I don’t like Christmas. In fact, I don’t like the month of December. I hate the consumerism, the hustle-and-bustle of yuppie shoppers, the television commercials, the fact that all other holidays are drowned out by the noise of the Christian religion.
When I was asked to write a column about food and the holidays, one memory in particular popped in my mind. I was about 8 and my siblings and I spent Christmas day in a motel room with my father and his wife. The seven of us sat around two double beds as my father handed out presents and candy. After only a few minutes, it became clear that one of my brothers had nothing in front of him – no candy, gifts, stocking.
“Mike doesn’t get any presents this year because he decided to take his early,” my father said.
Mike’s “present” was a bottle of whiskey he stole from my dad’s liquor cabinet six months earlier. For that, he was forced to endure the opening of gifts and eating of sweets by his four siblings while he sat empty-handed.
This was sad, of course. I didn’t know what to do. So I broke my Snickers bar in half and handed Mike the bigger part. With lightening speed, my dad ripped it out of his hands and threw it in the trash.
We tend to pretend, when the holidays roll around, that everyone is going to have a joyous, celebratory month filled with cheer and gifts and love. The reality is the holidays can be one of the most depressing, stressful times of year if only because of these expectations.
This was my experience as a child. I learned very early on that the best way to deal with the holidays was to avoid them as much as possible – and that lesson has served me well.
It was only as an adult that I was able to find small things to appreciate and exploit about others’ celebration of Christmas. One of these blessing is my sister’s peanut brittle.
If you get it fresh, it melts like (somewhat hard) butter in your mouth. If she takes her time, the Spanish peanuts have lost their Spanish wrapping and you don’t get any stuck in your teeth or gums.
But no matter when you have it or how well it is prepared, it has become an adult tradition and it reminds me of the warmth of having her arms wrapped around me in a big hug – even two states away.
Old Fashioned-New Tradition Peanut Brittle
1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon water
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cup sugar
1 cup water
1 cup corn syrup
3 tablespoon butter
1 pound raw Spanish peanuts
Grease two cookie sheets with butter and keep warm. Mix baking soda, 1 teaspoon water and vanilla and set aside. Mix sugar, 1 cup water and syrup in a heavy 3 quart sauce pan. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring constantly until the temperature reaches 300 degrees on a candy thermometer. Remove from heat and stir in baking soda mixture. Immediately pour half candy mixture onto each cookie sheet. Spread 1/4″ thick. Cool, then break into bite-size pieces.