December 24, 2009

Cookie Tradition

I come from this long line of bakers. A great grandfather was a chemist and invented the commercial cake mix, owned a bakery or two and provided me with a wonderful baking grandmother who taught me with a combination of German and Scottish precision and prudence. My great grandparents on the other side owned a bakery where all the family worked including my other grandmother who also taught my sister and I cooking baking with joy and a song. Today, my Christmas Eve delight is in beginning the tradition with my own girlie. We made Grandma Edith's 1-2-3 Cookies with precision and flair. (I'll post the recipe later.) The results are beautiful and will be out the door soon for neighbors and friends.
There is much joy in the sharing and experience tradition.

The Long Conversations over Christmas Cookies

Last night, over a failed batch of my Grandma Edith's 1-2-3 Cookies, my sister and I spent our night on the phone. I'd called to see what was wrong with the recipe my mom dictated an hour earlier. Somehow, after Edith's passing, my mom, the one who doesn't bake and doesn't really like to cook, hung on to Grandmother's recipes and gave her Treasured Burgundy Binder to my sister. The binder is something that would have been purchased at a Five & Dime in the day, its about 5 x 7 and filled with loose leaf lined paper. All the very treasured recipes are there. Green Pepper Egg Foo Young, Toffee Bars, Mrs. Blethen's French Dressing, all that she served as we grew up. She must have created it over the years and brought it with her when she moved from the mid-west.
Each recipe is written in Grandma Edith's beautiful cursive, flowing in the Palmer Method,  in fountain ink - mid-blue, from her Parker 51. I inherited a love for the fountain pen from her. (And a Parker 51.) But the style is uniquely her own and a constant in our lives. She wrote hundreds of cards and notes in this lovely hand and we new the curve of every letter, my sister and I. Last night when I opened the 1950's Mirro Cookie Press to make the 1-2-3's, I found a note she'd undoubtedly written to Mom: "Darling's, think of Mother when you use this,  Mother." Uniquely Grandma.
The note has faded from her Azure Blue to a deep midnight and the paper yellowed, but Grandma was there for a few minutes. No doubt she too, wondered what I'd done to the recipe.
My sister quickly identified the mistake, I'd only used one stick of butter, when two were called for. Each is a quarter pound. I'd momentarily lapsed. So the sandy dough, the one gone wrong,  will be used for something else and I moved on to my other grandmother's Orange Meltaway cookies. As I was working. My sister and I just continued to talk. We covered much, kids and cookies and our mother, our grandmother and each other. Familiar, comfortable and uncomfortable things.
My sister and I talk just about every day, touching base, sharing points of view. But this conversation went beyond that and meandered in the history of our family and into the nighttime words in the room we shared and even into the tradition of baking cookies for friends and neighbors with Grandma at Christmas. She never knew that  Grandma's Toffee Bars were my personal favorites and faxed the recipe as we talked. And I never knew she liked the Date Balls best. We both rummaged for the recipe which is noted in the Burgundy Binder, as being found on Page 31 of the Bethany Union Church Cookbook. We immediately called Mom to obtained the precious directions but Mom, who redid her kitchen 10 or so years ago couldn't put her hand on the book and wasn't really willing to get up on a ladder to go through the cook book area. (Recall, this is the mother who doesn't like to bake or cook so these are relics of the past, not treasured friends she touches often.)
This experience lead to the return to our fat-chewing about the holes in our upbringing which lead us back to the thing that's so very important and comes out in the long conversations - the bonds of love. Somehow, when we keep going - discovering, recovering, uncovering and returning - we remember just why we want to talk so very long. It's nice. Lovely and nice and sweet and really, even if it starts with failed cookies, it's about the person we know will be willing to help us get where we want to be, now or much later, because of the thing that unites all things, and us: Love. It's often found in the long conversations.

December 22, 2009

The card update

Well, I must say the idea of addressing all the Christmas card envelopes before the end of November was genius! What a stunning sense of order and ease. Ah! Kinda.
As it turns out, about three quarters were done by the third of December. I did feel that marvelous ease and calm. The photos came, I wrote a bit, but, as my common practice has been, the last few went out yesterday. (Perhaps it's the joy of candlelight, carols and a staying up late, late, late.) Nonetheless, the early purchase and start to the season, even in a task before it started, did something surprising and delightful. I began enjoying the season of Christmas early.

My whole family and a fabulous organizing friend spent the Monday of Thanksgiving week clearing and organizing the garage. Out it went! Space was made. Breathing space, and lots of it. As we rearranged the boxes - the decorating boxes cried out a bit and the Christmas lights went up. And from the Monday after the yummy holiday on, we've enjoyed the edges of Christmas. That beginning made way for more enjoying. I built an ersatz Christmas tree or two of bamboo (think: stick tee pees with lights) in the garden and planted seedling Sweet Peas which are vining their way up the lighted sticks. Ornaments are hanging from dormant Redbuds and little lights sparkle in flowers outdoors.
As Christmas neared, the things of Christmas have gathered in and out, and there's been a place for each: the stalks and blossoms of Amaryliss, the pots of pointsettias and Christmas treasures to emerge from their waiting boxes.
Somehow, some way, a Things to Do thing to do, became a way to think. And I have enjoyed each minute for what seems like a long, long, time.


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