The only reason I can write this is I moved away from home. All my aunts would be heartbroken if they knew.
I hate fruitcake.
I especially hate Christmas fruitcake, the kind made from the special recipe that calls for the least possible amount of flour and the most varied collection of transparent fruit rind. The kind that has to be baked early in September so the little gunky loaves can be wrapped in aluminum foil and stored under the sink, and taken out once a week and doused with cognac and bourbon till they smell like an airless cocktail lounge where nobody ever drinks anything but old-fashioneds and Manhattans.
I hate fruitcake because it sticks to the knife when you cut it and breaks when you try to pick it up and whatever you do pick up sticks to all your fingers together and each finger separately. And then sticks to your lips so they stick together for hours afterward and you get the feeling that you're moving your mouth just a second slower than your dialogue - like a character in a movie shown at the Biograph.
I hate fruitcake because it tastes like boozesoaked gumball.
Not only that - as long as I'm free and far from home - I hate eggnog. Especially eggnog that is loaded with heavy cream, or ice cream, eggwhites beaten to the texture of detergent suds, and covered with and filled with clumps of nutmeg (which not only tastes bad - it's a depressant in its own right and guarantees a heavy, headachy hangover when mixed with alchohol).
And - this is hardest of all to admit - I hate Christmas cookies. Especially fat, sugary, soft, crumbly cookies that turn to sweet, greasy sand in your mouth and would go down in a slurp except for the fact that they're covered with dragees - those little silver beads that catch and crunch and crackle in your teeth.
But I like visting friends at Christmas.
And of course I get eggnog, fruitcake and BB-covered cookies wherever I go. And tell people how wonderful it is, and get seconds and wake up in the morning with what seems like a combination hangover and insulin shock. I've even learned never to refuse eggnog - because then you get (shudder) glog. Which is indescribable.
And of course everyone who has come to my house over the holidays has expected, and gotten, eggnog and fruitcake and cookies. And probably gotten just as sick as I did.
Until last year, when I started giving people things I thought were fit to eat and drink. It's untraditional, but it's fun. And that ought to be enough of an excuse . . . after all, it's Christmas.
Here are a few alternatives to the sorrows of Christmas: festive drink, solid food and cookies that are useful if nothing else. DRINK
What is needed here is a drink that is fun, easy to mix, sugarless and strong or weak as the occasion or the drinker demands.
Try champagne and brandy. Simply fill a big ballon wineglass half-full with champagne and then drop in a half-shot of Pear William, Framboise (which tastes like raspberries), Mirabelle (tastes like plum). If your guests like very strong drink, drop in a whole shot. If they like sweet drinks, use Amaretto, Grand Marnier or Cointreau.
At its most expensive, this is a very expensive drink. Six dollars a bottle for champagne (don't use anything more expensive), $15 or so for the brandy. But you can cut corners a little.
Use cheap champagne. Not the cheapest - anything less than $6 a bottle and you're ruining good brandy. Winemasters makes a drinkable California champagne at $3 a bottle. And Paul Masson has a drink called Crackling Chablis that is fermented in the bottle, delicious, bubbly and cheap (around $3.50).
Use champagne and white wine half-and-half, and fill the glass with ice. This makes for a less bubbly and pretty drink, but it's still good fun.
Use white wine and club soda (three to one). With lots of ice, late in the evening, nobody will notice.
To me, champagne and brandy is an ideal Christmas drink. You can experiment a little to find your very own secret perfect recipe. It is not sweet and cloying. Women will drink it. It will, in the right proportions, rock your strongest drinking friend. And when you come to clean up the glasses it doesn't look as if you've just had a butter-mile orgy, the way it does when you serve eggnog.
If champagne and brandy seems to expensive or too strong, try champagne and orange juice (about three to one); this is best when the juice is fresh-squeezed, but you can use very cheap champagne and frozen juice and still keep everybody happy.
