Through the Kitchen Window

There's snow on the ground outside my window as I write this morning. Snow conjures up a lot of memories for me. Of course, living in Canada you'd kinda expect that!

When I was growing up I lived on a cul de sac in the suburbs of Toronto. Now I don't know if it's cuz memory makes everything larger or if it's the way it really was, but it seems to me we'd get more snow back then. I can remember at least two or three "snow days" every winter. The plows would come around about mid-morning and on our street that meant they'd push all the accumulated snow into the middle of the cul de sac and we'd have a "snow mountain". We'd spend hours making tunnels in that thing. We'd have whole villages of tunnels. There were a few of us on the cul-de-sac that pretty much grew up together, so we'd have our "armies" and just continue play from one day to the next wherever we stopped off the day before. Someone's mom always had hot chocolate and cookies waiting for us when we got too cold. Our parents moved there while we were still babies and the sub-division was new, and for the most part our parents are still there now. But the snow mountain doesn't seem as big as it used to be.

So of course that got me started on memories and the things that most spoke to us of childhood Christmases.

I asked some friends to tell me their most cherished memory from Christmases past that was food related and to give me the recipe as well. I got some very touching and even funny stories, which I've compiled for you here. I'll start with my own and then give each of my friends a short introduction.

I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I did.

First, since it's my column, here's one my cousin sent me, funny thing, it would have been the one I used myself.
    My favourite memory of Christmas was of all of us kids staying awake as long as we could on the night of Christmas Eve. At midnight, Nonno would bring out the "sciagurella" that he'd been working on. Usually using pieces of chicken or chunks of beef, tomato and little else except hot peppers, and braised slowly on the stove under Nonno's watchful eye, this was the signal that Santa was arriving soon and our ritual way of breaking the meatless day that Christmas Eve traditionally was. We would all have our little bowls, one piece of chicken, some sauce and lots of bread. All of us would be sitting around the kitchen table feeling like the adults and chattering away. Those were best times in my life!!!

    Thanks Sue . . . those were special times for all of us growing up!

This next one is from a dear friend and neighbour, Teresa. She and her family lived with us while they were building their new home and we're still friends!! *laughing*
    For me, Christmas is the smell of chestnuts and tangerines. When we were younger, and our family did not have a lot of money, we always got chestnuts and tangerines in our stockings. They took up space! We would eat them Christmas afternoon, roasting the chestnuts in the fireplace, anxiously awaiting them to be ready, jumping up and down with each "pop".

    Later on, when I met Frank, my husband, I was thrilled to discover that his memories of chestnuts were the same. His father used to chew them for Frank who couldn't because he had such soft teeth, just like a baby bird. Now that Pa has left us, every time we crack open a roasted chestnut, we remember him.

    When the season is upon us, I treasure this memory and soothing, comforting smell of tangerines and chestnuts. There is no memory of the holidays that I consider more enjoyable. No recipes, no fuss, just the plain old smell of tangerines and chestnuts.

    Happy Holidays, all. Remember to take the time to smell! Love Teresa

This one comes from a dear friend who lives too far away (in Ohio) for us to be physically close at Christmas, but she knows she is always in my heart. Thanks Diana (I left it exactly the way she sent it to me in the email, she'll probably kill me!!)
    I don't know if this will be much help . . . but the only food that comes to mind that I can't wait to eat around Christmas Time is the Sugar Cookies with the Buttercream Frosting . . . colored of course in Christmas colors . . . :)

    As far as an anecdote . . . I'll leave that to you . . . I know when I bite into a sugar cookie . . . I just feel dreamy and not a care in the world . . . You can go from there. Wishing you luck and love every single minute of the day, everyday . . .

This one is from another Diana, a very dear friend who is teaching my youngest son table manners and etiquette. She's a loyal reader of this column too.
    Most non-Greeks associate the word Halva with a very sweet sesame candy. In Greece, however, the term also applies to a popular dessert made with farina. Fast and easy to make, Greek Halva is an excellent last-minute dessert for unexpected guests.

    I remember daddy always making this. We would sit around the kitchen table and just watch him make a mess. He would often pour chocolate syrup on the top in place of the cinnamon. Now that's what I call fattening. Daddy would make this just before Christmas Day, only problem was, there wasn't any left on Christmas Day.

    Halva

    • 3 cups sugar
    • 4 cups water
    • 1/4 cups sweet butter
    • 2 cups simigdali (farina or cream of wheat)
    • 1/2 cup almonds
    • Ground cinnamon

    Prepare a syrup by combining the sugar and water in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil and cook for 1 minute. Set aside. In another saucepan heat the butter. Add the farina and almonds and cook over medium heat until the mixture turns a light golden colour. Pour the syrup into the farina and blend well. Cover and cook until it thickens. To test doneness, insert a clean knife in the mixture. If it comes out clean, the Halva is done. Transfer to a small mold and allow to cool. (A lined cookie sheet works well) Unmold and sprinkle with cinnamon.

