Holiday Digest: Culinary Surprise

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By Cecile Sarruf

Thanksgiving Day was a family affair in a house full of women—four sisters and Mom—with Dad pulling up a seat to the feast when it was all good and ready, and not a minute before. As young ladies entering our 20s, we would each attempt a new recipe now and again. It was only natural. Baking took skills not all of us had, though. For instance, my third sister Anne once tried her hand at oatmeal cookies and frankly, they came out like hockey pucks! I personally never did master Mother’s delicate pie crust. So, on the holidays, Mother labored all day in the kitchen and the entire house was aromatic from sunup to sundown. Meanwhile, my sisters would while away the afternoon playing a good game of Monopoly. Most times I’d set the mood on our upright grand with some holiday tunes and keep an ear out for our mother’s voice.

 Come dinner time, we’d each offer a helping hand and carry a dish from kitchen to dining table: carved roast turkey ladled onto a large white platter; a bowl of rice stuffing seasoned with sage, marjoram and fried giblets; whole sweet potatoes cracked open to a drizzle of orange blossom honey and a pinch of cinnamon; creamy mashed potatoes made right with sour cream, milk and loads of butter; tangy cranberry sauce; and a red wine vinaigrette salad topped with cubed cucumbers. Of course, who could forget those freshly baked crescent rolls?

On this particular Thanksgiving Day, however, we were all in for a real treat thanks to my second eldest sister Marie, the budding pastry chef. She had snuck into our kitchen to do her thing. Although we had Mom’s pumpkin pie baked from scratch, it was Marie who proudly carried something aloft above our heads before bringing it round once the table was cleared.

“What’s this?” we asked.

She lowered the dark loaf to the table with a twinkle in her eye. “Date nut bread.”

None of us had ever had this before. We bit into the sweet chewy Medjool date morsels and crunchy walnut pieces. Now this was next level baking! We ate our fill with the type of freedom and abandon afforded by home cooked meals.

Outside of Urth Cafe in Laguna Beach, where one can conjure up childhood nostalgia when savoring a slice of pumpkin pie or nutty carrot cake with a good cup of Joe, nothing can rival family recipes. Although my sister far surpassed my mother’s pumpkin pie and eventually became a pastry chef in her own right, it’s the memory of our hearty laughter and joy as family that stays with me long after my sister’s culinary surprise.

Cecile Sarruf, a member of the Third Street Writers and the Laguna Plein Air Painters Association, likes to pen memoir and paint in oils.

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