I was in a cab at 5:15 AM this morning, heading to LaGuardia Airport to catch a plane back to my old Alabama home for Christmas. I grew up in a small town in the southeastern corner of Alabama, where peanuts are not only monuments around town but also a reason to celebrate. I encourage all of you to experience the National Peanut Festival towards the end of October at some point in your life.
One of my first family Christmas responsibilities is to make my family’s world-famous cheese cookies.
My grandmother, whom we all called “Sweet Mama,” made these cookies every Christmas, and ever since she passed away my dad and I have carried on the tradition with her old recipe from 1975, the year I was born. But after Santa Claus gave me diabetes four years ago, I must say that I now roll up my sleeves a little slower and eat a lot fewer cookies than I used to.
However, the cookies aren’t really about “the cookies.” It’s more about memories of Sweet Mama and “Sweet Daddy” and 16 or 17 wonderful Christmases at their house—the aunts, uncles, and cousins gathering around a very 1980’s Christmas tree with wonderfully weird liquid lights, and Sweet Daddy in the middle playing Santa Claus, cackling as he passed out gifts to his children and grandchildren.
I remember eating cheese cookies Sweet Mama had baked and how spicy they were. She put a healthy amount of red pepper and Tabasco in her recipe. I can remember the smell of champagne in Sweet Mama’s glass as she pronounced my older brother’s name as only a woman from Greenville, Alabama, could. The adults in the family would clink their champagne flutes while the kids and cousins scurried around with their new toys.
I look forward to making this year’s batch of cheese cookies and watching everyone eat and enjoy them. As they comment on the spicy red pepper, Tabasco, or Rice Krispie crunch, I know that somewhere in the backs of their heads they’ll also be thinking a little about Sweet Mama and Sweet Daddy and all the wonderful memories.
This will be my first Christmas with my wife and I also look forward to starting new traditions with her. I hope somewhere down the road we have kids and grandkids, and one day my grandson ends up writing about his “Sweet Mama” and “Sweet Daddy.” Only I’m thinking steamed broccoli and roasted bell peppers is a little less of a memorable snack than the world-famous cheese cookies.
Only time will tell. Until then, I’ll be elbow-deep in cheese cookie dough.