Now this last contribution has a real funny pedigree. I have a dear friend Sharon who lives in Florida on the space coast. She's from Arkansas by way of St Louis originally, and she has what has to be the broadest drawl, though she says she has no accent!!

I asked her for a favourite Christmas memory, just like I asked everyone else, Ms Sharon sent me a Thanksgiving one instead!! Oh well, a memory is a memory so here it is.

    This story I'm not sure if I really remember it happening or not, but it has always been around and talked about every Thanksgiving.

    My grandmother on my mom's side was a woman who everyone loved and she never put any real demands on the family except for one; EVERY Thanksgiving would be spent at her house. This meant that all 12 of her children and all of their children would attend. No questions. And you best be on your deathbed if you and your family were not going to be there. *laughing* The other rule was that she always baked the pies, 'cause she felt hers were better than anyone else's in the family. Which, now that I look back on it, they where! My grandmother made a piecrust so light and flaky, she would put anyone to shame. I have tried, as did my mother, to make her recipe come out the way granny's did, but so far it never has. Deep down we think she took her real trick to the grave with her.

    Thanksgiving day was not a day that you slept in and didn't appear until it was time to eat. No, we got up, got dressed and went to Grannie's house long before 9am. By this time, she already had things rolling and chores ready and waiting for each daughter and daughter-in-law to do. This was a REAL family dinner. All of us kids got shooed outside to play and the men had to watch us and entertain us. There weren't too many Thanksgivings where it was really cold outside, just nippy. Grannie had a screened in back porch that served a lot of purposes. That is where drinks were kept for us and of course the famous PIE cooling table!!!!

    Also, it was well known that Grannie was a lover of cats, which I guess I have gotten from her. But on this day the cats were sent outside and WERE not to be let in the house while all the cooking was going on.

    The smells that came from my Grannie's oven where the most wonderful things. All warm and good. It made you feel all the love she had for her family. She took such pride in her family and her cooking. Sometimes there was a question as to which she really loved the most, her kids or her cooking!!!

    Sitting down together was also a thing that was important to her and in the basement of her home was a table that my uncles and my grandfather and dad had built many years before I was around.

    As wonderful as the meal was, the biggie was dessert. The smell of my grandmother's pumpkin pies, and the taste! Even as I sit here and write this, I can close my eyes and almost smell and feel her pie in my mouth.

    After all of the turkey dinner was gone, fresh milk and fresh coffee was placed on the table and Grandma would march up the stars to get the pumpkin pies off the pie table on the screened back porch. The added excitement was she would pick a few of her grandchildren to help her carry one of the eight she baked that morning. I was remembering just waiting till I was old enough and big enough to help. And every time Grandma appeared at the bottom of the steps, everyone clapped and oohhhhhhhhhh'd and awhhhhhhhhh'd her pies. HOWEVER, there was one year she was screaming her brains out and three of my cousins came running back down stairs laughing and saying; "OH man, Grannie is upset and someone is in biggggggggggggggggg trouble!" It seemed that sometime while everyone was coming in and going downstairs to eat, Blackie, a rather large short-haired cat, had gotten on the porch and had had himself a Thanksgiving dinner. Not from just one pie, but all eight of them! Some were eaten in the middle, and others had kitty prints in them. After a pause my grandfather said; "Well LenaMay, see you changed things this year, pumpkin pie complete with kitty prints!" Everyone started laughing and the day went on. From that day on and to this day our pumpkin pies are known in the family as PUMPKIN PIE COMPLETE WITH KITTY PRINTS!!!!!

    Grannie's Pumpkin Pie Recipe

    • 16 ounces of fresh cooked pumpkin, mashed
    • 3/4 cup of sugar
    • 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
    • 1/2 teaspoon of sea salt
    • 1/2 teaspoon of ground ginger
    • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
    • 3 eggs
    • 2/3 cup evaporated milk
    • 1/2 cup milk.
    • (Sometimes my Grannie added one cup of raisins and 1/8 teaspoon of ground cloves for Raisin Pumpkin Pie)

    Prepare and roll out your own pie pastry.

    In a large mixing bowl combine pumpkin sugar and cinnamon salt ginger and nutmeg, then add eggs: lightly beat eggs into pumpkin mixture with a fork, add the evaporated milk and milk and mix very well.

    Place pie pan on oven rack and pour your mixture into the shell filling it completely full, to prevent over browning of pie crust place foil in a thin strip around the edge of the pie. BAKE in a 375 oven for 25 min remove foil and bake another 30 min or until a knife comes out of the center clean.

    • Yields: 1 deep dish pie

Though we all have times in our lives when we think it will never get better, we somehow always manage to pull past them and carry on. That's something to be most thankful for.

From my house to yours, may you be blessed with all you wish for this holiday season, but mostly, may you have peace and happiness and love.

Merry Christmas!!!

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