We are three sisters united in our search for the divine - in food, libation, literature, art, and nature. This blog will capture the true, sometimes decadent, at times humorous, and every so often transcendent adventures of the Salvation Sisters.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Remembrances of Holidays Past and Our Family's Sugar Cookies

The Memory Keepers by Michelle

"Remembrance of things past is not necessarily the remembrance of things as they were." 
                                                                                                          ~Marcel Proust


   Here I sit in a booth upholstered in red faux alligator pleather, inside a popular restaurant in Tucson. A Grammy award winning song by Adele, that I’ve probably heard a million times, blares overhead. I wish I had a buck for each time I’ve listened to it so I could be a millionaire, too. While I sit and wait for my Chicken Pine Nut Gorgonzola Salad to be delivered to my table, I’m experiencing a rare moment alone to sit and think and contemplate the busy month ahead wondering how I’m going to get everything done for the holidays while working full-time. There are presents to buy, meals to plan, bathrooms to clean, floors to mop, seemingly never-ending loads of wash to process and then fold, a tree to decorate, a limping KitchenAid mixer that needs to be fixed or replaced (really bad timing), a dog to groom, parties to attend, a tradeshow to exhibit at, cookies to bake (without a mixer), a play to attend and among other things new music to be discovered and downloaded. (My daughter said that if she has to listen to Pink Martini’s Christmas album one more time she’ll go insane.)

     I remember very fondly the Christmases spent at my Nana and Papa’s posh home in Redlands, California. Their futuristic sixties house, nestled in the hills, featured floor to ceiling windows that beautifully framed the city below and the lights that sparkled at night. The modern kitchen with turquoise counters and black appliances looked like it was inspired by the cartoon The Jetson’s. The refrigerator was three separate mini refrigerators that hung over a work surface. There was a double oven and a bar. The small kitchen dining area overlooked the rose garden. Every Christmas our family would ooh and ahh over Nana’s decorations and meals, and especially her popcorn balls, individually wrapped in plastic wrap and tied with brightly-hued curling ribbons. Nana would always half-jokingly bemoan the effort, and say by way of lament, “I worked my crock off.” I can picture the dismissive waive of her immaculately manicured hands, nails painted brilliant red, diamond rings flashing.


   What I really want this Christmas is to have my grandparents back. I want to enter their sophisticated and familiar house, while I take in the smell of roasting turkey and marvel at the Asian-inspired, decorated and flocked tree. I want to hear the player piano play old standards, listen to ice cubes jump in a crystal high ball glass, see my parents together, hear my sisters laughing, and hug my cousins. But as we all know, there is no going back. I only wish I appreciated everything more at the time, while we were all together. Now my parents are divorced, and I keep in touch with cousins via Facebook. My sisters stay at their respective houses due to work conflicts, and whatever Christmas gets put together is largely up to me with some help from my husband and daughter.

Hand crafted tin ornaments are popular in the Southwest.

I still have ornaments that Linda made by hand over 30 years ago.

Why have one Christmas tree...

...when I can have two. Scratch that... I really have four!

   My annual holiday battle begins right after Thanksgiving and lasts well into the first week of the New Year. Not only does Christmas need to be unfurled, but Christmas must be sorted and boxed for the next year as well. I remember as a teenager I had the luxury of focusing on one project at a time. I patiently made our family’s sugar cookies every year, cutting the dough into shapes, baking and then decorating with homemade frosting and a variety of sprinkles from sanding sugar to chocolate shavings.

   So, it warms my heart and makes me feel less like a lady Grinch when I see the photos of my daughter in this post that I captured last December. I feel the joy of how she has grown into a young adult over the last twelve months. The braces are off and she cut her hair, donating the ponytail to Locks of Love. Among her accomplishments, Maddie earned her second degree black belt in karate and passed her driver’s test. She’s studying for her SATs. It occurs to me as I sit here in this pizzeria bistro, listening to Don't Turn Around by Ace of Base, that she’ll be off to college all too soon (for my husband and me, that is).  I need to remind myself that I’m creating memories, hopefully cherished holiday memories, which she can happily reflect upon for many, many years to come. But, first, I will need to work my crock off, and apparently while not listening to Pink Martini. Bummer. I for one, really like that cheerful Christmas album.

Our Family's Sugar Cookies

   These cookies keep very well in air tight tins or containers. We prefer to "frost" the cookies with icing and while the icing is still wet, liberally shower the cookies with decoratifs, such as: sanding sugar, colored sprinkles, chocolate vermicelli or crushed candies. Let the icing dry thoroughly before storing.
   If you are feeling particularly industrious, you may feel compelled to make the Royal Icing in two consistencies: thicker and thinner. The thicker icing is put into a pastry bag. Using a #2 tip, evenly pipe the icing along the perimeter of the cookie. Then, a thinner icing is used to "flood" the cookie inside the "border". This two step icing procedure makes for very professional looking cookies. For our photos here, we just slathered on the frosting with a knife for a homemade look, which I like.

