This is the first time we have been away from family at Christmas, let's see: ever. We are not religious people in the traditional sense, but we have always been faithful devotees of all the holidays that involve visiting with family and friends and eating great food together. So this year, thousands and thousands of miles away from our family--and dear friends that over the years have become family--we had kind of a bittersweet Christmas.
Michael worked the night shift on Christmas Eve and on Christmas Day (that's 6:00 pm to 6:00 am). So on Christmas Day he slept until about 1:00 pm. When he got up, we had coffee out on the back patio, wearing shorts and t-shirts and lounging around on the living room furniture that we have pulled out there. (Until the big shipment of our household goods arrives in another month or so, we're using company-provided furniture, which is as heavy and sturdy as dorm furniture and just as charming.) We spent some lazy time opening the few presents we had gotten each other, and watching our loaner Beagle, Nadia, roll around blissfully in the grass. Nadia will be with us for a week or two more, until her people return home from holiday. It was sunny and about 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Turkey smells were wafting in from a neighbor's house. Mmmm. For us, though, a different kind of Christmas feast was coming up: Peanut Butter Pancakes!
Peanut Butter Pancakes are the most ridiculously decadent things I know how to make for breakfast, so crunchy and rich. Instead of maple syrup, I serve them with melted butter and honey. Oh. Yes. I include the recipe at the end of this post, culled from memory and a couple of different online recipes.
After breakfast, we took Nadia for a long walk around the town, running into several of our new friends. That was a nice reminder that, while we're feeling a bit lonely and disconnected right now, we're putting together a new network, a fresh safety net of good people who will take care of us when we need them, and who we will take care of in turn.
When we returned home, it was late enough in the afternoon to call Maryland. We spoke to Michael's parents, who live two doors down from the house we sold to come here. They are looking after our 16-year-old cat, who is having some old cat problems; I may well never see him again. I know that if we still lived there, we would probably be running back and forth between houses borrowing butter or eggs or flour, last-minute Christmas dinner ingredients, with impossibly tasty kitchen smells wafting from both houses.
After Michael's parents, we called the family of Michael's older brother Jim. Jim's wife is going to have a baby any day now, bringing the count to three little girls in their household. Michael's middle brother and his wife--also pregnant, with their first--were visiting from New Hampshire, so it was a rowdy, full house on Christmas morning. Michael teased our younger niece, who is six, asking if she had gotten a lump of coal for Christmas. "Of course," she said.
Finally, we called my sister and her husband. He was outside shoveling snow, and she was in the kitchen trying a new variation on the traditional Kash family holiday recipe for scalloped oysters. I have been unable to find oysters in Saudi Arabia, or in Bahrain. Weird, since Bahrain is known for pearl diving. Maybe it's an Islamic dietary restriction that I don't yet know about. Anyway, they were going to head over to Jim's house and join my husband's family for Christmas dinner. (Yes, I married into a family that's so kind and sweet and fun that my sister and her husband have officially become a part of it, even in Michael's and my absence.)
After hearing all of those voices and getting good and nostalgic, I checked up on the world according to Facebook--and learned that a dear friend gave birth on Christmas Day to a little girl. About a week ago, I learned that she and her partner are moving into a house right down the street from my sister, and right next door to another couple who I love very much. So much good news! And I'm out here, on Mars.
We are adjusting, but it's not an instantaneous thing. I am extremely grateful for this opportunity to see a part of the world that most westerners never get to see. And I'm truly excited about all the travel I have queued up for 2010! But it would be crazy for me to think I wouldn't feel an ache for the many people we left behind in the United States. Christmas this year packed a sentimental wallop--it was unlike any other Christmas, and it smarted a little. But I gotta say, those peanut butter pancakes were fabulous.
Here's the recipe:
- 2 cups flour
- 5 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup crunchy peanut butter (a good organic brand would be great; what they have here is Jif...)
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 4 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 2 large eggs
- 2 cups milk (or more, if your peanut butter is really thick)
- butter for the griddle
For the syrup:
- equal parts butter and honey
- In one bowl mix together flour, baking powder and salt.
- In another bowl, whisk together peanut butter, sugar and oil until smooth. Beat in eggs, then milk, until the mixture is the consistency of thick pancake batter. If you don't thin it enough, your battle will be too thick in the pan, and the pancakes will be doughy in the middle.
- Lightly coat griddle or skillet with butter and heat it over medium heat.
- Drop batter onto the griddle and cook until tiny bubbles appear on the surface of the pancake, then flip and cook a few minutes more.
- 5. Melt together butter and honey in a small saucepan, and transfer to a small pitcher for the table.