I was channeling my mother on New Year's Eve. I made 2 cheesecakes with sweet sour cream topping, 2 pumpkin pies, a large carrot pudding, and pumpkin bread with chocolate chips. That wasn't enough, though, because if you knew my mom, you loved her cinnamon rolls. I made dough from scratch, and because I was a little tired, I made it into a pull-apart, known around here as Monkey Bread (or if you are the boys, Monkey Balls. I know. Sheesh), and put it into the fridge so that I could bake it fresh the next morning. There are some times when I really miss/feel/ponder my mom. Never so much as when I am baking her recipes. My brother, Zack, and his cutie wife, Julean, came that evening and we shared some chuckles before they headed back to their motel, exhausted from their long drive from Utah.
That night, for the first time ever, we celebrated the New Year as just our family (and not even that, because Addy was at his first dance!). We watched the ball drop, and at the stroke of midnight my sweetie and I kissed. My eyes filled with tears as I thought of the difficulty of this past year, and Guy's eyes filled the minute he looked into mine. We didn't need to say a word; we both knew what the other was thinking. What. a. year.
Undaunted by our low numbers, we rang in the New Year with our usual dented-pot percussion section, and the girls brought mama the broom to boot 2013 out the door (Good riddance! And don't come back, ya hear?!). Ethan rolled his eyes, but my fervor was sincere. With gratitude and a pinch of disdain I bowed deeply as, with an eyebrow cocked in warning, I welcomed the New Year through my threshold like you would a neighborhood child; "Come on in, but behave yourself!"
The next day brought all the joy that New Year's always did in my childhood. Family came in waves, and the house swallowed up children by the dozen. Voices and laughter rang ever louder as the humble walls of our smallish rooms tried to stretch themselves a little wider in welcome. Mismatched chairs collected in semi-circles, filling and vacating as plates and punch glasses emptied and were filled again, like a game of musical chairs without the music.
My kitchen table and counters spilled over with savories and sweets. Sneaky fingers snatched cookies that sat too temptingly-close to the edges of their trays. Whole tables of paper plates with barely-touched potato salad (but emptied of chips, of course) sat abandoned in the studio, the only clue as to their owners scrawled in childish, sharpie-marker-script on plastic cups.
I let myself let go. I didn't try to entertain. I didn't fret the spills. I listened to stories and told a few, and thought of the ones who couldn't make it this time, consoling myself in the same moment with the thought: We will try again this summer!
And heard in my head another thought,
whispered with peaceful resolve:
Mom would have loved this.
(So sad this one is blurry.
Aunt Marilyn, we will try again this summer!)
The teenagers hid out in corners and dodged the camera, but it was easy to remember being their age, being at a family reunion so many years ago, hanging out with my cousins and eating pie, and feeling sorry when it was time to say goodbye again. I felt then, as I did on this day, that glow of family affection rekindled. That desire to know these people better, to be with them more often, to forge stronger bonds and to be more grateful for each one. There is a story for each soul, and those stories are braided together, with threads that end while others begin, without ever breaking the length of rope they form.
I am so grateful for family.
Thank you all for making this the best New Year's Day I can remember.
Mom's Cheesecake Recipe
Mix the crumbs from 16 graham crackers with 5 Tbsp sugar and 5 Tbsp melted butter, press into a pie tin and bake at 350 for 5-10 minutes.
Next, blend 8 oz. ROOM TEMP cream cheese, 2 eggs, 1/2 tsp vanilla and 1/2 cup sugar until smooth and poor into crust. Bake at 350 for 20 minutes or until center is set. Do not allow top to brown.
In a bowl, mix 1 pint sour cream with 5 tsp. sugar and 1/2 tsp vanilla. Pour over cheesecake and bake 5-10 minutes. Cool, and serve cold with lots of happy people. If you are really smart, you will double the recipe so that you can eat a slice for breakfast (oh, like you've never done that). Julean says to double the sour cream topping on each pie, because it's the best part.
(This is "Christmas Pudding" from fairy tales.
Tiny Tim was a big fan of the stuff. This one was my grandma's)
Okay, so here is the easy part. Dump all this stuff together:
1 cup ULTRA finely grated carrots
1 cup grated potato (yes, ubber-fine, again)
1 cup raisins (I know, that's a lot, huh? Crazy)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup honey or Karo syrup
1/4 cup melted butter
1 cup flour
1 tsp soda
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp cinnamon
Optional: nuts, ginger, nutmeg
Now, here's where it gets a little tricky. You will need to create a double boiler if you don't have one (mine is too small). Get your BIGGEST soup pot. Put a canning jar ring (or several) in the bottom. Now find a metal or glass bowl that is heat safe and deep, but check to make sure it will fit down into your pot while the pot lid is on. Okay, now line that bowl with foil, leaving long flaps of excess foil hanging over (I make a giant foil X and press it down into the bowl). Pour the batter into the foil lined bowl, and then lay a new sheet of foil across the top (are you lost yet? Hang in there, not long now!). Press the foil down onto the surface of the batter and then roll up the flaps of foil around the top rim of the bowl. The final result will be what looks like a foil pie of sorts. With one more sheet of foil, top the bowl off without pushing the foil down into the cavity, like you would if you were putting away leftovers.
Whew! Okay, last step! Set the bowl into the pot, resting on the rings, and fill the pot with water until the bowl is at least halfway submerged. Do not allow water to be closer than 1 inch from the top of the bowl. Put on the lid and simmer for (ahem...) four hours. Yep. You heard that right. You will need to refill the water a few times, so check every 45 minutes or so. I set a timer to remind myself to check. Boiling it dry won't kill the pudding but your pot will suffer.
Serve warm with "Hard Sauce" or whipped cream (or both, right? I mean, who are we kidding? We eat dessert for breakfast).
(sorry, this version is booze-free. Not so hard after all!)
Mix: 4 eggs lightly beaten, 1 cube melted butter, 2 cups sugar and a splash of vanilla (a splash is a very technical and precise cooking measurement, somewhere between a drizzle and a glub). Steam over a double boiler stirring constantly until it becomes syrupy and foamy on top. So yum.
See you this summer, guys.