Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Food that Binds Us

Every Christmas Eve features the same menu of finger sandwiches, potato chips with onion dip, posole, and frappe. It has been this way for decades, since I was a little girl eating it at my Papa & Grammy's house, since before that when my mom was a teenager. An odd assortment of foods, any one of us will admit, but one that came together through the years of my grandparents' celebrations. Christmas Eve is not Christmas Eve without the spicy warmth of the red chili corn soup paired with the cool 7-up and sherbet beverage. Although the fillings of the sandwiches have changed over time, the eating of them has not. We all know what to expect for that evening's meal, and we look forward to it with taste buds, stomachs, and hearts.

This year, as I mixed the frappe in Grammy's punch bowl once again, memories flooded my mind. I learned how to make this holiday staple as a teenage girl, and I have made it every year since, whether in the kitchen on 1st South or the one on 15th North. I love it, but I only make it once a year. I wonder if it would taste the same in March or July. I doubt it. I think it has a special ingredient at this magical time.

Christmas morning, too, has its set menu items: steak, biscuits & gravy, eggs, and sausage. Regardless of the temperature, the manly men gather outside around the charcoal grill to cook the steaks, while the women prepare the remainder of the meal inside. My assignment has always been the gravy, mixing and whisking and seasoning until it is just right.

Christmas afternoon meant Grandma's house. Entering her little kitchen, warm from the fire, the smell of red chili and pork filled the air. I always hoped there would still be some chicharrones when I arrived. Her hugs and "Mija" greeting made the day complete.

Out of all the foods Christmastime brings, my favorite is divinity. Each year, I make a batch - or a double batch, depending on my cravings and desires to share:). It is a simple recipe of only five ingredients, but it is a tricky one to get just right. It takes time, and patience, and a meticulous following of the directions. Nevertheless, I find a clear, non-high-humidity day to make it. I make it, not only because it is a delectable little bite of heaven, but also because it honors my heritage. From Granny, to Grammy, to Mom, to me, it connects us in a way that nothing else does. When I create this concoction, I can feel the ties strengthening among these generations of women whose love for the white candy flows through our veins. As I boil and beat and beat and beat and beat and beat, waiting for the glossy sheen to lessen as an indicator that it is finally done, I talk to my predecessors: "Mom, please help this set up right... Grammy, do I need to beat it longer?... Granny, I don't know how you made this with a hand-beater and not electricity." I have even added another great woman to my list, my husband's grandmother. She, too, shared the love of divinity and mastered the making of it. "Beth, I wish you were here to taste this."
Dropping the spoonfuls onto waxed paper to set up, I feel arms around me, as warm and comforting as one of my Grandma's flour tortillas, hot off the wood stove. Arms that watch over and protect me from above, arms that once beat and beat and beat just like mine, to create a tradition, to keep that tradition, to preserve love.

And what comforts me most of all is that it really isn't just divinity or tortillas or posole or steak that binds us, here on earth or on the other side. What binds us, Suzanne-Mom-Grammy-Granny-Beth-Grandma, is something much stronger than the hard-ball stage of candy-making. What binds us comes from Him whose birth this season celebrates.

"And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst" (John chapter 6, verse 35).

He was born, He lived on this earth, He died on the cross, and He lives again. Because of this, we are bound together by more than memories and traditions and food. Because He lives, they live, too. Because He lives, we will all live again, together, exchanging recipes in heavenly kitchens...Recipes of Divinity.

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