Dare I say I’m not alone? Food seems as much a part of holiday traditions as—if not more than—twinkle lights, wreaths, music, and gifts wrapped in colorful paper. But food’s connection to the season is stronger than any material goods. While ornaments handed down through the generations are awesome, it’s the splotched and stained recipe cards that I hold dear.
These are the recipe cards I use every year even though I know the recipe by heart. Food, for me, is the best way to honor loved ones. When I see my grandma’s distinct cursive handwriting, I’m transported back to childhood and all the times peeked around the kitchen’s corner to ask “How much longer til we eat?” Every time I would get shushed and shooed away while the women of the family bustled around the kitchen as if a hive of bees had been set loose.
Now as a cook, I’m putting my own spin on those recipes. I’ve copied those precious recipe cards. On the copies I jot down notes of my tinkering with ingredients and am fine-tuning some of the cooking methods. While for many that might seem sacrilegious, I feel updating recipes to deal with dietary restrictions or dietary choices only preserves those traditions. (I’m bound and determined to make vegan, gluten-free green bean casserole from all fresh ingredients, and I’m damn near close.)
After my husband and I got married in 2005, I’ve welcomed even more food traditions into my holidays. Dan’s Polish, Scotch-Irish heritage has introduced me to kielbasa on Christmas Eve and Chicken Continental on Christmas Day. But the quick-to-become-a-favorite tradition is making holiday cookies the day after Thanksgiving. Rolling out dough, precisely measuring flour and sugar, watching the stand mixer smoke from so much action—these activities are part of how families grow and change and move along life’s continuum. All of these traditions are ones I’ll share with my children and grandchildren. I’m not sure there is any gift better than that.
For this issue of From Plate to Palate, I wanted to share my families’ traditions as well as those from other food-loving families. This month I’m ecstatic to welcome my mom, mom-in-law, and sisters-in-law with several recipes that are a vital part of our holiday traditions. Arlan Hess’ piece tells the tale of picky eaters and humorously illustrates how food can and cannot become a tradition. Gourmet pizzas replace holiday food in Arielle Greenberg’s triumphant essay. Cal Freeman and F. Daniel Rzicznek honor our four-legged friends and remind us dogs, too, love the season, though mostly for mischief making. Jeannie Kidera rounds out the issue with her evocative essay about how the sense of smell takes us home for the holidays. May this season bring you peace and joy now and throughout the New Year. And may the New Year bring you lots of good food!
My name is Pat McGuire. I am Manda’s Mother and have two more children who have grown into wonderful adults too. I work in the family-owned real estate, construction and self-storage business. In my free time I like bird watching and gardening.
Peanut Butter Cookies by Pat McGuire
This peanut butter cookie recipe is a recipe that my mother always made for me when I was a child. The cookies are soft and chewy, and a big hit with adults as well as children! I love to make these cookies because they remind me of my childhood!
Cream together: 1 cup shortening, 1 teaspoon vanilla, 1 cup white sugar, 1 cup brown sugar.
Add 2 beaten eggs, 1 cup peanut butter.
Stir in 3 cups sifted flour, ½ teaspoon salt, 2 teaspoons baking soda.
Refrigerate 2 hours.
Roll into balls.
Bake 10 minutes at 350 degrees.
Mark with a fork vertically and horizontally.
My name is Sally Rzicznek. My husband and I are retired and live in Geauga County, Ohio. We have three grown children who are all happily married and four wonderful grandchildren. Besides spending time with my family, I enjoy gardening and collecting antiques and I am also active in church volunteer work. I love cooking and any opportunity to share recipes.
Chicken Continental by Sally Rzicznek
I began making this chicken dish (found in a Minute Rice recipe booklet) when my children were young and I needed something I could prepare the day before Christmas that would be festive and easy to pop in the oven. This recipe has become a family favorite, and my now adult children and grandchildren always expect it on Christmas Day.
3 lbs. frying chicken pieces (I usually use 6 - 8 boneless, skinless breast halves)
1/3 C. seasoned all-purpose flour (add salt, garlic salt, thyme, pepper)
1/4 C. butter or margarine - not light or diet
1 can condensed cream of chicken soup (I use low fat.)