1 cup unsalted butter or 227g, at room temperature
1-1/2 cups or 288g granulated sugar
3 large or extra large eggs, at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
3-1/2 cups or 420g sifted all purpose flour
2 tsps cream of tarter
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp sea salt

Royal Icing, makes about 2-1/2 cups:
3 Tbsps meringue powder
4 cups or 480g sifted confectioners' sugar, or more to thicken icing
1 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tsps vanilla extract
4 to Tbsps warm water

1. For the cookies: Cream softened butter by gradually adding sugar and beating until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition. Stir in vanilla.
2. Sift dry ingredients together and add gradually to creamed mixture. Divide dough in half and flatten into two discs. Wrap each disc separately in plastic wrap and chill thoroughly, about 3 to 4 hours.
3. Preheat oven to 375°F. Remove one dough disc from the refrigerator. Dust a work surface with flour. Remove and discard plastic wrap. Roll the dough to and even thickness of about 1/8 to 1/4-inch. Cut the dough into desired shapes and place on ungreased cookie sheets. Bake cookies for 6 to 8 minutes until done. Do not over bake or the cookies will be dry. Cool slightly on cookie sheet and finish cooling on racks.
4. For the Royal Icing:  Beat all ingredients until icing forms peaks, about 7 to 10 minutes with a standing mixer set to medium and 10 to 12 minutes with a hand mixer at high speed. If icing is too thick, add more water; if it is too thin, add more sugar. The icing may be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Makes 3 cups.
5. Frost the cookies and decorate as desired.

What?! No sugar cookie for moi?


  1. Aloha cousin Michelle. I just want to tell you how much this post took me back and I must admit that I am feeling some what melancholic. I, being so much closer in age to your Mom, go even farther back, remembering "Christmas's Past" when your wonderful Nana and Papa lived on Fern Avenue, and Alvarado Street, in Redlands. My family lived kitty corner to them, so I spent many a wonderful time in that beautiful manse. In no way, would I ever be able to relate all of the festivities, and the beauty of the events that included so many who are gone, but dearly remembered by those of us, still here. I remember, most vividly, that Santa Clause would stop by on Christmas Eve, ringing his sleigh bells and shouting his Ho Ho Ho's. I would immediately start to cry, as I was terrified of that bearded old elf. Your Mom, Uncle Pat, and all who were gathered did their best to allay my fears. I could go on and on, but I will spare you any more of my diatribe. I will just sit here and return to those memories, on the reel to reel films that are still vivid in my mind. I hope that one day, we can all sit down, here in Hawaii, and reminisce together. You all have a standing invitation to come and stay in my home, and view the beauty that is my island home ~~ Beautiful Kaua`i.

    1. Auntie… thank you so much for sharing your memories of our family gatherings. I remember the house on Fern and Alvarado so well. The giant palm on the corner, the "candy tree" (which was really a large crepe myrtle) that Papa used to pretend to pluck the candies from for we little girls, the little room off the landing on the stairs, and the beautiful porch and river rock detailing. Christmas was so beautiful in that house, though my memories are dim since I think I was about six when Nana and Papa moved to the house on Vinton Way that Michelle reminisces about. The memories in that house are bright and shiny… like it happened only yesterday.
      This Christmas season is turning out to be not so light and gay for us. I am sorry to report that Mom became suddenly very, very ill and has had to be moved into a nursing facility temporarily until she is back on her feet (literally) just this past week. Michelle, being the one who lives nearby is trying to take care of Mom, do her job, and have a family holiday… not to mention all the other thousand and one responsibilities that she has. I am feeling guilty and stressed at not being able to be there, and I am so worried for Mom. This is the worst possible time for me to try to take time off since my job is selling people groceries for their holidays. So we are praying hard for Mom, and that the reason for the serious back pain that she is suffering if found and alleviated. We would appreciate being included in your prayers, also. Much love to you and your family, and I truly do hope that we will all be reunited soon. A Merry Christmas to you all.

  2. Christmas 2014 will be here in a few days. I just read those precious letters and this blog for the first time. I went home in January thankfully. Michelle not only had a beautiful Christmas and watched over me, but her father in law passed away on Dec. 28. She was cooking and entertaining all of the Owens clan who were able to be with their father until his passing. Juliette was also able to come and lend a hand. Family is such a blessing. All of my life I have experienced the most glorious Christmas celebrations. Thanks to ALL of the fantastic women in my family. My mother in law as also so very talented. So my girls got a double dose of those genes. Thanks for the memories in this blog, and loved hearing from Cousin Joyce. DeDe

  3. I just loved reading this and remembering Auntie and Unkies beautiful home. It brought tears to my eyes of such beautiful people and wonderful memories. I loved the music they would play on the hi-fi and their wonderful laughs. Thank you for helping me to remember beautiful times. Merry Christmas dear family!

  4. I love your photos! And such a wonderful, holiday memory.


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