Tag Archives: Christmas

Sweet Traditions

Two more layers of creamy goodness will top this lemon-covered shortbread. Talk about gilding the Easter lily!

My grandmother had a pre-wrapped gift box. I’m sure it had once been a beautiful thing, but by the time I came to know it, it had seen better days. Its glittered and flocked exterior showed plenty of wear. The ribbon wrapped around its lid was more than a little frayed. The bow formed by that ribbon would never be as pretty and puffy as when it was new.  But every Christmas, it came out of her closet, and was filled with a token gift for her youngest son, my uncle. And on the day after Christmas, she’d take the box back and put it back into her closet to wait for the following year.

After she passed away, my mom found the box and continued to use it for her baby brother’s Christmas present–which was usually a small batch of his favorite cookie, wrapped carefully in plastic so it didn’t damage the box. (The rest of the cookies were presented in a more practical container, usually a zip-top bag.) As time went on, those orange flavored cookies with a faint orange glaze might not even have been my uncle’s favorite, but they were tradition.

My grandmother’s recipe collection is in storage while renovations on the Country House are underway. This might not be her exact recipe, but it’s close.  While she was living, nobody but my grandmother baked the orange cookies; then, only my mother did. One of my cousins does it now for her dad.

We don’t have many solid food traditions here. Turkey on Thanksgiving, sure. But we’ll have fried rice on New Year’s Eve, or popcorn for Christmas, or pancakes any night of the week if that’s what we feel like doing. That might change; we’re still figuring things out.

Her aunt–who is as much like a big sister to her as anything else–is known in the family for her lemon squares. They’re requested for every big family occasion, and nobody else makes them. Her aunt gave us the recipe–not because she’s handing over the reins, but because we’re far enough away that we aren’t encroaching on her turf. I’m honored. And delighted. I made a batch last Easter, surprised that I so enjoyed a recipe that had ingredients I’d never otherwise use: Cool Whip? Pudding Mix? I’m a from-scratch guy! 

When we were invited to a friend’s home for Easter dinner, her aunt’s lemon squares the first thing it occurred to us to bring. We tag-teamed: I baked the shortbread crust before I left for rehearsal; she took it from there. Creamy, tart, and addictively delicious, they were of course a hit.

I’ve seen variations of the recipe on lots of sites, so I don’t know that her aunt invented this treat; it seems to be a family tradition that only she made them.

And now we do, for Easter. Pudding and Cool Whip. Life is full of surprises. And unexpected traditions. I think I’ll bake some orange cookies at Christmastime. I’m looking forward already to next Easter.

At the end of Easter dinner, one remaining Lemon Square might look as forlorn as an old Christmas gift box--but it's every bit as delicious as new, and as full of love.

At the end of Easter dinner, one remaining Lemon Square might look as forlorn as an old Christmas gift box–but it’s every bit as delicious as new, and as full of love.

Linen-White Christmas

“White Christmas” will never be my favorite carol. I love Christmas, but I’m no fan of snow. If I could find a way to have it fall only on parts of the world that are usually green, I’d be perfectly happy.  A snowy field?  Fine.  Frosted tree branches along the roadside? Beautiful. Just keep it off the pavement, power lines, and rooftops.  I don’t mean to be a Grinch about it, but there are places to go and things to do.  I’m no Scrooge, but offer me an icy windshield to scrape or a plowed-in car to shovel out, and my response is a hearty Humbug!

The same attitude doesn’t apply so strongly in the kitchen, but I think of white things there as a delivery mechanism for other foods.  Mashed potatoes carry gravy.  Rice is best with a pile of vegetables and a little protein.  Grits? Scrambled eggs.  Oatmeal? Lots of fruit and some crunchy granola. Whipped cream is a garnish for pie or cake; vanilla ice cream is best with some topping or other.

But at home? Let’s have plenty of white–on the walls, that is.  The painter worked incredibly hard this week, and finished the main floor of the house on Friday morning.  We swept and mopped and swept and mopped again, finally removing the hoarfrost of plaster dust every horizontal surface in the living room, dining room, and kitchen.  We wiped down the kitchen cabinets and removed the dust that had slipped inside them. We vacuumed the un-tarped furniture; she fitted the sofa with the new slipcover that’s been waiting patiently to begin its service.  Tables came out of hiding and lamps perched brightly upon them. A very few objects d’art were arranged on shelves.  She found the stocking hangers and hung the stockings (with care, of course) from the mantle.  Her parents arrived for a pre-holiday visit. There were comfortable places to sit, a table at which to eat, flowers arranged, and a fire crackling in the hearth. If there was to be no more Christmas than this, it would still be a beautiful celebration.

It looks a little like we’re just moving in–which, in a way, we are.  The walls are creamy, the floors are clean and shiny, and there’s nothing hung on the walls.  Some might call it bland, boring, or vanilla, but I won’t.  It’s calm and uncluttered and clean. There’s no snow in the forecast. It will be a linen-white Christmas, and that seems perfect to me.

This Dinner Brought to You by iMessage

There are dinners you plan weeks in advance, snuggled on a sofa with cookbooks all around and steaming mugs of tea nearby.  (I’m pretty sure there are such dinners, anyway; the nearest we’ve had have been conversations about Christmas and Easter meals, although I don’t remember the steaming mugs of tea, and in our case “cookbooks all around” means searching on Epicurious.)

There are dinners you plan by opening the fridge and hoping not to find new cultures of penicillin.

Most days, dinner is somewhere in between.

On Monday morning, I received an iMessage:

Car unloaded.

(She had made a trip to the storage unit to retrieve some items from a “miscellaneous” box that should have come into the house.)

Also, dinner sourced.

Oh? I replied.

Tomato and mozzarella sandwiches on bagels. With whatever other veggies we have.

After a successful workday, several hours of unpack-and-sort (cleaning products, hats and gloves were the day’s projects), and guest-room-tidying in preparation for a visit from her dad, it was dinnertime.

Lightly toasted asiago bagels were spread with a molecule-thin layer of mayo, layered with thick slices of ridiculously good tomato from the CSA and dairy-fresh mozzarella cheese, sprinkled with salt and pepper, and a few fried basil leaves, and served open-faced alongside sautéed green beans.

It’s not the sort of thing I grew up eating. I didn’t like uncooked tomato until college, and the only cheese I knew was square, pre-sliced, and wrapped in plastic. It’s a fine and glorious thing to discover things you thought you didn’t like.

Tomato and cheese sandwiches. Who knew?

Yum.

* * *

(No photos last night, particularly not of the leftover burger I offered my breakfast-and-lunch-skipping dinner companion as a protein boost alongside the bagel. It was, as predicted, considerably past well-done. Instead, here’s one of the planned-well-in-advance boeuf bourginnone she prepared for Christmas dinner last year.)

Boeuf