My mother used the scent of cinnamon, cider, and coffee beans to wake those who hadn't already been dragged out of bed by small children. Dressing was a necessary distraction before quick stepping to the dining room where Christmas Breakfast awaited across a table that sported two extra leaves for the occasion. It was a sight to behold, a true southern spread on Christmas morning.
Arriving family swelled the crowd around the table. After coffee fortification and gossip over egg casserole, ham biscuits, and ambrosia, we allowed sugar amped children to tow us to an eye popping Santa sized pile of gifts around the tree.
The look of largesse testified to the number of people gathered, because there were just a couple of gifts from Santa for each of the kids and one for the adults, based on a name draw done around Thanksgiving. Since my husband and I were holiday house guests, we exchanged our family gifts as well.
My mother was not a supporter of the ready-set-go chaos which had dominated at my grandmother's house during her reign as matriarch. By decree, gift giving progressed from youngest to oldest, one present at a time, so all could admire the gift before it was engulfed by the wasteland of shredded wrapping paper that my father liked to ball up and free throw toward the open fireplace. Bounce outs didn't count unless they were flaming at the time, sending mother into conniptions, flapping around with a tea towel. My father and brothers firmly agreed that was what the hearth rug was for.
I fell somewhere in the middle of the age range that year. A parent of two little guys, but below my own parents, their siblings, and assorted cousins. When my name came up, my smiling husband thrust his gift out, a small box - the kind that says oooh, jewelry!
We'd had a five year anniversary right before the holidays, and it was also my birthday the following week, so I thought this might account for the grin and the size of the box. It was touching, as he had never bought jewelry for me, not even a wedding band. Sitting on the floor next to him, pleasure and felicity bubbled up, which was rare, and delightful.
I looked up at family watching expectantly as I unwrapped a tiny silk, oriental patterned box, then glanced at him as I opened it. I slowly lifted the lid and peered into the box.
It was empty.
He reached over and offered a note that said, "To My Wife, Buy Anything You Want, Love F."
I blinked. Uncomfortable titters moved around the room, Mother jumped up for coffee refills.
For what it was worth, our matching dual incomes were modest, so the idea of anything I wanted was out of the question but the reality was, if I wanted to buy myself jewelry, I didn't need my husband's permission to do it.
Deeply red faced, I sank the box under the clutter and we moved on wordlessly. Looking back, I suppose he would have liked to have been killed on the spot to avoid the embarassment and the private guy-teasing that went on for several years after.
As for me, this moment underscored the importance and meaning of mindful giving.
My mother's gift on Christmas morning was a good reminder of what that meant. It was the food she prepared from her heart and the table she set for our pleasure. She nurtured family and friends with tradition. Not just the family gathering she carried on after my grandparents could no longer lead, but also with dishes that had been the foundation of holiday memories in her childhood. She passed these on to us and later, to our children. Mindful gifts.
I began making my grandmother's Sour Cream Pound Cake standing on a chair by her side when I was 6 years old. I was allowed to participate only after I could read the recipe, a critical part of the success of any baking endeavor, according to Mother.
As in the Aesop's Fables of old, the moral of this story is, Love is in the details (so be sure to follow the recipe exactly!).
LULA'S SOUTHERN SOUR CREAM POUND CAKE
The cake originally gets it's name from the addition of a pound of each of these ingredients, but follow these measurements, rather than weight, for a perfect cake.
3 cups sifted flour (sift 2 times, then measure)
3 cups sugar
1 cup butter
1/4 t baking soda
6 eggs (separated)
1 cup sour cream
If you have a stand mixer, lucky you! A good hand mixer also works. Hand mixing is best left to a baker with a strong whipping arm!
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Grease and flour a large straight sided tube pan (a bundt pan is not recommended). The recipe makes a single large cake for a crowd, but you can also use loaf pans to make smaller gift sized portions for the holidays.
Cream butter and sugar together well
Add egg yolks one by one
Add soda to the sifted flour, pass through sifter one last time (yes, you have to)
Alternately add flour and sour cream to creamed mixture
Scrape sides and beater and stir into batter, set aside
To each his own way...
Beat egg whites until stiff, but not shiny
Gently fold into batter, lifting from underneath until incorporated
Pour into greased and floured tube pan and bake for 1 1/2 hours
Crust will be firm to touch. Remove from oven and turn cake out at once, flip back onto cake plate to cool.
When we choose a gift for someone, we bestow it with our well wishes and share our caring, along with the appreciation that is in our heart. So from my family to yours, I hope you will accept this gift and create a wonderful tradition for yourselves.
All the Best of the 2010 Holiday Season to my OS friends~
LET THEM EAT CAKE!