Monday, December 28, 2009

Mom's Famous Cheeseballs -- jcarolek

Christmas Eve, after midnight Mass, as I was packing up my guitar, preparing to return home, one of my fellow choir members approached me.  In her hand she carried a decoratively wrapped package... something in cellophane, tied with a Christmas ribbon.  She presented it to me, informing me that this was not just any cheese ball, but her "mother's FAMOUS cheese ball."  Well, of course, I thanked her for her gift and assured her I looked forward to tasting it.

On my way home from church I pondered the notion of Hilary's mother's FAMOUS cheese balls.  I wondered really how famous they were.  I mean, I suppose I've heard others use that expression similarly over the years, and never thought twice about it.  But this night I DID think twice about it and wondered how many people had tasted those cheese balls, how many approving tasters did it take to constitute FAMOUS?

And then my mind traveled to the dishes for which my own mother is famous.  The first that came to mind was my favorite dish as a youngster.  Spaghetti.  Now, as an adult, I have no idea how I became such a fan of spaghetti, considering my mother's recipe for the sauce was most decidedly NOT Italian. I don't know where she found the recipe I knew as spaghetti sauce, but I DO know we, my siblings and I, took over cooking when I was about 14 and we quickly changed the recipe.  The basis for her spaghetti sauce was Campbell's Tomato Soup.  Seriously.  I'm still a huge fan of spaghetti, but in my sauce recipe, I use tomato sauce... Still, I suppose Mom's FAMOUS spaghetti sauce was just that....FAMOUS...or, at least "memorable."

Another famous recipe I associate with my mother is her meatloaf.  She made meatloaf that I really liked.  The ground beef, no doubt stretched with bread crumbs as far as a person could stretch such a thing, always held a couple of hard boiled eggs, hidden within the loaf.  When we cut a slice of meatloaf, the slice of boiled egg in the center of the meat was always very appealing to me.  I was never served meatloaf like this at any of my friends' houses.  When I grew up and married, my husband went on record that boiled eggs did not belong in a meatloaf.  I grew accustomed to the hard-boiled-eggless meatloaf, and, for the next 17 years, that is how I prepared it.

Another of Mom's famous recipes was referred to as "Mom's Mess."  As I remember it, this recipe basically called for all leftovers in the fridge that were not growing mold, cooking them all together in a large frying pan.  The flavors were always a little different, but I always liked it.  My own family was not raised on such exotic fare as Mom's Mess.  No, they needed to have official meals, documented in a cookbook, or at least a meal the other kids at school would recognize by name.... they just don't know what they were missing.

When I arrived home from church on Christmas Eve, I placed Hilary's mother's FAMOUS cheese ball in my fridge, to be enjoyed later.

Christmas day I traveled to my sister's and we shared a wonderful meal with her.  It was lasagna, though, I would guess, not her famous lasagna.  We spent the night and the next day traveled to eat brunch with Mom and my brother and his a restaurant...Mom's new version of FAMOUS... we always eat at this diner when we are visiting her.  She no longer cooks any of her famous meals for us.  Finally, that evening we traveled to Dad's for another family get-together and meal.  There we were treated to my stepmother's FAMOUS standing rib roast, Yorkshire pudding, carrots, peas and mushrooms, green beans, mashed potatoes and gravy.... and for dessert, her even MORE famous, trifle... YUMMY!!

The over-eating now behind me by at least a day, I decided to cook an old stand-by for dinner tonight. In a nostalgic mood, I decided a hearty meatloaf, with baked potato and gravy was what I wanted.  Now, out of the non-hard-boiled-egg meatloaf requirement marriage for over ten years, I took great pleasure in hiding the two boiled eggs in the meat.  Inspired further by my friend's mother's meatloaf recipe, one that is traditional in the Czech Republic, I added a hotdog, cut in thirds, also burying them in the ground beef.  I did not have the dill pickles she also stuffs in her meatloaf, so, mine went into the oven, pregnant only with the hotdog and the boiled eggs.  The meal was just what I was after.

And tonight, as my midnight snack, I think I will take a taste of that famous cheese ball that got me thinking and remembering those famous recipes of my own childhood.

Friday, December 25, 2009

A lovely Tree -- jcarolek

I played and sang at "midnight Mass" last night.  Now, unlike the years when I was raising my children, "midnight" is actually 9:00 PM.  By midnight, everyone is back home, completing their Christmas celebrations in their own personal traditional ways.  So it was that I showed up at the church at 8:00 PM with the idea I would have a few minutes to tune my guitar before the pre-Mass Christmas carols began at 8:30.  To my surprise, the church was dark, and locked, permitting entry to nobody who did not hold a key.  I thought this strange.  Yes, I understand the earlier Mass had ended and those who would be returning for the midnight Mass had taken their opportunity to get a meal, locking up when they left the church.  Still, on Christmas, I somehow thought it odd to find the doors locked.

I spent the 15 minutes I had to wait for a key-holder to arrive, chatting with our pianist, who had actually shown up an HOUR before I did, with the expectation of being able to set up his recording equipment to record the music.  We had a nice, if cold, chat while we waited.  Then it was the usual mad dash to get ready for the start of the caroling and we were underway.

The music was lovely, the service was lovely, and the tree was lovely.  The tree, probably 12 feet tall, stood in its annual spot in a place between the alter and the choir.  It struck me that this lovely tree, adorned with silver decorations and lit with white lights, was lacking a certain community feel it had always had in the years I was raising my children.  I wondered about what had happened to that community tradition that had always presented a most gloriously adorned Christmas tree on Christmas Eve.

Back in those days, the late '80's and the '90's, the last Sunday of Advent a pot-luck, Christmas tree decorating, caroling, prayer session was held each year.  Families of the parish would bring with them a home-made ornament with which to adorn the tree. Those attending this evening of preparation would decorate the walls of the church with the Christmas wreaths, prepare the little packets that would be handed out just before New Year's with which the parishioners would bless their homes, and set the food up for the feast we'd enjoy when the decorating and other preparations were complete.  And the choir would lead caroling after a short prayer session.  At the end of the evening, we'd leave the church, bellies full, hearts happy, and the community Christmas tree attesting to the hundreds of personal traditions that made our community tradition.

It has been three years since I actually was able to participate in Christmas Mass at our church, having been traveling each of those three years.  So, I was surprised when I saw the very lovely tree, "decorated" in a very aesthetically pleasing manner... but missing that hodge-podge, that confused jumble of tiny-to-huge, hand-made ornaments, to which I had come accustomed.  I suppose all things change.  I suppose people have other things to do on that final Sunday of Advent.  I suppose it IS just a tree, after all.  And it really WAS a lovely tree.  I just miss that other one.... those nearly 20 years of other ones....

Merry Christmas to all who happen by my post today. May your Christmas be filled with laughter, music, good food.