Our parents took us to see “The Nutcracker” for Christmas once when we were very young, and my sister and I were immediately enamored.
For weeks after we would twirl and leap through the house imagining we were one of the willowy angels on stage, our cotton nightgowns and T-shirts transformed into gauzy skirts and sequined leotards — our bare toes covered in imaginary silk-lined pointe shoes. Our heartbeats were synced with the march of the cannon and the flowers’ waltz carried us to dreamland each night on a glittery cloud.
The music still inspires my imagination, and when I hear the rolling piano and bright trumpet blasts, I sometimes indulge that girlish fantasy and twirl through my house to my son’s great delight, allowing the magic to flow from my heart down the length of my arms and out my little pointed fingertips into the world.
On the other side of the world, our Aussie friends have another ballet-inspired Christmas tradition: pavlova — a lighter-than-air dessert inspired by and named after a famous ballerina who was said to float across the stage so lightly, she surely must have wings.
4 egg whites, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon white vinegar or lemon juice
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat your oven to 350 F degrees and line a baking tray with parchment paper.
With a hand mixer or stand mixer, beat your egg whites until soft peaks form.
Add your vinegar or lemon juice, vanilla, and cornstarch and beat for another 10 seconds.
Very slowly begin adding your sugar with the mixer still running until all the sugar has been incorporated, stiff peaks form, and the mixture is glossy and opaque.
Either pipe or spread the foam into about an 8-inch disk, then use the back of a spoon to create a well in the center with raised walls around the edge. You want to create a bowl shape to hold the toppings.
Carefully move your formed pavlova into the oven and immediately drop the heat to 200 degrees. Bake for 90 minutes then turn the oven off completely and allow the dessert to cool and dry out in the oven for at least 4 hours, overnight is best.
The dish is traditionally served with whipped cream and tropical fruit like kiwi and passionfruit. I served with whipped cream, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and pomegranate arils.
Try filling with lemon curd or chocolate ganache for a more decadent variation. The spongy and delicate dessert is best paired with coffee or, as intended, with champagne to toast the occasion and the dish’s famous namesake.
Our family lost our treasured grandmother last week. She was a real Alaskan, and raised her family here, not too far from where I’m sitting now.
She loved card games and gardening and puzzles, and she adored her great-grandchildren. She always had good advice and shared her wisdom freely. She loved Alaska and encouraged me to go outside often, and to pay attention to the birds and the sky, and now she has wings herself.
I love you, Grandma, and I miss you dearly. Every time I see Denali, I will think of you.