Chopping nuts with my Great Grandmother’s nut chopper. Listening to the greats – Bing Crosby, Dean Martin, Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra – singing the Christmas songs from my childhood about Santa, drummer boys, and SNOW!! Flour and powdered sugar everywhere, and cookies on every surface. It must be Christmas!
Finding some of the ingredients have been a bit of a challenge. You can always tell how many recipes here might use certain things based on the size of the package. Finding powdered sugar at the local Mercadona was very difficult. Finally, I found it in these small bottles and the instructions show that it’s mostly just shaken on Santiago cake or the like. In the US, we buy powdered sugar by nothing smaller than a pound. Usually, I would buy it at Costco in 3 pound bags. When I took 3 pounds worth to the check out the woman actually stopped and looked at me before shaking her head and scanning the many small containers. She didn’t even bother trying to find out what it was for. I could almost hear her thinking ‘No wonder American’s are so fat.’
Here, powdered sugar comes in 300 gram containers. I have had to buy a food scale here to measure things. It’s a pretty common thing to use a food scale here.
Baking the cookie recipes that have been made in my family for generations at Christmas is not optional. I’d be letting down the Field Family side if I attempted to get out of it. Jeff wouldn’t have cared, but I would know. So my traversing the length of Valencia, multiple times, for ingredients and supplies has been met with a ‘We need to go where now?’.
But he’s come along to carry the 10+ pounds of things I needed for the best cookies on the planet from the Taste of American store. As I said, I had already found my powdered sugar and then the guy at Taste of America just threw in 3 pounds of American powdered sugar for FREE. At that point I didn’t need it – now I have too much.
‘Why would he do that?’ I asked Jeff, who was schlepping it all home.
‘Are you kidding me?’ He said genuinely surprised, I was surprised. ‘You bought a carpet knife yesterday at El Chino and the guy gave you a free beer. It’s you. You get free stuff without asking.’
He’s right – I do. But I don’t need anymore powdered sugar- and we don’t need more random beers.
So I’m set. Now that I have all the ingredients I can bake the three mandatory cookies for the holiday season. Raspberry thumbprint cookies (Scottish shortbread with sesame seeds and jam), Russian tea cookies with pecans. And finally, the pis de resistance – the Chocolate Peanut Butter balls. People my Mom hasn’t really spoken to for decades – except a letter at Christmas time – know that staying in touch gets you chocolate peanut butter balls at Christmas.
At our house, my Mom had an assembly line. My Dad is a perfectionist so he rolled and my Mom dipped them each in chocolate. We transferred and swapped out cookie sheets so they could keep going. Every surface in the kitchen and dining room would be covered in wax paper so that, night after night, they could do the balls and she could ship them all over the country before Christmas.
Our kids ask for them every year and last week, my Mom shipped the balls out via FedEx. I can’t supply them to my family in the US from Spain, but will be sharing them with our neighbors and friends here. They don’t know what they’re in for. Eating them is like heaven. But making them with my kids was always the best. Ours were never as pretty as my parents but they tasted just as good. I don’t get to experience it with my kids anymore, but the smell of the ingredients coming together takes me back.
We’re heading out to spend the holidays with Emilie in Ireland. But, before we go, I’m glad I got to experience a little bit of tradition again this year. And to share it with our neighbors who have been so nice to us. Our coffee lady at El Horno on the corner. the people on our floor at home. Wonder what the guy at El Chino will do when I walk up to the counter and give him his box of cookies. It’s not a Cerveza Navidad, but after he eats these cookies, I’ll be getting a free 6 pack with my next purchase. I’m pretty sure about that.
Tonight, our house smells heavenly. It couldn’t feel more like home. It just goes to show you that the Christmas spirit isn’t in stuff we buy. Its in traditions, and family and friends. The most important ingredients of all.