Smell that?! It's not cat piss, it's pine!!!!!
In case you hadn't noticed, The Skinny Tie Report is in full holiday mode, bringing you the sauciest musings of Christmases gone by. For the rest of this season, I've challenged myself to bring you only the most random and obscure in holiday traditions that strike a chord near and dear to my heart, and hopefully yours. Yes, my hope is that some of the fun things that I remember from every holiday season in my youth are some of the exact same crap that you remember as well!
Let's frostbite our hypocampus shall we?
I would looooove to start off by telling you what Christmas smelled like to me. I have to say that of all the senses that God gave me ("common" being the one he saw fit that I do without) my sense of smell is the one that takes precedent. Almost to a fault. I cannot go anywhere without having some "moment" where a smell will trigger some long gone place or time in my memory and before you know it, I've wandered aimlessly into an intersection or given my self third degree burns.
Just after Thanksgiving, my mom would get these waxed chicken boxes out of the attic with all of the Christmas Decorations in them and the aroma that wafted from them was to me, the first signal that Christmas had begun. Not necessarily "fresh" or particularly "Christmas-y" by any means but it really was the only time of the year that I remember sniffing a box full of items that hadn't seen the light of day for a year. The bouquet was inviting. Warm plastic with a hint of stale dough (due to the fact that my mom kept many of my early pre-school dough ornaments). Among the aromas you could detect a fading sweet vanilla that was produced by a pair of candles shaped like skinny Santas that were probably poured a good 15 years before. A lot of the decorations that we had were very mod, a look that was completely lost on me in my youth. Also, for the first 12 years of my life or so, we would get a real tree and the smell of pine completely ran the show up to the point that it's pungent sap would drive me and my sister out of the room.
The real smell of Christmas came when my mom cracked open her Good Housekeeping Holiday cook book and began the seemingly non-stop conveyor belt of goodies. Most prominently featured were the cookie family. Snicker doodles, sugar cookies in the shapes of bells and trees that were covered with sweet icing and silver candy balls, and the ultimate "you gotta wait a year for this" cookie, the Stained Glass cookie. This was a treat that was so special it was understood that you could only ask for it within the range of the week of Christmas for its presence heralded the official infection of Christmas giddiness. The wonderfuly interesting thing about these cookies was despite our excitement, they were horrible!!!!!
Let's face it, most holiday candy is horrible. It usually consists of that ribbon candy that was invented by our forefathers and that only people who are 100 years old still buy, lots and lots of chocolatey stuff completely drowned in coconut. Why is it that we have to represent winter and snow with coconut? wretch!!! Then there's candy that falls into the fondant category. Fondant is the dense marshmallow substance found in those chocolate assortments that you bite into and pass off as "uneaten" for the next purveyor. It can also be flavored many different ways such as cherry or covered in chocolate and nuts and coconut and whatever else you want to make your guests guess at. Coming in at breakneck speeds right next to the homemade fudges are the ubiquitous chocolate dipped ... whatever. Pretzels, chips, popcorn, maybe a mixture of all three. The Christmas season really brings out the creativity in people. But the most unique treat has to be the aforementioned Stained Glass Cookie.
No disrespect to my mother nor the tradition it represents but these cookies were visually appealing, something to parade around, to desire and want, but never to actually consume. Unless of course you liked the taste of burnt Orange Lifesavers and the feeling that your molars would be permanently stuck together. Let me explain.
The Stained Glass Cookie, not to get too elaborate about it, was a sugar cookie with space set aside for a hard candy of some kind that when baked would come out as this spectacular window of brilliantly colored glass suspended right in the middle of your cookie! For a kid who junked out on Colorforms and Shrinky Dinks, this was a Christmas tradition that I was glad to take part in. I can still remember the smell that these cookies would emit. Warm and fruity mixed with the scent of sweet sugar cookie. It filled the kitchen even as the cookies cooled on the rack. The problem with these cookies were their tendency to scortch or burn in the spots where the candy bubbled on the foil. If you got a flavor that in normal circumstances would cause your tastebuds to recoil in shock (Orange Lifesavers in particular always raped my tongue) in cookie form it would transform into something completely sour and hateful. The cookie with the Cherry Lifesaver in it would taste like burnt cough syrup and, not to harp on it too too much, the cookie with Orange Lifesaver in it would taste just like eating an orange peel. Yes, I said the peel. It was so lifelike! Add to this the fact that the candy would never completely return to its original chemical structure and instead of breaking in two would more or less bend and sway. Imagine a jolly rancher when it gets really thin and has a thing for clinging to your teeth. All of that to say this: these cookies ROCKED! If these wonderfully visual treats hadn't been a part of my Christmas growing up, it just wouldn't have been Christmas.
If you are brave enough to start your own tradition using Stained Glass Cookies, here is the recipe as told by Food Network. I was fearful of asking my mom for hers as she might actually want to know what I wanted with it, or worse ... she might take it as a hint and send me some!
Stained Glass Cookies
2 sticks butter
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
Assorted brightly colored, hard candies 1 (2 to 3-inch)
star cookie cutter
Special Equipment: 1 small triangle cookie cutter
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
In a mixer with a paddle attachment, cream the sugar and butter until smooth. Add the egg and the vanilla extract. Mix in the flour. Remove the dough from the mixer and press into a rectangular shape. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
Remove from the refrigerator and cut dough into 1/3. Roll out dough, 1 piece at a time to a 3/16-inch thickness. Cut out as many large stars as possible. Repeat with all of the dough. Cut a small triangle out of each the arms on each star.
Place the hard candy, by color, into small plastic bags. Place a towel over the bags and crush the candy with a meat mallet. Place all of the cookies on parchment lined sheet pans. In each of the triangle holes, fill with different colors of crushed hard candy. Bake in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes or until lightly golden brown, and the candy has melted.