I'm behind on this. The last few days have been very hectic. A person I held very dear passed away earlier in the week.
My very first job, much like a lot of my classmates from school, was at our local Walmart. At the time there was no hiring freeze, we could get a buttload of overtime since we were understaffed, and they still offered benefits if you worked enough hours. It was a good time.
I worked in the softlines section, which is clothing and shoes. I worked the men's department primarily, though it wasn't uncommon for me to work other areas. Infants was always my favorite!
There was a teeny tiny lady that was the queen of the fitting room. She was in her 80s and immediately took me under her wing.
She had known my family for years so I ended up being yet another part of her extended family.
Rosie called herself my Italian Walmart grandmother. She did take on a very grandmotherly role, offering advice when I needed it, helping me try to work my way through my newly found independent life as I worked to help support mom after my dad left us in some crazy debt.
She was always there to offer prayers, silly stories about my mom when she was young, and a shoulder when I needed to cry. Even so, she was always the reality check I needed when I was acting irrational. In that aspect, she reminded me of Sophia from The Golden Girls.
Even after I moved I would come back to town and visit her. She was always so happy when I would randomly stop by and see her.
There was nothing on this planet like a Rosie hug.
She's going to be so dearly missed.
Read on for the rest of this Blogmas Foodie post.
Now for the good stuff: the food.
One of my favorite things about the holiday season is the food. No matter where we go, there is always a ton of food and someone who is more than ready to feed you. I cannot count how many times you will hear "have you eaten?" or "you eat yet?" when you are going around and visiting between Thanksgiving and New Years. One of my fondest memories is going to my great-aunt's house in Alabama and the first thing out of her mouth was asking if we'd had [insert time appropriate meal here] yet that day. Her home made biscuits and honey could not be beat!
Welcome to the South!
I'm going to divide this post into a few different categories:
1. Snacks & Appetizers
2. Main Dishes & Sides
Depending on what time you show up at a house depends on what you get offered generally.
Snacks & Appetizers
Home made goodies are always kept this time of year here in the South, especially in more old fashioned households like my own.
One of my favorite snacks is tea cakes. One of my great-aunts could make them so big and so thin that you could practically see through them!
That is a Southern tea cake, made by Paula Deen. (Click the image for the recipe)
They are similar to sugar cookies, though I think they are a touch sweeter.
It was always a treat when my family from Alabama would come down because they would always bring tins of Aunt Pean's tea cakes with them.
Contrary to the name, I prefer mine with coffee. I don't add sugar to my coffee so that offers the perfect amount of sweetness to my dark roast.
Another thing you will always find at my family's gatherings are Deviled Eggs.
These are super easy to make if you are a beginner in the kitchen. Again, click the image for the recipe.
No family gathering seems to be complete without them. Yes, they are high in cholesterol since you are not only using the egg yolk but mayonnaise to make the filling.
This recipe doesn't call for relish, but if you really want to capture that sweet southern taste you must add sweet relish. Add a sprinkle of paprika and you've got the perfect eggey yum for your tum.
At my aunt's house almost every gathering has something I've never been particularly fond of, but the kids tear them up.
Pigs in a Blanket!
I don't really eat pork if I can't help it (it's almost blasphemous in a southern family), so I substitute with other types of little weenies. We never jazz them up as much as the Neelys have done with these, but that's the fun of cooking: making each different thing your own.
They are stupid easy to make. Even my younger cousins like to get in on the cooking action when it comes to making these bad boys.
The last thing you will always find at my family gatherings is a cheese and veggie platter. The cheese is always a hit with the kids, the veggies with the adults. Just cube up some of your favorite cheeses, slice up some of your favorite veggies, and put them in a decorative platter. Add a little kale or decorative greens to make it festive. Easy peasy, lemon squeezie.
Main Dishes & Sides
Those goodies were just the start. There is still the main event!
During the holidays I go to so many places to see family, and there are so many different types of food available at each place that it's insane.
My family does typical Southern fare for their holiday meals, while my boyfriend's family does a little mix of everything. His sister's potato salad cannot be beat. I crave it on the daily!
