15 December 2006

The Scent of Christmas

I've got three cookie sheets of wine biscuits cooling on the stove and the house smells like Christmas. There's only about 45 of them, but I'm the only one that likes them around here; they'll last a month and be a brief reminder of childhood holidays.

Mom and I baked cookies every year: not just wine biscuits, but almond bars and molasses cookies and butterballs (I think they call them Danish wedding cookies in the bakeries: flour, butter, a little vanilla, sugar, chopped nuts, rolled into little balls, coated in confectioners' sugar). Most would go in bowls on the stairway to be brought out for company or on Christmas afternoon, but she'd always arrange an assortment for friends and family who didn't already bake them (my godmother, Sherrye's parents, Cindy's parents) in a paper plate with red and green and silver-wrapped Hershey's kisses scattered among them.

If you went to my aunts' homes you saw the same thing, except on large platters, sometimes with wandis (which are fiendishly difficult to make) and jam-center cookies. Scattered with the Hershey's kisses would be the little boxes of torrone, with their bright scenes of the Italian countryside, and they would be all wrapped in cellphane with a big bow in the center.

I used Mom's baking bowl, which now has a hallowed place in the china cabinet, and thought of her as I kneaded. The recipe (top of page) is her own adaptation, I think of my Grandma Lanzi's. She cut down on the sugar, of course. To this day I don't like sugary things; I don't even like raisins because they're too sweet. They aren't quite the same without Papá Lanzi's homemade red wine; it was very strong and gave the cookies a vivid flavor. I use Gallo's hearty burgundy, but it's only a fair substitute.

Daddy used to dip them into coffee, and then cocoa after he quit drinking coffee. I just liked them straight, sitting cross-legged under the Christmas tree writing yet another story and watching something like Charlie Brown Christmas or Rudolph or The Homecoming. Those were nice times.

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