Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Holiday Feasts

From Thanksgiving to Christmas there’s a feeling of goodwill toward all. I want to do more than I have time. Who doesn’t? I’m sipping a cup of hot tea savoring a piece of dark chocolate biscotti with Ghiradelli buttons (chips), cinnamon, and Frangelico. I’ll add a smidge of cayenne to the next batch.

Memories: highlights of the past. Mom made enough divinity candy to cover the dining room table. I swiped samples all around the edge, the mint green ones were best. My girls swiped the refrigerator cookies of coconut, butter, and powdered sugar wrapped around a candied cherry … a confession of late.

Baking for family, friends and all who served blessed us twice: when the aroma filled our home, and when we shared our sweet dough tea rings, breads, cookies, candies and more.

Lillian, our dear Bohemian neighbor, taught me how to make houska: braided sweet dough with white raisins, almond slivers and bits of citron. Lithuanian friends shared a huge, scrumptious Napolean of apricot and custard between layers of wafers. I’ve always wondered about figgy pudding.

Papa laid pieces of fresh pine boughs on the basement space heater. They released their scent mingling with the baking aromas. Happy times. We sipped eggnog with fresh grated nutmeg from our silver Jefferson cups.

The nut cake was a family affair shelling mixed nuts to fill an angel food cake pan. A thin batter bound them and a few pieces of candied cherries and citron. Out of this world delicious, heavy, rich, and dense.

Our Swedish relatives liked rye bread, pickled herring, hard tack, Swedish brown beans, meatballs, cream sausage with cranberry sauce, apples cooked with cinnamon redhots, creamed onions, rice pudding with lingonberries, and plum pudding. The lutefisk cooked in cheesecloth smelled terrible. I thought it was tasteless, and needed the mustard sauce to make it edible. I must have missed the point.

Czech relatives prepared duck or turkey with liver dumplings. I loved pretzel salad with strawberries in jell-o and cream cheese mixed with whipped cream for topping. A hazelnut jellyroll with rum flavored whipped cream filling is one of my favorite desserts. Christmas Eve was oyster stew or chili. Cousin George loved oyster stew, but fed the oysters to the dog.

Pork chops and onions in red wine with heavy cream, mashed celeriac root, and chocolate mousse prepared the Suzanne Somers way made a satisfying, attractive meal on our Pistoulet dishes.

No matter what the menu, it was plentiful and a production. Grandma declared it might be the last Christmas we’d be together. True. That generation is gone. What do they eat in the hereafter?

We expanded our table with the leaves stored under the davenport. The white linen cloth was ironed, and the table set with the ivied Christmas dishes, the good silver, and goblets for Papa’s homemade wine. Henry, the three-legged cat, was reminded he was not the centerpiece.

Just when we thought we couldn’t be surprised, someone gave us a gift we hadn’t thought of but could use. Goodwill plus surprises equals Christmas.

We ate with gusto, laughed, reminisced, commented on the year past holding on to the best moments. What was to come no one knew. My silent prayer: that we’d all be together next year, same time, same place.

Copyright 2005 Red Convertible Travel Series

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