Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A (Jewish) Christmas Story

Photo Courtesy of Amanda Rowan

It’s no news that I try to eat the foods that are freshest as the seasons change, and in New York City, eating seasonally makes for delicious treats to look forward to throughout the year: tomatoes in summer, ramps in spring, and squash of all kinds when the leaves start to turn crimson in fall. Though winter on the East Coast offers the greatest challenge in terms of keeping our cupboards bountiful and our produce bins from going barren, no other time of year boasts more seasonally specific recipes born from the traditions of our holiday kitchens.

I’ve written about my Mamma’s mini latkes before, crispy potato pancakes that remind us of our Jewish heritage, and that she (un-ironically) serves annually on Christmas Eve. Though Mamma is Jewish, she married a goy, which has meant that alongside hand-knit stockings and holiday ham, she’s added Christmas cookies to her repertoire of winter treats.

I’m counting down the days until I’m in the Buff, sitting at Mamma’s kitchen counter, helping to mix, roll, bake, ice and sprinkle beside her. With characteristic chutzpah, Mamma goes all out every year with her baked holiday goodies. My brother and I have always joked that she must be making up for lost time–it wasn’t until she married Pappa Belle that she celebrated her first Christmas at age 21–but we never questioned her fortitude, for fear the cookies might stop coming!

But not unlike Reese’s peanut butter cups, Mamma’s Christmas cookies represent a paradox for me and my foodie philosophy; they have come to pull at both my heartstrings and my conscience with an irresistible combination of processed food flavors mixed with childhood nostalgia and a subtle dose of foodie shame. Take, for example, Mamma’s Peanut Butter Blossoms–those chewy, sugar-rolled peanut butter cookies garnished with a Hershey’s kiss in their center. Not surprisingly, these are my favorite of my Mamma’s holiday confections. Made with Peter Pan peanut butter and Hershey’s chocolate, I feel guilty every time I have one (and that’s a boatload of burden, as I’ve been known to pop these suckers like cherry tomatoes)!

I’ve tried to rework the blossoms in my New York kitchen, using freshly ground chunky peanut butter and Vosges’ milk chocolate. They were delicious (how could they not be?), but they just weren’t the same. I invited Mr. Mixologist over to taste my experiment, both to satisfy his sweet tooth and give him a preview of some of the delicacies he’ll sample in Buffalo, where he’ll join me and my family for his very first Christmas. Though Mr. Mix gave me his seal of approval, I knew my FOOD Maven munchies didn’t belong on Mamma’s time-honored cookie plate.

I told him I couldn’t try to replace Mamma’s traditions, especially not this year. Mr. Mix said he understood, and then suggested we take a trip to Chelsea Market, specifically to visit Dickson’s Farmstand. He said he couldn’t go to Buff empty-handed, and what better way to arrive than with a plate of bacon-studded chocolate chip cookies and a mason jar filled with bacon infused bourbon? I loved it: both Mr. M’s thoughtful suggestion, and the vision of my Jewish boyfriend arriving at my Jewish mother’s Christmas celebration with a plateful of bacon cookies.

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3 Responses to “A (Jewish) Christmas Story”

  1. Erica

    Kimberly! I felt compelled to comment – I have had TWO dreams this week about your Mamma’s cookies. My mouth waters just thinking about them and I can’t wait to get to the Buff to completely blow my real-food-nothing-processed diet and pop ‘em like sea salted almonds. Merry Merry Baby.

  2. mama

    The baking with processed food products will proceed this weekend. I will be awaiting the bake-off on 12.23. yum yum

  3. Bells

    I love it! house looks exactly as I remember. makes me a bit homesick.
    love you belle

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