Just as Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus as the ultimate gift of love so we continue to perpetuate the love of the first Christmas through giving. For most mothers, there may be many kinds of giving during the holidays, but one that is constant is cooking. During the Christmas season, food transcends mere nourishment or eating, drinking and merriment. A home-cooked meal with family and friends is a way a mother (and of course dads that cook too) can nurture loved ones. Often our strongest Christmas memories are filled with the warmth and love of a family meal or making Christmas cookies.
As the mother of ten kids, for me, cooking has always been part assembly-line, part nourishment and part love. Even when my kids no longer need me to teach them to tie their shoes or get them a drink of water, or after they have left home, there is still one thing I can always do for them–cook.
Christmas is a time when many grown children return to the fold, if even for just a short time. Nine of our 10 kids will be here–many hailing from several states across the country. As we gather, hopefully the fiancee, wife, girlfriend, and one boyfriend won’t mind as we sink into all our “remembers.”
For the last twenty-six years, we have celebrated Christmas in two parts. Christmas Eve is reserved for Mass, prayers, a special dinner and an exchange of sibling gifts which, until recently, meant each person gave each brother and sister a gift. A few years ago, my husband Mark and I made an executive decision that we would draw names for the gift exchange. I’m sure you understand although not all at our house were in favor. It has made for a calmer more manageable celebration.
Christmas Day holds gifts from Santa ,whose real identity was outed many years ago, (our youngest will be 13.) It has become one way of living the Christmas message of love and giving.
Later during the day, we have a big Christmas dinner of our own. The menu changes from year to year based on everyone’s suggestions. It can be a big turkey dinner with all the fixings or a buffet of make-your-own submarine sandwiches.
Since there are so many sweets around during the Christmas season, I put my greatest passion into breads. No matter their food preferences, there’s no one in our family that does not take delight in a slice of oven-fresh, soft, buttered bread. Potato-cheese breads, pepperoni rolls, honey-oatmeal buns, bread pretzels…any kind of bread is not just eaten but experienced as mom’s love. And when Christmas is over, every returning college student knows that mom is going to send them back to school with their own pepperoni roll–one they don’t have to fight for a bigger piece from among siblings.
I alter recipes to add more eggs, cheeses or oatmeal, sometimes mashed potatoes, or roll pepperonis into it, to mix nutrition with the love. When friends and neighbors bring by plates of cookies, I try to return the gift with a plate or basket of golden-brown and lightly salted oatmeal/potato/cheese pretzels. The mixing, kneading, rolling and shaping into pretzels, is a labor of love that can be shared since kids can easily form dough into pretzel shapes. Clean-up can be shared too, but as you might suspect, volunteers are always harder to find for this one. That’s my cue to ask: “Okay, who wants to give me a gift…”
Homemade Soft Pretzels
1 ½ cup milk warmed
½ cup warm water
3 Tbs. sugar
1 envelope active dry yeast
1 Tbs. sugar
1 cup mashed potatoes (not instant)
1 cup cheese
10 Tbs melted butter
2 tsp. salt
2 Tbs. baking soda
Approximately 5 cups all-purpose flour
Topping options: coarse salt, cinnamon/sugar, mustard, toasted almond slices, vanilla/sugar icing.
Using an electric mixer, fitted with a dough hook or mix by hand and knead.
Place the warm water in bowl add 1 Tbs. sugar and let dissolve. Sprinkle the yeast over and let it dissolve. Add the ingredients and mix then add flour slowly until sides pull away from bowl. If dough is sticky, add more flour. Transfer to floured board and knead 10 times until smooth. Pour oil into bowl and swirl to coat sides. Place dough in the bowl and place in a warm spot and let rise to double its size.
Punch dough down and divide into 16 pieces. Roll one piece of dough at a time to 18″ strips. Twist into pretzel shape and place onto cookie sheet. Brush pretzels with beaten egg and bake at 400 degrees for 15–18 minutes until golden. To top, spray with water or cooking spray and roll into salt or cinnamon sugar or top with vanilla icing and toasted almond slices.
Copyright 2014 Patti Maguire Armstrong