Archive for 2007

12 Christmas Memories: Part V

And now the last installment of my 12 Christmas Memories meme:

Snowman made by my niece

10. Best Christmas Present Ever

I know it might seem strange for me to name an afghan as my best Christmas present ever, but it was (and I know Shannon understands). I really wish I had it here with me (it’s in storage in the US) so I could take a photo for you. And better yet, curl up with it.

I was around 10 years old when my mom started promising afghans, crocheted by her, for my brother and me. I’d occasionally see her working on the little squares that were to make up mine throughout the year–different shades of pink, flowers, typical girly stuff. As Christmas drew closer and her time was taken up by cookies though, she made it pretty clear that they wouldn’t be done for the holidays.

But then while unwrapping gifts, I got to a big old clumsy box that I assumed was a coat. As I lifted the lid, what to my wondering eyes should appear?

My very own pink-and-white flowered afghan.

Even at that young age, I had some idea of just how much work went into every single square that made up that thing, and I just felt so special and loved that my mom would surrender sleep and other more enjoyable activities (which she surely did) to stitch and stitch and stitch just to make it all happen for Christmas.

A warm fuzzy wrapped up in a warm fuzzy, if you will.

Must get that afghan here. Love it love it love it so.

Rudolph of course

11. Falling Asleep on Pap’s Presents

OK, this one isn’t a memory so much as a really cute photo that unfortunately I don’t have with me to scan for you.

When I was just a wee lass I suppose I became overwhelmed with the Christmas goings-on quite easily and so I stopped to rest just a moment.

Right on top of all my grandfather’s presents.

I was out for a few hours, apparently, and he just had to wait to see what Santa brought him.

What a trooper, eh?

It’s a really cute picture, I promise.

Heart on the tree

12. My First Christmas with P

Nothing too spectacular happened, but 2005 was our first holiday season together and that alone made it magical.

On Christmas Eve, we went out for pizza of all things, which I actually thought was a fun tradition to start–only then the restaurant wasn’t open the following year. So now I’ll always remember that first Christmas Eve all that much more.

It was rather romantic actually as the fireplace was going and we were the only ones in the place besides the owners and their family who joined us after a while. Then we went around visiting some friends in the village but were home by midnight; and despite growing up opening gifts on Christmas day, I just couldn’t wait any longer for P to open his, so at my insistence we did gifts around 1 a.m.

He had never gotten a stocking before! Can you believe it? So I was sure to stuff it with all kinds of exciting things like shaving cream and razors.

And I wrapped every single thing individually. Hah!

Then Christmas Day we spent with P’s sister and her family (they have two children) and P’s parents–always wonderful to see children enjoying Christmas, isn’t it?

Like I said, nothing too special for that first Christmas…other than the company of course. And that’s really what it’s all about for me. Those warm, cozy feelings of love that stick with you for a lifetime as my dear friend Wanderlust Scarlett so kindly reminded me by tagging me with this meme.

Honestly, I can’t tell you how much writing this and taking photos around my house has helped me get into the holiday spirit. It’s been so wonderful to remember all of the great holiday seasons I’ve been lucky to have and makes being away from home at this time of year just a little easier.

So thank you, thank you, thank you Wanderlust Scarlett and I wish the happiest of holiday seasons to you all!

Recycling last year's Christmas cards

Christmas Memories: Part I

* Christmas Memories: Part II

Christmas Memories: Part III

Christmas Memories: Part IV

12 Christmas Memories: Part IV

For Part IV of My 12 Favorite Christmas Memories as inspired by Wanderlust Scarlett’s meme, I’m going to stick with the childhood theme. If you haven’t yet, you should also check out Parts I, II, and III.

Now here are three more that come from my earlier years, and since we just talked about cookies, let’s stay there for a moment.

7. Jeanie & Joe eating all the kolaches

Jeanie was my great-aunt’s daughter and Joe was her husband. That might sound rather extended to you, but since my Aunt Babe lived about 30 seconds away from her sister (my grandmother), our families were always quite close, especially around the holidays–and my Aunt Babe remains one of my most favorite people in the world. She knows everything!

