Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Christmas Preparations

Here it is, late at night (or early in the morning depending on how you look at it), and I've been working on decorating the humongous, fake Christmas tree that I dragged down from the attic today. I'm having a hard time getting in the spirit of things this year and feel like I'm just going through the motions. I have yet to put on any Christmas music at all; I'm just not in the mood. I feel so... so... Grinch-ish. Still, every once in a while I come upon something that stirs some sort of memory from Christmases long ago: The Swedish angel chimes, the candle holders that clip to the branches of the tree and boxes upon boxes of white candles for them, or some glittery glass ornaments that remind me of the ones that we used to have when I was a girl. Despite the fact that my heritage is largely ignored by my husband's relations (I'm not from a proud Chinese heritage, like they are... I'm just "white," right?), Christmas is one of the most important holidays of the year in Estonia; before the Christians usurped it, the celebration of the Winter Solstice was a huge thing for my pagan ancestors, too, so perhaps some of it is hardwired in me. Anyway....

Sorting through the various bins and tubs of Christmas decorations and things, I felt a pang for the Christmases of my childhood again. A myriad of memories from my childhood came flooding back to me, like the fragrant smell of spruce hanging in the air (we only had real trees as a child, balsams with the wide open branches and small needles), the smell of freshly snuffed candles, the colorful glass ornaments, opening our presents Christmas Eve while still dressed up from a candlelight church service, the smell of spritz cookies or cinnamon wafting from the kitchen. There wasn't always snow on Christmas day, but from the bay window in the front of our 1930's house in upstate New York, you could look out over the rhododendron bushes to the huge beech tree that was right in the middle of our front yard and practically see the cold. It was usually nice and warm by the fire, though, where it was nice to warm up stocking feet that were a bit cold from the hardwood floors.

Tonight, as I continued to decorate the tree, I kept flashing back to the one thing that I knew would be a balm to my aching soul right now: Körp. This is my ultimate comfort food from my childhood and, though we ate it at all times of the year, it reminds me mostly of Christmas. It's a sweet-ish type of cookie-like crust pressed into a 9x13 pan and filled with a mixture of cream cheese, cottage cheese, and I think egg, along with sugar and whatnot, and then sprinkled with cinnamon and baked. When cut up, it's like an extremely light sort of cheesecake with cinnamon on top, a cake that you can cut up into easy-to-handle pieces. It's simply delicious (this is seconded by my non-Estonian friends who've tried it).

Of course, it's got butter, cheese, and possibly egg in it, so that rules it out completely right now because of Second Son's egg and dairy allergies. I'm, well, sorrowful. My mother had given me a recipe for it long, long ago and I have no idea what happened to it (this was after she finally figured out ingredient amounts... before she did that, the instructions were more like "put in flour until it looks right," or "add enough [ingredient X] so that it looks/feels right"... very specific instructions, you know). Of course, it's a moot point because I can't have most of the ingredients in my house and I suppose that only makes my longing for it worse. If I actually had the recipe, I suppose that I would probably try to borrow a friend's kitchen just to get a few squares of Körp. That would be a happy thing indeed.


  1. The memories of food and scent are so strong aren't they, instantly transporting you back to a certain time and place. I find the more that I want something, and can't have it, the stronger the craving is.

    I'm glad you are writing again and sharing your memories with us.

  2. holiday foods are the best. for me it was the choreg my late grandmother used to make. she would let all the kids help. my aunt is going to make a big batch this season and my children will be here to make choreg. hopefully they will build the same sensory imprint of how food sticks to our bones in so many other ways than sustenance.

  3. Sound delicious!! My childhood Christmas memories include my Italian Grandmother's lasagna, which she cooked on Christmas or Thanksgiving every other year. I don't think she ever wrote down the recipe and no one in the family has it.

  4. thisisme-
    It's amazing how scents and tastes are linked to our emotions and memories. I'll have to say that it's one of my favorite things about life. :-)

    It's great how these traditions are passed on and I'm really glad that your children are going to be in the next generation of innumerable generations who have done the same thing. It's really wonderful that holiday traditions, (though foods in particular) tie us to the past like nothing else; coming together to prepare food has been one of the most important activities for time immemorial. I hope that they (and you) have a fun time with it!

    What a shame that the recipe is gone! Sounds really yummy, though! Mmmmm, cheese... ;-)

  5. Your last few posts have defined poignant melancholy.

    The silver lining to such a state of mind is that it results in strangely moving and lovely thinking and writing.

  6. Just wanted to stop by and wish you and your family a VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS! ~ jb///

  7. And a very, very Merry holiday period to you! ALways and forever remain cheerful and hopeful dearest Velvet :)