It’s been awhile since I’ve posted anything. I thought about doing a Thanksgiving or Christmas post but for some reason, I just didn’t; it didn’t feel right. I have tons of holiday recipes, as I’m sure you do, too. I just think the holidays are so intensely personal that I didn’t want to impose. That might seem silly, but that’s just how I felt.
So, Christmas-my favorite time of year-has zipped by, and I have cooked and eaten everything in sight and had lots of fun doing it. And here I am, thinking about what to cook and what to write about next But first, I think I’ll write about my version of the holidays-what makes them special to me—if for no other reason than to help me accept that Christmas is, in fact, over—like a therapy exercise.
For me, the holidays are about food, family, and smells. The smells I remember from my childhood-the smells that never change: Celery and onion cooking in butter for stuffing; warm buttery graham cracker crumbs being pressed into the pan for a cheesecake crust; the smell of a real Christmas tree; peppermint sticks-the real ones-that my dad taught me how to drink milk through. These smells make me remember being a little girl, they make me remember the magic of Christmas: Leaving my Grandma’s house on Christmas Eve, and leaning my sleepy head against the cold van window, looking up and being sure—every year—that Orion’s belt was Santa and his reindeer; waking up on Christmas morning to find the tree had been decorated with candy canes and tinsel by Santa while we slept; Cold, cold eggnog; bowls full of oranges to be peeled and nuts to be cracked; lying under the Christmas tree and looking up through the branches; the kitchen counter lined with cooling cheesecakes. These little traditions and memories make Christmas special and personal, and I love continuing them, tweaking them, and of course starting a few new ones.
Without a doubt, the biggest tradition I’ve continued is that of my dad’s cheesecake. Every Christmas he made dozens of them for everyone we knew. My brothers and I helped him, and he’d scream at us if we ran through the kitchen while they were baking, insisting that they would “fall” if we shook the floor too much. When I was about 19, I started to really cook on my own, and the first thing I tackled was my dad’s cheesecake. I read dozens of recipes, compared techniques, temperatures, timing, and after many changes and variations, came up with my cheesecake. When my dad tried it, and told me mine was better than his, it was like I had won the cooking Olympics. So now, every Christmas, I get funny stares for the obscene amount of cream cheese I buy, and I bake cheesecakes for my friends and family, just like my dad used to do.
Something new I’ve started is making monkey bread on Christmas Eve to have for Christmas morning breakfast. I started it with my son several years ago; his job (which my daughter now helps with, too) was to roll the dough balls in butter and then into the brown sugar/cinnamon mixture-messy, fun, and perfect for little hands. It rises overnight in the fridge, and bakes while we open presents. About two years ago he did an assignment at school about traditions, and guess what he wrote about. Monkey Bread. This is the stuff that warms my heart; this is why we have traditions!
Another new tradition is peppermint bark-something I don’t think I ever had as a child. I have my own secret recipe. I use my signature double sifting method to separate the crushed peppermint into three different size categories. It takes a little extra effort, but my kids love watching the “fairy dust” technique. It makes it more like candy, and gives the white chocolate (which I’m not normally the biggest fan of) some real texture and flavor-almost a crystalline crunch. I’m pretty proud of it, and it’s a sweet, festive homemade gift that takes two ingredients and hardly any time.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly (especially to my daughter) is the cookie decorating. Santa needs cookies. A messy, can’t-be-rushed activity that always results in giggles and creativity. The googly eyes were a new addition this year. I think they must become part of the tradition.
These are my traditions—the things that are special enough to wait all year for. The things that have me missing Christmas already. I hope you all had a wonderful holiday season, and I wish you all a very happy and healthy new year (full of lots of good food!).