As I mentioned before, this time of year brings about memories of every kind. Happy, sad, beautiful and broken, they piece themselves together, wrapping me in a blanket of time. Forgive me for being so damn sentimental, I’m not sure if it’s the colder weather that cements things in my brain in such a way or if I am simply growing more sappy with age (dear lord I hope not, that means I am turning into my mother, not that there is anything wrong with that, but that woman cries at Hallmark commercials and the thought of Sleepless in Seattle).
There is a romance to cold weather don’t you think? Even in Southern California the cold is enough to make you want to bundle up and stay enveloped in cozy layers for days on end. Every morning I look at my closet and think, “I really should wear a tee shirt or a nice light top today” and then my eyes wander to the top shelf where all of my soft, inviting, oversized, perfectly draped sweaters sit, neatly folded, inviting me to slip one on and snuggle in. Needless to say I cave every time (I’m a sucker for soft clothing that could pass as pajamas… BUT isn’t pajamas because of how I wear it, that works right?).
Now, where was I before the thought of cozy sweaters derailed me… oh yes, memories. Specifically the memories of Christmas cookies being dipped in steaming cups of cocoa while sitting next to a slow burning fire with embers that snap and crackle in the most comforting way. This was Christmas at my Grandparents house.
Each year Christmas morning meant early arousal; our restless heads springing from the pillow the moment our doors were cracked open to let us know Christmas had officially arrived. Stockings were soon followed by a flurry of tissue paper and wrapping being strewn about the living room as our fingers trembled with excitement at the prospect of opening another gift. My parents never really let us believe in Santa, saying he was more of a happy thought to bring festive joy and cheer, instead of a real man who snuck into your house at night (…yeah, bet you never thought of it that way huh…)Anyways, presents were followed by the most magical breakfast with my dads family. Sausage patties, bacon, eggs, toast, and my moms homemade cinnamon rolls that were slathered with cream cheese frosting and melted in your mouth like a little piece of heaven (would sell a kidney to eat one of those cinnamon rolls again).
After breakfast we would pile into the car and head to my Grandparents house. They lived in “the sticks” as we fondly called it, in a big beautiful home sat next to a river. Old and stoic against the mounds of snow, a wreath hanging on the front door with a large red bow majestically blowing in the arctic breeze and smoke rising from every chimney. Warm hellos echoed through the house as we stomped the snow from our shoes and unwound the layers of garments that shrouded us from the cold. The house was inviting, smelling of cedar and pine.
We would cozy by the fire in the dining room impatiently waiting to go in to the living room and see the great tree and piles of presents stacked beneath it (really we each only got one or two gifts because my moms family is gigantic, but the spectacle was worth the while). Hors Devours were served and the adults would have a glass of wine, after which we would open presents and play until dinner time. Dinner was a grand affair but what I remember most is dessert.
The thing is, to most, our dessert spread would look simple, trivial even, but it was my favorite. The kids would all rush to the cold back porch, carefully bringing in boxes and tins that smelled of honey and spice. We would place them in stacks on the tall kitchen counters and wait patiently as our mothers opened each box and laid out a spread of the most beautiful Christmas cookies you have ever seen. My family comes from all over Europe so a lot of the recipes are laden with history and love for tradition. Once the cookies were out, we would sit, dipping them in cocoa in front of the fire, content in knowing that it was Christmas at last.
Baklava is a sweet pastry made of filo dough that is filled with chopped nuts and drizzled in a homemade honey syrup, to die for delicious especially when homemade.
Springerle Cookies were my brothers favorite. They are flavored with anis and are imprinted with special molds, a true German tradition. I however, was not a fan of them until I was much older.
Mexican Wedding Cookies may not have come from our European heritage but I sure do love them. I still make them every year around the holidays. The buttery cookie with pecans, rolled in powdered sugar looks like a snow ball pile perched on the table.
Zimtsterne or Cinnamon Stars are my all time favorite cookie, I can’t even tell you why, I just adore them. They are crisp yet soft, melting in your mouth, filling your taste buds with joy.
Chocolate Chow Mein Clusters were also on my list of favorites. They are so easy to make and are crispy and salty sweet, a perfect nontraditional blend for a christmas cookie.
There were always many many more, but these are just a few of the flavors I remember most. I hope you try some this holiday season!