MRS. PROVENZA'S CHEESEBREAD
I've been serving friends cheese and homemade bread, a very simple and humane substitute for indigestible fruitcakes, but this year I'm going to do the Georgian cheesebread i was served at a visit to the Provenza Winery in Brookeville, Md. This is more trouble, but so much more fun that it's worth it. DOUGH 2 packages of dry yeast 1/2 teaspoon plus 1 tablespoon of sugar 1 cup of lukewarm milk 3 1/2 to 4 cups of all-purpose flour 1 stick of soft butter or margarine
FILLING 2 lbs of Muenster cheese, coarsely grated 2 tablespoons of softened butter 1 egg
1 tablespoon of crushed coriander seeds 3 tablespoons of crumbled bleu cheese
DOUGH: Sprinkle the yeast and 1/2 teaspoon of sugar over 1/2 cup of the milke in a small bowl. Set it aside for two or three minutes, then stir until it's dissolved. Put it in a warm spot to rest for 8 to 10 minutes. Pour 3 cups of flour into a large bowl. Make a well in the center. Add the remaining 1/2 cup of warm milk, the yeast mixture, the tablespoon of sugar, the salt and soft butter. With a large wooden spoon mix in all ingredients until they're blended and moist. Gather the dough into a ball and put it on a lightly floured surface. Knead it for 10 minutes, adding up to 1 cup of flour to keep it from sticking. Put the dough in a lightly buttered bowl and let it rise in a warm place for an hour. Punch it down and let it rise for another hour.
FILLING: In a large bowl combine and grated cheese, softened butter, bleu cheese, egg and coriander and mix till well blended.
ASSEMBLY: On a floured surface roll the dough into about a 20-inch circle. Fold the dough in quarters so it is easy to handle. Center it in a 9-inch cakepan and open it up to a circle again. The dough will hang around the outside of the rim. Mold the filling in the dough-lined pan, pressing firmly. Bring the overhanging dough up in folds or pleats all the way around the filling. Gather the excess dough and twist it into a knot. Set the dough aside to rest for about 15 minutes. Bake it in the center of a preheated oven at 375 degrees for about an hour or until it's golden brown. Serve warm, or freeze and re-heat. STAINED-GLASS COOKIES
Actually, it's not only Christmas cookies I hate, but all cookies: They seem like failed cake. But these cookies I like because you don't have to eat them. You can hang them on your Christmas tree and they shrine like stars.
My fondest friend, who has been making these for years, got the idea from an ad for Lifesavers, but any small, clear, hard candy around Lifesaver-size will do.
Make a simple butter-cookie dough and roll it our. You'll need two star-shaped cookie-cutters - one 3 inches from point to point, the other 1 1/2 inches from point to point. Cut large stars and put them on a cookie sheet that has been covered with lightly greased aluminum foil. Now cut a small star inside large one. Put a Lifesaver in the hole. Cherry and lime make the traditional Christmas colors, but grape and root beer are also very nifty. Make a small hole in one of the star points with a knife or large needle. Bake according to recipe. The Lifesavers melt and fill the holes. Take the foil off the sheet and wait till the cookies are completely cool before trying to lift them off. Use a new foil lining for the next batch of cookies.Put a loop of red or green yarn through the hole in each cookie and you can hang them on the tree. Light shines through the candy star, making it look like a stained-glass window in a cookie frame. Kids are fascinated by these cookies. They are fragile, and impossible to mail, but otherwise a dozen or so makes a plesant Christmas gift. Best of all, when you take down the Christmas tree, eating stained-glass cookies as you go will either lessen or add to the pleasurable gloom you feel. If you like cookies. Though they do tend to get a little pine flavored and stale. A SUGAR-COOKIE RECIPE INGREDIENTS 4 cups of sifted cake flour 2 1/2 teaspoons of double-acting baking powder 1/2 teaspoon of salt 2/3 of a cup of soft shortening 1 1/2 of a cups granulated sugar 2 eggs, unbeaten 4 teaspoons of milk
Sift the flour, baking powder and salt. Mix the shortening with the sugar, add the eggs and vanilla, mix until very light and fluffy. Mix in the flour mixture alternately with milk.
Refrigerate the dough until it's easy to handle - stick it in the freezer if you're in a hurry.
Start heating the oven to 400 degrees. On a lightly floured surface roll out a third of the dough at a time, keeping the rest in the refrigerator. Roll it about 1/4 thick.
Cut the cookies as above.
Bake 9 minutes or until they're a delicate brown. Makes about 3 dozen cookies.