A Sweet Tradition

IMG_5540Yesterday we decorated Christmas cookies.

I know, I know — it was New Year’s Eve. With the busyness of the holidays, though, this is not the first year we’ve decorated the cookies after Christmas. As long as it gets done sometime during the season, it counts. Heck, we’re having our New Year’s party on January 3. Close enough, I say.

Traditions can be like the gossamer strands of memories. Tenuous. Fragile.

If we don’t cradle them gently, we lose something precious.

My brother, Stewart, was faithful about birthday phone calls. A tradition. I missed his last call and never called him back. He passed away less than two weeks later. Maybe in 2015 I can pick up where he left off and make those birthday phone calls.

Food and tradition walk hand-in-hand.

I was thrilled when Owen and Emily brought Chex mix to the nursing home at Thanksgiving. Party mix (as we call it) is a staple around the house from Thanksgiving to New Year’s. My mother made batch after batch after batch during the holidays to share with others. I love the smell of it baking in the oven.

My brother, Peter, has continued the spritz cookie tradition — making them and sharing them with us every year at Christmas. I get my cookie press out sometimes; it’s fun to squeeze out camels and Christmas trees and stars. But Peter is the one who has best carried on this tradition.

IMG_5544We make the Christmas cookies. Every person becomes an artist with the various colored glazes, little brushes, and toothpicks to coax the colors into position.

I remember decorating cookies with my brothers and sister. The oddly shaped kitchen table would be covered with cookies and sprinkles and icing.

Years ago my mother neatly wrote out the recipe for me years ago. It’s a sweet tradition that I’m happy to carry on. I told my children yesterday that they need to do this with their children. For their sake, here’s the recipe.

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A well-worn oft-used recipe card

Christmas Cookies

3/4 Cup Oleo (that means margarine, kids, but I use butter)
1 1/2 Cups Sugar
2 Eggs
2 tsp Vanilla
4 Cups Sifted Flour (yes, I really do sift the flour for this recipe. Twice.)
2 tsp Baking Powder
1 tsp Salt

Mix together. (First four ingredients first, then add dry ingredients after sifting them together.) Roll to 1/8″ and cut shapes. (You don’t really have to measure the thickness.) Bake on lightly greased cookie sheet at 400 for 7 minutes. Ice with confectioner’s sugar and water (in lots of different colors).

And it’s okay if they don’t get made until after Christmas.

Orange Ice Dessert

The other day I walked into the kitchen at lunch to find my mother sitting at the kitchen table with some hot dog buns, a jar of marmalade, a brick of cream cheese, and some leftover chili.  She was making sandwiches.

The process was as follows:

  1. Open the hot dog bun.
  2. Spread a thin layer of cream cheese on it.
  3. Add a thick layer of orange marmalade.
  4. Spoon cold chili on top of the marmalade.
  5. Close the bun.
  6. Put it on a serving platter.
  7. Repeat.

“What are you doing?” I asked.  A dumb question, I know, but sometimes things just pop out of mouth when I’m astonished.

“Making lunch for the boys,” she replied, remaining steadily on task.

“Elinor, what are adding now?” my father asked.  She was at the chili step.

She glared up at him.  “I’m adding hamburger!” she fairly shouted.  How dare he question her! “This is my hamburger and  I want to add it!”

My father and I looked at each other and decided not to question this process any further.  There were, after all, only four hot dog buns, so the sandwich factory was self-limiting.  Just in case, however, I made sure other bread products were safely put away.

She sat down and ate two of her own sandwiches for lunch that day, but there were no other takers.  My father made himself a bologna sandwich.  He’s become quite self-sufficient in the kitchen.

My mother used to be a wonderful cook.  I need to remind myself of that as I throw away the concoctions she now makes. However, the heat wave affecting many of us this week reminded me of my mother’s wonderful summertime dessert called Orange Ice Dessert.  It is cool and refreshing.  One of my brothers has a July birthday and this was what he usually had instead of a cake.  Here is the recipe exactly how she had it written

Orange Ice Dessert

  • 6 oranges  (3 cups juice)
  • 1 lemon  (1/4 cup juice)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 pint whipping cream
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans (or more if desired)
  • 1/2 cup sugar

Mix orange juice, lemon juice and sugar well.  Pour into a deep freezing pan (loaf type).  Whip cream.  Add sugar and pecans.  Mix well.  Spoon whipped cream mixture on top of juice mixture and freeze.

Additional comments:  Wonderful make-ahead summer dessert — very refreshing.

My kids don’t like nuts, so we don’t put the nuts in.  Or we make two pans, one with nuts and one without.

I may run out this morning and get some orange juice so I can make this.  Then I can add a picture.  And enjoy one of my favorite summertime treats.

Either that, or some hot dog buns and chili so I can try her other recipe.  Or not.

Bon Appetit!