Christmas memories, vol. 20
It's that time of year again. Time for you to learn more about how I ended up this way, how I've spent my Christmases lo, these last forty-odd years. This year I expect we'll have some sad ones - it's my first year with both my parents gone, and it's bound to make me kind of melancholy. Heck, I just started crying by the flatbread at Whole Foods because I used to buy it and bring it to my mom as a treat. But the thing is, the reason I miss my folks so much is because my life is filled with happy memories. They were people worth missing.
I'm sitting in public right now, so I think we'll start off with something kind of innocuous. Public tearing-up garners worried glances, and I don't want to stress out that nice man at the next table who's selling Comcast subscriptions to unsuspecting callers who think he's in an office somewhere. (SECOND time I've see one of these guys out in a public place - last time it was in the waiting room at the tire place.)
If you know anything at all about me, you know I am an eater. A savorer of food. An explorer of interesting treats and new deliverers of deliciousness. (You can also tell this about me by looking at my picture, but that is another issue.) I come by this honestly. My people, they're eaters...both my biological and chosen families can strap on a feedbag like no one else, and from roughly November 15 - January 1st most folks I know practically draw maps of the treats they intend to enjoy before the austere deadline of the New Year makes them look like gluttons. Here are some of my favorites, and the logic behind them.
Pillow and ribbon candy - Back in the days of contractor gift showers, we almost always got a fancy box of candy from Harry and David, The Vermont Country Store, The Swiss Colony or some other purveyor of fine mail-order food items. Although they're really just hard suckable sweets, somehow they seemed to have weird Christmasy powers and an added sweet deliciousness that spoke of the holiday and all its promise. Plus, they were hard but kind of soft, too, and if you gave them a little time in your mouth they were chewable, almost like taffy. Which is another tasty holiday treat, that peppermint taffy stuff.
Oranges stuffed with cloves - Wait a second, Mindy, you say. They're not food, they're decorative scented balls of love that children all over the world have created for their parents in second grade. Well, I'm not your every day genius, I'll tell you. Oranges are food. Cloves go in food. Ergo, they are edible. They do not TASTE good, mind you, but my eight year old self had high hopes for them. (This is perhaps the same year I licked the spoon that I thought was covered in hamburger casserole residue but was actually covered in Alpo remnants.)
Mulled wine - I was not a drinker of the mulled wine until I moved to England, but I am now firmly sold on its fine fine warming properties and spicy goodness. I had my first mulled wine at a lovely pub called Ye Olde Swan with my friend Mel, shortly after my move to the UK. Who knew cheap red wine could have such body and depth? I was immediately hooked, and I used to keep a bottle of M&S mulled wine in the cupboard for emergencies. (I preferred to mull my own if I had time, usually with a Tesco's Finest red and Penzey's mulling spices.) It has become my Christmas go-to drink for festive tree-gazing and fire-sitting. And the stuff they served us in boots at the Christkindlmarket in Daley Plaza wasn't half bad, either.
Mince pies - Another treat revelation from my time in the UK. Before I moved to England, a mince pie was an 8-inch pie full of raisins and nuts and cherries and brandy stewed with traditional spices, that got the skunk-eye from children and a bit of drool from my Dad, and that always inspired conversations about whether there was meat in the mix. Post-England, I think of them as personal little parcels of Christmas, with sweet flaky shortbread crusts and crystals of glistening sugar on their little lattice crusts. They are tiny - two, maybe three bites per pie, and they're even better when they come free after your meal at a country pub. Or straight from the box to the oven from M&S. That works, too.
Eggnogg Lattes - My first year in Seattle, Tom flew up for Thanksgiving. We needed to pick up a few things at Safeway, so we headed out into the not-cold Seattle weather. We tried to dance the steps on Broadway (which are completely inaccurate and hard to use, FYI,) got the items we needed, and decided that, on accounta we were in Seattle and were obligated to at least one latte a day, we had to stop for coffee. So we found a little street cart, another novelty to our Midwestern sensibilities, and saw the little hand-printed sign that said eggnog lattes had arrived. Hmm, thought we. That sounds gross, but oddly delicious. Let's try it. And we did. YUM. I now allow myself one eggnog latte per season, usually on a day when I can't stand the thought of Christmas and feel like just sleeping my way to January - it always picks me up, gives me visions of sugar plums, and reminds me how lucky I am to have Tom in my life.
The Swiss Colony Cheese Food Spread - Sometime during one of our epic shopping trips, Mom would make a stop at The Swiss Colony stand in one of the malls. She would stock up on cheese spreads to serve on crackers on Christmas Eve. As an adult, I understand that these can hardly be called cheese nor are they any sort of gourmet treat, but the five year old in me thinks they are the finest of cheese and the height of sophistication. Especially if they come in a crock, and are served with a Beef Log.
Michelle's Toffee - Seriously, my sister-in-law makes the best homemade toffee on the planet.
And finally, the latest addition to the secret joys of Christmas eating - Chocolate Covered Peppermint Joe Joes. I was skimming the Trader Joe's flyer last year to see what was new or recommended for the holidays, and they made mention of these delightful little oreo-like cookies with peppermint candy in the filling and a thick layer of dark chocolate coating as though they'd just created a fire wheel that could slice bread. I thought, "Hmm. Sounds fine, but seriously. How good can they be?" So I spent some of my precious last dollars on a little tube of cookies. (Last December was a bleak bleak month for my finances.) Well, I ate my words. And the cookies. Boy howdy, these things are pure Nirvana as far as the packaged cookie goes, kicking chocolate gingerbread and pfefferneuses' sorry asses right out of the park. The kid at Trader Joes says that people actually buy these things up at the end of the holidays and sell them on ebay for $10 - $20 profit per box. Perhaps this will become my new cottage industry. Who needs a job when you know the secret of the Joe Joe?