This story is a repeat story, but well worth the laughter.
Reminiscence of Christmases Past
Christmas 1979 was looking very bleak and lonely. Being the youngest child, I was the only one left to share Christmas with my mother. Mom and I were living in Anchorage in a basement apartment. She announced she had invited a man named Bernie over for Christmas Eve to decorate our tree.
Christmas Eve came, along with Bernie, a lonely gentleman. Mom had met at a local inn, where she was employed as a hostess. This was Bernie’s first Christmas away from his daughter and grandchildren, whom he missed terribly. They lived in Maine and he was stationed in Alaska by an oil company. Bernie’s story didn’t surprise me, as my mother always had a soft spot for a lonely soul (orphan) without a family, to share the holidays.
Well, along with Christmas Eve, Bernie and our artificial tree came eggnog. Not just ordinary eggnog, but eggnog and rum, which Bernie so cheerfully supplied. Apparently, it was one of his old family traditions.
We proceeded to transform a cardboard box stuffed with plastic branches into a decent-looking tree. We began to notice how meticulous Bernie was when it took him at least 10 minutes to form each branch, perfectly. He kept telling us it had to be “asymmetrical.”
Hours later, when the tree branches were finally together and the lights were shining brightly on our perfectly asymmetrical tree, it was time for our homemade ornaments and treasured crystal bulbs. This turned into another ordeal. Bernie, at this point, was perched on the sofa armrest, eggnog in hand, with visions of Christmas past with his family flashing through his mind.
Mom and I exchanged worried glances, but proceeded to hang our treasured ornaments. Bernie, at times, would let out a squeal of disappointment and announce “that is the wrong spot, move it up and to the left, NO! NO! I mean to right, now turn it around!”
We finally had all the ornaments hung with the precise direction of Bernie. I had to admit it was a perfect tree, but acknowledged it had not been worth it. It was well past midnight and we had a very tipsy Bernie on our hands. He mumbled about our beautiful tree and how empty his room was back at the inn.
With a blink of an eye, Bernie jumped up, grabbed the middle of our tree, yanking the lights out of the socket, and proceeded to drag the tree to the door of our basement apartment. Opening the door — as clouds of warm air hit the cold, cold night air and fog and steam surrounded him — he disappeared up the stairs.
There was yelling and screaming about our ornaments as the tree went bump, bump up the steps. Garland and ornaments and bulbs scattered everywhere — my Mom yelling loud enough for the sleeping neighbors to hear her scream, “I don’t care about the tree but let us have the ornaments back!”
Bernie disappeared into the cold night, in a cloud of fog, dragging our tree to this little 280Z car. We all know how little those cars are!! He crammed and pushed the decorated tree into his little car.
He jumped into the car, slammed the door, and with a roar of the engine, tried to take off. Not getting enough traction, as it was snowing, he was stuck. He jumped out of his little car, stomping off down the driveway in the direction of the inn. Mom yelled at him, reclaimed our tree.
Lights went on all over the neighborhood as astonished, sleepy people peeked out from behind the drapes, just in time to see my mom pull the tree out of the car and walk across the parking lot. She was quite a sight, with her pink fuzzy slippers. She raised the tree like a trophy. I was in a state of shock.
Back in the apartment, after retrieving bulbs and garland from the parking lot and the stairwell, we both burst out laughing and tried to salvage what we could of our tree.
Christmas morning arrived; the night before seemed like a dream. Mom said Bernie was crazed from all the eggnog, but he was still a very lonely man and this was Christmas Day.
So we decided to remove just our treasured ornaments, left the rest of the decorations intact, and delivered the tree to the inn for Bernie to enjoy.
I am sure he spent hours and hours making it “asymmetrical” again. We never saw him or heard from him. We told each other, “Never ever again will we ever have a Christmas like this one!”
This recipe is a winner at Christmas! Easy and delicious! Supposed to have come from Poland. We love it, and so far I have made it three times this year. Expensive!
YULE NUT CAKE
Do NOT chop any of the ingredients.
1 1/2 cups whole pecans
1 1/2 cups whole walnuts
1 to 1 7/8-ounce package of dates — You can use chopped dates if you like.
3/4 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup red candied cherries, NOT maraschino
1/2 cup green candied cherries
1/2 cup seedless raisins.
1/2 cup candied pineapple
Mix flour, baking powder and salt together. Cover all the nuts and fruit and mix until all are covered.
Mix until well blended:
3/4 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
Mix the egg mixture and into the flour-nut mixture. Mix and mix until every nut and fruit is coated.
Cut parchment or foil to fit 8 x 8 pan or 9 x 9 pan. Spray with vegetable oil completely. I do not recommend loaf pan. Pack into the pan and smooth the top.
Bake for 1 1/2 hours at 275 degrees (yes). Let cool completely. It is better to set for 12 hours, but you can slice in 1-inch slices and eat after it cools. YOU will like it.
CRANBERRY NUT CAKE
This if from a dear friend, who fought cancer for several years, Paula Dickey. We miss her!
1 cup shortening
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 cups flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk
Beat until well blended.
2 cups fresh cranberries, chopped (I chopped them frozen and let them sit and drain for an hour).
1 cup nuts — pecans preferred but walnuts work
Spread in oiled and floured 1-inch tube pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour and 20 minutes. Cool and frost with CRANBERRY FROSTING
Cook in small saucepan:
1/2 cup cranberries
1/4 cup water
Slowly cook and stir until cranberries pop — stir often.
Cool and blend in:
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 cup butter
About 4 cups powdered sugar
Stir constantly until spreading consistency.
This cake is also known as “Three-hole cake” baked by many moms with the help of small children. It’s a good after-school snack, or can be eaten warm out of the oven. Takes about an hour from start to finish. I have baked this many times on the top of my wood stove in the middle of winter. It “dist-a-pears” fast with kiddos around.
Have kids wash hand and help them measure and stir!
Put all ingredients right into a 9 x 13 baking dish. NO need for a mixing bowl!
1 1/2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup cocoa
1 teaspoon soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
Stir with a fork until all is mixed evenly.
Make three wells (holes) in the dry mixture in the dish.
Pour EACH of the following into one of the three holes:
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon vinegar
1/2 cup oil
Pour warm water over all ingredients and quickly stir with a fork or wooden spoon. The Mom may have to help with this to make it completely stirred. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Test to see if done.
Cut in squares and eat warm with applesauce, raspberry jelly, Cool Whip or your favorite fudge frosting — OR spoon chocolate pudding over top of square and squirt whipped cream on top. Cake stays moist if you have any left over.
CHOCOLATE RICE PUDDING
This is for Susan Jordan.
In a large sauce pan:
2 1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup long grain rice — uncooked
Bring milk and rice to slow boil. Stir constantly 3 minutes. Reduce heat to very low and cover. Simmer 20 minutes. Stir three times.
In another bowl mix:
1 egg beaten
1/4 cup brown sugar
3 tablespoon cocoa
1/4 teaspoon salt
To temper the egg mixture — add 2 or 3 tablespoons of hot mixture to egg mixture and stir quickly.
Add this mixture to the pan of cooked rice. Stir.
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Cook and stir over low heat for 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat and cover the pan. Let cool in pan 1 hour. Spoon into serving bowls and pass the cream or milk. Sprinkle with ABOUT AN ABDUCTED CHRISTMAS TREE.
Susan Jordan is Grannie Annie’s daughter and runs Fireweed Herb Garden Greenhouse in Kenai, Alaska.
• Text by Susan Jordan. Recipes by Ann “Grannie Annie” Berg.