Christmas Cooking

I am a mediocre cook, always have been.  While I type with chocolate under my fingernails, misshapen mounds of buttery coconut fondant coated with lumpy chocolate are hardening in the freezer.  The “Martha Washingtons” are barely acceptable.  Soon, I will trudge back into the kitchen to mix “Mamie Eisenhower” fudge.  I will never have a dessert named for me, but I love to cook at Christmas.  I bake “Dida’s Sally White Cake” for my relatives, whether they want it or not.  Dida was my great-grandmother.  Don’t know who Sally was, but she made a traditional light fruitcake popular in the South in the 19th century.  I found this deeply satisfying fact and a similar recipe in Bill Neal’s Biscuits, Spoon Bread, and Sweet Potato Pie.   Me and my great-grandmother in the larger Southern culture.  Tomorrow, I will tackle my aunt’s beloved cheese straws, no lady’s name attached.  If I master the recipe, which is doubtful, I will name them “Aunt Bryan’s Cheese Straws”.  I love the aromas of Christmas.  I delight in the luxury of stacks of Christmas tins, heavy with sweets.  I play Christmas music over the noise of the hand mixer.  I feel love.  I deliver my gifts with relish, taking rare moments to tell people I love that I really do care about them.  Most of the year, I rush past them, with bare salutations or instructions for work.  Now, I am as childishly pleased as when I delivered handmade potholders to my aunts, who never failed in lavish praise for my lumpy squares of multicolored cotton.  I love Christmas!  I love to bring my gifts.  Nativity scenes were everywhere when I grew up, at home, at church, and in the town square.  Now that Jesus has taken His rightful place in my heart, I weep as I set out the tiny figurines in our living room.  The dark Magi are awesome, with their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  The gawking shepherds bring little, but arrive first, having heard from angels bursting open the dark Judean sky.  My nativity scene has the aroma of cookies wafting from the kitchen.  Jesus’s real birth place smelled like cow manure.  His life of harsh sacrifice enabled my life.  Because He came to die, I will live forever.  In the midst of these massive and amazing incongruities, I adore Him.  I rejoice in it all.  Hallelujah! Merry Christmas!

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5 Responses to “Christmas Cooking”

  1. Bud Says:

    Mmmm good. Henri, your delicious words took me back up to the Deep South…it’s a bit north of Central Florida where I was raised on Mammy’s 1,2,3,4 pound cake. I don’t remember if was one cup of butter, two cups of sugar, three cups of flour and four eggs so I would not even try to make it. Instead, I’ll just think-bake it in my head.
    Then, think-smell it and think-eat it in a bowl with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Mammy earned her diagnosis of diabetes and never used sugar, even on her Frosted Flakes. She believed cooking with sugar did not count, even in sweet tea and she never touched liquor.
    My first taste of alcohol didn’t come ’til 1954 when I was eight years old. That year, Finny, from the bridge club, brought a Christmas basket — I feel like I’m writing “The Help” — Finny was like Henri, lovely inside and out. In the basket were bourbon balls. I thought Jesus had come back. OMG. Praise The Lord for the gift of corn and Kentucky.
    The other night, Miss Fran said, “There’s all kinds of goodies on the sideboard. You like those miniature chocolate bottles filled with liqueurs. Help yo’ self” — I just turned black. Well, 1954 was the year Medgar Evers started the NAACP– “Yes um!”
    And there, lined up an wrapped in white tinfoil, like pawns on a chess board, was the Uncle Jimmies. Little chocolate bottles with real Jim Beam on the inside. The combination of bourbon and chocolate transported me back to Finny’s Christmas basket and I determined to make my own bourbon balls and give them away for Christmas… until I saw the recipe. Number one: Chopped pecans–Stop. Lordy, it’s enough work thrashing them out of the trees and running from the owner. Then you had to crack ’em open, usually with the latest gadget nutcracker daddy had just ordered from the catalogue or bought from the traveling salesman. I remember momma cleaning out the “meat” with special metal picks, picks you didn’t use for anything else (unless you were no good at crab.)
    Right then I decided to think-up the bourbon balls. I think-crushed vanilla wafers instead of pecans, think-poured the Kayro Syrup without getting sticky fingers, think-sprinkled them with powdered sugar and think-aged them for two week. They were delicious, just like Finny’s.
    The best part was think-delivering them. One basket to the White House — those kids need to see Jesus come back, just like me. One basket to Henri and Joe- for help putting North Carolina back in the red state column–sorry about Florida, but the I-4 corridor held up our end.
    The rest of the baskets went to the needy kids. I love my street kids. You can give freely to them because you don’t expect anything in return. In fact, Henri inspired me with her true love of giving. I’m gonna bake cookies for real, good cookies–probably not bourbon balls, but somethin’ sho-nuff good. Martin Luther said the poor need good art because the rest of their world is so ugly; that goes for good cookies too. Jesus was poor and he got gold, frankincense and myrrh.
    So, Merry Christmas Mammy, Momma, Daddy,Finny, Medgar Evers, Miss Fran, Henri, Joe and the whole Beam family; and God bless the street kids, every one.

  2. Anne Says:

    I can almost smell the goodies and see the joy on your face. I join you in your joy of cooking and listening to music as you reflect on how loved we are by the one we celebrate this season and all the days of our life. What a gift to stop our normal routine and dedicate ourselves to doing something for others because we are so aware of what Jesus did for us. He was born to die for me. What a reality to ponder over the cheese dough and cookie smell from the oven.
    Nothing has ever been done for me that can begin to compare to the love my Lord sent to earth for us all: therefore my life is precious. My life was died for on that cross. So I do a little for others and reflect on all the above. Jesus is truly the reason for the season and all I am and all I have. Can’t wrap that gift!!
    Merry Christmas to you and your family.

  3. Fern St Clair Says:

    Wonderful sentiments, so well said. I also rejoice in sharing Christmas with you. God bless you and yours.

  4. Robert Says:

    Christmas in North Carolina, nothing could be finer!

    My Aunt always made molasses cookies, sugar cookies and fruitcake cookies every Christmas since I was a child, for her neighbors and family, and I make poundcakes and give them to special people year round but I take requests at Christmas.

    That is what I think Christmas should get back to, making gifts to give to each other from our hearts and with our own talents, and delivering them to each other to visit and bring back a sense of community or family.

    Speaking of Nativity Scenes… I love them… I was at the Biltmore House in Asheville a couple of Christmas’s ago with my pastor and two different churches they had a beautiful nativity set up in the grand hall near the library, have you ever been to Biltmore at Christmas?

    God be with you in the New Year!

    btw… would you ever consider sharing your Recipe for “Dida’s Sally White Cake”.

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