My family spent the morning delivering Christmas gifts from our parish’s St. Vincent de Paul Conference to needy families who had requested them. The presents have been gathered over the past month in response to submissions from families and organizations to help make a merrier Christmas for those who might not have seen any gifts under the tree this year.
I won’t soon forget the look on one mother’s face as we showed up to her door with a bag of wrapped gifts and one enormous blue boogie board; her youngest son had requested a sled and blue was a preference.
“Oh, look at that!” she cried in delight. “Isn’t that special!”
It made me think back to the gift I had purchased. It wasn’t a glamorous request. Some toiletries for a teenage girl in prison. As I perused the bath goods shelves at Walgreens with my two little ones in tow, I noticed how Sophia’s eyes kept landing on the most decorative packaging—and anything pink! It got me thinking, sure I could just try to get as many items as possible that fit in my budget, nabbing whatever was cheapest or on sale, but would it light up a young woman’s eyes on Christmas morning? A young woman who might receive nothing more than my meager, anonymous offering of shampoo and deodorant?
No, I decided. I wanted this girl, whoever she was, to get something special. So, I hunted for all the things I would have liked best, were I an African American teenage girl (her ethnicity had been specified in the request card). I got cocoa butter lotion and udder balm, remembering my friends in high school who were constantly complaining about their “ashy” skin, and even grabbed a three-set of pretty hair picks, remembering the ones that were always in my classmates’ bags, ready to share or swap at a moment’s notice.
I know that Christmas is about Christ and not about the presents, but if we’re going to honor the tradition of giving and receiving, I am not of the mindset that any gift should do. No, it doesn’t have to be elaborate or expensive, and any gift ought to be received with graciousness and appreciation, but I think they should also hold something of the delight and wonder that filled that mother’s voice, that I hope will fill my young gift recipient’s eyes this Saturday morning, along with a cry of, “Isn’t that special!”
I wish, dear readers, that I could send a little something special to all of your this holiday season, to let you know what your fellowship has meant to me and to thank you for joining me here in this virtual space. Unfortunately, it’s just not feasible. I don’t know your addresses or even many of your names, yet here we are, connected in community, growing and sharing with each other here at The Apple Cider Mill.
Last week, I had the gift of a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It was given to my husband and me by my mother and her incredible husband in honor of our fifth wedding anniversary. Unexpected and truly special for us, I hope you will accept these captured moments and reflections of a magical evening as my humble little something special to you all.
As I said, dining at the Herbfarm was much more than a meal, it was one of the most memorable experiences of my life. From the moment we entered the restaurant—restaurant seems such a feeble word for it all—the gracious attention of the staff was overwhelming!
The evening began with a garden tour and history of the restaurant given by co-owner, Carrie Van Dyck, as well as a “scratch and sniff” of some of the herbs we’d be sampling that evening. Every dish featured these delightful herbs which truly are grown and picked that day from the lovely kitchen garden just outside the dining room. Our first taste was a Douglas Fir elixir (it’s actually very similar to citrus with a just a subtle peppery bite) mixed into champagne.
After toasts around the European style table where we dined with three other celebratory couples, Ron Zimmerman came out and introduced us to the rest of the phenomenal staff.
Chef Chris Weber, the youngest 5-diamond chef in North America (he’s in that bottom picture in this set of photos; you know they’re not kidding!), introduced us to the menu for the evening. Sommelier Tysan Dutta and pastry chef Cory Barrett then told us about their offerings. It was wonderful to hear how the dishes and wines were chosen and prepared, and I was intrigued to find that everything, from the champagne to the hazelnuts was all sustainably supplied from farmers and vintners in the bountiful Pacific Northwest!
Each course was plated within view of the dining room, and you can see for yourself how they pampered and spoiled us through nine incredible courses. Nine! I know, it sounds tremendous—and it was—but the entire meal took four and a half hours, and the portions were small.
We also took a short digestion break halfway through to go and visit Basil and Borage, the resident pigs of whom the owners and staff are so affectionately proud, as evidenced by the piggy paraphernalia lovingly displayed throughout the restaurant. (Did you catch that, Aunt Lori? We got to dine with piggies!)
Everything was so lovely, from the festive décor to the exquisite food, the friendly staff, the adorable pigs, the wonderful conversation, the live classical guitar, the jolly carolers, the delicious local wines… I don’t think I could possibly pick my favorite dish or moment, but here are just some of the highlights. I’ve included the menu just below, so that you can identify the scrumptious food in the pictures.
And now, I bid all of you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, as I sign off for the holidays to give my family the most special thing I can cook up: my undivided attention.
God bless you, every one!