The Christmas tradition I miss most is making cookies with my Grandma Carney.
Although I’m sure that cookies for the holidays is quite traditional, the feeling of tradition I’m speaking of is more personal than global. The current global traditions surrounding Christmas cookies is a good one: The Baking Exchange, where you bake your specialty and swap them with others. But the tradition of cooking with Grandma Carney had a special resonance: I was allowed in the kitchen.
Going to Grandma’s house wasn’t a rarity; for a while growing up it took about 30 seconds through a path through the woods to get there. Afterwards when we moved from Hogeye to make room for the bigger family, we still saw my fraternal and paternal grandparents every weekend. Both grandmas always had food going, and the meals, especially at my Grandma Caudle’s house, are some of the fondest food memories I have.
I was always shooed out of Grandma Caudle’s kitchen as a kid, partly because I was a kid, partly because my grandma, who I still dearly love even in passing, thought that the kitchen was no place for men. Grandma Carney kept me out of the kitchen, too, for the most part. But one special time during the holidays…
A part of me wants to romanticise the event n my head, giving it more emotional weight in regards to traditional gender roles and ideas of acceptance; I assure you that those thoughts were over my head as a kid. That being said, I did realize that getting to operate in the kitchen was a big deal, and I relished the thought of making something someone else was going to eat, mainly because I LOVED to eat.
Cooking is still like this for me today; if I was going to only cook for me, I would be happy with a sandwich or a bowl of ramen noodles. But I put my all into cooking for others, and I have a psychologically unhealthy need to know, “How was it? Did you like it? Did it taste good?”, to the point of being pestering. I roasted nuts this weekend, with a glaze of egg whites, brown sugar, maple syrup, sea salt, cayenne pepper, and fresh rosemary from our herb garden. When they were done, I told my partner, in a horribly passive-aggressive way, “these are done, but there’s probably something missing or under represented, so feel free to tell me how they are…”. He said they were perfect. Music to my stomach’s ears.
I am envious of my partner in that he gets to sometimes cook the Juleaften, the traditional Danish dinner on Christmas Eve, for his relatives from Denmark. Being a good cook(better than me, and I’m pretty good), the matriarch of the Danish family taught him how to make the duck just right with crispy skin, the perfect crust on the pork tenderloin roast, how to caramelize fingerling potatoes with honey, how to make the balance of sweet and sour for the red cabbage.
These food traditions stay with the Danish family to this day, including the tradition of placing one whole almond in the rice pudding(the leftovers are left out that night for the nissin, little elves who normally live in bars and attics but come out to help Santa with gifts…). Whoever gets the almond in their serving gets a special gift at the dinner table.
It is unfortunately telling that this story was related to me by my partner; an American guest at the table once got the almond but refused to speak up about it. Even though he was aware of the tradition, he was afraid he would “have to eat something weird” as his reward. I’ve never participated in the Juleaften, and perhaps never will. But it warms my heart to think of my partner there, representing me and our family, be it silently so, washed in tradition and being welcomed and gracious for it.
Do you know that The Ravonettes did a Christmas album? Did you know The Ravonettes are from Denmark? Do you know who The Ravonettes are? It’s a duo that makes slow-paced rock music, one of the many Scandinavian bands that were hit with a bomb that blew their musical sensibilities back to the Fifties, like The Hives(US military scientists refer to that weapon as “The Carney Bomb”, for some reason…).
This song doesn’t have the bombast that their non-Christmas tunes deliver, but still has their signature suddenly-rock-and-roll-everywhere feel to it, subdued for the holidays. All those “baby”s and “honey”s, and all that studio echo and reverb make it perfect listening for your Cold War Christmas, or for James Hurley.