Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Better Than Sliced...

Christmas holds so many memories for me.  I always try to focus on the good ones, the ones that made this time of the year magical, in the hopes that I can recreate that magic every year.  

My mother was amazing at making the holidays fun – she worked hard at it!  Not only did she work full time (overtime during the holidays) in a retail store during my childhood, but she still found the time and energy to make cookies, fudge, needhams, Chex mix, pies and a full turkey dinner; decorating the house from floor to ceiling; dealing with three children who tested her patience repeatedly; hosting her crazy, fun-loving family (she’s the oldest of six) on Christmas Eve and often Christmas Day…and sometimes my Dad’s family, too (a family gifted at backhanded compliments, creating stress and amplifying tense moments - in other words, the complete opposite of my mother's family). Looking back, I don’t know how she did it. My Ma was a freakin’ rock! She’s still a rock, and pretty darn awesome (I may be a bit biased😋), but thankfully, she doesn’t have to deal with most of that stress anymore. 

Our Christmases have been much more low key since my Gram passed almost 13 years ago. As the grandchildren have grown and become parents themselves, getting everyone (53 people and counting) together for Christmas is just not in the cards. For many years, it was just my folks, my sister and brother-in-law, my nephew and niece, my brother and me. We lost my brother the week before Christmas three years ago and while that first year was the absolute hardest (like walking zombie, practically in a coma hardest), my family has rallied to make Christmas fun again. And our little family has grown by three since then, with the addition of my nephew’s girlfriend, my husband and Shorty.  Next year, we’ll be adding Brendan to the mix!

While Christmas is still tinged with the heartache of losing my brother, I don’t dwell on it (simply because it doesn’t get me anywhere but depressed). Instead, I look back to all the wonderful things – the stories and laughter that my Mum’s family shared, sitting under my Gram’s kitchen table watching the old, silent, super 8 home movies while aunts and uncles narrated it in amusing ways, the mouth watering smells coming from the kitchen, either from my Ma's or Gram’s (depending on who was hosting Christmas that year)…and Gram’s bread. My Gram made the most amazing bread!  It didn’t matter if you were getting it right from the oven or a few days later, it was just superb. She always made loaves and LOAVES of bread for Thanksgiving and Christmas (when you had six kids and they all wanted bread, I guess you had to spend days making loaf upon loaf!). My most favorite thing during the holidays was to make a turkey sandwich with Gram’s bread.  To this day, that is my comfort food – the one that gives me the warm and fuzzies, and makes all right with the world. 

After Gram passed, her recipe seemed lost forever. What many of us didn’t realize was that it was tucked into one of her cookbooks that my aunt in Massachusetts had and a few years ago, was resurrected by my cousin and shared widely with the family! Despite having this recipe, and having made countless loaves of bread before, I just didn’t feel confident in my bread baking skills to try it, lest I forever tarnish the memory of Gram’s bread by making it horribly. It’s also a fairly labor intensive recipe, calling for two cakes of yeast and about ten cups of flour, with two separate hours of rise time, then another half hour once they’re in the bread pans. Well, this past weekend I sucked it up, dragged out the Kitchen Aid and went to work. Of course, pregnancy brain here forgot that the mixer couldn’t handle THAT much bread dough at once and that I should have cut the recipe in half. Despite that boo-boo, that bread came out PHENOMENAL!! 

I had one small slice off that little, round loaf...and my
darling, dearest husband ate the rest, proclaiming it to be
the best bread I've ever made!

I was in heaven...it SMELLED like Gram’s bread. I slathered on butter and it TASTED like Gram’s bread. It had been 13 years since my last taste of that bread! It was like my Gram was with me in that moment; I could hear her and her Newfoundlander accent in my ear. I even teared up a bit!

Unfortunately, I made the mistake of leaving the bread unprotected and the gate into the kitchen open.  Ripley couldn’t resist the smell of Gram’s bread, either and helped herself to a large nibble! She knew she’d been bad, she was sitting by the door with her head hung.  As soon as I saw what she had done and yelled her name, she bee-lined it for her kennel.

She’s lucky she’s cute!

Ms. Rip giving Daddy hugs and kisses.

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