Saturday, December 28, 2013

Christmas in Italy

I made these chocolate crinkle cookies as one of my halfhearted attempts at Christmas baking. I’ve never been able to do a big slog of cookie batches like my mom, my aunts, and my cousin Tine do…but on a good year I’ll do a couple personal faves. Some years it’s cookies, others it’s candy making, which I love as a concept but am less successful at. >These cookies triggered a fun set of holiday memories for me. My mom makes a similar kind of cookie with Sambuca in it. I didn’t remember that until after these were made, but I thought they’d be good with a little Sambuca to sip with it.

It was!

A few years ago my parents celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary. They’d fallen in love with Italy more than a decade before when they’d gone to Europe for the first time while visiting my sister who was studying for a semester in Aix-en-Provence. They went there, and to Paris, but Rome was what really stuck with them. For years after they’d go back and spend a month or so taking Italian classes in a chosen city, eating at little local restaurants or shopping in the markets and cooking at home, and taking trips on the weekends.

They’d stayed in Florence and Venice, but Rome was a city they knew particularly well and loved. For their 40th anniversary they wanted to renew their vows at a local Episcopalian church that was popular with expats from all over the globe, and invited my husband Steve and I to go with them.

My parents got married on December 22, 1967. So we went over to enjoy the city in the few days surrounding Christmas. It was a strange but lovely time to go. All the churches and cathedrals had beautiful nativity scenes. The city had an intriguing level of hushed bustle, a lot of the restaurants were active, the markets were busy and vibrant. The Parthenon sat like a huge marble phantom in a tiny square surrounded by happy, innocuous cafes and stores. There was gelato everywhere.

One afternoon Steve and I had a couple hours to kill before meeting up with my parents for dinner. It was probably a Friday afternoon, and we hit a café/bar right as people seemed to be leaving work and grabbing a drink on the way home. I ordered a Sambuca, and they poured a huge amount in a glass with a lone coffee bean floating rather forlornly in it. I don’t remember what Steve had. But jostling among all the other Romans, sipping Sambuca on a cloudy afternoon, as commuters chattered loudly in Italian all around us, is a seasonal experience I’ll always remember.

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