Traditionally seasoned turkey with canned cranberry, stuffing and mashed potatoes rouses in me wonderful childhood memories of Christmases spent north of Toronto, with my aunt and uncle, in a snow-draped landscape – towering pines everywhere, a real fire burning day and night, chocolate initials in our stockings. Magic.

But my husband grew up elsewhere and he longed for other things. I will never forget the expression in his eyes the first time I served, on Christmas Eve, a chicken seasoned with globs of carefully blended spices. Our second Christmas together. Even our landlady, whose basement we rented, praised my Peruvian-spiced bird. Since then chocolate caliente (hot chocolate made by boiling cinnamon, cloves and solid chocolate in thick milk) and panettone have become part of our own holiday traditions.

But this year none of the shops I use (for delivery and curbside pick-up) stock this traditional treat. And with rising numbers and an underlying health condition, I’m hesitant about non-essential outings.

This year will be different for all of us, I’m sure. I’m tempted to think of all the things we won’t be able to do, the people we can’t be with, the traditions we won’t be observing. But instead, why not embrace the differences? This is not a year for insisting that things unfold in a traditional way. This is a time to try something new. I’m planning an outdoor, fire-pit visit with my aunt, the only extended family living nearby. And panettone? Well – why not bake one?

I thought I’d better give it a dry run, right away! Prepping the dough was no problem. I warmed the eggs so they wouldn’t chill my active yeast, kept the rising dough free from drafts, soaked the raisins in sweet sherry. And then realized I had no special pan for baking something that’s supposed to come out looking like a muffin on steroids. So I improvised with parchment paper and string.

The result was not a thing of beauty, as you can see from the photo. And it tasted nothing like panettone. Too dense. Not sweet enough. Something essential was missing. But still a lovely, nutrient-dense bread (five eggs in the one loaf!)

I may still try to get my hands on a factory-baked panettone, but if not, maybe we’ll do something different this year. Wildly different. Vegan chocolate pie. Or orange-chocolate baklava. Homemade Besos de Moza. Who knows?


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