The best present of all
As we plunge pell-mell into the holidays and tear around with too much to do; when we find we have double-booked dates that have drastically disparate dress codes or we’re seeing off one child at LAX the same day and hour the other is arriving at Long Beach, my brain bellows “Halt! It’s a holiday, not a hurricane. Slow down.”
Think about it. What are the memories you most cherish from holidays past? Mine are all about sitting around the fire, curled up on the couch, joshing each other gently about silly things we’ve done, or haven’t done, during the year. These times were punctuated, often as not, by visitors who dropped in and eased into the evening that lingered into a casual supper by the hearth. Sure, we dressed in finery and dined with gleaming silver at the holiday table, but the times I remember best are the late-night hours in the kitchen when the women gathered to clean up and dish about the night’s events. My mother always swore that the calories fell out of desserts when they were reduced to crumbs so we picked and nibbled and scraped clean the bowls of anything delicious that was “too little to save; too good to toss.”
This year, I realized as I was making my gift list that the presents that stuck through time to occupy a treasured spot in my heart are all those that reflected time together and came from the heart. There was the annual, never-fail father-daughter date that my dad spent months planning; a grown-up lunch, a matinee on Broadway and a shopping trip to FAO Schwartz was every year’s highlight. The dolls and bears we bought became my talismen; imbued with magic by the hours my father and I spent choosing just the perfect present for that year and the one to come.
I decided that I would be as mindful this year in selecting the events I attend and the gifts I give. As much as possible, the present I will offer the people I love is my undivided attention. Whatever else I give them is gravy-hope they like it!
About 60 – 70 crackers
The warm felicity of holidays often emanates from the kitchen. My mother loved the holidays so much she would create a personal Christmas environment to wrap family and friends in the embrace of scents and flavors that became indelible memories. It always started with the sharp balsam of the tree, but she’d add the sweet, spicy aroma of mulled wine bubbling on the stove throughout most of the month of December. When a visitor called ahead to drop by, Mother would flip on the oven and reach in the freezer for a roll of cheddar crackers to bake and serve with drinks. By the time guests arrived, a fire burned brightly, tree lights glimmered and our house smelled inviting enough for everyone to enjoy a relaxed evening of just being together.
1/2 pound grated sharp cheddar
1/4 pound Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp. Colman’s dry mustard
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper (to taste)
1/2 tsp. salt
1 stick unsalted butter, cut into chips when cold
1. Let the butter rest a half hour before cooking
2. Pulse dry ingredients in a food processor until blended. Add butter, a few pieces at a time until the dough looks like BBs. Add water, a tablespoon at a time, until the dough just barely holds together.
3. Turn the dough out onto waxed paper and divide into quarters. Roll each into a log about eight inches long. Wrap tightly and chill for two or three hours. Freeze any rolls you want to save.
4. To bake, preheat oven to 375 degrees.
5. Slice the log into 1/4-inch rounds and arrange on a baking sheet one inch apart. Bake eight to ten minutes until they are pale gold. Flip and bake two minutes more. Cool on a rack. Serve slightly warm, plain or with fig jam.
Here’s a bonus recipe from a friend of mine, Zoe Harrison, who makes batches of these addictive little snacks to give away or serve warm with drinks to folks who drop by.
2 – 3 Tbs. butter
2 tsp. dried rosemary, crushed
1 tsp. sea salt
1/2 tsp. cayenne
2 cups pecans
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Melt butter and add seasonings. Pour over pecans; toss to coat.
3. Bake 10 minutes.