Monday, December 13, 2010
While a few things have changed with the German Christmas Cookies, such as when they are made, what they are topped with, and who makes them, some have not and that includes the secret ingredients. Christmas cookies, weihnachtsgeback, or more specifically the making of them, has been a tradition descending from the maternal side of my family encompassing now at least seven generations.
The farthest back we can trace this tradition, dates to the latter part of the 19th century and at a minimum, originated with my great-great grandmother who lived in Birnfeld, Germany. Her family owned a flour mill in a small rural town in the German countryside, a farming community where chickens, cows and families grew up together, a bucolic existence to be sure. Such charming, close-knit villages generally developed around mills and the services needed to sustain daily living. The abundance of flour gave rise to the creative formulation of recipes among the village women, one of which is my great-great grandmother’s recipe which endured through the previous 100 years or so in my family to this day.
My mother, who is the source of this information, was born in Heidelberg, Germany during World War II when everything needed for daily living was scarce. Food, clothing, money and housing. As a result, my great-grandmother, Maria Dorathea Firnschild-Meixner, lived with my mother and grandmother, essentially raising my mother, as my grandmother had to work to support the family. My grandfather was supposedly killed in the war, another story for another time. Christmases came and went. In spite of the war, somehow they found a way to make the Christmas cookies, regardless of the scarcity of food.
Tradition was, at that time, to make the cookies one to two weeks in advance of Christmas Eve, during the night when the children were asleep. A coal stove was employed for baking during my mother’s childhood and a brick oven during her great-great grandmother’s life. One batch was made and one batch only. The cookies were regarded as a treasure to be slowly savored. The cookies, I would say, resemble a shortbread style, not too sweet but delicate, their flavor improving with time as the Christmas event approached. They were topped with either a light, tangy, lemon glaze or a rich egg yolk wash and garnished with a single almond or pecan placed in the very center of the sweet, indeed a luxury at the time. The shapes cut out by the ancient cookie cutters that had been passed down through the family, came in the shapes of chickens, ducks, stars, hearts and circles.
During my childhood, the tradition changed somewhat but yet remained the same. Due to their popularity among our family and closest friends, one batch was not ever enough to satisfy demand and hence evolved into nine gargantuan batches of cookies. My mother spent long days making them to give as “heart” gifts to those we loved. Now the egg wash was not only garnished by nuts but by pearl sugar, infusing each bite with an extra measure of sweetness. Not only were the cookies graced with the delicate lemon glaze but now some had raspberry preserves gently sandwiched between two thin cookies and were sprinkled with a dusting of powdered sugar. The cookie cutters now included bells. The baking now began during the first week of December and was tackled during the daytime when we as children could watch and pinch pieces of cookie dough off when we thought mom wasn’t aware, but came to find out later, she knew.
Dough pinching. My favorite baking activity. I thought I was so clever, sneaking into the fridge at night to eat the cookie dough, my favorite, beating chocolate chip cookie dough any day of the week (in my humble opinion). The dough would take an entire day of it’s own to assemble, mixing the cold hard mass by hand, and would be put in the refrigerator to keep it’s chill until baking time, usually a day or two later. I would carefully unwrap a round of dough, pinch off a portion, smooth over what I thought was much remaining, and rewrap the goodie. By the time I was finished or sick whichever came first, it was plain for my mom to see, there was significantly less dough. She never said anything, though. It was our unspoken secret.
Now I make weihnachtsgeback for my family and friends. It is every bit as popular today as it was years ago. Some traditions remain yet change. My mom and I usually make seven batches, the first or second week of December, during the day. Now the cookie cutter collection includes leaves, a very large angel, wreaths, trees, and frogs, yes, frogs, in addition to the time cherished and worn, stars, chickens, ducks, circles, stars and bells. The toppings remain the same, for some things cannot be improved upon without sacrificing the nature of the cookie and that is indeed sacred to us. I prefer for the finished cookie to be a bit thicker and pale in color, my mom prefers them to be thin and a toasty-looking tan. Making these cookies is an art and took me, a good cook, years of practice to master. And believe you me, thicker and pale is the way to go!