2 1/2 T. grated onion
1 T. chopped parsley
1 t. salt
1/2 t. celery flakes
1/8 t. thyme
1 1/3 C. water
1 1/3 C. Minute Rice (I use brown Minute Rice)
Roll chicken pieces in seasoned flour (I do this in a plastic bag - shake, rattle and roll!)
Sauté in butter until golden brown.
Remove chicken from skillet.
Combine soup, onion, and seasonings in skillet.
Gradually stir in water, bringing to a boil over medium heat and stirring constantly until smooth.
Pour uncooked rice into shallow 1 1/2 quart casserole.
Stir in all except 1/3 cup soup mixture.
Top with chicken and pour reserved soup mixture over chicken.
Cover with foil and bake at 375 about 30 minutes or until chicken is tender.
NOTE: If chicken is still hot from browning - 30 minutes is long enough. If you go through all steps but baking and casserole comes from frig or has even been set out at room temperature, you will need to cook it longer - 1 hour. Watch that the rice doesn't get too brown and dry. Add a little extra water (maybe 1/8 cup warm or hot) over the top of the casserole after the first 1/2 hr. to 40 min.)
If you want to prepare 10 to 12 breast halves - double all other ingredients. I use a 9x12 glass baking dish, which fits 8 halves breasts perfectly.
Arlan Hess is a Lecturer at Washington & Jefferson College where she teaches Literature and Creative Writing. She received her MFA from Vermont College and has completed research at the University College of Wales-Aberystwyth and University of Padua. In 2004, she founded Paper Street, an on-line journal of poetry and flash fiction.
Feliz Navidad by Arlan Hess
I come from a family of food lovers, if not adventurous eaters. To my father, a green pepper is an exotic never to be introduced to his delicate colon. To my mother, no meal, no matter how carefully planned or prepared, is complete without a dinner roll and butter. Although I had never noticed their dietary preferences while I was growing up, as they age, I have since begun to cook more often for them in my home as well as theirs. I now have no doubt as to where my finicky tastes as a child came from.
I’ve always known that, indeed, my father could live on bread alone. However, it wasn’t until eight years ago after reading her the upcoming menu for the first Christmas in my new house that I discovered my mother’s obsession with the bun. The conversation went something like this:
“New greens salad with potato crisp and goat cheese. Saffron risotto. Crab fritter with lime wedge and cranberry salsa. Minted cucumber sorbet. Hazelnut crusted tenderloin of pork roasted with apricot currant stuffing and served with Frangelico sauce. Au gratin potatoes. Sautéed green apples and leeks. Swan pastries with fresh cream and chocolate sauce. Christmas pudding.”
Silence. “Is that it?”
“What am I missing?”
“There is bread in the stuffing.”
“It’s incomplete without rolls.”
“We already have two starches.”
“I’ll bring rolls. We can just leave them in the kitchen in case people want them.”
Now it’s a running joke among the family. Linda has to have her dinner rolls; her doughy little secret is out.
What I learned from the experience is that I can never stray too far from the expected, the traditional, especially with family at holiday time. For years, if the can-shaped cranberry sauce wasn’t on the table at Thanksgiving and
Christmas, something was wrong. It didn’t matter that hardly anyone ate it, or that we children used to sculpt things out of it when no one was looking. It had to be on the table or the meal was lacking.
During my college years, the cranberry sauce morphed into something less gelatinous and a little more chutney like, but it remained as unappetizing as ever. Funny thing was, though, everyone missed the cylindrical loaf. It was like an old uncle who told bad jokes and no one wanted to sit next to at dinner but whom everyone missed the year he stayed at home. In my family, it’s the number one rule during the holidays: Don’t mess with traditions, even if they are bad ones.
On the other hand, my foodie friends appreciate variation on a theme, particularly when they least expect it. Several years ago, probably fifteen or so now, I discovered a recipe for Cranberry Salsa in an ad for Philadelphia Cream Cheese in Cooking Light magazine. I have tweaked it over the years to suit my palate, and the palates of my friends, but it is essentially the same. I rarely serve it with dinner (though I did in the menu above), but I serve it at, and take it to, holiday parties. It’s always huge hit. Because it can be prepared and served a couple of ways, the recipe is more versatile than it looks. Throughout the season, I buy a bag of fresh cranberries every time I go to the store and freeze them so I can make the recipe even in the summer. It’s that good.
1 (12 ounce) bag of cranberries, fresh if at all possible.
1 bunch cilantro, about 2 tablespoons.
