My gardens lie dormant as winter comes. Catalogs filled with the temptations of old-fashioned flowers, new varieties of perennials and foolproof pumpkin seeds started dropping through our mail slot before Halloween.
In the new year, I’ll start thinking about the next growing cycle. But not yet. I want to pause at the cold-hardy buds on the lilac bushes and wait, with uncharacteristic patience, for them to blossom this spring. I’m ready now for winter’s good cheer and subtle peace, and the joy I find in holiday rituals and sweet, unexpected moments.
In this season, I write frequently about family memories and treasured recipes from my Italian heritage. Some of these columns, published in the Daily News and a few days later on my Facebook page, have drawn heartwarming comments from readers. Their stories, like mine, begin in the kitchen. Homemade noodles, carefully draped to dry over the backs of wooden chairs. Seafood stew on Christmas Eve. Swedish smorgasbord. Roast goose with cabbage and dumplings. Latkes for Hanukkah. Beef Wellington and Yorkshire pudding on Christmas Day. Black-eyed peas Jan. 1, for good fortune in the new year.
In the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I bury our kitchen tabletop under a mess of lists, scribbled notes, tattered recipe cards and vintage cookbooks, all prep work for my holiday baking and cooking. I turn first to my grandmother’s handwritten recipes, which she passed down to me when I was a young, newly married woman. Coconut meringues, delicate as angels’ wings. Tiny cream cookies, with buttery vanilla filling, sandwiched between layers of thin, flaky pastry. And always, Italian biscottti, flavored with vanilla, anise and almonds.
Every December, I switch out my garden-themed tea mugs for Christmas designs, mostly angels and doves of peace. My emergency mug, though, is a Mary Engelbreit classic: a woman on a street corner, caught in a Christmas whirl of spilled shopping bags, rain-wet garlands and trampled presents. Above her, at the rim of the mug, a familiar lyric reminds me, “You’d better not pout.” I pause at my kitchen window and smile at the holiday birds eating breakfast at the feeders. On a recent morning, my husband counted at least 25 finches, chickadees, juncos and nuthatches. How can you not be filled with cheer when you can say,“Hey, nuthatch?”
In the evening, after I’ve done all I can with the lists, recipes and cookie dough, I think about the readers of this column. There is a ribbon of unity in the memories we all share from our families’ heritage. Hispanic tortillas, French baguettes, Norwegian lefse, American Indian fry bread, Jewish matzo, Indian naan, Middle Eastern pita and Italian ciabatta. Our daily bread. Within this multicultural kitchen family, we are all cousins. I sip hot tea and raise my mug, the peace dove with rainbow wings.
Sydney Craft Rozen and her favorite rascal, Benjamin BadKitten, wish their wonderful readers a season of wintertime joy. She and BBK will be back in January, for another year of impetuous gardening. Email the writer at email@example.com