Monday, December 18, 2006

Holiday Cooking

During the holidays, we always had huge family meals. This was Ohio, so some years the weather was great, some years family was driving between Cincinnati and Dayton in snow. They holidays were usually at either my mother's or my Aunt Marie's. (My grandmother, pictured here with my father and his two brothers, was a terrible cook. Since she was born in the 1890's and I was born in 1959, she was pretty much beyond the whole entertaining thing anyway, but after my grandfather died in 1969, someone would be dispatched to bring her to our place if the party was at our house. If we were going to Dayton, she went to my cousin's in Cincinnati.)

The meals involved huge hunks of roasted meat. Turkeys or prime rib or a pork roast. Mashed potatoes, gravy, a vegetable casserole, homemade rolls and pie. Everybody knew everyone else's preferences. I didn't eat lima beans, my nephew didn't eat peas, Pat, my sister, liked her meat medium well done and my dad and I liked it medium rare. My sister made the best rolls. So she was always asked to bring the rolls--big fluffy crescent rolls. My aunt could have happily ignored the whole meal and just eaten rolls. Aunt Marie often brought seven layer salad. I love seven layer salad. And I love green bean casserole. I know I'm not supposed to, they're kitsch food. But I do.

And the pies. My mother, my sister and my aunt all made pies. Pecan pies with real whipped cream. Cherry pies from my aunt's cherry tree with the incredibly sour cherries. Lemon Chiffon, and pumpkin. All from scratch. Every dinner ended in pie and a discussion of the meal. The hostess usually complained that the meat was too done or not done enough, and everybody praised the pies and talked about the crust. Was the crust short--mom liked her crusts short, Marie preferred them not so short. I didn't know what they were talking about and long after I started contributing to meals (and got a reputation as a good but weird cook) I avoided baking pie for fear I would screw up the crust.

About ten years, we were all at my Aunt Marie's--she's dead now, and she moved to New Mexico a couple of years before she died so this may have been one of the last big holiday meals. My grandmother has been gone since the eighties. My sister was making gravy at the stove and I was putting out food. Pat and I had made most of the dinner--something I didn't even realize until I saw her pouring the gravy. My kid was roaming around somewhere bored and Bill was there with his wife and kids and I realized that Pat and I had become the generation that cooked. My mom and my aunt were old. Pat and I were middle aged.

I was disturbed by the realization.

This year it's in the 70's here in Austin, and I've got family flying in right after Christmas for the holidays. Adam and Jason and Brad and Gary and Jane. I'm looking forward to the cooking. I'm not making any of the old stand-bys. I made turkey for Thanksgiving and a pumpkin pie, but for New Years I'll do lots of fun kind of nibble food. We might roll our own sushi. But it has become comfortable to me to think that holidays mark the passing of time. That we make our families anew every year. It's no coincidence that this is the darkest time of the year and in many ways, the hardest. It's such a triumph that so many of us have such good associations.


Blogger dubjay said...

We, too, have become the Generation Who Cooks. Except that my mother is too frail even to come to our place for a holiday meal, so we have to take it to her place and cook it there, and then she'll complain that the food is too tough and doesn't taste good, and we've found it's pretty useless to tell her that anything short of ice cream is too tough for teeth that are rotting and cracking, and that she lost her taste buds ages ago.

I certainly don't mind the cooking, but the sense of loss, decay, and darkness is certainly not improved by the gloom of the season.

December 18, 2006 5:29 PM  
Blogger Karen Sandstrom said...

Re: kitsch food - it's the best. Well, maybe not as good as the seared tuna I had at Moxie a week ago, but you really cannot beat green bean casserole, and I applaud you for standing up for it. At our Christmas get-together with my brothers last Saturday, I made something called "Snow Pudding," which was my brother Mark's favorite in his childhood. I came across snow pudding at a formal luncheon a couple of years ago, and was delighted - only to be told by my lunching partner that it was essential the dessert version of shepherd's pie. Anyway, as I've said before: I'll eat at your house any day.

December 18, 2006 11:15 PM  
Blogger Maureen McHugh said...

Ohhh, ohh! What's Snow pudding? And what's wrong with Shepherd's Pie? How can anything with mashed potatoes be bad?

December 19, 2006 12:04 AM  
Blogger Beth Adele said...

That was beautiful.

Also, I defy anyone to malign kitsch food. My culinary heritage would be obliterated if you took away green jello and casseroles made with Campbell's soup.

December 19, 2006 9:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Snow Pudding

2 c. boiling water
3/4 c. white sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
5 tbsp. cornstarch
1/4 c. cold water
2 egg whites (set yolks aside for Custard Sauce, recipe included)

Add sugar and salt to boiling water. Dilute cornstarch with cold water and combine the two mixtures. Bring to boiling point, stirring constantly, and let boil 5 minutes.
Add egg whites, beaten until stiff - using 2 tablespoons of the sugar when beating egg whites makes it easier to fold.

Add the lemon juice. Turn mix into a mold that is first dipped into cold water. Refrigerate until stiff. Remove if wish from mold and surround or pour over with Custard Sauce.

Snow Pudding Custard Sauce:

3 egg yolks
1/4 c. sugar
1/8 tsp. salt
2 c. scalded milk
1/2 tsp. vanilla

Slightly beat the egg yolks using a fork. Add sugar and salt. While stirring the egg mixture, add the scalded milk.

Cook in a double boiler, stirring until mix thickens and a coating is formed on the spoon.

Cool down and then refrigerate along with Snow Pudding.


December 19, 2006 11:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

At Thanksgiving my brother-in-law said we had become the generation that did the cooking. (He's the one who makes the rolls.)


December 19, 2006 10:10 PM  
Blogger mary grimm said...

Not only are my sister and I the generation that does the cooking, I'm already edging past that, since sometimes my daughters do the cooking. This Xmas I'm going to older daughter's house for Xmas dinner.
A lovely post.

December 20, 2006 10:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I had to sit through the "Good but wierd" stuff, and now that you're doing just "good" stuff, you're halfway across the country.
That's just great...

"Kitsch" food is a staple at the fire house.

December 20, 2006 8:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do you have a recipe for Shepherd's Pie. I've heard of it before but need a recipe to try it.

December 29, 2006 10:43 AM  

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