1 bunch green onions.
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded.
2 limes, juiced, about 2 tablespoons.
2 tablespoons dried ginger (or to taste).
3/4 cup white sugar.
Dash of salt.
My preferred method of preparation: I slice the cranberries by fitting my food processor with the slicing blade at the top of the bowl. Then, I funnel the fruit into the machine through the lid chute. Initially, the flesh of the berry is white, but it turns pink as it sits. This way, the cross-sectioned hollow cranberries look like little holiday wreaths; corny but cute. After transferring the sliced berries to another bowl, I finely chop the rest of the ingredients and refrigerate it all together at least a couple of hours so all the juices combine, stirring occasionally. This manner of prep keeps the salsa chunkier than the following technique, but both taste just as good.
Alternate preparation: combine everything in a food processor and chop it all up together. Depending on how long it is chopped, this makes for a saucier salsa with less crunch. This way is slightly faster if I am rushing to a party after work and need to get out the door. The action of the food processor seems to mingle the flavors together a little faster.
The salsa is best served at room temperature but refrigerated until then. Ironically, my family actually likes the recipe, just not at the dinner table. It’s Christmas, Mexican style. Younger members tend toward eating it as an appetizer with corn chips for a saltier vibe, while the older generation prefers it with cream cheese and crackers for a smoother, less pungent mouthful.
I doubt I will ever have much luck getting my mother to substitute her sweet version at dinner with my international fusion. She usually responds to such suggestions with as much enthusiasm as she does to a meal without bread, but I will keep trying to blend new traditions with the old. Maybe it will help if I butter her up with Parker House rolls.
Arielle Greenberg is the co-author, with Rachel Zucker, of Home/Birth: A Poemic (1913 Press, forthcoming 2011), and author of My Kafka Century (Action Books, 2005), Given (Verse, 2002) and the chapbooks Shake Her (Dusie Kollektiv, 2009) and Farther Down: Songs from the Allergy Trials (New Michigan, 2003). She is co-editor of three anthologies: with Rachel Zucker, Starting Today: 100 Poems for Obama’s First 100 Days (Iowa, 2010) and Women Poets on Mentorship: Efforts and Affections (Iowa, 2008); and with Lara Glenum, Gurlesque (Saturnalia, 2010). Twice featured in Best American Poetry and the recipient of a MacDowell Colony fellowship, she is the founder-moderator of the poet-moms listserv and is an Associate Professor at Columbia College Chicago. Currently she is on sabbatical in Maine and is trying out Mark Bittman's Food Matters eating plan.
O Holy Pizza by Arielle Greenberg
First fact: I'm Jewish. I grew up in a Modern Orthodox household, and it was very clear to me as a child that we did NOT celebrate Christmas. We could admire Christmas (which we did by driving around at night looking at the tacky lit-up houses in my grandparent's Long Island neighborhood, watching the Peanuts special on TV, and looking at the Macy's windows in New York City), but it was not OURS.
Second fact: now, as an adult, my family celebrates Chanukah in our home, but I do not enjoy preparing Chanukah food. I am not so good at grating (I tend to grate my knuckles). I am not so good at deep-frying (I tend to scald myself). I do not enjoy jelly doughuts. When possible, I will buy latkes pre-made from a kosher deli, and we buy the best chocolate gelt we can find, but I don't really go full-force on the Chanukah food. I prefer to focus on the menorah lighting, the dreidel spinning, and the gifts.
Third fact: I married a non-Jew. He's not really anything else, either--he grew up Episcopalian, but his own upbringing was almost devoid of religious content, and he feels no connection to any of it. He's glad to do Chanukah with our kids instead of Christmas.
Fourth fact: I do, in fact, love a lot of things about Christmas. And I get some chance to capitalize on that love by celebrating Christmas with my husband's family. I love trimming a tree. I love Christmas music. I love the whole festive feeling.
Fifth fact: I do NOT love Christmas food. My husband and I are mostly vegetarians--our kids are strictly so (their choice, not ours). And before I was vegetarian, I was kosher. I have never eaten duck, lamb, or pork. I don't like the idea of a formal meal on a holiday that is so kid-oriented. My husband agrees.
So how did we save Christmas with his family from the world of creamed corn and ham, which, in fact, no one seemed to enjoy preparing or eating? Well, kids, one year we felt brave, and we offered to help host Christmas eve at my mother-in-law's, and we invited over the whole family...for gourmet pizzas.