And what are kolaches? My mom’s version looks something like this:

Mini kolaches
Walnut goodness wrapped in cream cheese dough and sprinkled with powdered sugar. I made these this year, but I had to improvise because I couldn’t find a square ravioli cutter like she uses. In Italy! I couldn’t find the ravioli cutter I needed! Harumph!

So I used a round one, which makes smaller ravioli and that made rolling these babies a lot more challenging. They’re still delicious though, and that’s what matters, right?

Well kolaches were probably the most sought after cookie at my grandmother’s house (she also made them) during the holidays–so much so that my mom used to make a tray just for my grandfather to keep *in his bedroom*. Yes, this grandfather.

Anyway, Jeanie and Joe lived a couple hours away from us, so they came in for the holidays right as they were beginning, which left their visiting time to a minimum. And so, they’d come over, often individually, on Christmas morning, which as you can imagine, was always quite hectic as anywhere from 5 to 15 people would be eating dinner there at noon.

My grandmother always played the perfect hostess, though, despite having a million other things to do–she truly loved their visits.

But after a while she noticed that there would always be a huge dent made in the cookie tray in the area of the kolaches after Joe left–and let’s be honest, it was mainly Joe who was the culprit. So my grandmother would purposely take most of the kolaches off the tray (she’d leave him a few of course), often literally as he was coming up the walkway.

“Joe’s coming! Grab the kolaches!” *was* shouted.

Jeanie was mostly innocent in the Great Kolache Fiasco but she’s thrown in this memory because her Christmas morning visits were always such a huge part of the holidays, and also because she recently passed away.

Jeanie was just 62 years old, and her husband Joe passed away last year after a long debilitating illness which included a heart transplant. Their children are around my age, and I think of them more often than ever.

And now with the holidays, wonderful memories of their parents have really come rushing back to me, and I hope they do for them as well.

8. I’m Mary!

OK, let’s lighten things up with a fun memory from about fourth grade–when I was chosen to play Mary in the church play of the Nativity Scene.

Lenox Nativity ornament
I was never the one chosen for things like that, and to be honest, I thought one of my best friends who eventually became the angel would be Mary, but nope. I was Mary! Everyone was so proud!

I think we picked names out of a hat or something, so it really was no big feat to have won the non-speaking role. But whatever. I was Mary! I wrapped the Baby Jesus in swaddling clothes!

And I do have a photo of it somewhere, just not here. Sorry. Maybe next year.

Also, attached to this memory? I was also the one who got to put the Baby Jesus in the manger on Christmas morning in our nativity scene at home. Woohoo! The benefits of being the youngest in the house!

9. Caroling with Friends

They don’t really do the caroling thing around here (not that I’ve seen/heard anyway), but I do have a fond memory of caroling when I was about 12 years old.

A group of girlfriends, probably about 10 of us, went around one evening and sang and sang and sang–and if anyone wonders why I know the words to just about any Christmas song, this is probably why. Seriously, try me.

One blustery December night, instead of going home after school, we all went to the house that would serve as Caroling Central. We got all bundled up (it was *freezing*!), and then walked around town, avoiding slushy puddles and snow piles, stopping at random houses, especially near those that were all lit up, assuming they’d certainly appreciate the effort.

We got invited into so many homes, drank far too much hot cocoa, and even made some cash–which we spent later that night on pizza if I recall correctly. Guess we could’ve donated the money, but hey, we were 12. And hungry.

Ah, and of course there was a huge slumber party afterwards.

I had almost forgotten about this memory until Wanderlust Scarlett and I got “talking” via email. I’m so happy that she reminded me! I don’t have contact with most of those girls anymore, but some of them are still my best friends–and you know who you are–and I’m certainly thinking of you this Christmas.

Ah, small town America in the late 1980s.

Come back tomorrow for the final installment of My 12 Favorite Christmas Memories!

I swear this plays 'Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer'

Christmas Memories: Part I

* Christmas Memories: Part II

Christmas Memories: Part III

Christmas Memories: Part V

What’s Cooking Wednesday: Thumbprint Cookies

Or, “12 Christmas Memories: Part III. ” If you haven’t yet, do check out Part I and II.

6. Cookies!

I simply couldn’t do a series on my Christmas memories without cookies.

