Christmas Cookies (a gift for my readers)

The Miracle of Christmas Cookies

It’s December 1, and today we are going to visit my nonna Mimi, who is my mother’s mother. When I see her, it’s like she came out of a storybook with her emerald green eyes that shine like the northern lights, her smile full of warmth, her silver hair that tells the story of the years that have passed, but “not in vain”, like she always says. Oh, by the way, I’m Lily, and today I’m going to tell you why I am looking forward to Christmas.

Although much of the meaning of the magic and spirit of Christmas has been lost, my nonna Mimi made sure that I understood it’s importance, and she taught me to “feel and live” Christmas. Many of you will find this a bit corny, but be patient, keep reading, and then you can tell me if you are captured by the sweetness of Christmas.

Every December 1 my family, including my father, Giuseppe Brentano, my mother, Giorgia Angelo, and me, Lily Brentano Di Angelo, go to my nonna Mimi’s house to make cookies. It’s a tradition she inherited from her mother and her nonna, “The Great Italian Family”.

Nonna Mimi told me that to make tasty and special cookies, you need high quality ingredients, and when she says, “high quality,” they aren’t just any ingredients. She went to the local Nashville-area farms – oops! I forgot to tell you that I live in Nashville, Tennessee and, I LOVE my city! It’s a little exaggerated, but people from the South are like that – always looking for the freshest and healthiest ingredients.

Nonna Mimi has a very nice way of addressing people, and everyone loves her even though they don’t know her. In her seventy years, she has the energy of a woman of fifty and the character of a military general – during war. I’m sorry grandma Mimi, but I had to say it, but I love you and you know it’s true.

My mom, Giorgia, is a CIA agent. No, she is not really a CIA agent, but whenever I go out with my friends, she acts as if she was. And according to my friends, I’m a little bit “special”, and what I mean by that is that I prefer to go to the library, sit on the floor, and transport myself to distant places, being a part of the adventures of each book I read. Sometimes, when I close a book and look around, I say to myself, “Oh no, I’m still here in the library!” – because I identify myself so much with the characters that sometimes I feel like I am the princess, the ancient warrior, or the magic fairy. In the end, it’s just me, Lily Brentano Di Angelo.

My dad, Giuseppe, is a publisher of children books. He travels once a year to his native Italy to attend the Bologna Book Fair, bringing back the latest novelties from the bookstores for his “most beloved daughter”. My dad is my best friend, my accomplice, and my companion in my literary adventures.

Ok, back to the cookies, or rather, the Christmas cookie’s ingredients. Imagine for a moment a beautiful place on the outskirts of Nashville, where all the farmers display what they produce at the Nashville Farmer’s Market. There the aromas of fresh butter, bread, cakes, pies, eggs, cheeses, and jam, are all blended together. Yum! Sorry, for a moment I was transported back there – does that ever happen to you?

Ok, anyway, back to my story. Already have chosen and bought the perfect ingredients, we went back home, but not without tasting some delicious croissants from Maison Chace. My parents and I were huge fans of these croissants. Like my dad always says, veramente squisiti (truly exquisite).

Back at the house, my nonna put the ingredients on the kitchen table and gave all of us, including my dad, some funny green hats with reindeer antlers, some red aprons with Santa’s face, and green Crocs to match. My dad, with a disgusted look, asked my nonna, “Is this really necessary?” and my nonna, in her most Sicilian manner, responded, “Do it like it’s supposed to be done or don’t do it. There is only one option, just do it!” she ordered, like a military General in battle so my dad wouldn’t dare question that again.

All of us, in “uniform” ready to begin, each one with a bowl in hand, and my nonna in the middle directing the order of the ingredients:

260 grams of flour: Gently sift the flour. This is very important, the gentleness with which we do it can make miracles happen!

100 grams of brown sugar: Christmas’ sweetness should be included in this ingredient because without sweetness, it’s better not to make them at all. When my nonna refers to the sweetness, it’s the amount of affection and kindness that each one adds to these cookies.

5 grams baking soda: This ingredient is very important because it will make the cookies perfectly soft – “au point”. It’s like loving words we say to each person in need of our help, softening them with those words.

1 teaspoon of cinnamon: Yum, what an aroma, what flavor! My nonna says that this ingredient heals all the pain from the year, healing any wound, however deep it may be, in the body and in the soul.

1 teaspoon of ginger powder: This root is very important because it comes from the earth and collects all of Mother Nature’s power and balances us. That’s why a little pinch of ginger can harmonize people, a main characteristic of Christmas.

