Christmas

happy_christmanukkah.jpgI was never walked into a temple. Never. Not by my dad, the Jew. I thought being Jewish meant eating lox, bagel & cream cheese in a deli. Because that’s what my dad, the non-religious Jew told me. When we ate at Nate n’ Al’s, he would announce loudly as he seemed to be pointing to the food, “We’re Jews!!!”

I sang with my friend Cindy Lou Carlson in her church for the Christmas pageant. Those rehearsals alone put me in a church more times than I was ever in a temple – at least until my kids and step-kids became B’nai Mitzvah.

I’m assuming my mom was some sort of Christian, but your guess is as good as mine. She never walked us into a church and never spoke of any religion. So, there you go, two parents – one gentile, one Jewish – who offered zero religious guidance. We called ourselves half-and-half. This was pretty commonplace in Beverly Hills, though each family would often choose a side and go to temple or church. Christmas or Chanukah.

We celebrated Christmas, tree and all. Show business was up and down and some years we had big-time gifts. The trees were bigger in those years. At other times we might have skimpy trees with few gifts.

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pizzelle1.jpgMy grandmother, Nan, loved to receive shirt boxes at Christmas every year. Not shirts, just the boxes. After Christmas, my mom and I would bring them over her house, where she would stack them in a closet, then insist we sit down at the kitchen table and have something to eat.

Wondering what she did with all those boxes? She used them store her pizzelle cookies. She needed a lot of boxes because she made a lot of pizzelles – for birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays. It's not just my grandmother, all Italians enjoy them for celebrations.

Pizzelles are round Italian waffle-like cookies made from flour, sugar, eggs, and butter and are typically flavored with anise or vanilla. The name pizzelle comes from the Italian pizze, meaning "flat" or "round."

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turos-tezta-001a-1024x682My Hungarian grandma came to the United States when she was just a teenager. Her husband came before her to find a place for them to settle. She left her family behind to travel to a land of opportunity where she and her young husband believed they could create a better life for their family. Young Rose arrived with their first-born, a son, who was still a baby. I’ve often wondered what it was like for my grandma to be in a strange country, a place where she could barely communicate with the people around her and where she had no family or friends, just her Hungarian husband.

Over the years, Rose’s family grew as she and her husband ran their own boarding house and restaurant in Chicago. One day, when their four sons and one daughter were still very young, Rose’s husband decided to leave. He wanted to go back to “the old country.” Eventually, the strong and very hard-working single mother married again. She and her second husband, Paul, had one more son and one more daughter. They moved to a farm in Indiana to raise their seven children. Their daughter, Rosemary, the baby of the family, became my mom.

The five sons and two daughters grew into adults and moved away from their Indiana home, but I do not remember even one Christmas when they were not all together at the farm to celebrate together, coming back each year with spouses and children of their own.

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strawberryguavas.jpgWhat is the complete opposite of Christmas cookies? I just did some research; turns out that the complete opposite of a Christmas cookie is a strawberry guava. It's no wonder this sexy fruit is native to Brazil, the land of beautiful bronzed bodies and gorgeous beaches. Everything about a strawberry guava says, "look at me."

Eating a strawberry guava is a memorable sensory experience. First it entices you with its intoxicating perfume of ripe summer strawberries and tart pink grapefruit. Its butter cup yellow rind is smooth and soft to the touch, evoking warmth and sunshine. One bite of a strawberry guava will make you understand why it's called "exotic." The creamy, fruity flesh is the color of roses, while the flavor is a beautiful combination of tangy, sweet grapefruit, juicy, ripe strawberries, and late summer grapes.

Most U.S. guavas are grown in Hawaii and Florida, though the strawberry guavas you see here were grown in Southern California and generously given to me by our friend, Adel. These strawberry guavas have a pastel yellow skin yet also come in bright red or deep purple. When buying strawberry guavas or any variety of guava really, look for a fragrant fruit that is free of blemishes and soft to the touch. Hold it in your hand, and give it a gentle squeeze; it should give slightly, being neither too hard nor too squishy.

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From the L.A. Times

marshmellows.jpgConsidering everybody on your holiday gift list – friends, family, co-workers, neighbors, your kids' teachers – you might be needing a stimulus package before you even get to the big-ticket items this year. So why not take a page from your grandmother's playbook and make the smaller gifts yourself?

Not only are homemade gifts less expensive, they also capture the spirit of holiday giving in a way that purchased gifts simply can't. And if you consider the ubiquitous traffic and holiday crowds, a leisurely morning spent baking breadsticks or whipping up a batch of homemade marshmallows seems positively Zen-like by comparison.

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