Tuesday, December 25, 2007

#1. Food.

Christmas for me is about food, not just about indulging, but about special food that only appears once a year. My best Christmas memories are associated with food.

That huge white cake our friend Nick in Syracuse made when we celebrated Little Christmas with him and Michael many years back. And Michael's Italian wedding soup with the little meatballs.

Those dry and not very tasty but fascinating and huge ginger cookies with Victorian-looking paper decals of old St. Nick stuck to them, which my grandmother brought with her from her boyfriend's German bakery in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

When I was growing up, I think we usually had turkey and dressing, sweet potatoes, similar to Thanksgiving dinner. In later years, my mother started broiling a loin of beef and serving it with Yorkshire pudding and mashed potatoes. Of course, there was always pumpkin pie and maybe some sort of a cheesecake or other fancy dessert. In the last few years, since my brother and I have started coming for New Year's instead of Christmas, she's done the beef for New Year's dinner, which is very nice. For New Year's Eve last year I made a posole stew with pork and red chili, and I'm going to do that again this year. I like cooking with my mom.

My mother makes about 15 or 20 different kinds of cookies every year. She gives them as gifts and keeps an assortment of them out on a big plate for everyone to nibble on through the day. She started, before I was born, with a few recipes from an old Betty Crocker cookbook: green Christmas tree butter cookies made with a cookie press, little powdered sugar-covered Russian tea cakes, thumbprint cookies rolled in walnuts and filled with chocolate. She still makes those, but over the years she has added and subtracted many others: dark chocolate-dipped macaroons, shortbread, biscotti.

Today J and I are having a small group of friends for dinner, and I'm making carrots roasted with maple, garlic, and thyme, twice-baked potatoes with cheddar and roasted poblano and red bell peppers, sage dressing, and a combination of kale and mustard and turnips green (from the farm) with chipotle. And I'm going to make biscuits.

J made a dark chocolate Southern Comfort pecan pie last night, and someone is bringing an apple pie. I also made little appetizers by stuffing Medjool dates with Parmesan cheese and wrapping them in phyllo pastry, and I'm going to bake them.

I haven't had a chance to make a big holiday meal in years, so I'm very happy and grateful this Christmas Day!

Monday, December 24, 2007

#2. Christmastime in the Trailerpark.

Y'all's finest moment. In a way, though we had many many highs in our 10 years, we were best before we had given it much thought. This recording is from our 1994 CD; we wrote the song for our first Christmas show at Dixon Place in 1992.

"Christmastime in the Trailerpark" was the climactic song of our annual pageant, The Y'all Xmas Xtravaganza, in which we told, year after year, the story of the fateful night the CowGirl Chorus bus crashed in the Forest of Singin' Pine Trees and everyone learned a lesson about the magic of love and absurdity.

Lyrics by J, music by me, backing vocals by the CowGirl Chorus and the Singin' Pine Trees, Cousin Rob on the mandolin, produced by Anthony Erice, and recorded in a cavernous church somewhere in Queens. Christmas alchemy by Y'all.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

#3. The Lights.

I love Christmas lights. I didn't start noticing that I loved them until I lived in New York and I would go all soft at the first sighting of a string of colored lights bordering an apartment window.

One of my family's traditions was a Christmas Eve drive around the neighborhood -- after dinner at the local Chinese restaurant, a later tradition, after my grandmother got too old to come to Indiana for Christmas and insist that my mother make oyster stew for my dad on Christmas Eve even though nobody else would eat it -- to gawk at the gaudy light displays. I love the ones that are bright as noon, stuff on the lawn and on the roof, and all twinkling and blinking and chasing.

The season is about the lights, isn't it? Isn't it about light in a long, dark night, about faith that it is as dark as it will get, and now it's going to get lighter?