It’s New Year’s Day, 2017. The end of the holiday season. The end of all of the special foods you make and eat at the holidays, all the traditions from years ago, even a century or more.
One year when Kyle and I were in Virginia for Christmas, we happened to stay through New Year’s Day. So of course my mother-in-law had Hopping’ John, which is black-eyed peas and rice, along with greens and cornbread. I’d never heard of this before, but it’s supposed to be the first meal you eat on New Year’s Day, and then you’ll have good luck, fortune, and wealth all through the year. I didn’t like the greens because they’re so bitter, but I did eat some. My sister-in-law said she doesn’t like Hoppin’ John, but of course she ate it too. Last year, I invited Kyle and me over to my friend Dominica’s house on New Year’s Day for Hoppin’ John (“Do you like to eat cold butter?“).
In 2005, I got it into my head to make fudge for Thanksgiving and Christmas. I know it was 2005 because I wrote down notes every time I made it. It took me a long time to get any good at it at all. At first, the fudge never set, or else as soon as I stirred in the nuts it got hard and dry before I could even spread it in the pan. Sometimes it got so stiff while it cooled, I couldn’t stir it at all. Every year, I kept on trying. I don’t know why. Kyle would smell the chocolate or hear me cursing, and say, “Liz’s Fudge Works is open again.” (“Liz” is a nickname he has for me.) Eventually I got so I could make good tasting fudge, but it was always sugary. After 2011, I stopped making fudge at the holidays. Then this year, five years later, I made fudge it for Christmas again. It’s still sugary – I’ve never been able to make it creamy like the kind you buy at a candy store. I don’t know why. I follow all of the “best practices” I can find for making fudge.
Kyle doesn’t have any food traditions for Christmas. Except last year he wanted us to get a cheese ball, because his parents always get one, and we weren’t going to visit his parents that year. So we got a cheese ball – which is, well, a ball of cheese, usually cream cheese and grated cheddar cheese, rolled in chopped pecans – and some crackers, and we enjoyed it. We didn’t go to his parents’ house for Christmas this year, but we didn’t get a cheese ball.
In my family, giving my mom Russian tea cakes for Christmas has been a tradition for as long as I can remember. Russian tea cakes (they’re also called Mexican wedding cakes) are little rich mounded cookies rolled in powered sugar. When my mom’s mom, my Grandma, still lived in Toledo, Ohio, she used to send a box of Russian tea cakes to her every Christmas. Then when Grandpa died, and Grandma moved to Seattle, she continued making them. Every Christmas, my mom would get a batch of Russian tea cakes, and she was always pleased. When we opened presents on Christmas Day, each of us would get one tea cake (we shared all of our food gifts that way), and then the container would go in the fridge and my mom would eat them gradually over the year. When Grandma died in 1989, I assumed someone would have to keep up the tradition, so I did. Every year for 17 years, I’ve made Russian tea cakes for my mom. She puts them in the fridge, and eats them so gradually that she doesn’t eat the last one until the next Thanksgiving. I’ve always enjoyed making my mom happy, continuing a family tradition from her childhood. Then when I had her proofread this blog post, she said it wasn’t an old family tradition. She doesn’t know why Grandma started making Russian tea cakes for her. She doesn’t remember that Grandma mailed them to her from Ohio. Well. Maybe they’re a tradition now.
For Christmas this year, I gave Kyle a batch of peanut butter cookie dough, preformed into cookie-sized balls and frozen. He loves peanut butter cookies, and he likes mine the best. So this way, he can bake some fresh cookies for himself whenever he wants. I’ve done this before, for Christmas and for his birthday, and he likes it. I wonder, if I died, would someone make peanut butter cookie dough for him every Christmas? Probably not. My sister might, but she doesn’t cook and she doesn’t eat much sweets.
I thought about making Hoppin’ John for New Year’s Day this year. But Kyle doesn’t particularly like it, and that tradition doesn’t mean that much to him. I finally realized that I really wanted to make a meal for people this Christmas time. I didn’t cook Christmas dinner for my family this year; we went to the retirement home where my mom lives. So last Wednesday I took lunch to my friend Bob’s informal co-working space. There were five people there that day. I made spaghetti and meatballs and a green salad, and I bought a loaf of bread with garlic cloves baked in it and made garlic butter. Everyone enjoyed it. Yay! I got to make a meal for people.
Happy New Year! I hope you have a happy and prosperous 2017. I hope you enjoy all of your traditional foods at the holidays, and that if someone passes away, you take up the tradition and carry it on.