Catherine Ford Gets Personal

One year: A challenge for change


with 3 comments

At Christmastime, my mother would make steamed pudding — the “figgy” pudding of the song We Wish You A Merry Christmas — and one of us kids would be charged with making the hard sauce.

I can’t remember a Christmas without it being the featured dessert. There still hasn’t been a Christmas without one. When I was living in Ontario, Mother would send one to me with her Christmas parcel. If she was spending Christmas in Calgary with my brother and his family, she’d bring a pudding with her and make sure my sister’s family in Edmonton had one, too.

Today, my sister makes the puddings and I make the hard sauce. We do it exactly as Mother did, steaming the pudding in a cloth-covered bowl at the back of the stove for hours. The sauce is only sauce in name, as it doesn’t pour, but consists of butter, icing sugar, and rum, decorated with red glace cherries and a sprig of holly. Doing it just like our late mother did is one of those emotional ties that bind families, even if we aren’t physically together.

It’s carried — flaming — into the darkened dining room. Susan and I, even while singing “so bring us a figgy pudding,” have yet to set anything on fire. This is unlike our late father who, in an argument with one of the neighbours, set out to prove that Christmas pudding soaked with liquor would burn. (This was in the early 1950’s before a generation of French chefs had flambéed their way to fame.) Ron McMurchie insisted boozy pudding didn’t flame. Bob Ford insisted it did.

Only one way to prove the point — Dad poured about a half-bottle of rum over the pudding and lit his Zippo lighter. That he didn’t burn down the neighbour’s house, along with the pudding, the dish, the tablecloth, part of the dining room table and all of his eyebrows and eyelashes when the pudding exploded in blue flame is sheer luck.

That he didn’t injure himself when he tripped into the Christmas tree one year is another miracle.

There were other treats that only appeared at Christmas, including refrigerator cookies that were rolled in icing sugar and contained Eagle Brand sweetened condensed milk and peanut butter rolled around a whole glace cherry. I’ve never been able to recreate them and in her later years, Mother couldn’t remember the recipe. I’ve scoured old cookbooks at rummage sales and in thrift stores trying to find the recipe, to no avail. Maybe that’s all for the good, given that I suspect my craving has more to do with memories of Mother than the actual cookie itself. Still, I’ll keep looking. One of these days . . .

This Christmas will be the first without my sister’s and brother-in-law’s son, Eamon. He and his wife, Heather, are spending the holiday in Prince Edward Island with her family. Such are the permutations of blended and extended families.

They will forge their own traditions and memories, but those, too, will be a blend of the old and the new.

Those of you whose holiday traditions are different surely have the same kind of memories of favourite foods and family get-togethers.

The pudding served on Christmas Day wasn’t one of the batch Mother made that year, but in keeping with the theory of letting fruit cakes and their kin ripen for awhile, the pudding we ate was always one from the previous year.

And every time I take a mouthful, I remember Christmases past: grandparents arriving Christmas morning and having to wait for them before opening presents, aunts and uncles coming to visit, going to early Mass on Christmas Day in the pre-dawn bitter cold and seeing the houses around us lit up; hearing our boots crunch in the snow and the steamy heat of the church. And then, the hurry home for stockings and — finally — presents.

Somewhere in a trunk in the basement is the doll my parents gave me the Christmas I was four years old. She wears a pink crocheted dress with green ribbons, panties and bonnet, made by a friend of my mother’s. She’s somewhat the worse for wear these days, but not because of her age. It’s because as a little girl I wanted to take things apart to see how they worked, and after destroying a couple of dolls who couldn’t take my version of inspection, my parents bought me a doll that was intended to come apart — arms, legs and head. I “inspected” her insides so often, she’s stained with a little kid’s dirty hands.

Meanwhile, the challenge for modern holiday cooking is to remove fats and sugars from traditional recipes while keeping the taste and, just as importantly, the mouth feel. Not being a professional taster or critic, I can only describe “mouth feel” as the sensation one gets from food in the mouth. Taste is only part of it. I have trouble eating bananas. Well, truth be told. I can’t eat bananas. I can eat banana bread and banana cake, but not a banana itself. It has something to do with the actual texture of the fruit flesh which puts my gag reflex into overdrive.

The problem with most “diet” foods — especially commercial products — is that they have an aftertaste (like the lingering taste in your throat of aspartame) and at the same time, have no “feel,” that sensation in your mouth after you have eaten something. Wine connoisseurs would call it the “finish” of the drink.

But there are ways to “fix” some of the family holiday favourites without anyone knowing. I’ve made mashed potatoes with chicken broth instead of butter and milk for years, with no one the wiser.

I’ll go to Edmonton next week with a sweet potato casserole and a pan full of chicken enchiladas. The former I’ll eat. The latter, I’ll only have a taste. (Weight Watchers advises its members to beware of BLTs. Not the bacon-lettuce-tomato sandwich. But “bites, licks and nibbles.”)

