended up shaking off what seemed like a third of the needles in the lobby and elevator on the way up. Needle loss this early on does not bode well for poor Mr. Tree's prospects of lasting through the New Year; the trees at the farmer's market are generally much hardier, having been cut and trucked down the same day (or so we're all told) - who knows for certain when the trees at this random lot were felled.
The lights went up with a minor hitch - I ended up pulling the entire tree down on top of myself while trying to center it in the window and Matthew had to yank me out from under. It was a scritchy-scratchy mess, water from the base went everywhere and I'm still finding pine needles in places no man should. The good news is that the tree is up and glimmering for all to enjoy.
Matthew made an amazing meal for the trimming from the books he received on his birthday. Amanda Hesser's The Essential New York Times Cookbook was put to a tasty test while we gobbled up fried olives and chickpeas, and the main course's stewed lamb shanks with white beans and rosemary. Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc At Home provided the delicious cauliflower soup starter.
And for dessert - what I live for, of course! - I made the whiskey pear tart from Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito's Baked Explorations. I loved it and it was so, so easy to put together. It's a beautiful book - check out my picks of five must-have baking books from 2010.
The cookie ornaments were finished (mostly) in time and found their way onto the tree. There was a little girl at the trimming who was eagerly hanging ornaments at her three-year-old height, which resulted in oodles of them hanging in clusters around, most curiously, the very back and bottom branches of the tree ... she's exhibiting early signs of a future hoarder, perhaps? Have you checked out my guide to making your own cookie ornaments?
A sad, low and weird point of the week came two days ago, when I picked up Ella's ashes in a little gift bag. I expected her to shrink down substantially, but was stunned to find that her entire remains fit snugly into a sealed baggy that weighs no more than two pounds. Ella always thought she was a lap dog, and well...this probably wasn't what she had in mind.
But what we didn't have in mind was the urn chosen to place her ashes in. We weren't consulted on the matter and were surprised and amused upon seeing the spinning photo carousel urn that is currently housing the very powdered Ella. She'll eventually end up being sprinkled in her three favorite places: Beaver Bay, Bonnieux and Paris. Ella begrudgingly lived in NYC, and while she enjoyed many aspects of life here, has no interest in being sprinkled here for all eternity; I second that.
Experimentation was a strong theme in the kitchen this week, as I attempted to knock out versions of several desserts, including these red velvet brownies. There were a few disasters, as is par for the course, but it's a great pleasure and release of emotions for me to create things in the kitchen. I'll be posting the red velvet brownies recipe, hopefully in prettier form, in the next couple of days. I think they'd make a festive treat for Santa, and his helpers, too.