At first, there was alarm. Concern about the elderly, who would miss the traditional foods. But we won them over with butternut squash, rosemary and fontina pizzas, arugula and potato pizzas, olive and pesto pizzas. Everyone dug in. Everyone ate on their laps. It was easy and informal. It was fun and festive and yummy.
We still talk about it: the Christmas of the gourmet pizzas. But it has sadly never been repeated.
(We used variations on recipes from Didi Emmons' Veggie Planet cookbooks, among others. Veggie Planet, a cafe in Cambridge, Mass, is an awesome place for gourmet pizzas.)
My name is Tracie Rzicznek. I live in Medina, Ohio. I am a stay at home mom with two wonderful children and an amazing husband. I do a lot of volunteer work with my church and other organizations in the community. I also help out in my children’s schools. I have published recipes in the Medina Church Cookbook.
Christmas Sugar Cookies by Tracie Rzicznek
This is a great recipe to do with your kids!
(Adapted from Mrs. Fields Cookie Book)
These are the best sugar cookies ever:
2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 tsp. salt
3/4 cup salted butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp. vanilla
Preheat oven to 325
In a medium bowl combine the flour and salt with a wire whisk. In a large mixing bowl cream the butter and sugar with an electric mixer on medium speed. Add the egg and vanilla, and beat until well mixed. Scrape down sides then add the flour mixture. Blend on low speed just until combined. Do not overmix. Gather dough into a ball. Flatten the ball into a disk and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Refrigerate 1 hour until firm.
On a floured surface, roll out dough to a 1/4 inch thickness. With cookie cutters, cut dough into desired shapes and place on ungreased cookie sheets. Decorate with colored sugars or sprinkles. Bake for 13-15 minutes, being careful not to brown. Let them cool.
The Holidays are an amazing time of year so I hope you enjoy the cookies.
My name is Suzanne Rzicznek Cortes and my inner chef comes out during the holidays! I work full-time and have two small kids, so I don't get to experiment or spend as much time in the kitchen as I would like, but I LOVE to bake and cook! My mom would let me help her with whatever she was making. From the time I could stand, she would pull a chair up to the counter and let me have at it. I have done the same thing with my daughter who started helping me when she was about 18 months. She is now almost five and insists on adding all the ingredients herself (although I have to admit I have to force myself to be hands-off when she is cracking eggs).
Polish Apricot Cookies by Suzanne Rzicznek Cortes
This is a family recipe that my Grandmother used to make and then my mom and now we all do it together. We only make apricot filling, but Grandma used to make nut a filling too. When we were little and would accidentally grab one of those, we would hand it off to a more than willing adult so we could grab an apricot one. When you join the group effort to make these, you get stuck rolling the baked cookies in sugar; there is a level of trust you have to earn to move up the ladder! My Grandmother used to use a piece of my Dad's erector set from the 50's to cut the perfect squares. I use a pizza cutter and a metal yardstick! It helps if you make the filling the night before you embark on this journey. In the days before food processors, my dad would hook a grinder to the edge of the counter and grind all the apricots and then we moved on to a blender. My mom has gotten a couple of new blenders out of the deal after we burned them up (forgot to add the water!)..... Now, all the girls in the family pitch in on cookie day. We go crazy and throw caution to the wind and let my daughter and my niece help with every step. They may not look perfect, but every bite is delicious!
1 pound Crisco
6 cups flour
1 tsp. salt
1 can evaporated milk
1 cake yeast or two pkg. dry yeast (the original recipe used cake yeast and we had to modify because we have a hard time finding it.)
1 tsp. vanilla
Cream shortening, eggs, salt and vanilla. Follow directions on yeast package and stir into milk. Alternately add flour and milk/yeast mixture, mixing well until soft dough forms. Shape into three balls, wrap separately in waxed paper and let rise in refrigerator for two hours.
Make filling while dough is rising – I recommend the night before.
Place 1 pound apricots in food processer or blender with 1/3 cup water and process until smooth. Transfer to microwave safe bowl. Add 1 cup sugar and 2/3 cup water stirring until completely mixed. Microwave for 3 to 5 minutes on high stopping after each minute to stir.
May also be simmered in saucepan on the stovetop, stirring often and watching closely.
