Getting into the holiday spirit earlier than usual for me: maybe it has something to do with having a three-year-old boy in the house with eyes as big as basketballs when he looks at our eight-foot-tall tree. A tree which will likely stay up until the Superbowl: we're shunning the tradition of kicking it out immediately, as some heartless people do!
[Note: Our beloved friend, Charley, came home from the hospital last night, and we are so grateful. He's doing gr-r-r-r-reat!)
Here is the fifth guest author, Lindsay Elam, from Robin's Somers' writing class at UCSC, "The Meaning of Food." Her students are offering up their memoirs of childhood food, and it's my pleasure to publish them here.
As Lindsay Elam weaves through her family’s mixed ancestry—so archetypical of this country—we discover many stories within the larger frame of her memoir. Her paternal grandfather has hidden his Native American ties; her maternal great-grandparents have emigrated from a German occupied city in Russia. Lindsay seeks to define vague spots in her lineage by rejoicing in the German Chocolate Cake of the holiday season, choosing to believe partaking in the cake honors her German ancestors.
German Chocolate Cake
by Lindsay Elam
“I cannot wait until we get there!” I said to my mother.
“I know sweetie, but remember it still takes us a little over an hour just to even get there,” she told me in a soothing, but at the same time irritated voice.
Once we were on the road I began to get more and more anxious. My little sister and I would complain when we got restless. She would complain about how she would burst if she did not go to the restroom, even though she just went about twenty minutes beforehand. I can honestly tell you that that girl has a bladder the size of a bean. Our parents would try to keep us occupied by bringing a small television so we could watch movies and not bother them, but we would continue to ask them “Are we there yet?” or “How much longer until we get there?”
After a long drive we finally arrived at the house. It smelled of smoked bacon and turkey, which had been in the oven all day. Our family stuffs the turkey with loads of stuffing, bastes it, and then places smoked bacon on top for extra flavoring. The best part about eating Thanksgiving dinner is the smell of the turkey cooking and eating the bacon. The first time I saw my mother stuffing the turkey, I did not understand why she was doing such a thing.
!I asked, “Mom, why are you putting your hand in its butt?”
She responded in a calm tone, “Because, darling, I am putting stuffing inside the bird.”
“Why are you putting food inside it?”
“Because it makes the bird taste better when we get to eat it,” she said, rubbing her stomach and licking her lips as if she was already eating the turkey, savoring every bite.
When the whole family gets together, it becomes a party. My grandmother was the best at making mashed potatoes from scratch, using the perfect blend of salt, pepper and butter. I loved when we got to her house early enough so I could help her mash the potatoes. As a little kid, it made me extremely happy. When I was able to help make the mash potatoes, I had to peel a lot of potatoes first and then mashed them. Mashing the potatoes was my favorite; sometimes I used my freshly cleaned hands and other times I used a masher utensil.
My aunt brought the best honey ham with pineapples stuck to it to the mix it once she got there. We brought my father’s famous green bean casserole. It was my favorite dish out of all of them, or so that is what I always told him. My real favorite was the dessert. My grandmother, on my dad’s side, would make the best chocolate brownies, at least 3 different pies (usually chocolate, pumpkin and pecan), and of course my favorite—the German chocolate cake, a simple cake, a chocolate cake with a pecan, coconut frosting.
The first time I saw the cake, I asked, “What is that nasty stuff covering up all the chocolate?”
My mother replied, “The best part, Lindsay. Frosting.”
“That is not frosting. That looks like poo.” I didn’t try German chocolate cake when I was younger. I was too afraid that it would ruin chocolate for me, my favorite food. If I could only eat chocolate and not gain weight, I would. I love when I put chocolate in my mouth and it melts like butter, tastes heavenly.
The only time we had German chocolate cake was on Thanksgiving. I never understood why we had it at that time of year, and I never thought of asking. I always thought it was because we are descendants of Germans. I do not know, but I’m going to keep on believing that the main reason we eat it is because we are thanking our German ancestors.
On my mother’s side, I am part German. My great grandparents, on my Grandpa’s side, emigrated from Russia in the early 1900’s. They lived in a German occupied city in Russia. They then moved to Denver, where they met and started a family.
On my father’s side, I am part English, Irish and Native American. We believe my grandfather was part Native American, but we don’t know for sure. My grandfather was adopted and he never wanted to find his birth parents. His sisters, however, found him, and they looked Native American. We still aren’t sure but want to find out more.
By the time the food is ready, I start to get super hungry, so hungry it sounds like a lion is living in my stomach. Everyone gets excited when my grandma puts out the first dish, the turkey, the signal for everyone to help set up for our family buffet. The other children and I are the first ones in line. I grab a little of everything: turkey, ham, mashed potatoes and gravy, green bean casserole, cream corn, Hawaiian King rolls, cranberry jelly, stuffing from the turkey and some not from the turkey.
I fill my plate to its fullest, head to my table and set my plate down to go back for some Martinelli’s Sparkling Cider. Every bite I take my mouth waters. The food is so good. I eat it fast and go back for seconds. The turkey and ham are perfectly tender; they slice with ease. I then take long deep breathes so I can make room for dessert.
I sit at the kids’ table, wishing I could sit at the older table. I have always wanted to sit with all the adults and my older cousins. They let me sit with them after dinner when they were playing poker with toothpicks. I have no idea what they were playing, but they tried to teach me how to play. I do not understand why they had toothpicks, but I do not care. I was just excited that I got to sit and play a game with them!
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THOUGHT FOR THE DAY (for Charley): "What I look forward to is continued immaturity followed by death." Dave Barry (who turned 60 in 2007)
Thanks for visiting and happy Winter Solstice.