I stepped into the grocery store and immediately had to catch my breath. Generations of fatigue were catching up to me — this was no small moment.
I come from a long line of women who overdid it for the holidays. Not overdid it in that they ate and drank too much – although I’m sure they overindulged a little bit in the holiday fudge and sugar cookies. But mostly they were too busy to overeat. They just cooked way too much for the rest of us.
Turkeys and hams and roast beef and stuffing and potatoes – mashed and sweet. Green beans. Two kinds of cranberries – the congealed kind that slurps from a can and the more natural, sauce-looking dish.
Sauerkraut – we couldn’t forget the sauerkraut! It was a German-American ritual. Whenever two or more people were gathered for a formal meal in our family, sauerkraut made its stinky, cabbage-y way onto the table.
(People think Twinkies are the food that’s going to outshine the apocalypse. Um, no.)
There were taco salads on the table. Brie plates. Pies. Chocolate cakes. Fruit cake.
Champagne. Foamy egg nog that could take the paint off a car.
And of course, Christmas cookies – sugar cookies, gingerbreads, snowballs, krumkake – which is like the Italian pizzelle, but rolled into a cone shape that could be stuffed with candies or whipped cream.
We ate them plain. My grandmother had a special iron for making them, and for years my father thought it was lost – accidentally tossed out after her death, or perhaps hiding in the basement of one of our homes – so he bought himself one from eBay.
Then one fateful, festive occasion when we were gathered at my parents’ house, a true holiday miracle occurred – my father reached into the side of the industrial grade cooking oven my parents have had for years. This was the side they don’t cook in, but which stores cast iron pans and pizza stones – and there, back behind some frying pans, was the krumkake iron. And not the one from eBay — which went home that day with one of my lucky sisters — but the missing iron that had made cookies back when Kennedy was in office.
It truly was a day for the believers.
My sisters and our parents and I are part of newer, and we like to think, smarter generations. We respect our elders. We love our elders. But we will not spend all Christmas week in the kitchen cooking like our elders.
This year, as in most recent years, we divided up the meal – my parents cooked the pork tenderloin and the rest of us brought sides or appetizers.
And my daughter and I made the dessert. “We’re not going to overdo it!” I told her.
Who was I kidding? We are genetically incapable of behaving differently. Plus, my daughter loves to bake.
Two days before Christmas, she drafted the store list — Chocolate chips. White chocolate chips. Cashews. Almonds. Cranberries. Raisins. Heavy whipping cream. Cinnamon dots. Cream cheese. Red velvet cake mix. Flour. Sweetened condensed milk. Pretzels. A box of gingersnaps. Grapes. Peppermints.
I brought my son with me to the store. He’s a key defensive player on a local club soccer team, and I thought his skills would come in handy for this trip. They did. But we bought so much at the Giant that I now own my own Shell gas station.
Here’s what Leeannah baked– an Italian sponge cake with chocolate ganache, chocolate icing, and crushed candy canes, and red velvet cupcakes she decorated to look like Santa.
I made a cake ringed in the shape of trees, sea salt chocolate fudge, trail mix bark, and a pumpkin dip, which we served with pretzels and gingersnaps.
We cheated a bit – the red velvet was from a mix. So was the pumpkin dip. Nonetheless, there were still a lot of stirring, mixing, timer-checking hours spent in the kitchen for two nights of dessert.
But you know what? It was worth it and when it was all over, I did what generations of cooks in my family have done before me – I threw away the grocery receipt, poured myself a cup of coffee, and ate another piece of fudge.