The most beautiful, meaningful change occurred when my mom came to live with me eleven years ago, we now make the cookies together, as mother and daughter. Sometimes we have even been able to include my sisters who do not live local to us. Our ultimate dream would be to have my mom, myself, my two sisters who make these cookies also, my niece and great-niece all come together to make these family heirlooms, although we may have to rent a large kitchen to do it! It has now become a family activity, a treasured one we look forward to each year. Although we grumble about the mess, the hard work of mixing the dough (which my mom has succumbed to letting the kitchen aid mixer do the work since her hands are now arthritic), the hours spent on our feet, about whether thicker and pale is best or thin and darker, and how my angels always break because they are too big, each year the experience is priceless. For the record, now I eat all the dough I want not caring if my mom knows or not, still snitching from the fridge for old times sake to see if she notices! And yes, for the record, I still usually get a belly ache by the time we are finished.
The dough disappears, but what remains is the laughter, the being covered in flour, the beautiful results after two days of baking and the memories we create each blessed year that will carry on and sustain us in the generations to come, passing this touching, special, culinary legacy down to our children’s children. I have boys but hope someday my eldest, who enjoys his familial history and traditions, at least will show an interest in this great generational tradition or maybe his beloved will. In any event, my nieces will carry on.
The same but different. The shapes are the same but different, the timing is close to the same but different, we gobble instead of savoring the holiday treasures, the environment in which they are made has expanded, but the recipe remains the same.
Oh! I almost forgot! The secret ingredients! The flour may no longer come from my great-great grandmother’s mill but the secret ingredients that flavor the cookies with a special edible fragrance, remains the same: love, family, and tradition. They may be intangible ingredients but they flavor the pastry with a delicate but definable flavor that cannot be replaced with anything you may purchase at the grocery. And now, with the addition of the family creating these morsels of love together, we add laughter.
Stop by. Taste and see.
Monday, November 15, 2010
As a young boy, the poems held the future as a rose. But what do young boys know of roses? He knows only of those poems that he is read, and to what child does a parent read a rhyme of anything other than sunshine and rainbows and truth? So, he believes in the reality of the fantasy.
But the fantasy is tarnished. The poems echo, hollow in his heart. Prayers are cried in haste, trying to recall the fantasy. Because promises lay in waste at his feet as he stands, waiting, at the screen door, praying the promises he’s been given will come true. That he will be met, at the door. Pleading for something he doesn’t even quite understand but knows he wants, he needs. The evening rings empty as another promise lies broken at his feet. Another prayer is unanswered. Another poem is a lie.
Careful to avoid being hurt by the broken pieces, he steps around them, thinking he is not touched by the jagged shards, but they embed in his shoes. Following him, wherever he steps, though time.
The little boy, now a man, stands at the screen door. Remembering the lie of the poems of the past. Now is the time to write his own poem. A poem that paints the future as a rose. What does a man know of roses? He knows of the thorns, but the thorns have taught him how to handle a rose. He thinks he knows. But as he writes, his hands are pricked and he bleeds, staining his own poem of the future. And the jagged shards of promises past, make scars on the path he treads.
The little boy, now a man, doesn’t understand prayers for they have left him untouched with their non-existent answers. He feels the pain, the bitterness and the wanting. For what he is not sure. But he knows he wants. The pieces that go missing leave him searching. Yet he searches in vain. Afraid to pray, unwilling to pray, he searches . . . in vain.
The little boy, inside of the man, tries to write the poem. But without the prayers, the promises he makes fall in pieces around his feet as he stands at the screen door. His promises are carried away like chaff on the threshing floor in the presence of the wind. He tries to be different, oh how he tries. But until the little boy inside of the man, is let go to heal, and grow, there will be no change. He has kept it all these years. He has kept his pain, as fresh after all this time as a new fallen snow.
The acceptance of the imperfections of the old poems, of the answers to prayers not seen but indeed present, of the promises broken not in malice but in self-absorption, will lead to the little boy inside becoming a man of his own promises. Forgiveness is not condoning the wrong, or righting the past. Forgiveness is robbing the wrong of the ability to hurt life, to mar the future, cleansing the poison that eats away at who we are. It is the healing of the wound from the inside to the outside. Forgiveness presents the gift of clarity, of sight. Forgiveness of the past is the key to the future as a rose.
The man, stands at the screen door. The key cradled in his hand. Poems in his heart. Promises on his lips. Emptiness at his feet. And the future before him, as a rose.
Friday, November 12, 2010
I love the pumpkin scones I get at Starbucks to go with my tall Earl Grey tea with plenty of cream. Yum! But I cannot always afford to feed that habit. Well, I found a pretty good recipe that comes very close to what I can get at the store with the green sign. Try them, you'll love them! I've included a photo of how mine turned out.