How can I eat and enjoy a fat-laden sweet potato casserole? By following the recipe in the Cooper Clinic cookbook — More of What’s Cooking — written by Veronica C. Coronado with Patty Kirk.

Here’s the recipe for Sweet Potato Casserole:

2 ½ lb. sweet potatoes, peeled
¾ c. egg substitute or 6 egg whites
½ c. skim milk
¾ c. brown sugar, firmly packed (divided use)
¾ tsp. salt
Nonstick vegetable cooking spray
1 tbsp. margarine, softened
¼ c. flour
¼ c. chopped pecans

1. Cut potatoes into 4 pieces each and boil for 30 minutes or until tender.
2. Mash potatoes and combine with egg substitute or egg whites, skim milk, ¼ cup brown sugar and salt; stir well.
3. Pour potato mixture into a 9 x 13-inch baking dish that has been coated with cooking spray.
4. Stir ½ cup brown sugar, margarine, flour and pecans together. Sprinkle over potatoes.
5. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

Yield: 12 servings. There are 134 calories per serving or, if you follow Weight Watchers, 4 points.

A Weight Watchers member, Barbara Gardner, first served the following baked potatoes at a Christmas dinner one year. The recipe then appeared in the WW cookbook, Simply The Best. I use it all the time.

Here’s the recipe for Twice-Baked Garlic Potatoes.

4 large baking potatoes, scrubbed
1 garlic bulb
½ cup low-sodium chicken broth
½ cup nonfat sour cream
¼ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese

1. Preheat the oven to 425.
2. Pierce the potatoes several times with a fork; place on a baking sheet. Wrap the garlic in foil and placed alongside the potatoes. Bake until the potatoes are tender and the garlic is browned and softened, 50-60 minutes. Let the potatoes and garlic cook until comfortable to handle, about 15 minutes.
3. Halve the potatoes lengthwise; scoop the pulp into a large bowl, leaving the skins intact. Cut the garlic bulb in half; squeeze out the pulp and add to the potato. Add the broth, sour cream and pepper; stir and mash with a fork to the desired texture. Spoon the stuffing back into the potato skins; sprinkle with the cheese and paprika.
4. Return the potatoes to the baking sheet and bake until heated through and lightly browned, about 15 minutes.
Makes 8 servings, 153 calories each, or 3 points.

You can adjust almost any recipe to make it healthier and lighter. Here are some example, from More of What’s Cooking.
Reduce the oil by half or more.
Use low-fat or reduced-fat cheese and try half as much.
Replace whipping cream with evaporated skim milk.
Make muffins with unsweetened applesauce instead of oil.
Reduce nuts to 2 to 4 tablespoons per recipe.
Replace mayonnaise with half fat-free mayo and half light mayo to get that distinctive taste.
Replace egg with egg whites or egg substitutes, using 2 egg whites or ¼ cup egg substitute for1 egg.

Facing the holidays isn’t all about denial and stress, it’s all about having a plan and, most importantly, having fun.

Those of you who are following along this campaign with me probably have some favourite recipes and hints of your own. I’d love to read them. And you can share them by leaving a comment.

NEXT: Merry Christmas and how did we all do with the At Home Challenge?


Written by Catherine Ford

December 16, 2009 at 4:26 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

3 Responses

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  1. Of course, I’ll leave a recipe – once I’ve scoured our Heart and Stroke recipies – but I loved the flambe story. It reminded me of a dinner my dad and I had in Victoria, when he rescued me from another weekend at Strathcona Lodge (where I attended as a less than perfect teenager) and treated me to Baked Alaska. The waiter, with impeccable panache lit the meringue, but upon trying to extinguish the flame with a deft flick of the serviette, ignited said serviette and created quite a flurry. It’s one of those memories of my dad who passed away too young (a vascular issue) at 57 that I’ll keep in my heart forever. Dads and flaming food – it must be a theme!

    Jennifer Diakiw

    December 16, 2009 at 5:28 pm

  2. And here it is: a link to Sweet Potato Pie, which is a great substitute for pumpkin pie from the Heart and Stroke web site.

    Jennifer Diakiw

    December 16, 2009 at 5:53 pm

  3. Sadly I have no low-fat good recipes to share. My strategy is to just say no. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t and I hope overall it balances out. Not a good strategy but …
    I love the Christmas memories. Figgy pudding or any such “english” fare was not present in our home. Rather – tortes and kifles, and noodles (we didn’t call it pasta til we heard the italians did) with poppyseed and honey drizzled all over it, soft butter cookies shaped like moons with chocolate dipped on the ends. When I married you know who, his mother would make some kind of christmas pudding and bring it in a jar. There it sat in my basement shelf until the next year when I had to throw it out to pretend I ate it and make room for the new one. I don’t know that I ever tasted it!!

    big marcella

    December 17, 2009 at 12:37 pm

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