I have another wonderful guest blogger today from Maureen Manier, a writer friend who happens to be the sister of my brother-in law. Maureen is the only girl in a family of 7 - my brother-in-law Jeremy (who guest blogged over Labor Day Weekend) is the youngest. I knew Maureen would have a nice Christmas memory and recipe to share. The photo here is from a 1940 cookbook '250 Delectable Desserts' and it's good no one there had a long name like Elizabeth to pipe. I just thought it was a fun picture, but you'll enjoy Maureen's story more! - Amy
I grew up in a family with 7 children. Without more information, that fact might conjure up images of children clad in flannel pajamas joyfully decorating the Christmas tree while they drink hot cocoa and sing Christmas carols in Von Trapp-style harmony. The missing piece of information, however, is that those 7 children translated into 6 brothers and myself--the first six children born between 1956 and 1965. Christmas chaos definitely edged out Christmas traditions in our house.
My most vivid memories of childhood Christmases are of my mother (who hated to shop) going out (always the last week before Christmas) and marathon shopping for three or four days. As she walked in from the garage, we could hear the rustling of shopping bags and a series of deep sighs. We knew that staying behind closed doors or glued in front of the television would be the better part of valor. She would walk down another long hall into her room, close the door and, often, that was the last of Mom for that evening.
On rare Christmases my mother might find some time to bake cookies. My begging her to let me help was always met by, "This is the only time I've had to sit down all week. Can't you just give me a minute?" The sentiment is definitely something I understood later in life. But at that time I was always a little devastated that she didn't tie an apron around me and invite me to measure or mix or even just let me listen to her tell stories about her own Christmases or her parents' Christmases in Ireland. But my mother's domesticity was definitely limited--most obviously illustrated in the sign above the kitchen sink that read "I'd rather be reading Jane Austen"-- and looking back I realize it was all she could do to bake those cookies herself.
Fast forwarding years later I personally encountered the formidable task of creating Christmas no matter what size your family might be. And so, although Christmas chaos sometimes creeps into our household, we have established our own traditions to keep the crazies at bay. Decorating the tree means going through and retelling the stories of the special ornaments and sighing over the macaroni, tongue depressor ornaments made by our sons now decades ago. Central to our celebration is the familiar food: the breakfast casserole that cooks while we open presents Christmas morning, the overly rich fudge that even self-proclaimed chocolate haters in the house devour, and the cookies that we stack into tins to eat at home and take to friends and family throughout the week of Christmas.
As I've told stories about my family Christmases as my sons have helped me bake and most often eat Christmas cookies, I have realized that our family chaos was perhaps itself a kind of tradition. My mother furiously shopping and wrapping until dawn on Christmas produced the tradition of her sitting on the couch grasping a huge mug of coffee, completely bleary-eyed and yet smiling and laughing as wrapping paper flew and the succession of children came up to her hugging and thanking her. Christmas dinner fights were calmed each year by Mother interjecting, "And, Maureen (or Michael, David, Ted, John, Dan or Jerry), what was your favorite present?" And, yes, there was even a time or two when my father would pound out a few carols on the piano and amid his booming voice, my mother's soft lilting soprano, a few tenors, baritones and a struggling alto you could almost hear a bit of harmony rise above the chaos.
My son Ryan's favorite Christmas cookies
1 1/3 cups of sugar (plus 6 tbsp. kept aside)
1/2 cup of softened margarine (plus 4 tbsp. kept aside)
1/2 cup of molasses
2 large eggs
4 cups of all-purpose flour
4 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. ground ginger
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground mace
Beat sugar and margarine at medium speed until well blended. Add molasses and egg; beat well. Combine flour, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon and mace in a separate bowl. Gradually add to sugar mixture. Stir until well blended.Divide dough into thirds. Wrap each portion in plastic wrap and freeze for 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Shape each portion of dough into a small (1 inch) ball and roll in sugar. Spray baking sheets with cooking spray. Bake for 12 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from sheets; let cool on wire racks or wax paper and store in airtight containers.