Almost Famous Traditions

While they occur all year long, there is nothing like the end of the year’s traditions to tug at a person’s heartstrings. Which is odd when you think about it. Lots of folks have a tradition relating to say, the Fourth of July, but few get choked up about going to a certain park, eating certain foods, and watching certain lights. But make that the end of December and folks get all the “feels” about doing basically the same thing indoors.

I, of course, am speaking of myself mostly.

In the many years Mister Soandso and I have been a couple, the traditions have been adding up, all along the calendar. But the traditions in the fall and winter seem particularly heartstring-tugging as well as calorie-rich.

Because I love to feed people. And I’m not talking about opening up a bag of carrot sticks and popping off the lid to a tub of hummus. I’m talking foods marinated and basted, baked goods infused with liqueurs and glazed in sugary confections, drinks with grated nutmeg. All the things I would never do in the heat of July when a bowl of strawberries and Jello seems perfectly adequate.

It isn’t that I think July is no less special. It’s that there is something about cold weather nipping at noses and toeses that makes me feel like whipping up all the comfort foods I can to warm the bellies and hearts of the people I care about.

And that, of course, is at the heart of most of my “almost famous” traditions.

The winter of 1996 saw me struggling as a newly transplanted Minnesotan. The previous June I’d been excited to schlep our worldly goods and cat across the western states and relinquish my Oregon driver’s license. That excitement waned a bit as the first snows of the season fell on September 22nd. It mattered not one bit that those flakes wouldn’t stick. To my Oregonian way of thinking, snow in September was wrong. The locals laughed at me and my discomfort. I chafed, literally.

There were so many ways I felt discomforted that year. I was a newly minted teacher subbing when I could and working retail at night. I was an outsider in a land of “Minnesota Nice”. While I loved my new home, I missed the comfort of the familiar much like when you rearrange the living room furniture and love the new look, but repeatedly hit your shin on the table in the dark.

It was a snowy day in early December and I found myself in a Borders bookstore. I wandered and browsed and touched book spines. And as so often happens in life, I chanced upon something that changed things. I walked past a collection of books about computer languages and applications and there, laying at an angle to the other tidy stacks was a Christmas book. A Christmas book of recipes and crafts. It was a book of Christmas traditions emblazoned with a marked-down-price sticker.

I know not who left it there. But I like to think they left it there for me, the person as misplaced and unlike the others as that Christmas book.

IMG_3965I’ve made many of the recipes in that book but there are two that I make every year now for my family. Those pages bear the spatters and streaks of  17 years of me making foods that comforted me by making them to comfort my family. The pages also bear my scribbled notes as I adjusted the recipes to make them even better. And over the years, those recipes have become a solid part of my traditions. My husband’s family loves my Lemon Cake and Biggest says I make “Should Be Famous” rum balls. If you are a baker (or cook) you know how happy it can make you to create something that people love, that they look forward to eating every year. If you really love to bake and cook, you put a little bit of yourself into your creation and that is what I like to think folks love getting the most.

A few years ago I created a mini-tradition, just for me. I decided I would send rum balls to people. I tweeted that the first folks to DM me their address would receive some of my rum balls. The first year I mailed out 4 boxes. The next year I mailed 7 (I couldn’t turn away that late DM!). This year I mailed out 6 boxes to writers who are part of my 2012.

Six dozen rum balls mailed all over the US and part of Canada to people who somehow made me smile in 2012. Six boxes of a bit of me to give back to those people who gave me hope even if they didn’t know that’s what they did.

Now these rum balls are pretty good. Perhaps Biggest is right and they should be famous. Heck, perhaps they’re “Almost Famous” by now. I’ve given them away and I’ve auctioned them off. But I’ve never, ever given away the recipe. Because baking and cooking for other people is like giving them a piece of me that only I can give. I’m happy to share the products but my secret recipes I keep all to myself.

But this year I’m mailing my rum ball recipe to someone. Perhaps in her hands she will roll an even better rum ball. Perhaps she won’t.

I’ve decided that perhaps giving the tradition is as important as giving the product. None of us knows when we will make our last batch of rum balls. Perhaps sharing secret recipes is the best tradition we can create. My rum balls and I may always be only “almost famous” to a small group of folks, but at least by making and sharing them, I’ve created a tradition of comforting that will live far longer than me.