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Lean into those old-time traditions

While walking and minding my own business the other day, I turned a corner and met with a visual assault. A towering yellow, rectangular creature with round black glasses waved at me. What are they called again? Oh, yes. Minions, as in flunky, lackey, underling and other subordinations. Lo, inflatables have appeared.

What in the despicable state of affairs do minions have to do with the holidays? I thought my neighbor’s giant corgi was obnoxious, save for its Santa hat, but this grinning, bespectacled tube of Velveeta made me wish I had a pitchfork handy. We’ve endured nearly a year’s worth of sustained whining and mewling this year, so I’ll stop there with the negative.

To celebrate the hope this time of year brings, I hang a large star, a sign that boldly declares JOY, though not of my own making, two giant snowflakes and one trumpeting angel, all shining stubbornly from various windows.

The deeper we dive into winter and an end to a particularly cruel year, the more I lean into traditions of old. Not just for oldsters, the populace in general seems to be hearkening back for something solid to grasp — something of value. Though there may be fewer family members with us to share in the old ways, reminiscing about those holly jolly days brings a smile and knowledge that they’re not gone forever. Some memories I could do without, however.

I recall one year when I was miscast as an angel in the church nativity play. The woman in charge of costumes took her calling seriously. She wrapped a sheet, an angel undergarment, around my chest so securely that I passed out. I had the foresight and lack of oxygen to do this while yet backstage. It would have been bad form to keel over during a celestial visitation, which is normally the job of the visitee.

A favorite part of our family tradition means baking. My grandmother Goby was famous for her date nut roll. There’s a picture of her in a red dress, smiling and squeezing excess moisture from the dough before rolling. She candied nuts, made peanut brittle, and perfected sugar cookies, supplying us with love-infused goodies well into her 90s. Before I joined her in Oregon, my family received a much-anticipated Christmas box wrapped in brown craft paper and tied with twine.

Baking is therapeutic, especially during challenging times. I plug in old movies while I work, making mini loaves of coffee cake and cranberry orange bread, butter cookies shaped by vintage cookie cutters (our family standby), snowballs, and, ever on the search for newcomers, maple pecan cookies, discovered two years ago.

Since I’m not planning to attend a cookie exchange, I thought I’d share my family snowball recipe. Feel free to email your favorites. Most cookie enthusiasts have some version of this cookie, also known as Russian teacakes and Mexican wedding cookies, but I accidentally discovered an ingredient that amped up the irresistible factor.

I double this recipe and mix with my (sanitized) hands.

1 cup flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup shortening

1/2 cup powdered sugar

1 cup ground pecans

1- 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

More powdered sugar for rolling.

Roll into balls and bake in a 350-degree oven for 10-12 minutes. Roll in powdered sugar when cool.

The fortunate accident occurred when I ground the pecans in my coffee bean grinder, with coffee residue inside. The subtle added flavor was a hit.

Shopping small is a fun and edifying way to connect with neighboring shopkeepers. Businesses I visited recently include Las Palmas for takeout, Willowcreek Gifts, The Pot Rack, Blue Door Garden Store and Cerberus Coffee for a great mocha, all in Jacksonville. Also, Crackin & Stackin for the elusive buckwheat pancakes, and Talon Grill in Eagle Point where chef Jeff has the chops (and other sumptuous dishes). The historic Butte Creek Mill millstones are grinding once more. Visit its website or Facebook page to order commemorative packages of flour and pancake mix to help raise what’s needed to finish the interior and open her up to the public at last.

Peggy Dover is a freelance writer. Reach her at pcdover@hotmail.com.