Christmas is upon us. At least, it’s close enough that we can smell its rank and fetid breath. I love Christmas. I really do. I love Christmas carols. I host Christmas in July every year. I love the idea of a fresh start in the dead of winter, the idea that Christmas reminds us that the most precious of all things are seldom those things we receive, but those things for which we hope beyond the point where hope is reasonable.
Christmas is not a season for ‘buts.’ It’s a season for mindless optimism and giddy assumptions. It’s a time for tinsel, for foolish philanthropy, for tipsiness if you’re inclined that way, for sober rejoicing if you’re not. Christmas is about abundance, about overflowing tables, trees teetering in the centers of Everests of gaudy packages. Christmas is cinnamon, and sugar, and nutmeg, and hot chocolate, and standing in the snow in warm boots and a scarf and staring at the lights on the house.
Christmas is about overdoing it–eating too much, traveling too far, spending too much, and too much time spent with too many relatives.
But this year, like lots of people, my sisters and I have had to rethink Christmas. We all own businesses that provide services. We don’t have bosses; we have clients. Economic climates like the current one tend to send clients scurrying for shelter. For the first time, we sat down and cold-bloodedly decided to not give each others’ kids Christmas presents. This was neither easy nor comfortable. Over the years life has taught us that warm, loving bonds are to be treasured and celebrated. It felt wrong not to give the kids anything.
Wrong or right has little meaning at the bank, or the grocery store, or the IRS. It took me about five minutes to realize that this year, if I wanted to show my love for my family, I was going to have to do it in some way other than whipping out my checkbook.
And so I resorted to that old standby that everyone always claims to believe, but few have the nerve to actually put into practice. I’m making my sisters’ children a gift. To be precise, I’m making them a recipe book, filled with the chili Grandma made when we visited for Christmas, my father’s fudge recipe, my mother’s cheese cake and vegetarian casseroles, my sister’s potato soup, four recipes for potato salad, my nephews’ barbecue recipes and chicken enchiladas recipes, and on and on.
Gathering the recipes has reminded me that families like ours mark our history with food. As my mom, my sisters and I decided what should go in (everything we could think of) we found ourselves asking each other, “Do you remember when…?” I’ve realized that this is more than a recipe book; it’s a code to our family history. It’s the literal trail of bread crumbs, leading from who we were to who we are. Why, for instance, are there so many potato recipes? Specifically, why do we need four recipes for potato salad? And a recipe for potato pancakes? And a recipe for potato candy? Why do we have a recipe for chowder that goes down well with chemo patients as well as one for healthy people? Why are there a few Vietnamese recipes in a German family’s cookbook?
The book is our code, as integral to us as our DNA. We are what we have eaten. This year I am giving the children in my family the key to the code–starting with Grandma’s chili recipe.
Want this recipe for your very own?
Double-click on the image and you’ll get a downloadable pdf.