Roll out dough on floured surface to a thin sheet (like an 1/8th of an inch). Don’t worry – everyone’s first batch is too thick – we just use those as samples for everyone to try. Cut in 2-1/2” inch squares, spread with apricot filling. Roll from one corner to the opposite corner. Bake until light brown for 10 to 12 minutes at 350 degrees. Roll in sugar. You can freeze these, just roll in sugar again before serving.
Cal Freeman was born and raised in West Detroit. He received his BA in Literature from University of Detroit Mercy and his MFA in poetry writing from Bowling Green State University. In 2004 Terrance Hayes selected him for the Devine Poetry Fellowship. His poems have appeared in such journals as Nimrod, Ninth Letter, Folio, Commonweal, The Journal, Drunken Boat, among others. He currently lives in Dearborn, MI with his wife, Sarah, and his stepson, Ethan. He teaches poetry and creative writing at University of Detroit Mercy.
Christmas Cookies and an Easter Bird by Cal Freeman
Benny had been eating the Christmas cookies for weeks before my wife figured it out. They were plain brown sugar cookies, unvarying in their Christmas tree shape, stacked in pyramid fashion upon a Waechtersbach serving platter. The platter had come from my grandmother. She’d buy my sister and me a piece of Waechtersbach china for Christmas every year when we were kids. I had a whole set of the stuff and then some. I remember complaining about these gifts and being told that I’d come to appreciate such a fine collection of red and green Christmas china one day, but it wasn’t true. I was, however, happy that Sarah found a piece of it sufficient for displaying these cookies. Our Jack Russel Terrier, though cunning enough not to articulate it, was pleased with this too.
Benny is a model citizen when he knows he’s being watched. But if he thinks he is on his own, he forgets his training and climbs the high top chairs to run his nose along the surface of the dining room table, or naps on one of the couches on the main floor of our house. Once Sarah watched him methodically glance into our bedroom, peek through the doorway to our office, check my stepson’s bedroom, then, satisfied no one was around, climb into the armchair in our living room. He failed to look at the couch near the window though, where my wife lay reading a book. When she shouted for him to get his ass down, he walked slowly toward the kitchen, his cropped white tail tucked between his legs.
It’s common knowledge that dogs cannot reason, this gift being granted to humans alone by the Lord on high, but Benny not only reasons, he talks as well. Although I’ve never heard his voice, this is only because his criminal mind knows there would be no gain in speaking. We always question what he may have done wrong when we see that little tail tucked and that slinking gait, and he always exercises his Fifth Amendment rights. “What kind of mischief did you get into, Benny?” my wife will ask, and you can see his mind gnawing over the text, “No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger,” substituting the word “dog” for “person” of course. Being other than a naval officer or soldier, he knows he doesn’t need to answer for the teeth marks in the vinyl siding, the sandwich wrappers torn to scraps on the kitchen floor, the countless other offenses he has concealed through wit and subterfuge.
December 2005 was the first month we had him. My wife, even before she knew about him pilfering the cookies, was convinced he was bad because we had to visit the “Oops Station” to clean up after him at Petsmart and had found a dead squirrel as well as a dead rabbit on the ground in our backyard. It would be one thing if he was a puppy, she reasoned, but the fact that he was four when we got him didn’t bode well for reformation.
The week after Christmas, while packing our holiday decorations into their bins, she noticed that a number of the cookies along the bottom row of her pyramid had been half eaten then strategically nosed back into place. “That damn dog,” she said, because there was a flaw beneath the shape, unsanitary slavering over holiday decorations that seemed antithetical to the Christmas spirit. In Sarah’s mind, the thief may as well have been gnawing on my dead grandmother’s femur like a rawhide.
Winter lapsed into early spring. Benny’s fascination with hunting squirrels extended to the many songbirds returning from their wintering places. For Easter that year my wife’s parents thought it would be cute to get the dog a spring golf shirt. We hosted the family Easter celebration. We had Sarah’s parents, an aunt and uncle, all of our respective siblings, as well as her aunt and uncle’s dog, Casper. Casper is a white poodle mix that stands on his hind legs and crosses his forepaws to beg for food. Sarah’s aunt calls this trick, “Praying.”
