There are a few family traditions that without them, it's just not Christmas.
There's the big, bright pink ornament on the tree that says "Baby's First Christmas 1980" that marks the year I was born, that usually hangs somewhere near a foot long pencil that my mom has been hanging on the tree since she was a little girl. Those two are staples from the Christmas trees of my youth that now hang on my own tree.
Over at Dad's house, there's Betsy's collection of ornaments that she buys one of every year, noting something significant about the year on the bottom in gold paint marker, and the hand beaded ornaments from her grandmother. This year there was an addition of the Christmas ball from Betsy's dad's dad, making it over 100 years old. Such a simple ornament, a bright cobalt blue, solid glass ball, about 4" in diameter.
Not surprisingly, a lot of my Christmas traditions are food.
Grandpa Spong's pizelles are one of them. After he passed away, I asked Gram if I could borrow the pizelle maker so I could continue the tradition. I didn't know where the recipe was, but I'd find one, and make it as close as I could to his.
To my excitement, when I opened up the pizelle maker that year, there was his very simple, and not very well defined recipe. I teared up at his handwriting, and broke out into laughter as I read the ingredient list and came to "anise". You could always tell were Grandpa was in the pizelle making progress based on the amount of anise you tasted when you bit into them. He would make pizelles for weeks before Christmas, always trying to refine the flavor of the anise. There were some that you just couldn't bite into because the anise smell hit your nose long before it even reached your lips. There were some that were burned beyond recognition. There were some that were dusted with powdered sugar.
And then it would happen. About a week before Christmas, he would make the perfect batch. But then, because he wouldn't write down any of the measurements, we'd be back to square one.
We also have the carrot souffle. Dad scored the recipe for this from Chasen's Restaurant in LA probably 15 years ago. Chasen's has long since closed, but the souffle recipe comes out twice a year: Thanksgiving and Christmas. I have the recipe somewhere, I could make it any time I wanted, but no. I wait. It's Dad's thing. We have souffle two times a year, and we savor it. There have been separate batches made, just so we have left over souffle. We like the souffle. We LOVE the souffle.
Last year, we introduced my niece Emma to the souffle, just two days shy of her first birthday. She loved it. She had it everywhere, on the tray of her high tray, on her, in her hair, in her eyebrows. She was IN to the souffle.
We lost power on Sunday, and one of the first things I thought about was how there was leftover Christmas souffle in the fridge. How it was going to waste. How it would be sacrificed. I damn near wept. I went to the fridge, and with hands on the doors, contemplated opening it up and rescuing the souffle, but then thought of everything else that wouldn't fare well if I did.
(The power came back on. The souffle is fine.)
Lastly, there is the garlic mushroom soup. It's not any garlic mushroom soup. It's Sweetie's garlic mushroom soup. The soup.
There is always a traditional Polish Christmas on Christmas Eve on Mom's side of the family. Pierogi, sauerkraut, kasha (barley), various types of herring (ew gross), bread and kielbasa that comes from Hamtramck, amongst a myriad of other things. Traditionally, this meal is called wigilia, and is supposed to be meatless. We cheat with the kielbasa.
But the centerpiece of this meal is always the garlic mushroom soup. You can smell it cooking in all it's mushroomy garlicky goodness. Some people are reminded of Christmas by the smell of pine trees. Me? I'm reminded of Christmas by the smell of soup.
It's a simple recipe really. Water, garlic, mushrooms. Boil. Add some flour to sour cream. Add broth to sour cream. Add broth/sour cream mix to broth (we don't want it curdling!), add salt and pepper, let simmer till it thickens. Serve over mashed potatoes.
The mashed potatoes are key.
Dad made it at his house on Christmas Eve, and we had our own little Polish feast there. Pierogi, kielbasa, and the soup. It didn't take long before that familiar smell filled the kitchen.
Even though it was a different branch of the family, and Sweetie wasn't there to share it, it was still the soup. It was awesome to share the tradition that I have been a part of my entire life with Betsy and Charles (her dad), and to have Dad so excited to make the soup.
This year has seen a lot of changes, but it's good to know that some things stay the same.
Like the soup.