There is generally turkey and ham available wherever we go, but I personally prefer lamb.
To me, it makes a holiday a little more special. You have things like poultry and ham year round. This is something that I think makes a holiday. The spices are different than what I use in my every day cooking and it just tastes better.
Unfortunately, since I'm the only one in the family who eats this, I don't make it much. The only other person who would eat this with me is my father. With him not around there isn't much point in making such a big piece when I can satisfy my taste for lamb with smaller portions in curries.
I always tend to over do it on the side dishes. It was so bad one year that my kids actually told me that I had made too much!
Other than your typical fare of steamed and boiled vegetables, my family is big on making casseroles. I guess it's a white people thing, lmao. At least that's what all of my friends tell me!
Every holiday my aunt makes an amazing corn casserole.
This one is very similar, she just doesn't add cheese.
In a way it almost comes out like cornbread with whole kernel corn. The best part is it feeds into one of my biggest favorites: sweet. It's not candy or cake sweet, it's just sweet enough. If you don't like your cornbread sweet you probably won't like this. Instead of using Jiffy Mix you could use your own recipe for the cornbread or find a brand that doesn't add sugar.
She also makes sweet potato casserole. Again, with the sweet. It is absolutely delicious and makes it fun to eat your vegetables! With an assload of sugar.
This is about the closest thing I could find to hers, except instead of using the dried fruit and honey my aunt adds brown sugar and tops it with crushed pecans. The mixture of the sweetness of the sweet potato and the savory of the pecans makes it a hit with the entire family.
What always makes the meal for me is my grandmother's dressing.
If you aren't from the south, I know what you're thinking - salad dressing?
Her dressing comes out like bread.
I wish I could share her recipe but I have a feeling that this is one recipe that she will take with her to the grave. We've tried replicating it so many times, it just doesn't come out the same. The only secret she has spilled to me about making it is using Italian sausage seasoning.
And now to my favorite thing ever: the desserts.
Every year I always put on a few pounds thanks to all of the yummy desserts that are offered wherever we go.
Cakes and cookies, as far as the eye can see!
It doesn't matter what holiday it is, you will always find pecan pie at my family gatherings.
My grandmother usually make this, or my aunt. They both make my great-grandmother's recipe, which instantly takes me back to childhood.
This is another combination of sweet and savory that makes my mouth water.
One of my fondest memories is actually collecting pecans from the trees at my great-grandmother's house in Alabama. She had four on her property and going out and picking pecans was an event for me and my mother. It brought back childhood memories for her, too, and it was nice being able to share that time with her.
I also remember eating so many that I got crazy sick.
I feel so fortunate to have gotten that time with my great grandmother, and learning from her, but that's another post!
Another southern classic that we haven't made in the past few years is called either Ambrosia or Pink Salad. It looks gross as hell, but tastes sooooo good.
For me this is an instant zap back to childhood. I always remember my grandmother making a huge bowl even though I was one of the only ones who would eat it. It's crazy sweet from the combination of sweetened condensed milk and mini-marshmallows.
My grandmother's recipe did deviate a bit: instead of adding cherry pie filling she used a packet of cherry Jello and added canned cherries.
And, like most other sweets that my family made, there were always pecans!
Someone in the family typically makes fruit salad for gatherings, so we aren't all pigging out on pure sweets.
For the fruit salad, the fruit was always fresh. Granny always put in oranges, tangerines, grapefruit, grapes, cherries, shredded coconut and (you guessed it), pecans.
She would put it all in a punch bowl and add a splash of orange juice to make sure that the fruit never dried out. The shredded coconut was more of a garnish as she sprinkled it on top of the salad.
There is nothing like growing up in the South. The food simply cannot be beat!
Being in the kitchen with so many great southern women has taught me to be creative in the kitchen, and how to use what I have when we don't have much to make.
While we haven't ever had much money, we have been taught through the generations how to make something out of nothing. A fantastic holiday meal is no exception!
My grandmother grew up in the thick of the Great Depression. Between her and my great-grandmother, they taught me how to not only be resourceful around the home but especially in the kitchen.
What are some of your family traditions for the holidays?
Tell me about the food!
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