The December calendar is quickly ticking away while my Christmas today list seems to keep growing. I’ve looked at my “to do” list and tried to think about what could change or what might be ok if I don’t actually get it done. I finally found our missing holiday bin that contained our Christmas stockings and some other special decorations. So, I’m closer to finishing up with the decorating but my shopping list is in bad shape. Holiday activities for my twins, Stella and Sophia are in high gear and my consulting gig is busy. But, no matter how frenzied the holidays become I love this time of year.
My car radio is tuned to 93.9 so we can listen to Christmas carols all the time. The girls and I are so excited that the ABC Holiday Light Fight show is back on and we’re watching Christmas shows all the time. As we rush into these final days I know it is important to carve out time for holiday traditions so tomorrow we are headed to Joliet to do some Christmas cookie baking with Nana, my mom. The girls cannot wait!
I know that at this time of year with the crazy schedules and so much to do it can be easy to think about skipping some traditions. Maybe not make a special Christmas cookie, maybe you are wary about battling traffic and waiting in line to eat under the tree in the Walnut Room at Macy’s, or maybe you are thinking it is to cold out to go see the Christmas lights at Lincoln Park Zoo or Brookfield Zoo. We hope you forgo something else and say yes to your holiday traditions.
Marcia shared that we should also make rosky cookies and we agreed. We then called family friends, Pat Carroll and Maryann Ancel to discuss how they make their potica dough. It was so interesting hearing about the family traditions and how people approached special holiday recipes. Mrs. Carroll couldn’t come over but Mrs. Ancel was able to join our baking party. Those that have made potica know that it takes forever to make the dough, to let it rise, and then make the filling. We made rosky cookies in between and our gathering grew as the Bertino girls came over to help and Kris’s boys, Max and Ben stopped by. We called my parent's neighbors and our dear friends, Bob and Kathy and they came over too. My mom brought out more food for our friends to eat and the husbands gathered in the family room while we baked in the dining room.
To my amazement and delight, the potica turned out fantastic. A lot had to do with Bill’s awesome work with making the dough. We all had so much fun baking and telling stories. It was one of those perfect holiday days filled with laughter and good food. One of the sweetest parts was how the recipes and our baking connected the generations. As I think back on recent past Christmases, so much is a blur but this baking day is crystal clear and perfect. We all had such a good time together and I think cherish that we shared those baking traditions.
This time of year brings back two special memories of one of my favorite cookies -the Candy Cane Cookie. This is a light, melt in your mouth cookie! The cookie dough is very easy to mix together, but forming the dough into candy canes can take a bit of time and patience. I don’t make these cookies every year at Christmas because of the time needed to roll them out, but when I do make them, I am always reminded of why they are one of my favorites.
My dad is the expert in making this cookie – this recipe came from his mom and he has made it a tradition of shaping dough into candy canes for me. The first special memory I have of this cookie is when my dad flew to Chicago from Nashville to help me celebrate my birthday. Matt made dinner reservations at one of my then favorite restaurants, MK. A favorite here were the awesome desserts created by pastry chef, Mindy Segal. When we got there, my dad was there to join us. He actually brought dessert – candy cane cookies which he had made! The fun part was when Mindy Segal came out to taste my dad’s cookies. She gave him two thumbs up for his baking skills! If you don’t know Mindy – you should! You can now find her making delicious food and at her restaurant, Hot Chocolate on Damen Avenue. She also has some pretty awesome cookies on her menu!
My second special memory of this cookie was Christmas 2016. Eleanora and my dad mixed up the dough and made the candy cane cookies together. My dad has a very specific technique to forming the canes and Eleanora just wanted to get the dough in the oven so she could eat a cookie! My dad showed the patience of a saint and I think taught Eleanora his secret technique to rolling out the perfect candy cane. They had fun as he passed down his candy cane tradition to Eleanora – and powdered sugar was everywhere!!
I know of some other wonderful holiday traditions. My friend Claudette Kuhar makes pierogis with her family every Christmas. My friend June Holmes makes so many incredible Christmas cookies with her cousin and daughters, see pic above – every year we would be so excited when June brought in her tray of cookies to work! Pat Carroll makes wonderful brown bread every year. In this hectic world slowing down to share holiday traditions is so important. Those memories you create tie our generations together and create some special Christmas magic. And, when loved ones are no longer here, their spirit can be found in the love of those recipes and gatherings with family and friends.
So, Holly and I are going to make our baking shopping lists and are going to head to our favorite Jewel-Osco. We’ll look for you in the baking aisle! And, at Zoo Lights, the Walnut Room, and those other special Christmas tradition places! Merry Christmas! Holly and Meg