My Dad loved food, and was actually a pretty good cook. We had a tradition when we were little, where he booted Mom out of the kitchen on a Saturday every December, and spent the whole day baking and decorating cookies with us. Mom would then separate the cookies into fun assortments on paper plates lined with aluminum foil, wrap them in saran wrap, and artfully tie holiday ribbons and tags on them so we could share them with friends, family, teachers, scout leaders, and pretty much anyone else we wanted to show appreciation at Christmas. Our whole dining room credenza was a foot deep in cookie platters for the next week or so.
When I was nine or ten, we added on to our house, and my mother’s parents moved in with us. We didn’t stop baking with Dad, but in the afternoons after school, our Scottish Nana added to our holiday repertoire by teaching us the fine art of lining people’s arteries with classics like shortbread (just butter, sugar, and flour), plum pudding – a specialized fruitcake soaked in liquor accompanied by hard sauce (butter, sugar and brandy), and trifle (ladyfingers sprinkled with brandy, topped with custard, fruit, whipped cream and slivered almonds). OK, at least the trifle and pudding had fruit.
I have no idea how much cream and butter we went through each December, what with the butterküchen with our German Dad and shortbread and other goodies with our Nana – to say nothing of what went on or into to the rolls, potatoes, and sauces we ate at our meals. I think we kept the local dairy farm in business. And don’t even get me started on the amount of flour and sugar we consumed.
We didn’t eat many sweets during the rest of the year, except for the contraband from grandparents, and our mother (a weight-conscious nurse) never had soda/pop in the house. We were encouraged to eat fruit when we had a craving for sweets – and we drank milk, water, or fresh unsweetened juice.
But in December… ah, December! No matter where we went, we were asked to sit and eat candy and cookies, eggnog and cocoa – and it would have been rude to decline, right? I usually prefer salty foods to sweet ones, but at the holidays, I shift a bit, just for auld lang syne.
It’s a tradition, after all. The holidays mean food – and in my family, cutting loose and enjoying baked goods. I’ve always loved the time spent making cookies with my kids – and my grandkids. In fact, I spent today baking with my firstborn. Although we’ve found gluten-free and dairy free goodies to make in deference to some dietary needs in the family, there’s really no health food involved. Just pure unadulterated calories and fun.
Of course, after noshing on food like that all day, I can’t fall asleep because of the sugar buzz. And I guess time is taking its toll on me, because I don’t tolerate large amounts of sugar, wheat, or dairy nearly as well as I used to. So, if I want to enjoy Christmas dinner, I’m best served by going easy on the treats Christmas Eve. Humbug.
As in other areas of my life, I suppose I have to start making choices I didn’t have to make before. Moderation in all things and all that.
Maybe I am what I eat.
To get you in the holiday food mood, here are Cookie Monster and his friends from Sesame Street, courtesy of YouTube: