What a joyous Christmas! It was full of the wonderful things that make such a day so special, from the now traditional homemade croissants (I snuck some Callebaut dark chocolate into some of them), phone calls with family far away, naps, reading and plenty of time in our pajamas in front of the fire. We are grateful beyond compare for the gifts that we have, both under the tree and every day.
As always, we started with stockings, seeing what wonders Santa had brought. This year 8-year old Margot left a note next to the cookies, milk and carrot for Santa and the reindeer asking some pretty complicated questions and requesting an answer back. Santa graciously obliged, even on such a busy night, explaining that the most important thing is to believe in the magic of the season. Top that off with all the goodies stuffed inside her stocking and Margot was more than content.
My mom came for a breakfast of the aforementioned croissants, scrambled eggs (from mom’s chickens), leftover ham and fruit, all eaten at a surprisingly leisurely pace with that pile of presents still under the tree. Finally, Margot could take it no longer and herded us into the living room where she managed the next phase of our Christmas Day. This year brought a host of lovely wrapped gifts to all, which she and her sister passed out like the pros they are, making sure that everyone had something to open, while carefully keeping an eye on what gifts were still under the tree that had their names on them.
As I looked back at the pile of presents I laughed to see reminders of some kitchen stories of the year. A new apple slicer, the previous one having had the handles snapped off when 13-year old Marielle used it one too many times; a new candy thermometer to replace the one I threw away after yet another disastrous bout of fudge and caramel making; a huge basket of all of Marielle’s favorite snack foods, each individually wrapped and given to her by her sister who had listened to Marielle’s lament over the lack of good snacks in our house; pasta shaped like holiday penguins and snowmen picked up on a shopping jaunt of just the three of us ladies; the traditional Lindt truffles, only one of which seems to have been eaten by the dog (yes, we know chocolate is poisonous to dogs and we truly try our hardest, but he is obsessed); and one of my favorite gifts, the book Fannie in the Kitchen by Deborah Hopkinson.
I’m not very good at remembering what is on my wish list for Christmas or birthdays, much to my husband’s dismay. This means that I tend to be very vague, not helping him very much in his gifting endeavors. Fortunately for me, he is creative and has a good memory, but he still checks in to make sure that I haven’t suddenly remembered anything that popped into my head at some point in time. About a week before Christmas during one of these check-ins I suddenly remembered a children’s book that I had taken out of the library probably three years ago to read with Margot. It was the true story of Fannie Merritt Farmer, the woman who invented the modern recipe by using precise measurements. Her Boston Cooking School Cookbook, widely known as The Fannie Farmer Cookbook, although over 100 years old is still used today. The book Jon gave me, Fannie in the Kitchen, tells the story of Fannie coming to work in the home of Mr. & Mrs. Charles Shaw and teaching their daughter, Marcia, how to cook. I loved the story at the time, undoubtedly more than Margot, and even learned the fail-proof way to tell when pancakes are ready to be flipped from the text and recipe included in the back of the book.
Thinking back, it becomes apparent to me that I really do have a soft spot for children’s books that include recipes. I remember being so pleased last year when I found among the Christmas books from Jon’s mother Efner Tudor Holmes’ The Christmas Cat, a favorite from my childhood that includes a recipe for Gingerbread Animal Cookies. Another library book that I came across years ago is by Tomie de Paola, one of my favorite authors - Tony’s Bread is a story of how pannetone, the rich Italian Christmas bread, got its name. Inside-Out Grandma: A Hannukah Story by Joan Rothenberg is another great children’s book that includes the only recipe I’ve ever been successful in making latkes with, a fact that I attribute to its detailed instructions.
Of course, I love these books for many reasons: the stories, the illustrations and the fact that cooking is my thing, but I also have found that these recipes tend to be exceptional. They are well-written, thought-out, simply-stated and bound to be good - after all, if you disappoint a child with a recipe, they may never want to cook again. I love the ways that the food is integral in the telling of the stories, and that the recipe is offered up to allow the reader to continue with the story in real life if he or she would like, making the connections between reading and cooking and empowering with both.
Do you have any favorite children’s books that tell the story of a recipe? I’d love to know of them as I hope that next Christmas I will be able to give Jon an easy answer when he asks what is on my list - finding a children’s book that includes a recipe under the tree would be wonderful! This combining of two of my favorite things, children’s books and cooking, is something that will give pleasure to family, friends and our traditions for years to come. And for now, they let me cuddle up on the couch with daughters, nieces and friends for a little reading out loud - nothing nicer than that on a cozy Christmas Day! Julie Potter is a wife, mother of two, avid gardener and passionate cook who believes good food doesn’t have to be complicated. Share your thoughts with her at firstname.lastname@example.org.