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View of a Christmas
Tree Through Window
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you perchance watch “Holiday at Pops” on A & E last night? If so,
there is an excellent chance that your spirits were uplifted immeasurably,
mine were. If not, I am happy to report that you will have another
will be aired
again next Friday evening, 21 December
2001, at 9:00 pm CST.
I dare you to even think, “Bah, humbug,” after
watching this holiday
extravaganza! What a
remarkable orchestra, the
Boston Pops. Conductor Keith Lockhart is nothing short of phenomenal!
Not only is his musical expertise beyond reproach, but his
energy and enthusiasm are extraordinary as well.
And contagious. I am grateful.
of what made this joyful evening so noteworthy was the fact that it
place in Boston, one of the cities hardest hit by the tragic events of
September 11. It was
heartwarming and extremely encouraging to watch
the Boston audience relax,
smile, laugh, celebrate. Our spirit cannot be
evening got off to a vigorously jovial beginning with the Chieftains,
always enjoyable. For
nostalgic reasons, however, I must admit my favorite
offering of the
evening was the orchestra’s rendition of highlights from Gian
Menotti’s Christmas classic, “Amahl and the Night Visitors”. This
thoroughly delightful opera evokes Christmas memories for me
else on earth. And,
I must admit, I was somewhat taken aback to hear Mr.
that the orchestra was playing excerpts from “Amahl”
in honor of its
50th anniversary (it premiered in 1951, the first opera ever
be commissioned for television). Good grief. Could it be that we are
growing old? How time flies…
past is past. But not
Christmas Eves past
were as real to me as yesterday. And, somehow, even more real and alive
to me, more vivid, than last
Christmas Eve, or the one before that. For me,
and perhaps for many of you, Christmas Eve is what it is all about anyway.
It has always been much more important to me than Christmas Day
Our family tradition
dictates the opening of gifts on Christmas morning,
which I much prefer. Part of the allure of Christmas Eve is the mystery,
magic. The anticipation. This is how it used to be…
if you will, a large house with a huge Christmas wreath on the
front door. An
older house, a house with character and memories.
A house with candles in all the windows facing the street, with
luminarias lining the walkway. It
says, “Come in, relax, enjoy. You are welcome here.”
The door opens, you are greeted warmly both by your hostess and by
the familiar and evocative holiday aromas of citrus fruits, cinnamon and
cloves, evergreen, vanilla. There
is warmth here. Love. Inescapable, undeniable.
And music. Music to soothe your soul. Amahl
and the Night Visitors. It
after all, Christmas Eve. Tradition. Our rituals are meant to soothe
reassure us, to alleviate our anxiety. My sons could count on Amahl
just as surely as day follows night.
is candlelight everywhere. Absolutely everywhere. The house is
the warm splendor of it. Tiny white lights on the Christmas
decorated with ornaments collected over the years. Our favorites
are from Georgetown,
New Orleans, from Germany and Austria. Poinsettias, angels, and candles
galore are placed
discreetly. A beautiful
ceramic nativity scene adorns the mantelpiece. The
large living room
into a formal dining room, which flows into the breakfast room,
flows into the cheerful blue and white kitchen. Dear God, how
I loved that
house! And there is food everywhere. Of course.
we were at our full complement (by that I mean the four of us, plus
parents, aunt and uncle, close circle of dearest friends, extended family)
there was a
large meal on Christmas Eve as well as the Christmas Feast
itself. Because of the fact
that it could be prepared in advance,
would bake a
ham and a huge batch
of Potatoes, Onions and Mushrooms
Gratin. And smothered cabbage, maybe a fruit salad. Very informal on Christmas Eve. Folks knew to come on in, to help themselves, to mingle.
And they knew, beyond doubt, that there would be
Old Dominion Pound
Cake to munch on, and who knows how many kinds of
Bourbon Yummies some years. Mamie Eisenhower’s Fudge
for sure, and maybe even my
grandmother’s Divinity. Depending. Gigi’s French Apple
Pie was a given.
And my favorite cherry
pie, if I got around
Mincemeat if we were lucky. Not
the very best fruitcake
in the whole wide world (a story in itself!)
evocative holiday aromas could be attributed to our traditional
Rum. Not to mention an abundance of
eggnog. Depending on how many were gathering that year,
there may have been
sausage balls or
shrimp dip to accompany these
festive libations. But you could count on my grandmother's
For sure. Tradition.
The quintessential Southern party fare.
I find I have 8
variations on this theme in my files. I used to use a cookie press fitted with
the star tip for these
delicacies, but the dough can also be formed into small
balls for baking.
Small world. I ran
across a recipe on the web recently that
is virtually identical to the one
my mother used to make:
1 cup (2 sticks, 1/2 pound) butter
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups grated sharp Cheddar cheese
1 cup chopped toasted pecans
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
Mix all ingredients well and [with immaculately clean hands!] form into
small balls about 3/4 inch in
diameter. Flatten the balls somewhat, place
them on a baking sheet and bake in a preheated 350-degree F
15 minutes. Transfer to paper towels to cool.
If you prefer something a tad more sophisticated:
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cups flour [all-purpose]
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/2 sticks cold unsalted butter,
cut into small pieces
1/2 pound cold cream cheese
5 tablespoons ice water
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon milk or cream
1 to 2 teaspoons crushed red pepper
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon assorted seeds
(sesame, poppy, or dill)
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan or Romano
a food processor, process flours with 1 1/4 teaspoons salt until blended.
Add butter and cream cheese and pulse until mixture resembles
coarse meal. With the machine on,
add ice water and pulse just until dough forms a ball. Halve the dough and flatten each piece into a square.
Wrap each square in
wax paper and refrigerate until firm, at least
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
Line 2 baking sheets with parchment
paper. On a lightly floured surface, roll out 1 square to a
16-by-14-inch rectangle about 1/8 inch thick.
Arrange a short end toward you and trim
the edges so that they're
a bowl, beat the eggs with the milk or cream.
Brush the dough with
the egg wash. Sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt, half the crushed red
black pepper, seeds and cheese. Using
a pastry wheel cut
dough lengthwise into 1/2-inch strips. Twist the ends of each strip in
opposite directions to shape the
straws, then transfer them to the pre-
pared baking sheets, arranging them
about 1/2 inch apart. Bake
25 minutes or
until golden brown. Transfer to a rack and let cool.
Repeat process with remaining dough and other ingredients.
me, you cannot eat just one. Or
I’d better do some baking tomorrow. How about you? And I
can hardly wait to go to midnight mass. My cup
Be well, stay safe, and express your love for each
other. God bless us
every one. Have yourself a merry little Christmas.
And until next time,
you have the gladness of Christmas which is hope;
The spirit of Christmas which is peace;
The heart of Christmas which is
~ Ada V. Hendricks
Featured Archive Recipes:
with All the Trimmings
seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love,
mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think
of one without
the others. So it happens that when I write of hunger, I
am really writing about
love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the
of it and the hunger for it…
and then the warmth and richness and
fine reality of hunger satisfied… and it
is all one."
~ M.F.K. Fisher, The Art of Eating
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