“Christmas snuck up on me this year…”

Rockefeller Center!
Rockefeller Center!

I heard this as a child countless times during the final weeks of the year. School break began in cheers and goodbye hugs, evenings went from cold to colder and Christmas Eve was suddenly upon us. I heard my parents and my friends’ parents commiserating with each another as they frantically shopped at the grocery store and the mall. How could this be? I remember being incredibly confused by the lackluster sentiment. How could something so amazing–Christmas tree, lights, presents, cookies!!–possible sneak up on adult people…given this holiday occurred at the same time, on the same day, each year?

For me, Christmas was always about tradition and anxious anticipation. I salivated over the press cookies (dough that was never quite the right temperature) and waited until we unpacked the decorations so I could spin around the living room with the little nutcracker, imagining I was Clara, just minutes before the Rat King appeared. I balanced my time between wishing for a white Christmas and adding last minute items to my present list. My dad and I had a yearly date to trek out into the snow until we found the perfect tree or our toes froze, whichever came first. I distinctly remember one evening in December when the newspaper published a free pamphlet full of music and lyrics for holiday cheer-spreading carolers. I sang every one from my spot at the kitchen table while my mom prepared candied orange rinds in thin, brightly colored stripes of sticky heaven. 

Those Christmases, before I had money to buy presents or fully understood that Santa wasn’t real, still live somewhere within me. I can still close my eyes and transport myself back to a stomach full of hot chocolate, listen to Mom read holiday books on the couch and smell the freshly cut tree. But now, I finally understand the phrase that I found so perplexing as a child:

“Christmas snuck up on me this year.”

Bryant Park
Bryant Park

I have regrettably become the girl who both started and finished Christmas shopping on December 21st in a rushed bag-flying whirlwind, weaving between 14th and 23rd Street amongst other New York procrastinators. And let me tell you, I was not alone. Jobs. Responsibilities and daily dinner preparation. Junk mail, attempted dusting and laundry. Any and all of these things now fill the space I had a child, space I used to fill by pestering my mom to bake just ONE more type of cookie or asking my dad what he bought me for Christmas as he tried to watch the football game. I’ve made the switch from counting down the minutes to wishing the calendar pages could turn just a little bit slower. 

So tonight, I decided (before packing for home) that I needed to bake banana bread, blast some holiday tunes and remember why I love this season so much. I don’t want to be the grownup who worries more about the gifts still unwrapped and the holiday cookie calories already consumed than the time they spent in the warm company of family and friends. I think the winter season, regardless of the specific holiday, should be as much about giving thanks as giving presents or who gets to light the figgy pudding on fire. 

Macy's Window
Macy’s Window
The roomies
The roomies
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Food Before a Storm

The month of November has arrived, quietly, like a cat on silent paws. We have survived one storm and are preparing for the next. One stole power from millions of homes, caused great destruction and left New York City under water. The other storm will make landfall on November 6th, causing just as much preparation, fierce winds and long-lasting consequences.

On Monday, all the schools closed early as western Massachusetts waited in anxious anticipation of Sandy’s fury. Those that remembered the Halloween snow storm a year ago, who had gone 10 days without power, stocked up on bottled water and spare generators. Would this storm be worse than before? 

My house had prepared too. Pots were filled with water when I arrived home and a fire was crackling in our wood stove. I started the dinner preparations and soon all of us were cutting, washing or stirring. Roasted parsnips, carrots and eggplant. Quinoa. Red wine and walnut cream roll for dessert. As the wind picked up and the rain began to beat against the house, we feasted in the warmth of our kitchen. But how were my friends closer to the storm? 

Me: Ah! I just saw that 2.2 million people lost power. Be safe!

Jen: I’m baking homemade oatmeal peanut butter cookies for the storm.

Two college friends, miles apart, were preparing for Frankenstorm in the same way–by eating. I watched recipes for soups, baked goods and cookies fly down my Twitter feed set to #sandy. Online news articles discussed the need for comfort foods before a storm. Apparently my little house wasn’t the only one stocking up by stuffing our faces.

How old is this tradition? The question brings us back to the second storm but not to foreign policy, woman’s rights or gun control. The Fannie Farmer Cookbook educates best, “Loaf cakes made with yeast were popular in New England…as far back as the early 1800’s. Election cake (also know as March Meeting Cake) was often baked on election days and allegedly sold and served only to those who voted a straight ticket. The loaf is deliciously moist and spicy.”

The Election Cake has cloves, mace, nutmeg, and hidden tastes of dried figs. On Tuesday, I plan to sink my teeth into a slice regardless of the political outcome, consequences of climate change or increased hour of daylight savings time. With such uncertainty, what else can we do but surround ourselves with friends and good food?