At Easter that year Benny didn’t pray. He waited until people were in the living room enjoying cocktails and hopped up on the table to eat whatever meat he could glean from our honey-baked ham before my wife’s uncle came through and caught him. He was so scared when this uncle discovered him that he pissed all over his new Easter shirt. We punished Benny by sending him into the yard. Sarah’s aunt and uncle congratulated themselves on having such a well-mannered pet in Casper. While in the yard, Benny killed a robin whose mother was perched on a telephone wire, watching its first clumsy attempts at flight. My mother in law looked on in horror as he snuck up on the little bird, grabbed it with his teeth and shook its dead body. The robin red breast is Michigan’s official state bird. It wasn’t his first or last felony.
F. Daniel Rzicznek’s books of poetry include Divination Machine (Free Verse Editions/Parlor Press 2009) and Neck of the World (Utah State University Press 2007). Co-editor of The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Prose Poetry: Contemporary Poets in Discussion and Practice (Rose Metal Press, 2010), Rzicznek is the recipient of an Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award for 2010. He lives and teaches in Bowling Green, Ohio.
The Nose in Your Lap by F. Daniel Rzicznek
All dogs, on one level or another, love food, but from my particular experience Labrador retrievers display a rather overt affection for edibles. Jim Harrison, when writing of Sand, his yellow Lab, employs the term “eating problems” before pronouncing her to be “part pig.” Every Lab I’ve known well fits this definition. A training book I once consulted claimed that a “good” Lab will ignore food in favor of retrieving something to hand—a myth, plain and simple. Labs adore food more than anything.
It follows, then, that if people love holiday food, then Labs must love it at least twice as much as standard “people” food. The normal doggy habits (my first Lab Samson loved to steal napkins from the laps of unsuspecting diners and then tear them into confetti on his circular Orvis pillow) take on a more memorable glow during big holiday feasts, but the Lab’s true calling, it seems, takes place in the kitchen as they display a patience otherwise absent from the daily routine. I’ve seen Labs stand guard next to oven doors, carving tables, and garbage cans as if their lives depended on it. They’ll wait for hours, following the continuous action of the kitchen with nose, eyes, and ears, primed for scraps of turkey skin or piping-hot gobs of ham fat to hit the floor. The test seems to be the meal itself. Here are some tips for dealing with Labs and other food-crazed canines during the holiday dining season.
1. When you sit down to the meal itself, don’t be surprised if a wet, searching snout appears at some point in your lap. Say “hello” briefly and then do your best to ignore it.
2. Discourage begging, but encourage scavenging. A seasoned Lab will seek out the children’s table, or better yet, the presence of a highchair. Directing younger dogs toward such bountiful destinations may keep them out of your way.
3. Promote snuggling. An animal with a mind for symbiosis will curl up on top of your stocking feet while waiting for crumbs and morsels to trickle down. All parties benefit from such behavior.
4. Be aware of your location. Keep in mind the propensity for any dog with a long tail—Labrador or otherwise—to unwittingly swat glass ornaments from the lower branches of Christmas trees. Such accidents are guaranteed to cause an unpleasant interruption of your dining experience.
5. Compensate. If you have a soft spot, don’t give in to temptation. The average dog can’t eat a full plate of human food without paying for it later, so buy a bone, toy, or treat for them to enjoy while the homo sapiens settle in for coffee and desert.
6. Temporary exile. My family has been a home to Labs so ill behaved (their common sense overwhelmed by the magnitude of the sights and scents ferrying from kitchen to dining room table) that we’ve had to usher them to their kennels for the duration of mealtime. Don’t be afraid to impose such rule, especially if you’re dining with guests unaccustomed to the behavior outlined in tips 1-5.
7. Walk it off. If you’re like me and you suffer from the temporary holiday-induced delusion that you in fact have a bottomless stomach, don’t succumb to the post-feast doldrums. A tromp through the winter dusk with a happy dog at your side is better than a thousand Rolaids.
Dogs will embrace any excuse for joy and mischief, but a bit of mindful planning and alertness to your pig/dog’s habits and needs will ensure a festive time for all.
Jeannie Kidera currently teaches creative writing and literature courses at Western Reserve Academy in Hudson, OH. She has an MFA in Creative Writing (Poetry) from Bowling Green State University and is working towards an MA in Literature from John Carroll University. She spent the summer of 2007 in the International Writers Program at the National University of Ireland, Galway, a city to which she returns as often as possible. Her poems and book reviews have appeared in such publications as Whiskey Island Magazine, The Madison Review, New Letters, and Mid-American Review.
