Earlier this week, my friend Chrys and I gathered in my kitchen to repeat what has become our Christmas present to each other for more than thirty years. For one or two days each Christmas season, we get together to cook and bake, gossip and reminisce, complain about the state of the world, celebrate our successes and watch each other like a hawk as we double, triple and quadruple recipes that we have been making since I first moved to Atlanta in 1971.
Right out of college where we had been friends, Chrys moved to Atlanta to become one of Delta’s pride of what where then called Stewardesses. After working for a year back home in Mobile, visiting several times in Atlanta with Chrys and dating a couple of brothers – mine having deployed to Cam Ranh Bay, in Vietnam — I came to Atlanta one vacation week, interviewed with three places, found a job, went back home, quit my job, packed up my 1969 green Ford Maverick and as my Momma says, “ran away from home.”
Chrys and I had to find an apartment no more than 20 minutes from the airport. We found a garden apartment in what was then a vaguely “swinging singles” complex where Troy Donahue was actually living while in Atlanta filming a rather low budget movie. We rented some furniture, begged and borrowed more, and began what became seminal years in our lives as we plunged into life in Atlanta in the early seventies, found ourselves immersed in the anti-war movement and, ultimately, worked second full-time jobs on the McGovern Campaign for President.
That first Christmas at Spanish Trace East, we were determined to do Christmas the way both of us had grown up – we wanted a tree, we wanted to entertain our friends and we wanted to make the Christmas candies, cookies and savory goodies that meant the holidays to us. We called home to our Mothers and Aunts for recipes, and we started cookin’! Some things we made together, but with Chrys’ erratic flight schedule, she was often at home when I was at work. So Chrys was busy making French Chocolate Balls, Mexican Wedding Cakes, and Ice Box Cookies while I made my toasted pecans, Cocoons, and Mrs. Peelers Tea Cake Christmas Cookies. What a fun surprise when we opened up and shared our loot to find out that Mexican Wedding Cakes and Cocoons were the exact same cookie! I was determined to make that family and southern favorite the Cheese Straw. I called my Bum Bum (my adorable Aunt), wrote down the recipe, shopped for the just right cookie press (the kind you have to twist – nothing else works right), and Chrys and I set to work making Cheese Straws. Somewhere along the line, ¼ tsp. Red Cayenne pepper turned into 4 teaspoons Cayenne pepper. Needless to say, the Cheese Straws were unbelievably hot. Our friend Eugene loved to trick everyone who came by over that Christmas season…”you just have to have some of Grace’s Cheese Straws”…we will never forget those crazy, hot cheese straws from 1971!
So, each year since then, sometime during the Christmas Season, Chrys and I get together and cook. Our repertoire of goodies has changed a bit to include homemade turtles and toffee, but we are still making everything we made in 1971, too, including Mexican Wedding Cakes/Cocoons. Somewhere along the line, we figured out that a chicken pot pie was the perfect lunch for our cooking days and now we would be scared to have anything else for fear our recipes would fail! About twenty-five years ago, I acquired a Kitchen Aid mixer which changed our lives and has worked tirelessly over many a batch of cookie dough and cheese straws. We quickly learned that wine should NOT be involved in cooking days! Our goodies are special and looked forward to by our friends and family during the holiday season – I think because they are made with a lot of love and affection. We hope that we will still celebrate this Christmas tradition for many years to come!