I was asked not too long ago to write a piece on the theme Family traditions. I was flummoxed and hard pressed to come up with a tradition.
Would going to the Nutcracker for 18 years count? Hanging our 48 star flag on appropriate patriotic holidays? A toast to Nouveau Beaujolais in November? Lighting candles for dinner every night? This was a tough assignment.
I called my daughter to see if she fondly remembered any fleeting traditions. She said Christmas cookies.
I thought back to my childhood and tried hard to glean a tradition. I wrote to my sister and she mentioned our Christmas coffee cake, Thanksgiving turkey and maybe roast beef for Christmas dinner. “Geeze I guess we were a bit deprived on the tradition thing...” she wrote.
I don’t feel that my life is lacking because there are no family traditions. We have many fond memories to rely on. We always have a Christmas tree. In Florida we wore sunglasses to the tree stand. Out here on The Edge it has become a tradition to buy and chop one down from the same farm. When we move this tradition will become a memory. Our tradition of going to the Nutcracker was the cultural glue of the holiday season until our daughter decided we were done. Our family tradition of sending our daughter to visit her best friend every summer and vice versa came to an end when they no longer had endless summers. We share these memories.
When it comes to holiday food I seek both comfort and a different twist. “Why can’t we eat normal food like everyone else?” was a common lament. “I can’t cook that way” was my reply. Cranberry sauce is cooked with apples and Cointreau. My mother’s coffee cake is now made with dried fruit instead of the old standby candied fruit.
Each tweak to a recipe breaks tradition and shifts life’s sand. Perhaps my tradition is always to change.
Jessica’s Peanut Butter Thumbprint Cookies
Adapted from Rose’s Christmas Cookies by Rose Levy Beranbaum
Preheat oven 375°
1 1/4C All Purpose Flour
1t Baking Soda
1/8t Kosher Salt
1/2C Brown Sugar (firmly packed)
1/4C Granulated Sugar
1/2C Unsalted Butter
1C Smooth Natural Peanut Butter*
1/2t Vanilla Extract
Raspberry, Cherry, or Strawberry Jam
Sift together flour, baking soda, and salt into a small bowl. In a medium bowl beat the butter until soft and smooth. Add sugars and beat until well mixed. Add egg and vanilla and beat until smooth. Gradually add flour. Mix until combined, don’t over mix.
Refrigerate 1 hour or overnight.
Roll 1 inch balls in your hands and place 1 ½” apart on a parchment paper covered cookie sheet. Use your finger to make an indentation in each ball.
Bake 6 minutes make the indentation again in the cookies and rotate the sheet pan in the oven. Bake another 5-6 minutes or until lightly brown.
Fill the indentation with jam just before serving.
*If you are using processed peanut butter (Skippy, Jif etc.) reduce the flour to just 1Cup.
Nana Baker’s Candy Cane Cookies
Preheat oven 375°
2C Unsalted Butter
2C Powdered Sugar
1T Almond Extract (or Orange Flower Water)
5C All Purpose Flour
2t Kosher Salt
Red Food Coloring*
In a large bowl cream the butter and sugar until pale and smooth. Add eggs and almond extract beat well. Add salt and beat. Gradually add flour.
When well mixed divide the dough in half. Add red food coloring to one batch and mix until the dough is uniform in color. Cover both doughs and refrigerate 1 hour or 1 day.
When ready to form, break off an equal piece of pink and white dough roll into uniform cords. Put them side by side and twist over each other to make them look like candy canes.
Cut into 4” lengths curling one end into the cane hook (or leave them straight). Place on a parchment paper covered cookie sheet. Bake 5-8 minutes or until lightly brown around the bottom edges.
*To get a good dark pink color I suggest using a professional red dye paste. Sur La Table, Decorette Shop, or sometimes JoAnn Fabrics carries it. If you use liquid dye the dough will become too moist before the color is achieved.