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Cooking With Myra: Remembering Christmases past, planning for Christmas present

By By Myra Starkey
Dec. 17, 2013 at 6:17 a.m.

Mel's cranberry cream cheese rolls and Kathleen's caramelized bacon

Kathleen's Caramelized Bacon

• 1/2 cup light brown sugar

• 1 tsp. salt

• 1/2 cup chopped pecans

• 1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper

• 3 Tbsp. pure maple syrup

• 1/2 pound thick, sliced bacon

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil and place a wire baking rack on top. This will allow the fat to drip off the bacon onto the foil. Combine sugar, pecans, salt and cayenne in a food processor. Pulse until pecans are chopped and add syrup. This will moisten the crumb mixture. Cut each piece of bacon in half and place on rack. Spread the pecan crumb mixture evenly over the bacon and pat. Bake for 30 minutes until topping is brown. Be careful not to burn bacon. While hot, transfer to paper towels and allow to cool. Sugar will be caramelized but not sticky.

Mel's Cranberry Cream Cheese Rolls

• 1 package (5 oz.) dried cranberries

• 24 Rhodes rolls thawed but still cold

• 1/4 cup butter melted

• 1 cup granulated sugar (divided)

• 2/3 cup (6 ounces) cream cheese, softened

• 3 Tbsp. fresh orange juice

• 1 Tbsp. each grated orange rind and lemon rind

• 1 cup powdered sugar

• 5 tsp. fresh lemon juice

Press about 1 teaspoon dried cranberries into each thawed roll. Place Rhodes rolls in a 9-by-13-inch pan coated with nonstick cooking spray.

Combine the butter, 1/2 cup sugar, cream cheese and orange juice. Blend well and pour over the rolls. Cover with plastic and let rise until double in size.

Combine 1/2 cup sugar, the rinds and any remaining cranberries. Sprinkle the mixture over the risen rolls.

Bake immediately in preheated 350-degree oven 25 minutes or until rolls in center are done. Combine powdered sugar and lemon juice and drizzle over rolls.

I pulled into the parking lot of the grocery store for the umpteenth time and looked for a parking spot. There were none near the front of the store, except those reserved for our handicapped brethren. My only handicaps at that moment were laziness and lack of patience, and neither are sufficiently incapacitating as to grant me an official sticker.

I decided to look on the bright side and view this as an opportunity to get some much-needed exercise while I trekked from the frigid far reaches of the lot to the warm embrace past the electric doors. The asphalt expanse was scattered with women and a few men with shopping carts filled to the brim. All people had one thing in common - tiredness.

I smiled as I passed each of them, hoping my experience in the crowded store would not be terribly taxing. I made a mental note to try to make this Christmas more relaxing for myself. I would not over-shop. After all, this was only a holiday and not a hurricane.

I had made a list and was checking it twice and trying to get a jump on Christmas morning, but apparently lots of ladies were thinking the same thing. I pushed my cart down the aisles, filling it with necessities for the holidays; chicken stock, flour, sugar, vegetables, cream and butter.

I passed the frozen food section and opened the freezer doors, adding Rhodes rolls to my overfilled basket. This Christmas morning, I plan to make cranberry orange rolls and caramelized bacon for breakfast, but more about that later.

My earliest memories of Christmas at daybreak include my grandparents being at my house as we discovered what Santa brought into our house as we slept. Maw Maw and Paw Paw would arrive well before dawn and would already be sitting in the kitchen drinking coffee with my folks as we raced down the hall. For some reason, they did not seem to share our giddy expectation about Santa's generous bounty.

My two sisters and I blew into the family room without hesitation. Old Saint Nick always laid our presents in four separate piles, one for each of the three girls and the fourth being a pile of shared gifts like balls or doll houses or a cage with a wiggly wiener dog puppy named Oscar Meyer.

After much photographing of little girls tearing open of boxes with squeals of delight, my mom would coerce us to eat breakfast. She had risen early and made a beautiful breakfast ring pastry filled with pecans and drizzled with white, creamy icing.

It did not cross my mind at the time, but now that I think back on those early years, I realize that Santa did not leave piles of gifts for my parents or grandparents. I can only assume that they had been cursed by their lack of belief in Santa or perhaps that they had not been sufficiently good throughout the year.

I do know that my sisters and I had been exceptionally well-behaved for the last two months having been warned by my mom that any naughtiness could have dire consequences.

For about 10 months out of the year, she could threaten us with the admonition that "Jesus knows what you are thinking or doing even through the ceiling or a closed door," and little Baptist children in south Louisiana in the 1960s did not want to disappoint Jesus.

Perhaps our most worrisome fear was the very real consequence of losing the favor of Santa in November or December and having our chimney bypassed during the wee hours of the blessed night.

As we grew up and Santa began to neatly wrap our gifts and leave them under the tree, we would patiently eat breakfast first. My grandparents still arrived before we woke up so they could share the moment, but our mornings were leisurely, and as teenagers, we valued our sleep almost as much as the gifts we would receive.

By that age, we were pretty certain that our mom had purchased all the gifts and as heartless as parents are toward their teenage children would give us something we needed rather than wanted.

The tradition began of eating breakfast and then having the Christmas story from the Bible read by my dad, who always reminded us of the real gift of Christmas was baby Jesus.

After that, we opened our gifts and found that Santa had gotten more sophisticated in choosing the clothes or shoes in exactly the styles we loved and were just like things we had seen in our local stores.

"Thanks, Santa," we would say to our mom.

When I started a family, I followed all the traditions of my childhood. My mom liked to cook, and we shared lots of mother-daughter time in the kitchen. And I did the same with my daughter.

There were always cookies and lots of treats to eat, particularly during the holidays. My kitchen would smell of cinnamon rolls and gingerbread men laying in wait for their decorative icing on the countertop.

When the kids were little, they, too, received unwrapped Santa presents, and Santa always left a gift or two that should be shared among the three of them.

We started the day with the Christmas story, and if Mom and Dad were visiting, he still had the honor of retelling the story to our kids.

Now that everyone is grown up and there are no pitter-patters of little feet coming down the stairs to look upon the gifts - and I do miss that - we take a leisurely approach to breakfast.

Everybody just eats once they wake up, and we let the younger adult crowd sleep a little later. Breakfast is still important, and so I scour cookbooks to find something easy and delicious.

This year, my friend, Melanie, told me of her family tradition of cranberry cream cheese orange rolls, and they are easy. She starts with Rhodes rolls, which can be found in the frozen aisles of the grocery store, and then smothers them with sugar and juice. I am also adding a caramelized bacon recipe from my friend, Kathleen. Once you start on this bacon, you will eat until it is all gone.

I am looking forward to filling my house with my kids and son-in-law, Ben. Everyone is coming home, and I will be ready with lots to eat.

This year is a Starkey family Christmas, and Taylor has four married sisters, and they all have kids, so that adds up to a lot of humanity.

I look forward to spending time with them all, celebrating family and enjoying lots of good food. The best gift I get is this time with family.

Myra Starkey lives in Victoria. Write her in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901, or email myra@vicad.com.

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