Revisiting Christmases past





16 Oreo cookies whirled in blender into fine crumbs. Melt 4 Tbsp. margarine. Combine with crumbs and press into pie plate. Freeze until ready to use.


2/3 cup milk

24 large marshmallows

2 jiggers Crème de Menthe

1 jigger Crème de Cocoa

1 cup whipped cream

Put milk and marshmallows in double boiler. Cook covered until melted. Stir well. Add the two crèmes — let cool. Then whip the cream, stir into first mixture. Pour into prepared pie plate. Freeze overnight. Keep frozen until ready to serve.

Thanksgiving, check. Bring on Christmas, please. This year I am exceptionally giddy. I, like most people, declare Christmas to be my favorite holiday. I am excited to say that even as an adult, Christmas gets better every year.

As a child, of course, there is the anticipation of Santa’s visit, opening gifts in your pajamas and nibbling on sweets all day long without getting the stink eye from your parents. As a young adult, the excitement comes from new loves, gathering with friends and family all month long and being able to join in the fun of creating a magnificent feast. As a parent, the enjoyment comes from sharing traditions, supporting beliefs and giving. For me, I still experience the joys of years past as I delight in the expectation of what is to come each year.

Christmas this year is going to be special, very special. For the first time in many years my whole family will be together for the most festive holiday. I am like a child again anticipating the big event. My husband and I are fortunate to have both sets of parents currently living here now and this year, my one and only older sister, her husband and my two teenage nephews are bringing their Christmas cheer all the way from Washington. We will be lucky to have them but it will be a whirlwind — five days of festivities. In preparation of their visit, I have been running around shopping, decorating, planning and tweaking menus. In between all the events we have planned we will be celebrating with food, food and more food.

I know how hectic traveling for the holidays can be, so to make things as easy as possible my sister and I have been doing some serious coordinating via the phone. Gifts are one topic, but I, no shock to my readers, am focused on the events involving food. Top of my list: Christmas Eve, Christmas morning and, of course, The Big Feast.

Conversations with my sister led to many laughs as we cruised down memory lane of our youth. Christmas was always a big deal in our family. Our parents always hosted and it was an amazing time for all who joined us. We always had the usual attendees — great-grandmother, grandparents on both sides, uncles and aunts, neighbors, a few strays and whoever just needed a place to go. They only negative I ever remember was that we could not have 13 seated at the dining room table as Gum, my great-grandmother, would not eat a meal with 13 guests at the table. So we had to plan accordingly and confirm reservations. I remember many a time in which mom and dad were scrambling last minute to find another guest or threatening to kick us kids out of the main dining room to get to any other number than 13. Gum lived to be 101 and could still count exceedingly well. 

As we cruised down memory lane, we thought it might be fun to replicate a Christmas dinner from our youth. We agreed that we always had a prime rib, ham or a turkey we raised. We debated over skins or no skins on the mashed potatoes as Mom wanted skins and Dad would declare, “Its Christmas! No skins!” We remembered Mom would place an onion in each corner of the roasting pan which resulted in the sweetest, most tender onions that Dad threatened to never share with anyone. We giggled over the Red Jell-O salad with shredded carrots and Red Hot candies that Mom annually made in a clear crystal bowl that was always lopsided because our refrigerator wasn’t level. We discussed with fond memories our feisty Grandma Mernie, who made the most sinful shortbread cookies, rich chocolate fudge and lightest rocky road. We could almost taste the perfect traditional cheesecake that our German step-grandmother Marlis would habitually bring. And since we always had regular attendees our mom was sure to fulfill each and every special request. A homemade apple pie for Grandpa John, non-alcoholic punch for Uncle Harry, who was a reserve baptist preacher who never drank alcohol but devoured mom’s boozy grasshopper pie. The list goes on and on, but one thing we both remember is how fun and festive Christmas always was and how special we all felt. 

In planning my Christmas menu this year, I wanted to bring forward some of those table-side memories my sister and I share. First and foremost, we will be sure not to have 13 guests. We will certainly have lots of sweets based on our grandmother’s recipes and I will be tackling a grasshopper pie. I am shocked that in the 22 years since I left home, I have never attempted to make grasshopper pie.

Sadly, Uncle Harry is no longer with us to sneak an extra-large wedge of chillingly cold grasshopper pie, but he will be on my mind and in my thoughts as I play with the recipe that has been passed on. I hope I do him proud.

Pass the pie, please, and Merry Christmas!

Suzanne Hanzl is a personal chef, culinary instructor and owner of Tourné Cooking School, Email her at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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