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Tuesday, December 4, 2012

My Holiday Memoir

 Holidays are a great springboard for writing. I want students to know how important it is to write about family traditions, rituals, and anecdotes. Memoir is the genre that helps us to do this.  Whether celebrating Hanukkah, Christmas, or Kwanzaa, take some time to preserve some holiday memories in writing. My next blog entry will feature a family writing activity. 

   December was my father's month. Dad worked out of the country for most of my childhood. When he could come home for his birthday and Christmas, it was like an extra present.
   One of my mother's goals every December during their 52 year marriage was to make sure that my dad never heard these words,  "This is your birthday present and your Christmas present, too."
   My mom wanted to make certain that dad enjoyed his birthday and Christmas as two distinct events.  "Your father cannot help the fact that he was born when he was born.  We want to make sure that he isn't shorted a holiday." My mother's mission to ensure my father's happiness was fueled by her compassionate heart.
   My paternal grandfather  passed away in 1922, when dad was 4. Dad moved with my grandmother from Atlanta, Georgia to live on her parents' farm in Natural Bridge, Alabama. Nathaniel and Emily Florence Edmonds were hardworking, no-nonsense people who knew how to weather hard times by doing without.   Christmas, in the 1930's, was a homemade stocking filled with oranges, nuts (in the shell, by the way), and some hard candy--in better years, a quarter and a couple of dimes.  "Ty, this is your birthday and your Christmas present," was a familiar phrase.  For dad, oranges, nuts and hard candy were a truly big deal.  Each present was eaten slowly and savored.
   When dad recalled these times as an adult, he spoke of his grandpa telling stories in front of the fireplace and of his grandma sewing every shirt he ever wore.  He never had a birthday cake, a special dinner or a party.  His childhood Decembers held memories of hard but treasured times.  For my sweet fairy of a mother (we call her Tinker Bella), a birthday without a celebration was unimaginable.  She was driven to give dad the birthdays he'd never had as a child.
   Mom's determination led to a t-chart sort of approach to pull off her often grand schemes for Dad's December.   There were rules:  birthday presents had to be in birthday wrapping paper; Christmas presents in holiday paper. Birthday presents had to be free of Christmas themes.  A duck decoy or fishing lures were appropriate for dad's birthday.  But candy canes and a red tie, those were for Christmas.  And, while our friends got to put up their tree after Thanksgiving, we had to wait until after December 15 or later, depending on whether dad's birthday fell on a weekend or a week day.
    Dad's birthday bash was usually buffet-style.  Mom made a big Italian cream birthday cake. The grownups were all dressed up.  Dad worked in Naval Intelligence so most of the men wore uniforms or suits and the women wore their winter chintz dresses and pearls. There was always music and sometimes dancing.   In an over-the-top gesture, Mom hired a harpist to play--once and only once--not dad's style, to be certain.  He preferred the hi-fi.
   At age 90, my mother still makes Italian cream cake for her grandchildren.  She recalls, "Your dad used to crack the nuts for me.  He was really too busy but he did it to please me. Now, I don't own a nutcracker because they sell the nutmeats pre-packaged at the supermarket. Store-bought walnuts are not quite as flavorful as the black walnuts that dad used to get from the farm in Alabama. They were hard to shell but delicious. He would sit in the kitchen and talk to me while he cracked nuts for my baking. When TV got bigger and better, we didn't talk as much."
   My dad would have been 94 this month. Happy birthday, Dad.  xxoo

Here's the recipe for Italian cream cake (it's very rich so one cake feeds about 12).  Enjoy!  Happy holidays to all of our Esperero families. 


Cake Batter
2 cups of sifted cake flour
2 cups of sugar
1 stick of butter
1/2 cup of shredded coconut
1 cup of finely chopped walnuts
5 egg Whites (beat until stiff peaks)
5 egg Yolks
1/2 cup of olive oil
1 cup of buttermilk
1 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract
1 teaspoon of baking soda

Cake Icing
8 oz of cream cheese
1 stick of unsalted butter
1 teaspoon of buttermilk
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
8 oz of powdered sugar

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
Grease and flour 3 round cake pans.

1. Cream butter with sugar and add vanilla.
2. Next add 5 separated egg yolks and 1/2 cup of olive oil – mix and beat until fluffy.
3. In a separate bowl combine dry ingredients: Sifted flour and the baking soda.
4. Add the dry ingredients to the mixture a little at a time alternating with the buttermilk (about 1/4 cup at a time).
5. Next mix in walnuts and coconut.
6. In another bowl beat the egg whites until you have stiff peaks.
7. With a spatula gently fold in your egg whites into the batter by making the figure 8 pattern.
8. Spoon the batter into your 3 pans and make them as even as you can.
9. Bake until light brown and for about 30 to 60 minutes (use a toothpick in the center and make sure no batter is on the stick).
10. Once the cakes are done pull them out and let them cool.
11. After they cool place the cakes on parchment and use a brush to dust off the crumbs (easier to ice).
12. Next Cream all of the ingredients together for the icing in this order: cream cheese, butter, buttermilk,vanilla extract, and powdered sugar.
13. After the icing is mixed, start to assemble the cake by taking one of the layers of cake and making it your base. Stick strips of parchment paper around the bottom of the cake. Ice the top of it and add the next layer of cake and ice the top of it adding your final layer of cake.
14. Now start to ice the sides and the top of the cake until covered. Use chopped walnuts or coconut to decorate the sides.
15. Refrigerate the cake until you are going to slice and serve!

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