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February 5, 2023

Christmas Memories

“The world is indeed full of peril, and in it many dark places;

but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love

is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps more the greater.

All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given 

us.  Above all shadows rides the sun.”   

– J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings”

The last few days I have been smelling the wood burning from the controlled burn at Wilder Ranch and memories from the years I spent as a child in Aberdeen, Wash., come flooding back.

Our old boarding house had a wood-burning kitchen stove and a wood heater in the sparsely furnished large living room. A rocking chair sat in the middle of the room with a light bulb hanging from a cord overhead.

Uncle would come home from his job as a shingle weaver at the mill just a few hundred feet from our house, smelling of pine and cedar from the logs they were milling that day. He would load the heater with wood and start the fire, then settle into the rocker with the day’s newspaper. I would climb on his lap, anxiously waiting for him to turn to the funny pages. Little Orphan Annie and her dog Sandy were my favorite. And there we would sit, Uncle and me, rocking. Uncle read to me as the room grew warmer during those cold December evenings.

Early in December, Uncle would drive us to the family farmhouse in Elma, a few miles away where the rest of our family would meet. We would bundle up in warm clothes and head to the woods behind the house to harvest Christmas trees. Aunt always stayed behind in the farmhouse making her annual chicken and dumplings. Once the trees were fixed to the cartops, we would eat her ‘supper fixuns’ and return home.

Our tree, according to me a 6-year-old, was always the prettiest, as Aunt would save the aluminum ice sickles hanging from the tree’s branches, from year to year.  The strips of silver aluminum were 16 inches long and a quarter-inch wide and were precious as WWII was ongoing and aluminum was needed for the war effort. 

The wood floor beneath the tree was barren until Christmas Eve when the relatives arrived and only then were gifts tucked under the tree. It had been explained to me that only Santa brought gifts for children and that event only took place when all the children were sleeping. I believed this phenomenon until I was 7.

I do remember the very best Christmas I had was the year I received the two-volume set of Grimms and Andersen’s Fairy Tales and the book “Little Anne of Canada.” From Santa, the card read.

Uncle would read from the fairy tale books until he became aware I was able to read for myself; it was then I graduated from Uncle’s lap to a chair of my own. 

That winter Uncle introduced me to our public library. After our evening supper we would drive to the library where I was allowed three books to check out on my very own library card. Two weeks later, we would return those books and check out three more.

You may think me goofy, but this evening I’ve opened my door to the smells of the wood burning at Wilder Ranch. I have my evening martini in my hand, and I am sitting in my rocker, thinking of that little 6-year-old girl on her uncle’s lap. I have a smile on my face.

Tolkien wrote: “If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”

Aunt’s Chicken and Dumplings

Place a whole chicken in a soup pot and add enough water to completely cover the chicken (approx. 12-14 cups). Then add:

  • ½ cup Better than Bullion Chicken Stock
  • 2 cups diced onions
  • 1 cup diced carrots
  • 1 cup diced celery
  • 3 cloves diced garlic
  • 1 tsp. ground thyme
  • 1 tsp. fresh ground pepper
  • 2 tsp. Tabasco 

Bring to a boil and then turn down to a high simmer.  Cook until legs separate from body (approx. 1 hour). Remove chicken from pot and remove meat from bones.

Mix 2 Tbsp. flour with 2 Tbsp. milk. Add to chicken stock and cook until mixture thickens a bit. Taste and add salt if needed. Add 4 cups of meat back to broth. Keep simmering while making dumplings.

Dumplings

Ingredients

  • 1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 2 Tbsp. minced parsley or chives
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2/3 cup whole milk
  • 1 Tbsp. melted butter

Mix together and drop by heaping tablespoonful into high simmering broth.

Cover and cook for 18 minutes. Do not peek during cooking.


Colly Gruczelak, a Ben Lomond resident, loves people and loves to cook. Contact her at [email protected].

Colly Gruczelak
Colly Gruczelak, a Ben Lomond resident, loves people and loves to cook. Contact her at [email protected]

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