Sunday, 4 December 2016

Objects of Happiness 1: Bun

Eccentric Auntie High on Chelsea Bun and Coffee
On the fifth day of Christmas my True Love gave to me


Four Cardinals

Three French burkinis

Two Popes in Rome  

and a Partridge in a Pear Tree!


B.A. has been in my office fizzing like an aggrieved bottle of elderflower champagne because of the latest news in Rorate Caeli.  My attitude is, well, the guy who wrote that piece in the Osservatore Romano is Greek Orthodox. Of course he doesn't believe in Catholic doctrine about marriage. He's Greek Orthodox. He's even from freaking Constantinople, so he may have occasionally heard a few grumbles about how the "Latins" burned it down. Heck, I heard such grumbles in Toronto. Lots of Orthodox think Catholics are going straight to hell, and if the Patriarch of Constantinople believes that too, it's basically his job to subvert Catholicism and convert us all to Greek Orthodoxy. Duh. 

Personally, I admire the Orthodox for a lot of stuff, particularly their fast laws (when they, er, actually keep them), but they are not my go-to guys on the doctrine of marriage or human rights in Russia. That said, I am kind of shocked that a Christian authority would put "heavenly father" in scare quotes and mock the idea that He dictates human custom and conduct. Is he including the  Ten Commandments in that? How about the Beatitudes? The Corporal Works of Mercy? Did the KGB infiltrate as far as Constantinople? 

Anyway, I don't want to get depressed worrying about things I cannot control, so instead I will devote ten minute a day contemplating favourite things and heroes. These will not be in any kind of order. However, although various material objects are dancing in my head, I have to pick as my first Object of Happiness:


It looks a bit like this, only twice as big and with cherries.
Christmas would not be Christmas without the Christmas Morning Chelsea Bun, which my mother has made every Christmas for over forty years, and I have made for six. I even made it when Benedict Ambrose and I spent Christmas in Norcia because if I hadn't, I would have died of homesickness. 

Chelsea Bun is composed of rich refrigerator dough that has risen, been punched down and rolled out to quarter-inch thickness before having brown sugar, cinnamon, raisins and walnuts (or pecans) spread over it. The dough is then rolled up into a log, and the log is carefully sliced into rounds. The rounds are put cut-side-down into a pan slathered with a grainy mess of melted butter, brown sugar and candied cherry halves. A damp towel is thrown over the pan so that the Bun can rise overnight without going dry on top. The family recipe, which makes 24 rolls, demands a very large pan. My mother gave me one, and I put it in my suitcase when B.A. and I went to Norcia. 

In the morning my mother and I get up on our respective sides of the ocean, heat up our ovens, and chuck in our Chelsea Buns. The smell of baking Chelsea Bun fills the air, mingling with the scent of coffee, which is our next goal. When baked the bun is shaken out of the pan onto a metal cooling rack, and the molten sugar-butter mixture drips over it and onto the counter. (I put wax paper between the rack and the counter. When the toffee cools, it forms delectable candy buttons on the paper.)

I come from a happy family, so Christmas morning when I was a child and teen and early adult was TRULY AWESOME. It was the best part of Christmas because all family in town was under one roof, nobody was exhausted yet, and everyone was looking forward to unwrapping the presents, or was unwrapping the presents, and there was BUN--as much bun as we could eat. 

The present-unwrapping of Christmas morning took hours because in my family everyone takes turns. Whoever is designated the Christmas Elf fetches a present from under the tea and reads the label aloud. Everyone listens intently and watches with great interest as the person designated opens his or her present. There is a pause as everyone remarks on the present and the receiver expresses his or her gratitude to the sender. The Christmas Elf judges if this present has had its due attention and then crawls back under the tree. Repeat. Since the invention of the home video recorder, my father has recorded this routine and actually watches it afterwards. 

As our family activities went/go, it was/is the most intense, the most respectful, the most joyful, and the most collective. Before we started adding spouses and children into the mix, we all looked vaguely the same, four out of five siblings staring with blazing blue eyes at the shrinking pile under the tree. (The green-eyed sibling looked similarly intent but without the mad Germanic gleam.) Naturally we all ate THE BUN while the highly-civilized unwrapping was going on, and as soon is we were old enough, we drank coffee with it, too. 

The end of the unwrapping was rather anti-climactic, and there was nothing for children to do but play with our new toys or read our new books and stuff ourselves with chocolate from our stockings while strenuously avoiding the kitchen, where my mother toiled alone (or with her mother smoking in a corner) to produce a three course turkey dinner for her ever-growing family. She found this very stressful and patience-testing, which I only completely understood when I married B.A. and started cooking Christmas Dinner myself. The biggest difference is that no matter how cranky she is by dinner time, my mother has always looked nice. I am always sweaty and red-faced and look like a stroke is imminent.  

My father's role, besides carving and serving the turkey, has been to tell my mother how marvelous everything is and to encourage his children to do that too. With the best china, and the best tablecloths, the glassware and the annual bottle of wine, it is/was not difficult to summon up the just enthusiasm. Christmas dinner (which in our house is/was around 6 PM) is/was a brilliant end to Christmas day. It fittingly ends/ended with a fantastic pudding called Alaskan Trifle. 

I also made Alaskan Trifle when B.A. and I were in Norcia last Christmas, but it takes second place in my heart to the Chelsea Bun. Trifle is what you eat because only trifle could tempt you to eat any more after all the glorious Christmas eating. But Chelsea Bun is the delicious start of Christmas. 

Oh, how I love Christmas Morning Chelsea Bun. It means Mum & Dad; brothers & sisters; the fun bits of childhood; grandparents, uncles and pets still alive; overflowing Christmas stockings; houses full of hand-knitted afghans and books; plaid curtains in the dining-room; sleds in the back yard; Christmas hymns at Mass (especially Adestes Fidelis, which all the grown-ups knew by heart and sang at the top of their older-than-Vatican-2 lungs); the Holy Family in my childrens' bible; the loan of a family baby (I forget which one and what year) to play Baby Jesus in the parish Christmas pageant; good and holy priests; proper Canadian snow (if we were lucky); the staggering "big item" surprises, like the year we got a VCR. 

So awesome. And the wonderful thing is that I can conjure all this up with the thought of a bun.