1 pinch of salt: My nonna explained to us that if there’s not balance between rigour and love, nothing can work. This is the job of salt, to balance the flavors by integrating them all in harmony, with peace and love.

1 egg: Next, she told us to beat an egg on a plate with a fork, not with the blender because the heat from your hands and the fork’s movement infuses the enthusiasm and joy into the cookies. Then, add the beaten eggs to the previous dry ingredients.

150 grams of butter: Finally, the most important touch. Nonna explained to us that butter is the result of the transformation and miraculous mutation of milk cream into something superior. She wanted us to understand that to transform an ordinary object into something superior was very important. That nothing will change within us without changing hate into love, pain into happiness, impatience into calm, and so on. The butter should be soft, and we should beat it with our hands until it’s creamy. Once it’s creamy, mix it well with the rest of the ingredients until you get a smooth and homogenous mixture. She told us that we should knead it, infusing into it the most beautiful and elevated aspirations of our heart, and then she began singing:

“Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel
Born is the King of Israel!

They looked up and saw a star
Shining in the East beyond them far
And to the earth it gave great light
And so it continued both day and night.
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel
Born is the King of Israel!”

We all began to sing with her, and I felt it in my heart as each ingredient was having an effect on my family. My nonna smiled at me because she understood in that moment what I was feeling. She told us that we just added the most important ingredient. The three of us looked at each other because we hadn’t added anything else, but she was referring to the special moment that we had created with the song.

Now we had to place a dish cloth over the dough to let it set so that the Christmas Spirit could impregnate the dough. Next, my nonna brought us the cookie cutters: small trees, snowmen, reindeer, etc. Each one made their cookies to perfection. We lined the trays with paper and butter and we arranged the cookies to put in the oven at 180 degrees Celsius for 20 minutes. After that, they were ready to cool and decorate.

And then came the most exciting part, the decoration of the cookies! Nonna prepared the icing with sugar, egg whites and lemon, filling the pastry bags with different colors and each one was fancifully placed on the cookies. When we finished, we delicately placed the cookies in the baskets so they wouldn’t get damaged.

All of our neighbors appreciated the kindness of our family when we brought them the cookies, but something happened that I was not expecting. We went to Michael Clawson’s house, the most popular boy in the school. Michael and his friends called me “Braids” since I was young, and that really bothered me.

I told my nonna that I would stay in the car, but she wouldn’t let me, saying that I should be with everyone, and that Mrs. Clawson was a very good friend, and her son was a great kid.

“What?! A great kid? He is the biggest jokester in the whole school and what is more he believes he can have any girl he wants. No! Absolutely not!” But my nonna insisted and the door to the Clawson’s house opened, and there he was. The popular boy, Michael Clawson, with those sky-blue eyes, chestnut hair, and that gorgeous smile that I…. “What! What am I saying? Lily Brentano Di Angelo! What are you thinking?! It’s Michael you’re talking about. Wake up!”

My thoughts were interrupted because Michael greeted my nonna and me.

“Mrs. Di Angelo and… Braids, how are you? What can I do for you?” before I could respond, Mrs. Clawson greeted my nonna with such enthusiasm that I did not get the chance to respond to Michael.

The conversation between the two seemed like it wouldn’t end, but when they finished, my nonna had the “great” idea to invite Michael to come with us to visit The Children’s Hospital at TriStar Centennial. I told my nonna we didn’t need help, but he smiled at me and said he would gladly do it. I was shocked. It was clearly an attack on my family, on my dignity and my braids.

Michael grabbed his jacket and accessories, and I was wondering what was meant by “accessories.” In 15 seconds, Michael returned with the same green hat with antlers, Santa apron, and green shoes. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, my own nonna planned everything against me. This is definitely treason, and it couldn’t be forgiven. My indignation was such that I turned and went directly to the car.

My father was driving the car, my mother was by his side and my nonna, the traitor, was behind me and the conceited one. We arrived at the hospital and my father told us that we should not forget the children’s books that were in the storage room. We arrived at a room where there was a very small child with a double ear infection, shortness of breath, and was coughing a lot. His name was Denver and his mother Amber, who was the entrepreneur owner of the famous “Native in Nashville” t-shirts, of which I was a fan. She left everything for her child. My nonna told me that the love of a mother was incomprehensible, that God blesses all mothers with that great love and strength to overcome any difficulty.

It occurred to me to read him an adaptation of Dickens’ Christmas Story. I started reading the story, and Denver smiled with gestures and faces. I moved from one place to the other trying to explain to the little boy the meaning of the story. Michael kept reading without any warning. Again, I was shocked and couldn’t believe my eyes: our high school’s conceited Michael Clawson, reading a storybook.