My grandmother always made cookies for the holidays, but my mom? She goes crazy. In addition to making them for the family, she’s now started selling trays of homemade cookies and candy–and she’s doing so well that I just may have to go to America to help her next year. Go Mom!

And so, making cookies is definitely one of my fondest Christmas memories. From the time I could walk, I was around the kitchen helping make cookies–although for a while there I didn’t do much other than steal chocolate chips off the table, earning me the nickname “Cookie Monster” from my mom’s friend, her baking partner for many years.

But eventually I worked my way up to working with sprinkles and candied cherries. You know, the Big Time.

My mom made it fun not only for me but also for the friends I was allowed to invite over to help decorate the cut-out cookies–there were far too many stockings and Santas and snowmen and bells and wreaths for just one or two people to decorate.

So at my mom’s house, we’d have decorating slumber parties every year between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Just the other day, in fact, one of my best friends and regular participants in the bake-a-thons left a comment here on the blog longing for the days of such innocent fun.

And I’m so with her on that.

Making cookies!(I’m the one without a blurred face; maybe 12-13 years old here? Not sure.)

And yes, in case you’re wondering, my niece is fully prepared to keep this tradition going. Just the other day my mom said that she’s getting to the age where she can have some friends over to help decorate (she already helps my mom with the cut-outs).

So next year, 9-year-olds at Nana’s!

Before this year, I have never done the Christmas cookie thing by myself–why would I when my mom had it covered? But now that I’ve been here for a few years and have really missed those tastes of home, I decided that this year I’d make some of my mom’s recipes and give out trays to Italian family, friends, and neighbors.

I highly doubt any of them have ever even seen the cookies I made, so it’ll be an interesting experience for all of us.

Yesterday I finished up the last of six types that I made this year, and I’ve already decided that next year I’ll try my hand at even more. My mom had sent me some things like chocolate chips and brown sugar, but since I decided on Operazione Biscotti at the last minute, some cookies just weren’t going to happen this year for lack of the proper ingredients and tools.

But look out Christmas 2008!
What's Cooking WednesdayI’m not going to share all the recipes with you now, or even the photos just yet, but I will let you in on what has to be one of the easiest and tastiest cookies ever for this week’s What’s Cooking Wednesday. In fact, this is a great one to make with kids because they get to play around in the dough as much as they want and they really can’t ruin it.

“Unless their hands are dirty,” adds my mom.The words of wisdom never end I tell you.

Food Blogga's Eat Christmas Cookies

These classics will also be my entry in Food Blogga‘s Eat Christmas Cookies event. Go check out all the great cookies over there–just beware you’ll probably leave hungry.

Thumbprint Cookies*

Thumbprint Cookies2 c flour
3/4 c confectioner’s sugar
1 c butter
1 tsp vanilla

Jelly of your choice (I used apricot and strawberry)

1. Combine flour and sugar and then cut in butter until well distributed. Sprinkle with vanilla and mix dough with hands until smooth.

2. Shape into 1 inch balls and place about 1 inch apart on greased cookie sheet.

3. Indent centers with lightly floured finger (or thumb!) and fill with jelly.

4. Bake in preheated 325°F (163°C) oven for 15 minutes or until golden brown.

5. Remove to rack to cool.

Easy peasy and tasty too!

*I should note that the original recipe calls for a cup of chopped nuts–I just don’t like them in this, so I don’t put them in. If you want to, put 1/2 of them in with the flour and sugar in the beginning, and then, after you make the dough into balls, roll them in the remaining nuts. Thanks Christina for reminding me to include this!

Buon appetito!

Christmas Memories: Part I

* Christmas Memories: Part II

Christmas Memories: Part IV

Christmas Memories: Part V

12 Christmas Memories: Part II

Yesterday the first installment of my 12 Christmas Memories meme revolved a lot around my grandmother. Yes, that wonderful lady was always a big part of what made Christmas so special, and here are some more family memories.

3. Christmas Lights with Pap Pap

You may remember my grandfather from this post. There I mentioned he was curmudgeonly, but if there was one thing that melted his heart in addition to his grandchildren and great-grandchildren, it was Christmas.

Lights in particular.

