The foodstuff above was made in my house last night. Well, last night through this morning, as our New York apartment-sized freezer would not accommodate a cookie sheet, leaving us at the mercy of our back patio, Mother Nature and Old Man Winter, all of whom came through with freezing colors. The concoction is known as Brickle, I understand, and was one of many holiday cookies featured recently in the New York Times.
I didn't really know at first what the Holiday part of the food was. It is not covered with a dusting of white powdered sugar or iced into representations of Holiday Icons. It wasn't until the preparation started that I got it.
(Now, I know at least one person who reads this blog and is under the age of 30. For any of you fresh faced folks, the following may not hold true. I would apologize, but I envy your youth with a deep and turgid malevolence which makes that impossible. So there.)
I sat across the kitchen island and watched a cookie sheet come out of the cabinet and be covered in foil. Always a good sign. Sleeves of saltines were opened and spread over the foil. Soon, crippling amounts of sugar and butter were being folded together in a saucepan.
You holiday had me at "cover the cookie sheet with foil".
It hit me. The end product does not represent The Holidays, the process is The Holidays. A ritual in the physical world providing a doorway we can walk through into a memory of the spirit. A kitchen warmed by a pre-heating oven. The microthunder clatter of cookie sheets wrested from between pot lids. Clunking cabinet doors and flat surfaces covered with ingredients once the pride of Food Science: Crisco. Saltines. Nestle Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips. White Bread and Brown Sugar, working hand in hand! A world of fresh forever foodstuffs in earth tones only please, for we've invented Food Coloring at no small expense and it will not gather dust in the pantry. Not on this watch.
Oh, the butter. November 20th perhaps is the date beyond which it is bad form to measure butter by the tablespoon. One stick. That is where the miserly may begin.
The sounds, the scents, the vista of plenty, the feeling of a warm kitchen, if only because we believe these to be the sensory input of remembered moments of family bonds and good tidings, they are. A cultural memory to reinforce the personal. To replace it, if need be. I suppose therein lies the usefulness, if not the beauty of Tradition; timeless, it is never too late to join in, never too forgotten to revisit.
I should add that upon tasting them this morning, I didn't even particularly like the finished product. Part of that is probably expectation. I was expecting a cookie experience and this is a bit more like a candy. Verrrrrry sweet. Probably great with black coffee after a meal.
Speaking of meals, I will also add, for those of you thinking I was just sitting around drinking wine and watching the wife make cookies....which I was...that I produced the dinner part of the evening: the good, if awkwardly named Chicken Breasts Provencal from epicurious.com, a site which keeps coming through for me.