Christmas is just around the corner and Mr. Smith and I are again on the road, off to visit family and friends, some family that are also friends and some friends that are family. The weather forecast predicts temps in the mid-40s with zero chance of a white Christmas. And while I have vivid memories of the magic of snow falling on Christmas Eve when I was a child, as a traveling adult I am thrilled with the gift of dry, safe roads.
The planning, shopping, baking, wrapping, packing and mailing are all done and now it’s time to relax and celebrate the season. This past week, I hosted some old friends for a holiday happy hour, appreciating the comfort of those who have known me for years and still love me! On another occasion, I shared a dinner out with newer friends, getting to know them better over a glass of chardonnay and tasty crab cakes. And now it’s on to the main event.
Mr. Smith and I were up early this morning to pack up the sleigh and hit the road. The long hours on I-80 with our festive holiday beverages from Starbucks and holiday tunes on the stereo provide plenty of time to discuss the week ahead of us with eager anticipation. We are particularly looking forward to a visit with our bubbly granddaughters. It is enchanting to enter their mystical world of girliness and camaraderie. It is my grandma hope that when they are in their sixties they will still get together at the holidays and share heartfelt memories of a Christmas visit from Slick Grandpa Nick and me as cherished as those I have of Christmas visits from my beloved Aunt Ruby.
And before we hit Ohio, I-80 becomes Memory Lane and we ponder the decades of Christmases with our three sons. Like Emmet’s second Christmas. During his afternoon nap, Mr. Smith and his brother Pete went out to get a tree. When Emmet woke up there was a tree in the living room complete with holiday lights. He was overjoyed. Or the year we were stunned to remember late on Christmas Eve after the boys were in bed that their gifts were still in the closet of Mr. Smith’s office out at the printing plant. Luckily, he remembered how to turn off the alarm system. Our precious memories are a treasure trove of cookie decorating, messy tree trimming, noisy holiday meals and fun Christmas movies.
When Mr. Smith and I take a break from our discourse, my stream-of-consciousness mind drifts back to my own childhood Christmases. There were always colorful gifts under our simple tree and stockings stuffed with candy and an orange, but my most vivid memories are of the anticipation of family coming home and the meals shared. One year in particular was when I was in high school and working at an Indiana toll road restaurant. My usual shift was 6:00 am to 2:00 pm. For Christmas day, the shifts had been split and I was only working 6:00 – 10:00. My younger brother thought we should get up and open gifts before I went in at 6:00 am, but thankfully my parents put the kibosh on that. When I got home from work shortly after 10:00, my wonderful Aunt Ruby and Uncle Ike were at our house, having driven up that morning from Illinois. It was my sweetest Christmas surprise ever!
My mother always decorated for Christmas, made cutout cookies that we frosted, and baked date nut bread. She baked it in Dad’s empty beer cans after he had carefully removed the tops. This created little round loaves. It was moist and delicious and it is what we always left out for Santa on Christmas Eve, along with a can of beer (Dad’s idea).
ZELLA’S DATE NUT BREAD
- ½ cup brown sugar
- 2 cups sugar
- 4-1/2 cups flour
- 1 tsp. salt
- 4 T. soft butter
- 3 eggs well beaten
- 2 tsp. soda
- 2 tsp. vanilla
- 1 cup chopped nuts
- 2 cups chopped dates
- 2-1/2 cups boiling water (pour over dates and walnuts and baking soda and let sit for 30 minutes)
Cream the butter and sugars and add the vanilla. Combine the flour and salt, then add the flour mixture and the date mixture a little at a time, alternating between the two. Fold in the eggs at the end. Don’t overmix.
Grease cans (6-7) and fill ½ full.
Bake 55 minutes at 350 degrees or approximately 1 hour for loaf pans.
Of course, you don’t have to bake your date nut bread in beer cans, but I can attest that Santa never left any behind.
C’est la vie.