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The Holiday's, Baking, and Connections

By Dmitri 

Hello again dear readers,

First I’d like to give you a little update into my own life (I know all of you must be sitting on the edge of your seats after last month’s riveting entry); I’ve finally finished this quarter! The finals went fine as they could, the essay I had to write felt like grinding against cement from start to finish but it was turned in by the due date and sometimes that’s the best one can ask for. As much as I dreaded that finals week, the next thing I knew it was Friday and everything was over. Time tends to pass regardless of how we may feel about it, though luckily I was mainly feeling relief. From there I entered swiftly and fully into holiday mode, which for me is synonymous with the once a year baking mode. I don’t normally bake, as it tends to be a much more finicky and exact science in comparison to cooking. But there’s something about the holiday season that I associate with my childhood and baking/ making a bunch of tasty treats. 

It started on that Friday, my partner and I made two very tasty challah loaves for the sabbath as well as the start of Chanukah. It might be important to clarify here that my partner, Vincent, is Jewish and we didn’t just make the challah for fun, though that wouldn’t be too bad of an idea because challah is both a very delectable and beautiful bread. One loaf we sprinkled with everything bagel seasoning which embedded the loaf with a distinct garlic-onion flavor, to which Vincent lovingly commented “It might be sacrilegious but it’s gonna be delicious.” As a gentile, I can’t really comment on the former description but I can confirm the latter. I think that making the challah was really rewarding to Vincent, being more separated from the principles of all the Abrahamic religions, he mostly connects to that aspect of his identity by virtue of culture. A big reason we’ve worked so well together all these years is mutual love, respect, and understanding for the cultures we both inhabit. And although this year has been well, 2020, the theme of holiday tradition brought to life by baking has been no less omnipresent. 

Next was Saturday, Vincent was working a 7-4, my dad and his girlfriend were out car shopping, and I was left home to my own devices. I decided to continue the baking streak but in my own special way. I got out the anise extract, flour, butter, sugar, and eggs and got to work making my first batch of pizzelles for the season. Pizzelles are a thin lacy Italian cookie normally (to me exclusively) flavored with anise and a bit of vanilla. After making the thin batter, I’ll normally spend the next 2-4 hours dropping dollops into the hot press to produce the beautiful floral pattern cookie, in sets of two, each set taking approximately 3-4 minutes to cook. It’s a labor of love that each year sends me back into my own memories of holidays past. I remember my early childhood making pizzelles with my Great Grandmother, less so making them and more so accompanying her in the kitchen and getting my fill of cookies. As I sat alone in the kitchen this year, I did as I do every year and adjusted the batter until the crunch of the cookies in my mouth and the essence of anise filling my nose and throat makes my eyes gently tear up as the memories come flooding back and I know I’ve made them just the same as my Mommom once did. It was nice in a way to do all by myself this year, I got to reflect on family and my role within it. I sent out pretty much all the pizzelles I made that day to uncles and aunts and other grandparents, hopefully sharing the memories with them as well.

Sunday was significantly more laid back in terms of the emotional weight of baking as I undertook a newer tradition of mine, making meringues. Meringues are, practically, very whipped up egg whites with sugar that go in the oven low and slow style to dry them out. Afterwards they’re light and fluffy as a cloud and look very impressive as gifts, which when you’re a broke college student like me it makes for a very easy holiday solution. This year though I decided to challenge myself a bit and tried out flavored meringues. Over Thanksgiving break, I tested this challenge out by making chocolate and espresso flavored meringues. The espresso ones were a bit too strong and both ended up being a bit gooey in the middle because I made them too big, but that’s why I had a test run. Back to Sunday though. I had dropped the espresso idea to make way for peppermint chunk meringues, which I accomplished by getting some soft peppermint sticks, crushing them up as best I could, and gently folding the chunks into the meringue batter. These turned out delightful and alongside the much smaller chocolate meringue drops made for wonderful gifts that I was actually kind of sad to give away. 

Sunday was not the last day I baked but that’s where I’ll stop this entry. As I’ve stated earlier, we all know this year has been a rough one, it’s hard to tell when/how it will get better. But I’m glad that even this holiday season something stayed the same. I think it shows the staying power certain traditions can have in our lives, and how deeply they impact us. It might just be baking, but customs old and new can bring joy and warmth even in the darkest of times. I don’t know when this will be published, but even if the last of the December holidays have passed, I still wish all my readers a very delightful season. 

Till next time, 

~Dmitri