Christmas lights on Corso Umberto I, Badolato, Calabria, Italy
I don’t really know when it became tradition, but for as long as I can remember, every year around the big day, an hour or so after dinner to make sure everyone had their lights on but weren’t in bed yet, my Pap Pap and I would drive around the area admiring all the displays–and yes, I do mean DISPLAYS of lighted trees, reindeer, Santas, bear, snowmen, candy canes, wishing wells, you name it and someone within a 20-mile radius had it on the lawn or hanging off the house.

We never did the outside of our house quite so Griswoldesque (no complaints from me on that one!) but I always appreciated the time and effort that others put into it.

And that was something I shared with my Pap Pap, every year in fact.

4. Christmas Eve Footsteps

Remember yesterday when I talked about the Christmas Eve tradition in which everyone came to my grandparents’ house after church?

Well 1998 was our first holiday season without my grandfather who had passed away that June, and it was business as usual at the house on Christmas Eve. My brother and I were seated side by side at the table, eating more than necessary I’m sure.

Suddenly, simultaneously, he and I turned our heads toward the back door to our right, expecting someone to come in. We had obviously both heard a noise outside, but didn’t say anything–I figured it was the wind, and I’m sure he did as well–and just went back to eating and talking.

A few minutes later, our heads did the same thing toward the door, and when no one came in, my brother looked at me with a raised eyebrow.

“Did you hear that?”

I sure did.

Nearly together we blurted out that we had heard twice, minutes apart, the unmistakable sound of someone stomping snow off of their shoes on our wooden back porch, preparing to come into the house. Something that was pretty connected to our grandfather in both our minds; he certainly never entered the house quietly in the winter.

Only that night, there was no one there.

No one that we could see anyway.

Christmas star in lights, Calabria, Italy

5. Dad’s Family Movie Light

Last year for Christmas, my brother and his wife got our old family movies transferred to DVD. Honestly it’s rather strange to me that my family even has these because it’s just so out of character–hard to explain why but it’s in the “We’re *so* not The Waltons” category. Trust me. It’s odd.

Anyway, from 1970 to 1980, our family is documented. I had never seen any of the movies before they were on DVD, and watching them for the first time was so emotional for so many reasons that I’ll probably write more about that at some point. But right now, sticking on-topic, the point is that one of my favorite Christmas memories has to do with my dad’s documenting those family moments.

Every time he wanted to take video, he also had to set up a huge, blinding spotlight alongside the camera for adequate lighting. And so, my every early childhood memory of a major event involves squinting into the exaggerated beam, feeling its heat envelop me, and fighting the urge to just look away, pout, and throw a tantrum. I used to be big on those.

And, lest you doubt it, Christmases were *the* main event of our family movies.

Every year up until I was probably five or six years old, I’d put on my (new) pajamas and get ready for my close-up. We made a literal production of hanging our stockings and putting out cookies and milk for Santa –and some pretty cute video emerged if I do say so myself.

And then Christmas morning? Rubbing the sleepies out of my eyes while plodding down the stairs, one hand on the railing to balance me?


And of course filming continued throughout gift opening, catching each and every ooh and aah face (no sound you know) along the way.

And that light was *always* on.

But now looking back, the shocking brightness doesn’t seem nearly so bad–the extremes always do fade with memory, don’t they? In fact after watching those movies, I kind of wish that light could make a comeback just for one more Christmas.

I’d even buy new pajamas for it.

My stocking, Christmas 2007

Christmas Memories: Part I

Christmas Memories: Part III

Christmas Memories: Part IV

Christmas Memories: Part V

Christmas farfallina

12 Christmas Memories: Part I

Some of my fondest Christmas memories from childhood in a handy 5-part series.

Read on...

Michelle FabioMichelle Fabio is an American attorney-turned-freelance writer living in her family's ancestral village in Calabria, Italy and savoring simplicity one sip at a time. 

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Homemade apple butter
Green beans, potatoes, and pancetta
Glazed Apple Oatmeal Cinnamon Muffins
Pasta with snails alla calabrese
Onion, Oregano, and Thyme Focaccia
Oatmeal Banana Craisin Muffins
Prosciutto wrapped watermelon with bel paese cheese
Fried eggs with red onion and cheese
Calabrian sausage and fava beans
Ricotta Pound Cake