Saturday, October 2, 2010
5 cups fresh blueberries (or same amount of frozen, thawed)
4 large green tomatoes, coarsely chopped (about 4 pounds)
1 1/2 cups water
5 cups sugar
3 (1.75 ounce) packages of fruit pectin
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Pulse blueberries and chopped tomato in a blender or food processor 3 or 4 times or until mixture is almost smooth.
Cook blueberry mixture, 1 1/2 cups water and sugar in a dutch oven over medium heat, stirring constantly, until sugar dissolves.
Stir in fruit pectin and remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil; cook, stirring constantly, 5 minutes or until mixture thickens.
Pour hot mixture into hot jars, filling to 1/4 inch from top. Remove air bubbles; wipe jar rims. Cover at once with metal lids, and screw on bands.
Process in boiling-water bath for 10 minutes.
Monday, September 27, 2010
Yes, it’s a Goldilocks morning. The variety of which is usually only found in movies, art, or music. This day, it was apparently my good fortune to be in the middle of such a beautiful and moving composition.
It is early with getting my son, Brawny Boy, up and at 'em which is no simple feat in and of itself! While he begins his a.m. ministrations to get his cute carcass presentable for the girls at school, I lay on the sofa in the living room wishing I could be back lazing between the sheets for it was a late night and will be a hectic day.
The windows of the living room are oriented to the rising sun which is quickly on it's way to it's daily zenith. The rays of sunshine stream into the room and over the sofa on which I relax. My wiener dog, Liebchen, is on her perch at the window, napping in the sun's warmth, waiting for a squirrel to make it's usual early appearance in the front garden looking for leftover acorns.
Keira, not be be left out, jumps up to join me in my morning appreciation, stretching her long puppy body on mine. At six months, her feet reach my ankles and her muzzle meets my chin. She lays here softly breathing. She likes the feel of her breathing, snuffling, underneath my chin, has done this ever since she was tiny. Her heart beats out it's strong, rhythmic beat against my heart. Since when did she get so heavy?
The windows are open, drawing a pleasantly cool and purely refreshing through the house. Through the open windows,an assortment of birds play the music of nature, singing of the newness of day. Joining them in four-part harmony is my cockatiel, Oleo, making sure the world knows "Oleo is a pretty, pretty, pretty bird". Every once in awhile throwing even more "prettys" in there, when he is feeling especially "cocky" : ) He wolf whistles at my 83 year old father passing through the kitchen, like a testosterone befuddled construction worker might whistle at a hot babe on the street. My dad says it's good for his ego at his age, and whistles back at Oleo to return the favor.
My eyes are closed in relaxation and wonderment "How is it that I am so lucky to be blessed with such a day as this?". What did I do to deserve this gift? Nothing. I woke up breathing.
For whatever the reason the world continues to spin on it's axis, I will accept it's bestowal of this time. Enjoying it, reveling in it, appreciating it. How I can take such life for granted is a gross act of selfishness. I will immerse myself in it, use it for good and LIVE it. Trying to spread it's joy to those I meet, who see not the gem they have been given.
How do you feel about your day? How will you think of it as you move through it's portals? How will you use and enjoy it?
I’m blessed you took the time to enjoy my morning with me at this late hour and I’m not sure how your morning blossomed into the story of your day, but mine? Was just right.
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
Wednesday, April 7, 2010
As of Saturday morning, I have an iPad (see iPhone photo). In fact, all of us here at MauroMedia have one. And I'm not ashamed to admit it. After all I read on the internet, one almost feels afraid to state the fact. There's not a single product in my remembrance, that has received such "dissing".
Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Saturday, March 13, 2010
Tonight, my friend Rita and I took in a movie: Alice in Wonderland. Now, normally I am not into fantastical movies of this sort but as part of the expansion period of my life, I decided to take a chance that I miiiiiiight enjoy it and I went.
Tuesday, February 2, 2010
It would seem to me, that if Punxsutawney Phil could not see his shadow, it would be because the sun was not shining i.e. the sky would be overcast, gray, dreary signaling winter is still here and will continue for another six weeks.
Conversely, it would appear to me if Punxsutawney Phil COULD see his shadow, it would be an indication the sun is SHINING producing a very spring-like day thereby signaling spring is quickly on it's WAY.
Why is it the other way around? If it's gray and dreary, he cannot see his shadow and THAT signals spring will arrive SOON? Come on.
At any rate, I have my own system. If my plants look like this:
Spring ain't even anywhere close to bein' here. Just sayin'.
Monday, February 1, 2010
Monday, January 18, 2010
Thursday, January 7, 2010
And of course, if you're into garden porn, you can't go wrong with this scintillating, mouth-watering offering of pics from Arcadia1