Thanksgiving is now behind us and Christmas lurks around the corner. It is not yet December as I write this column and already I have heard an aural onslaught of Christmas carols it seems as though every year the holiday season is extended longer and longer.
I swear I heard Christmas songs the day after Halloween, soon Rudolph and the Great Pumpkin will be packaged as a Labor Day double feature. Before you go thinking that I am being a little to Scrooge-like so early into the season let me explain why I don’t like this rolling of one holiday into the next and the unrelenting commercialization of everything. It used to be watching It’s a Wonderful life on Christmas Eve, as you were struggling with the presents and the next day’s invasion of relatives, would give you a moment and reflect that – hey, you got it pretty good. Now George Bailey is pitching cell phones during CSI-The North Pole Rudolph’s Revenge. Being bombarded 24-7 with made-up Christmas ideals does not put me in the holiday spirit.
So, what triggers my yearly Scrooge-like metamorphosis? Food. What else? I am a chef, after all, and this is a food column. Usually mid or late December, as I am reveling in my Scroogeness and Bah-humbugging everything and everyone, someone will give me a plate of Christmas cookies or a glass of real eggnog – Yes, some people still make it from scratch and it is a true holiday elixir – and someone will play Bing Crosby and David Bowie singing The Little Drummer Boy (or better yet Emerson Lake & Palmer’s Father Christmas) and suddenly I am transformed. As I have often stated, food memories are powerful and a smell or flavor can suddenly trigger a flood of positive memories.
Homemade Christmas cookies are almost an anachronism in this day and age where you can buy a soup-to-nuts prepackaged feast in every supermarket from coast to coast. But honest to goodness, homemade Christmas treats, be it sugar cookies or fudge divinity or my Mom’s Forgotten Cookies, are food flashbacks that can make even me sing Jingle Bells.
My mother’s Forgotten Cookies are meringue cookies studded with chocolate chips that she used to wrap in red and green cellophane and assemble into cookie wreaths. I must confess to neighbors and family friends that mom was not that bad of a wrapper, but the empty spots on the cookie wreaths were a result of my fondness for her cookies not her carelessness.
This Christmas give yourself a gift. Go into the kitchen and cook from scratch. Make cookies or eggnog. Heck, why not try a traditional fruitcake? Who cares if nobody eats them? The joy is in the act of giving and in making them. Making food from scratch is getting scarcer every year and it is a shame. The act of working with your hands and taking humble ingredients – flour, sugar and eggs – and transforming them into cookies, cakes or other treats, then decorating and wrapping them is becoming a lost art. Get together with family and friends. Make some eggnog or hot buttered rum and bake together. Then hand them out to friends, family, neighbors, or better yet, complete strangers. This simple act will make someone’s holiday brighter, yours.
Traditions are what the holidays are about, not PlayStation or the latest dancing Elmo doll. This holiday start new traditions with food and family and in 20-30 years when your grandkids are playing with PlayStation-12 and Biker-Tattooed Barbie you can look back fondly of Christmas ‘06 when grandma and grandpa lost it and started cooking from scratch and giving food to strangers.
So this Christmas Season, gather the family and bake cookies. Brighten someone else’s season. Try these recipes.
Mom’s Forgotten Cookies
- 2 Egg whites room temperature
- ⅔ Cup sugar
- 1 Cup red and green M&M’s or chocolate chips
- Heat oven to 350°
- Beat egg whites until stiff, add sugar and candies.
- Drop by spoonful onto un-greased cookie sheet.
- Put into oven and turn off oven. Just forget them for 5 or 6 hours or overnight.
Chinese Noodle No-Bake Cookies
- 1 12 oz. pkg. Chocolate chips or 1 6 oz. pkg. Chocolate chips & 1 6 oz. pkg. of Butterscotch chips
- 1 Cup salted peanuts
- 1 Large can Chow Mein Noodles
- Melt chips.
- Mix with peanuts and noodles.
- Drop by spoonful onto a waxed paper sheet. Allow to cool.