Oh hey blog. Sorry about the long pause. There have been some holidays. I hope yours were good. Mine were good; half manically busy and half dead lazy. It evens out, I guess. I went home the weekend before Christmas and immediately baked 100 cookies. Baking in my parents’ house is like going to Daddy Warbuck’s after the orphanage. The family that owned our house before we moved in also owned an awesome local bakery. That means that our kitchen contains two industrial sized Vulcan ovens. (Sidenote: I don’t actually know what industrial sized means, but they’re massive.) Whole batches of cookies can be baked at once! It’s glorious.
Then my sister arrived and we were sprinting through family friend parties, Christmas hosting, and meal-making. This year we hosted both sides of the family over Christmas Eve (Dad’s side) and Christmas Day (Mom’s side). It was fun but craaaaazy. There were 28 humans and 5 dogs in our house over two days.
Every year of my entire life we’ve had Christmas Eve with my father’s side of the family at my grandmother’s house that my grandfather built and my Dad grew up in. My uncle buys a tree that can barely fit in the raised-ceiling living room (one year it was so big if fell over and we had to wire it to the wall), we eat appetizers at the coffee table in the living room, we all move with a lot of hubbub to the long table in the dining room, somebody says grace, my (grand-)Uncle Jim concludes it with “Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul” (I still don’t really get it), then we eat; after the dishes are figured out we open presents around the tree, and take a lot of pictures. My grandmother passed away this summer so my immediate family hosted for the first time. I’m guessing it takes awhile for that kind of transition not to feel majorly off. It was good to see everyone and fun to cook a big meal, but it didn’t feel like Christmas; not everyone was there and we didn’t do the things we usually do in the place we usually do them. I don’t think anyone took a single picture.
It was good to go to midnight Mass with some friends and remember that traditions and my expectations of things are not really the point. Mary probably didn’t envision the culmination of her every thought since the Annunciation occurring in front of some livestock while traveling away from home. It’s a trite point, but it’s a point—even if just about family tradition. I tend to get too attached to the details, and forget that there are bigger things happening and I’m not actually in control of any of it. We always celebrate Christmas day with my mom’s side of the family, either at our house or one of my aunts’ in Wisconsin or Indiana. That’s tradition and it feels right; but only because I was too young to feel the shift from my grandparents’ house in Wisconsin when they moved to Arkansas in the 90’s, and then when my grandfather stopped traveling in the winter after my grandmother died. I’m sure my mom felt that, though. I’m sure she still feels it every year.
Right now it feels like Mukka (my paternal grandmother) was the anchor of our entire family and now we’re all cut loose, drifting. I never realized how much force her presence had in keeping us together, but I also recognize that that’s just how death feels. Augustine says that memory is what allows us to recognize providence, and he’s right. This idea is a major theme in one of my favorite novels, Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh, but even the creators of the idiotic How I Met Your Mother pick up on it in a secular way. Sometimes our drifting feeling is made so extreme by the circumstances of loss and confusion that it’s physically tangible; but really, I always feel that way. It’s only when we look back at the past that we can make sense of our lives with any kind of meaningful narrative.
When I was in high school and college the future terrified me so much that I wanted to fall asleep Rip Van Winkle-style and wake up when my life was figured out. But that shit never happens; no one does the work for you (someone go tell “Footprints”). I’m all grown up now and I still don’t know where I’m going to be in five years—if I’ll have a different job, live in a new place, or be in a new relationship. It’s still scary. But when I think about where I was five years ago and how I got to where I am now, I can only be grateful. I don’t understand everything about the past—even my own actions—but I can see how I’ve been forced to grow even when I didn’t want to, how I’ve been protected even when my life was hell, and most importantly I can remember how lost and alone and angry I felt through the experiences that have formed the best parts of who I am now. And that’s where the hope is, I guess. Knowing that you don’t have to understand what’s happening when it’s happening; you just need to work with the good and trust that all will be well. Mainly because that’s the only thing you can do.
That could sound depressing, but it’s not; and Christmas is a good time to realize it again. Routines only last so long; people move, families fight; loved ones die. But we are assured that “all shall be well”… etc. There always will be Christmas. Every year and more than that. We’re sort of living in it—because the Incarnation is an invitation into the life of God, not just an expression of it. We don’t get to decide what that participation looks like; we don’t even get to decide what Christmas dinner looks like half the time. But the point is that we get to participate. That Christ was born in Bethlehem so that he can be born in us, every moment.
So that’s good. Anyway, I seem to have gone on a tangent. My time at home was actually pleasant—I wasn’t thinking about all this stuff the whole time. I was mainly thinking about eating this Chicago lunch:
watching action movies with my family, drinking the Templeton Rye my cousin brought to Christmas, and looking at my new Smitten Kitchen Cookbook and the awesome gift my mom made for our family: a book of all of my Grandmama’s (pronounced Grandma-Ma) handwritten recipes. (Also, my brother-in-law and Dad helped put them together—I don’t want to get any grief.)
My maternal grandmother died when I was in junior high, so I didn’t get to know her in the same way that I got to know Mukka. It’s really cool to see her handwriting and notes on recipes. There are some new (old) things I can’t wait to try, but the recipes I’m most excited about are the ones that my mom and aunts always make—chocolate drop cookies and pecan crescents. I know you’re so over fatty Christmas foods and are New Year Resolutioning it up by now, but why don’t you get over yourself and enjoy an Italian butter cookie. Save it for Valentine’s Day, for all I care.
Geraldine’s Pecan Crescents
You see those grease stains!? That’s real cooking. You can also tell that the woman didn’t waste words. I’ll elaborate…
- Preheat your oven to 300 degrees.
- Cream the room temperature butter, add the vanilla and water, then slowly add the powdered sugar, then flour until just incorporated.
- Chop up the pecans or pulse them in a food processor, then fold them into the dough.
- To shape the cookies take about a tablespoon of dough in your hands and roll it into a ball, then roll it out until it’s about 2 inches long and curve it into a crescent shape.
- Place the cookies evenly on a parchment lined cookie sheet and bake for 20 minutes. They’ll firm up but shouldn’t brown really at all.
- Allow them to cool completely on a wire rack, then sprinkle with powdered sugar.
Eat many of these with coffee; sometimes for breakfast. This year I made both pecan and walnut crescents; my mom actually usually uses walnuts, but they’re great with either.