It has been an unbelievable year. If someone had told me last December what would happen in the coming year, I would have asked them what they'd slipped into the egg nog.
Yet, here we are.
Despite the Covid-19 pandemic and despite the drama from Washington, it is the Christmas season.
We may not be able to gather as families traditionally do. We may not be able to share hugs.
What we can do is meet virtually or even on the phone. No, of course, it's not the same, but it's better than nothing.
The family gatherings of my childhood were usually spent at the home of my grandparents in Virginia, with five aunts, uncles, and a dozen cousins. My grandmother's refrigerator was filled with homemade cakes, pies, candies, and all manner of good foods. She rarely, however, made cookies of any kind.
She put three home-cooked meals on the table every day, no matter how many people were in the house.
I remember once, as she stood on her front porch watching as we loaded up the car to return to West Virginia, that she and the house looked as if they were a bit relieved. Of course, she missed us and the rest of her clan. However, I've never forgotten that memory and wondered if the house actually breathed a sigh of relief at our departure.
By the time I was married, my grandparents were gone and I had four siblings. Over the years, our family grew to nearly 40 people.
During those years, my mom's kitchen was filled with homemade cakes and pies as well as cookies and fudge. She loved the holidays and tried very hard, even after we were all grown, to make them special. She succeeded.
There were so many of us in that small house, there was very little room to walk around. Babies were everywhere. It was loud. It was chaotic. It was truly wonderful!
My own children – all grown now – still talk about those Christmases as I still talk about those at my grandparents.
Several of those babies have children of their own now and are scattered about as are my siblings. If we all get together once a year now, I consider it a miracle.
This year, with the pandemic, it will be just my immediate bunch. I will very much miss my brother and his wife, who usually join us. However, I am truly blessed that all my children are here to celebrate.
There will be lots of food. And there will be cookies. Over the years, I've tried different cookie recipes, but they always come back to two favorites – chocolate chip and peanut butter. I've previously shared my mother's peanut butter cookie recipe in this column.
So today, I am sharing another peanut butter cookie recipe sent to me by my dear friend Donna Wikel of Mullens, who is an incredible cook.
“This recipe is my grandmother’s from about 1950. Her name is Catherine Louise Thomas (Oct. 10, 1917-May 3, 2017),” Donna explained.
Donna said she's been using the recipe for about 50 years now. I probably shouldn't have shared that information as it gives you some indication of our ages.
Mamaw’s Peanut Butter Cookies
½ cup softened margarine
½ cup shortening
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
Cream all six ingredients together.
Add one cup peanut butter and mix well.
Then mix in these dry ingredients:
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
Drop by rounded teaspoon onto ungreased cookie sheet (about a dozen on each pan.) Press with fork to make crisscross design.
Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes.
Let cool on pan for 10 minutes, then remove cookies with spatula to cooling rack.
This recipe makes five dozen cookies.
I am also sharing a coconut cake recipe that my dad absolutely loved. I don't recall where I picked up the recipe, but I made it for him several times after my mom died. He never failed to point out that the cake becomes moister, and more flavorful, with each day.
Daddy's Coconut Cake
2 cups sugar
1 cup oil
1 cup milk (or buttermilk)
3 cups self-rising flour
1 cup coconut
2 teaspoons coconut extract
Beat together sugar, eggs, and oil. Add buttermilk. Then slowly mix in the flour.
Add the coconut and the coconut extract to the batter.
Pour into a greased bundt pan.
Bake at 325 degrees for one hour, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Leave the cake in the pan.
Just before the cake is done, combine 1 cup of sugar, 2 teaspoons of butter, and ½ cup of water in a saucepan and bring to a boil for four or five minutes. Remove from heat and stir in 1 teaspoon of coconut extract. Pour over cake immediately, cover the pan with aluminum foil and let sit for at least two hours, longer if possible.
Since I'm not a fan of coconut, I make this cake (and the topping) using lemon extract rather than the coconut. I also omit the flaked coconut in the cake. It is delicious.
You can also add your favorite chopped nuts – pecans, almonds, walnuts – to this cake. I always added a cup-and-a-half of walnuts to those I made for Daddy.
Play around with it, make it your own.
At any rate, enjoy the holidays. With three vaccines being readied for distribution, we can finally see the light at the end of this pandemic. So, I believe next year will find us back to our old habits of eating out often, lingering in the department stores, gathering in large crowds, and finding a hundred reasons to be outside our homes.
Take this one Christmas to slow down and enjoy being safe at home.
Merry Christmas and may your coming year be healthy, peaceful, and filled with the love of family and friends.
– Email Mary Catherine Brooks at firstname.lastname@example.org