Michael finished his story and everyone present in the room, the nurses, my nonna, Amber, and even Denver, gave a round of applause for his reading. Michael approached me and said in my ear, “You didn’t expect that, did you Braids?” In that moment, I felt a jolt in my whole body and breathed deeply so that neither Michael nor my nonna would notice, but I think it was too late. I was smiling like a fool in front of everyone, like a typical teenager. I just wanted to disappear.

Mrs. Amber and her child Denver thanked us for the visit and the reading saying, “Guys, you are great and you make a very good couple”. I only gave a half smile, while Michael thanked her. After leaving the hospital, Michael put his arm on my shoulders and said:

“You see Braids, you and I are good at something,” and then he went to the car.

I also got into the car without looking at him, my nonna in the middle of the two of us and she took our hands, joined them and said:

“Thanks guys, it was quite a nice thing to read for those small children. We brought them magic, love and joy, and that is the most important thing. That is the miracle of Christmas that is permeating our hearts.” My nonna had a very sweet way of expressing herself. I had already forgotten her betrayal and now I understood that everything was for the good of these small children. I have the privilege of spending Christmas with my family, but many will not be able to do so.

My nonna gave us some cookies, and Michael said he had never tasted such delicious cookies, and that he felt a tingling in his throat every time he swallowed. My nonna replied that this was the magic of Christmas cookies – that each person experienced them differently because they gave each one what they needed.

When we arrived home, my nonna invited Michael to a cup of chocolate, which he gladly accepted, and I oddly liked the idea. I do not know myself really, a few hours ago I didn’t even want to think about him, and now he seemed like a nice guy. It must be the hormones that made me change my mind so quickly. Well, it’s understandable. I am in that conflicting and emotionally changing age. If you are fifteen, you know what I mean.

We stood in front of the fireplace and my nonna brought us the delicious cups of foamy chocolate with cinnamon. We were talking about my father’s travels, and nonna told us her stories in Italy, and my mother joined in as usual (like she always did), as a CIA agent in action, but less intensely. I think she also liked Michael, but just like me, she didn’t want to admit it.

Suddenly night came and Michael excused himself to leave. I wanted him to stay. Really! What’s happening to me? Lily Brentano Di Angelo, who could understand you, she wondered. Michael asked me if I could accompany him to the gate, to which I gladly accepted. Hormones, cut it out, you’re betraying me. We reached the gate, and we were still enjoying the Christmas cookies, when Michael took my hands and said:

“Thank you, Lily, I have had a wonderful afternoon with your family, especially with you.” My legs trembled. In that moment, Michael held me in his arms and kissed me on the cheek. All of a sudden, my survival instinct, or I don’t know what, made me react, and I slapped him on the face. He stared at me perplexed by what I had just done. My nonna and my mom were peeking out the window, and my mother, with a cry of triumph, exclaimed: “That’s my daughter!”

Then, Michael, while I was finishing the last bite of magic Christmas cookies, gave me a sweet and wonderful kiss on the lips, and my nonna said: “That is my neighbor.”

I was stunned, and I only felt bits of cookies and his delicate lips on mine. Then he looked at me and asked,

“Lily Brentano Di Angelo, do you want to be my girlfriend?” With a silly smile on my face, I answered, “Yes.” What? You said yes, Lily? Don’t trust yourself, it’s your hormones, I repeated to myself. But there was something that wouldn’t let me say a word; those blue eyes, that wonderful smile. Michael came close again and gave me a kiss on the forehead and said, “It was the most delicious kiss ever, with a Christmas cookie flavor.” He turned around and went home.

I stood like a snowman stuck to the ground, unable to move and didn’t understand what had happened. My nonna came out to me, gave me a hug and whispered in my ear, “Now you believe in the miracle of Christmas cookies.” I looked at her and said, “Nonna, I think your cookies are magical, and today they made several miracles, not only for me but for everyone who tasted them. Thanks. Nonna, today I have learned many good and magical things thanks to you.”

I think that’s enough for today. I just wanted to tell you why Christmas cookies are so special for me, and how we are sometimes wrong about other people. Christmas is a time to love, a time to forgive, a time to face changes and new opportunities. Let yourself feel the spirit of Christmas. I invite you to make this delicious Christmas cookie recipe by my nonna.

As for Michael, we’re still together, but I’ll tell you about that another time.

Merry Christmas everyone

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