Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Ghosts of Christmas Past

Maureen here. Merry Christmas, everybody.

These cookies arrived in the mail yesterday from my sister Pat. The mail carrier left the package at our door before we were even up. Knowing what was in it, I ripped it open and Leslie and I had cookies for Christmas Eve breakfast.

These are, as you can probably tell, chocolate cookies. They also contain chocolate chips and raisins. Pat used our late mom's recipe, so I could tell the special ingredient was there. There's a hint of brightness or freshness that most people can't place, but I know it's a pinch of cloves.

And there I was, so many years ago, at my mom's kitchen table, helping her roll the individual cookies. Mom made a several varieties of cookies for Christmas time, most of which are recognizable to Italian-Americans. There were these, then three more of the same shape with white dough: one with chocolate chips and walnuts, one with chopped maraschino cherries, and one with lemon chips. The lemon ones were my utter favorite, but I can't find the lemon chips anymore. Each batch of batter made dozens of cookies. Little did I know that rolling all those cookies would prepare me in my adult life for making polymer clay beads. People see the beads and ask how I get them so round and even by hand. Pictured above is the method by which I learned! There were also pinwheels with fig or chocolate filling, candy cane shaped cookies with an almond flavor, and the traditional American sugar cookies (my least favorite).

Mom also made chocolate bourbon balls with a texture much more like a truffle. Despite the well-known fact that I do enjoy a well-made cocktail, bourbon has a scent I cannot abide. When I was living on my own, I converted the bourbon balls to rum balls (Myer's Rum is the best) and taught them to my best friend Deb. One December night, Deb and I went crazy, and in one marathon session we made rum balls, schnapps balls, Grand Marnier balls, and Chambord balls. There was plenty of tasting and testing. When we finally finished, I slurred, "Leshts go out for a nightcap." Deb replied, "Mo, it's a quarter to three." So wisdom prevailed. I went off to her couch for a long winter's nap.

My Aunt Amalia, who was born in Italy, makes these delightful honey balls that I do not know the Italian word for. They are quite small and mounded together in a pyramid. They are set in the middle of the table, and the happy consumers sit there, picking off honey balls and drinking strong Italian coffee and anisette. I always knew when the parental generation was going off into juicy gossip; they'd switch to Italian, so that we kids couldn't understand. This worked until my sister Sheila went to Spain for a semester. She became so fluent in Spanish she could pick up enough of the Italian to understand. My mother was horrified when Sheila interrupted one of these conversations to remark in English, "That's not a very nice thing to say."

The cookies I just photographed are on that plate next to the computer. If I look at them for very long, I'm sitting at the dining room table with my mom and my Aunt Frances, or even my late Aunt Jean. We're eating cookies from a beautifully composed tray, they're drinking coffee, and I'm drinking eggnog. They're laughing about my grandmother's latest drama or I'm complaining because my parents switched to an artificial Christmas tree. And it being Rome, NY, in December, snow is falling outside the frosty windows.

And so I wish (along with Irving Berlin) to anyone who reads this blog: May your days be merry and bright. And may all your Christmases be white.


Stinkweed said...

Our cookies are all gone :(
But the sponge candy is not!

Folly Cove Fiber Freaks said...

T'is the season for cookies for breakfast, Chex Mix for lunch. Somehow I never fulfill my promise of clear broth for week after.

SheilaShine said...

I was able to recreate the Candy Cane cookies years ago realizing that sometimes that's not such a good thing. They were all gone before they had even cooled off. Ha-ha.

pigeon cove said...

Maureen, the cookies your grandmother made are called "strufuli" and are still sold in Boston's North End. They are pretty easy to make.