Mouth-watering Memories by Jeannie Kidera
They say that scent, more than anything else, evokes memories. Think about it. You’re strolling down the sidewalk in late September when suddenly you catch it: that distinctive first whiff of Fall. Something about the smell of dead leaves and the chimney smoke of someone’s inaugural log in the fireplace, sends you back in time. To that moment you had your first kiss on a cold sidewalk on an Autumn evening. To an image of yourself arguing with your parents about why you shouldn’t have to wear a coat over your Halloween costume. To a childhood trip to the apple farm for fresh cider and cinnamon donuts. Or maybe you are walking through the mall, trying to find that last minute holiday gift, when someone passes you wearing that damn cologne of the man from your past who was just no good, and forget it; your mind is thrown into a distraction of turbulent memories that, nonetheless, make you hope that person passes by again. Yes, our sense of smell is hardwired to our font of memories, but our sense of smell is also, of course, most closely linked to our taste buds, which perhaps is why so many of our memories, our best memories, are connected to food. This seems particularly apparent at this time of year, when we are surrounded by the traditions of our most family-oriented holidays, always as food driven as they are sentiment driven.
This isn’t going to sound right, but I can’t smell whiskey without thinking of my paternal grandmother, Nan, and it wouldn’t be Christmas Eve unless I could smell whiskey. No, my grandmother was not an alcoholic, but whiskey sours were her specialty and they remain, thanks to my Aunt Patty, a central part of my family’s Christmas Eve festivities. The recipe is beyond simple: a can of frozen lemonade concentrate, one can of water (only half a can for the first batch!), one can of Canadian Club whiskey (must be Canadian Club), one can of ice. Blend and enjoy. Maybe leave one out for Santa. Nan also made me a hot toddy or two in my childhood. Don’t call the authorities. I’ve got enough Irish blood in me that I could handle it even in my youth. And, let’s face it, when I was teething my pediatrician told my mother to “rub a thimbleful of whiskey on her gums and then take a shot yourself.” My kind of doctor. Regardless, if I wasn’t feeling well, or if I was simply spending the night, Nan would mix me up a hot toddy, a mixture of hot tea, whiskey, honey and lemon, and then send me off to bed with a warm belly.
While my maternal grandmother, Grandma Mac, has never served me whiskey, her pot roast is just as intoxicating, so intoxicating, in fact, that my salivation glands just kicked into high gear as I typed the words…pot roast… It’s as if I can smell the meaty juices dripping and bubbling in the pan, wafting from her oven like that cartoon scent cloud that crawls through the cartoon air with a come-hither scent cloud finger at the end of it, drawing me across the threshold of her front door, carrying me to her dining room table, where I sit, fork and knife upright in hand, drooling in anticipation. Finally, of course, as we plow through the meal she has spent hours on, she sits patiently working at her salad, her breathe a happy sort of half-whistle, letting her own food get cold. A plate covered in egg noodles with Grandma Mac’s pot roast and gravy is the best sort of comfort. And it gets even better the next day on a slice of toast; open faced goodness.
And then there’s grapefruit. Every single dinner at Grandma Mac’s house, as far back as I can remember, starts with half a grapefruit. I don’t know why; it just does, and thus, I can’t buy a grapefruit without thinking of all the meals I’ve shared at her table. And I can’t cut a banana or plop blueberries into my Cheerios without thinking about my Grandpa Mac, who seemed to start every morning that way at the small round table in their kitchen. And I can’t smell fennel without remembering the time my cousin Katie and I, as pre-teens, made our first attempt at homemade soup because I’d received a hand blender for Christmas (I was an “as seen on TV” sort of kid), and something went horribly wrong with our measurement of the fennel seeds. Licorice soup is not delicious, but my family choked it down with several laughs. Bacon cooking is my best friend’s father, Mr. Kelley, trying to rouse our freshly post-collegiate, hung-over bodies from bed on a Sunday morning. The list goes on and on. Garlic bread and creamed onions are my mother. Wontons and pumpkin pie are my father. Turkey and stuffing are my Aunt Sue. Apple pie is my Uncle Tom. Anti-pasta is my Uncle Pat. All of these foods, these smells are holidays and celebrations. They are memories; they are family. They are the reason you are supposed to bake a tray of cookies before an open-house when trying to sell. Simply put, they are home.