The Bar Chronicles, #9: Christmas Memories

“You got to remember, it was right after the depression and a coal miner’s family didn’t have much at all”

Christmas, a time for goodwill, reverence and seasonal brews. This month’s parley took us to Carly’s Bar, on Winton Rd North, a true tavern bordering neighborhoods and businesses where we enjoyed idle talk, brotherhood and beer.

Carly’s touts itself, on their green and yellow neon sign hanging over the entrance, as ‘the place to be’. Beer choices were primarily standard fare, no speciality brews, and my favorite, Guinness, was served only in cans. Acceptable, but I do enjoy watching Guinness pour from a tap, its distinctive thick frothy head landing atop a dark chestnut-brown body. I can almost taste it now.

We had the back room to ourselves, not fancy but quiet. A giant bag of Skinny Pop popcorn in the middle of a round table satisfied our snack craving and the crumbs we left on the floor were enough to fill the tiny belly of the house mouse.

With our usual toast, we wished each other good will and kicked off the evening with general talk of health, family and mundane ‘man talk’.

But it’s the holiday season and our second and last round of ale found us recalling early Christmas memories. The stories were personal, told with a smile and enthusiasm that brought us back to a special time and place, albeit briefly.

Tales of a terrible Christmas tree, boxes of nails and hardware in a Christmas stocking, and a fruit ‘bucket’ for the family had us laughing and humble at the same time.

While it was well-intentioned, the thin white artificial tree my dad brought home was not festive, at all. But we adjusted to it out of respect to him. It lasted for two years before finding the curb. I vowed never to have an artificial tree but now have two of them. They’re almost real but haven’t quite developed the evergreen scent, yet.

The box of nails one of us found in ‘his’ stocking on an early Christmas morning ‘sneak peek’ was such a disappointment. “Nails and hardware, for me? Why?” Dismay quickly turned to delight with the realization it was an adult’s stocking. His dad would love it.

Life in the coal mining towns was difficult. The Great Depression sapped people’s energy and resources. And while Christmas was a time for giving and receiving, a simple ‘bucket’ of fruit to be shared by all often sufficed to lift the spirits of families. When the fruit was gone, the bucket lived on with practical uses.

The holiday season is a wonderful time to celebrate with friends and family. I wish our group and readers who follow The Bar Chronicles a Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah.

Steve

Srbottch.Com

Today, I Smell Gingerbread…a Holiday Story

Bread

It’s not just the calendar that puts celebrators in the Christmas and Hannuka spirit. It’s a host of sights and sounds that makes these holidays special: the change to wintry weather; the hustle n’ bustle of gift shoppers; colorful decorations and lights illuminating neighborhoods, windows and shops; the gaiety of passersby offering holiday wishes; quiet moments spent in reflection and prayer. All help create a festive mood.

One of my favorites is the aroma of freshly baked desserts and treats filling our home and signaling the start of this special season. Yesterday, it was almond crescent cookies. The day before, I sniffed roasted walnuts and candied bark, white chocolate with craisins. Tomorrow will bring something new that tickles my senses and rewards my taste buds. But, today, I smell gingerbread.

What a pleasure to be awakened on a brisk winter morning with the smell of ‘just from the oven’ cranberry bread or molasses cookies wafting down the hall and finding me stubbornly stirring beneath the cover of a cozy quilt. My wife, an early riser, is eagerly preparing delicate desserts to be shared with friends and enjoyed with our meals. Yes, I know, I’m spoiled.

Walnuts

Later, the chilly air on a new December day welcomes those escaping kitchen aromas that intoxicate me with spices and sugars, as I finish some outside chores. My work can wait, I decide, and hurriedly make my way inside for some hot coffee and a sampling of today’s treats. Ahhh, I smell gingerbread.

These holidays have a ‘baking season’ like no other, where the kitchen is the arena and the clashing of the cookie sheets, muffin tins, bread pans and mixing bowls tells us that it’s ‘game on’, while the cook builds up to the highly anticipated call, ‘Bon Appetit’. It’s a race to blend, stir, beat and mix ahead of the beginning of the Hannukah and Christmas Day deadlines. The desserts and special dinners seemingly roll out of the kitchen and onto the dining table in a tsunami of meats and greens, biscuits and breads, truffles and spritz.Dishes

When the calendar turns to January, the cooking slows, the menus change, and the emphasis is on dietary needs to help our bodies recover and prepare for spring. Is that possible? Yet, through the dark, cold winter months, I still yearn for the smell of gingerbread.

Pumpkin Pie

Spring rains roll into summer heat, and a warm kitchen loses its appeal. Quite unnoticed, the oven begins a period of involuntary hibernation. Delicacies are not a priority and a cold beer on a hot day will suffice. But nature is a wonderful thing. In a matter of time, the baking season will return in all its glory, and, once more, I will savor the smell of gingerbread in our home…

srbottch (11/23/2015)

Dedicated to my wife, who keeps our shelves filled with wonderful desserts during the Christmas holiday, and to cooks in their kitchens, everywhere.