December 26, 2013



I was the kid who wept Christmas night. How could it be over so soon? The twinkling lights, the endless, wishful lists, the scent of ginger and cinnamon, of damp fur coats and Channel No. 5. My mother and aunts dressed in their finest for Christmas Eve brunch at 2:00 am at my grandfather's home following Midnight Mass. He was a Christmas maestro. Short man, and plump, a New Jersey state senator, he wore a gray suit with striped vest, gold pocket watch, a pince nez perched on his beak of a nose. This self-taught pianist played carols as we entered his sweeping home. In the entrance hall, an artificial white Christmas tree glowed with red bulbs on the balcony right off the dining room. His table set for twenty of us -- aunts and uncles and cousins, the Arch Bishop, friends -- gleamed with silver against the starched white linen, readied for the smoked salmon, rye toast, poached eggs, orange marmalade, ham and sweet rolls. We trundled home before sunrise, lifted from the couches where we'd  curled up and placed in the back seat of the warming station wagon.

Christmas Day at my mother's mother's, a staunch Episcopalian, was a much stiffer affair -- roast beef, potatoes au gratin. The adults sipped Sherry from tiny glasses, milk for the children in fat tumblers. (Did I mention that Christmas Eve, the kids were poured a little red wine with water in the wine goblets). Christmas dessert was always, always plum pudding with hard sauce. While the adults drifted off to the living room to smoke, we kids snuck into the attic's collection of ladies' button down shoes, a doll house with real electric lights and teeny braided rugs, musty volumes of Winnie the Pooh. We'd horse around with the crutches my uncle needed after the war, and rifle through issues of National Geographic's looking for naked African women.

Thank God for Boxing Day. It celebrates left-overs and keeps festivities alive. Like every mother and wife at Christmas, I admit I'm exhausted. But, I'm never quite ready to quit.

Gingerbread is the cake to celebrate the end of Christmas celebrations. It's
simple and innocent, dark, and mysterious. Rich, spicy comfort this time of year.

Makes 1-9 inch square cake
Serve with spiked whipped cream

1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup softened butter
1 egg
1 molasses
2-1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup hot water
1/2 cup chopped crystalized ginger

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 9-inch square pan. IN a large bowl, cream together the sugar and butter. Beat in the egg, then the molasses. In a separate bowl, stir together the flour, baking soda, spices and salt. Stir this into the creamed mixture then stir in the hot water. Pour into the prepared pan. Sprinkle the crystalized ginger over the top. Bake until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean, about 1 hour. Cool in the pan before cutting into squares.