Through the Fire
Cookies and Memories of Mama
The holiday baking season is full upon us. Soon we will surrounded by cookies, candies, and desserts! All the flavors of the seasons – chocolate, peppermint, eggnog, all those warm spices like cinnamon and nutmeg. Oh my!
My spiritual path has veered my away from celebrating Christmas as a holy day but traditions and memories abide. My childhood holiday memories, as well as most of my food memories are a paradox. Happy yet painful. Many of my early memories of my mother are the same, confusing yet comforting.Â She loved to cook, never got pleasure from eating. She passed that on to me and I have worked hard to grow beyond it. She and I had great times cooking together. My mother and I made lots of cookies together and I hardly ever was allowed to eat them. I devised ways of stealing them but I assure you there was not much enjoyment involved in the eating of those cookies. When it came to dessert making, we would sometimes go all out, and the male members of the family would be the ones to benefit. I would sneak bites and pieces of those as well. Sometimes I got fruit for my dessert, sometimes nothing and got to stay at the table, watching my brothers and dad eating the cake I had made. Paradox. Cruel yet satisfying from the cook’s vantage point. My mom never ate dessert! The last few weeks of her life, she gave in. At that point she was not really wanting to live much longer, had even less appetite than usual.Â She started to order ice cream and frozen yoghurt – chocolate!! My whole life I thought she didn’t like chocolate. The sad truth was she never allowed herself that pleasure, that indulgence. I learned ever so many things from her during our lives together and this was a biggie. I needed to learn how to enjoy food before I was on my death bed. I needed to make friends with those foods I was first punished by her for eating, later punishing myself by over eating them. Hopefully this would happen before I was 89. I loved watching her eagerly make her way through the small bowls that the nursing care staff handed out and sometimes even ask for a second one. She had frozen yoghurt for lunch, managing a few bites of something else before hand, and ice cream for dinner!Â I’m working on it and can honestly say now that I enjoy eating a chocolate cookie. It gives me pleasure.Â I can choose the best looking one and eat it slowly and taste all the nuances of the particular recipe.Â I can gobble a bunch of them yes, but I can’t remember that last time I had a big cookie binge. THAT is awesome!
I am getting in the spirit of holiday baking. It’s still mostly treats for others but I truly have turned that around. I save some for myself and so enjoy giving the love that those cookies, etc. represent. Sometimes we can find the sweetness of our life in a cookie, and sometimes we can find it in the joy of sharing those cookies.
Here is my favorite winter cookie recipe.
Spiced Honey Nut Balls
from The seasons of the Italian Kitchen
1 oz raisins ( I used currants)
2 oz each shelled walnuts, almonds, and hazelnuts ( to learn about soaking nuts, go here)
1 oz citron, finely chopped ( I used homemade candied lemon peel after discovering that the storebought citron is full of high fructose corn syrup!) I don’t actually like it so didn’t see if I could find some that was of good quality
1 oz semi sweet chocolate chips
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp. freshly ground nutmeg
4 T honey
1/2c. plus 2 T flour ( I used rice flour)
Preheat oven to 400ÂºF. Put the raisins in a small bowl and add hot water to soften ( I used Marsala wine. why not?) If you didn’t toast your nuts after soaking them, do so now. Put them on a baking sheet, hazelnuts to one side. Toast in the oven 5 minutes ( mine needed more, just watch them). Remove and rub the hazelnuts in a clean rough towel to remove as much of the skin as possible. Chop all the nuts together finely ( or pulse in the food processor).Put them in a large bowl. Drain the raisins and squeeze them lightly, and add to the bowl along with the ingredients through the nutmeg. Mix well. Mix the honey with 1 T hot water to loosen its consistency, and add to the fruit nut mixture. Sift on the flour and mix well. Butter a cookie sheet. Break off bits of dough, roll them between buttered palms into balls about 1 to 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Set the balls on the baking sheet, put in the oven, and immediately turn the temperature down to 350Âº. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes until they are golden brown. Cool on a rack. When they are completely cooled, they can be stored in an airtight container for several weeks. ( yeah, good luck with that!!)
These ship well if you have a far away loved one who would like some cookies. Make sure to set aside a few for yourself. Make a cup of tea or indulge in a lovely glass of Vin Santo. Put your feet up, relax and slowly nibble on your cookies and sip your drink. Make a new eating memory.