Holiday Cheer Through the Years

Last year, I took you on a culinary tour of my family’s holiday traditions – from Mexican tamales to German cookies. Food isn’t the only thing I look forward to every year. Check out some of my favorites and stay tuned for more holiday pics from the archives over the next few weeks!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Which picture is your favorite? Share some of your favorite and cringe-worthy holiday pics by leaving a comment below or tweeting them to @liane_w!

Advertisements

Holiday Cheer to my Rear (O Tannenbaum)

Part 2 – O Tannenbaum

My father was born in Germany, but to be quite honest, I know very little about my German heritage. Much of what I do know comes from the holiday dishes that my Oma artfully puts together every year. While duck, potato dumplings, and warm red cabbage make me a very happy girl, the true stars of the holiday season are Oma’s cookies. Every year for as long as I can remember, my grandmother has  baked cookies for Christmas. When I was a little girl, my Oma lived in New Jersey and each year when the package would come in the mail, my dad would gracefully cradle the package, open it up and give my brothers and I each one cookie–then hide the tin. I wish I was kidding. He would either hide it or place it so high up that we couldn’t reach it. Cookies were then used to reinforce positive behavior–like dog treats.

I remember staring up at the cookie tin with my brothers, drooling with desire and intent on finding a way to reach that treasure chest of sweet goodness. After painstaking planning and acute execution only a Weissenberger child could pull off, we’d manage to snag a couple from the tin. I’d take the tiniest bites possible, savoring every morsel, careful not to drop a single crumb. Then I’d wait, tummy full of sugar and guilt, for my dad to come home. He’d sneak into the kitchen, fully aware that being caught with the tin might mean he would have to share. We held our breath as he opened the sacred tin, hoping just this once he wouldn’t have a mental count of the remaining cookies. He always did.

“Who touched my precious….”
(Yes, this is a picture of my dad morphed with Gollum. I really need to work on my Photoshop skills.)

My mom, using skills learned only through year after year of working with small children, would calmly and patiently intervene: “They are just kids/It’s Christmas/Those cookies aren’t just yours/Learn to share.” Every year, it was the same thing until, finally, my mom explained the situation to my Oma. Graciously, she offered to make us each our own bag of cookies for Christmas. None of us are very good about sharing them.


This year when Oma asked me what I wanted  for my birthday, I could think of nothing I wanted more than some Almond Crescents–my absolute favorite of all the Christmas cookies. I cannot express the joy that came when I opened that tin to see the familiar crescents nestled in their neat bed of parchment paper. The crescent shape, according the research I did while writing this blog, is very common in German baking. Legend has it that when the Austrians defeated the Ottomans, they celebrated by making the crescent shape which adorned the Ottoman flag. If war had a referee, I’d call that “excessive celebration” – Unsportsmanlike Conduct. If you can’t spike a ball while staring down a defender, you shouldn’t be able to make such utterly taunting cookies.

 I imagine the flavor of these cookies to be similar to that of angel poop (angel poop would taste delicious since they only eat clouds and love). So if you ever wondered what angel poop tastes like, here is a recipe that I found online for these cookies. Note: This is NOT the recipe used by my Oma. Sorry, but I am my father’s daughter and I just can’t share that.

Ingredients:

1 c butter
3/4 c sugar
1 t vanilla extract
1 1/2 t almond extract
2 1/2 c flour
1 c almonds; ground
confectioners’ sugar

Instructions:
Beat together butter and sugar until very light and fluffy. Blend in extracts. Mix in flour and almonds. Using about 1 T of dough for each, shape into logs and bend into crescents. Place on greased cookie sheet. Bake 12 to 15 minutes at 350 degrees F until light brown. While warm, roll crescents in confectioners’ sugar. Cool on racks and store in a tightly sealed container. Makes 3 dozen cookies.

A toast, to traditions that keep the soul fortified in this tumultuous world.

“Because of our traditions every one of us knows who he is and what God expects him to do.”
~Tevye (Fiddler on the Roof) 

Holiday Cheer to my Rear (Feliz Navidad)

New Years’ Resolution: Post more updates on Star Spangled Girl.

The holidays are about two things: food & family.

My family is moderately insane–in the best way possible?–so I’m going to call a majority of the most interesting stories of the holiday season off-limits. What a violation of the spirit of truthful, open blogging, you exclaim! I commiserate. If nothing else, I believe in that one, true blogging philosophy and I truly wish I could post the gut-busting, tear-jerking, utterly scandalous details of my time back in LA. Unfortunately, not everyone feels as comfortable having their private lives publicized for all eternity on the big, bad Internet. While I don’t quite understand it, I respect it. Kinda.

As a result, you will get an overly detailed account of the traditional foods of my Germexitalian holidays. Yes, I know I just wrote a blog about food. Yes, I know this makes me sound like a total fatty. But when my future robot companion (see #3) is reading my blog to me, I want to be able to cherish the memories of being able to stuff my face with insanely high caloric foods. In the four months I was in DC, I gained 5 pounds; In the two weeks I’ve been home, I’ve gained 2.5 pounds. Call it water weight, call it what you will–thats Holiday Cheer to my Rear.

Part 1- Feliz Navidad

A couple videos to get you in the mood. Hint: It’s not a Mexican-American Christmas without the second one!!!


Tamales

(If your life is sad and you don’t know what a tamale is, click here)

Every year in mid-December, my mother’s enormous family [enormous number of people, not enormous people] migrate from all over Los Angeles, San Bernadino and Orange Counties to East Los Angeles (technically Monterey Park, but it’s right next to East LA college so I argue its an accurate description) for a tamale-making extravaganza. Four generations line up at the counter, aprons in tow, ready to spread & stuff 300 tamales for Christmas eve. It’s a mix of assembly line and gossip circle, which normally isn’t much of a problem, but this year my grandpa decided we needed to take steps to preserve the process and wanted to video the entire event. At the corner of the kitchen, in the most cumbersome and awkward place possible, he put up his video camera on its tripod and hits record. Unfortunately, he didn’t quite make it clear enough to us that our every word was being immortalized via DVD. Almost immediately, in true Venti fashion, a rather racy conversation began as people began to trickle through the front door. Suddenly, we were hit with the stark realization that the little red light on the camera was illuminated–judging us, mocking us…knowing all.  Evidence of the questionable exchange needed to be quickly destroyed from existence. Wouldn’t you know it was grandpa’s last DVD? After a quick trip to the supermarket, we were back on track and on film. In the end we got most of the day on tape–and only about 46.27% would be problematic for the Motion Picture Association of America (They do movie ratings).

Our little tamale army make red (pork/beef mixture) and green (chile) tamales. Just like Italians with pasta sauce, most people (of Central or South American descent) believe that their grandma makes the best tamales. When I say that, though, I’ve got some legitimate back up. My family’s tamales are so badass they were even featured in the LA Times food section! In case you are wondering, we do make a couple sweet tamales but I find the idea of them to be absolutely disgusting, so let’s not even go there. Personally, I prefer the red tamales. This tends to work out for me because for some inexplicable reason more and more of my family members are becoming vegetarian and that means more meaty goodness for me.

Cheers, a toast to meaty goodness.

“I’ve got cousins galore. Mexicans just spread all their seeds. And the women just pop them out.”
~Jessica Alba 

Stay Tuned for Chapter 24.2: Holiday Cheer to my Rear (O Tannenbaum).