By Rachel Sircy
Last time I wrote about how my mother found a gluten-free all-purpose flour blend to make our beloved egg noodles for the traditional Midwestern chicken and noodles dish (creatively titled, eh?). Well, here is a picture of it cooking on the back burner:
It doesn’t exactly look tasty, but it worked for us. I was so worn out from cooking by the time we sat down to eat that I didn’t even bother taking a picture of the noodles on my plate. But the noodles were actually not half bad, they just weren’t that pretty while cooking. The pot below is the pot of regular chicken and noodles. It looks a bit more appetizing.
It’s difficult to try to recreate certain ingrained traditions, but I think that Mom came pretty close to doing it this year. The noodles were of a pretty good consistency that first day, though gluten-free concoctions don’t keep well and by the next day, they had fairly well dissolved in the liquid. I didn’t take a picture of that either. I think you would all thank me for that.
Another food tradition that I especially wanted to recreate today were the frosted Christmas cookies that were always on my grandmother’s table this time of year. I wanted to have them while we put up our Christmas tree, which is always something of a special family party at our house. We turn on the Peanuts Christmas soundtrack and Bing Crosby and take it easy. Our Christmas tree is pretty plain as far as Christmas trees go. My husband and I are extremely sentimental and so we don’t have that sort of catalog-ready tree with all the matching ornaments and gorgeous bows. We don’t even put garland around our tree. Honestly, we wouldn’t have room for garland. We have the multi-colored lights that we loved when we were kids and at least one ornament to commemorate every year that we’ve been together. Many of the ornaments on our tree were handmade by my husband’s late grandmother – like this one below:
Since Grandma Sircy has passed away, I have started trying to carry on the tradition of making a holiday ornament for everyone in the family. Here is a shoebox full of my efforts for this year:
Really, I had no idea how seriously people can take the whole decorating thing – I mean, changing out themes and color schemes every year. During the holidays, my husband and I like to be kids again. We surround ourselves with things that we enjoy and things that we remember. So, we have Grandma Sircy’s lovely handmade ornaments, we have ornaments from my husband’s alma mater, Centre College, we have an ornament for every Christmas we’ve ever spent together and a whole lot of Spiderman ornaments for some reason (though my husband made the sacrifice to leave them off the tree this year to make way for a growing number of princess-themed ornaments). Now that we have an almost-three-year-old girl – whose birthday happens to be just three days before Christmas – we have a lot more pink on our tree. And, plain as it is, I think our tree is a pretty wonderful sight.
Anyway, all this is to say, that around our house, tradition is pretty important and this includes food as well as decorations. For as long as I can remember, my grandmother has made shortbread cookies from scratch for just about every holiday on the yearly American calendar. These cookies are the best I have ever tasted. Seriously, I know that there are a lot of people that would say that their grandma cooks best, well, I have to say that I’m pretty sure that I can provide quantifiable evidence that my grandma can bake better than yours. Taste one of her frosted shortbread cookies and see if I’m kidding. Or her homemade butterscotch pie – a recipe that originally came from a cookbook printed in 1959, the days when nobody felt guilty about eating butter, and that she improved upon. That pie is so good it’ll make you want to slap anybody’s momma – it doesn’t even have to be your own. Well, I was homesick for some of those cookies. Unfortunately, I am no baking prodigy. My shortbread (even before I started baking gluten free) was always either greasy or dry to the point of tasting like vanilla ashes. And so, I have found that sometimes we must sort of set aside tradition and do what we can do.
That is where this wonderful book comes in:
I know that a whole lot of people are familiar with the Cake Mix Doctor, Anne Byrn, but for all you gluten-free people out there in Columbia tonight, she has a gluten-free book. Actually, I think she has a few gluten-free books out now. I have the first one that she came out with and I have to say that almost every cake that I’ve made out of this book has been awesome. I say almost because I wasn’t crazy about the coconut pound cake or the sweet potato pound cake, but other than that, this book is the bomb. I think the deal is that I really just don’t like pound cake. Anyway, she had a recipe for slice and bake sugar cookies that you can make from a yellow cake mix and *Hallelujah* here they are:
They are really, really good. Of course, they’re not Grandma’s shortbread cookies, but they’re what I could do. My mom worked on Thanksgiving to pull together egg noodles to bring back a dish that we thought we’d lost. They weren’t like the noodles that I remember her making when I was younger, but they were a pretty good substitute. And that’s what I have done here. I’ve made a pretty good substitute, not quite the real thing, but then I could never make my grandma’s cookies anyway – only she can do that. My friend’s daughter used to tell us, whenever she’d helped make something we were eating – “you know, I put a lot of love in that.” Really, that’s what makes my grandmother’s cookies and Grandma Sircy’s ornaments so amazing. You can’t duplicate a grandmother’s love, and so you can’t duplicate anything that she does for you. And, I’d like to think that since I made these cookies for my husband and my daughter, that even though they came from a box (and the frosting came from a can) that there’s a lot of love in them too and that that love overrides the fact that I kind of cheated making them. Maybe I’m kidding myself about that last part, but maybe not. Don’t tell me if I am kidding myself. I like the illusion.
Suggested Christmastime Reading: Isaiah 9:6 and A Christmas Carol