Recently my niece and I were sifting through my Christmas cookie recipes looking at all the holiday favorites. Turns out most of these recipes are hand-written. Maybe, because special cookies require extra time and attention and were only made once a year, they became the recipes to write down – the cherished ones to pass along.
I noticed another interesting thing about the cookie recipes. At first glance, I thought how lucky I am to have so many family recipes handed down to me. Then I realized that many of the recipes aren’t from actual family members but from people that I love just as much as as if they were family. That got me wondering…
Is the face of family changing so much so that the very definition needs revision?
Today’s families come in all sorts of shapes, styles and colors with step-, half-, and adopted siblings. Some parents are single or the same sex. Some couples are happily married without children and some can’t seem to get their grown kids to leave the nest. Some people are divorced, some never married and others are just on their own for other reasons. Families, it seems, are truly a blend of situations, of colors and, increasingly, are less about about blood-relations, blue or otherwise, than about the people we want to surround ourselves with.
Webster’s defines family as “a group of people related to each other” but I wonder if a broader definition isn’t the better one: family as a group of people connected by common characteristics who choose to share their lives with each other. People don’t have to share DNA to love one another with unwavering devotion. Friendships can indeed bind us together for a lifetime. Family shouldn’t be solely defined by birth or marriage certificates but instead always defined within our hearts and, by our feet, when we decide where we want to be and who we want to be with.
When surrounded by those we love being with we enjoy the best this life has to offer. Joy and laughter in the good times reflecting on fond memories. Understanding and care in the dark days when mistakes are made and forgiveness is needed. These are the people who are there when we are overwhelmed … and when our actual families drive us crazy. That’s real family – a combination of relatives and friends we can’t live without. This brings richness and love to our lives and, always an extra spark to the holidays, and every day.
That’s a pretty good definition of family.
Ask yourself this: what is the face of my family? Who do I want to share my joyful times with? Who is there when I forget my way and need a helping hand? Who has my back? Who will I support and forgive – even when it is hard to do? Who do I want to be with more than anyone else in the world? Picture those faces and you know who belongs in your family.
My niece and I looked over those recipes and decided to make two favorites. Chocolate Crinkles, a handwritten recipe from my son’s first babysitter 30 years ago and, Spice Mice, an old favorite recipe that I’ve written down and shared with others.
Oh, and my niece isn’t my actual niece and her mom isn’t my blood sister but … they are my family and I cannot imagine life without them. I’m delighted to spend this Christmas with just some of this wonderful extended family which includes both blood relatives and people I am honored to belong to.
Spice Mice (or Christmas Rats if you wish)
1 1/2 sticks of butter, softened
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla (vanilla bean paste is the best)
2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon each: cardamon, allspice, cinnamon
1 egg mixed with 2 tablespoons water
Dried currents, almond slivers, chow mein noodles
Cream butter for 2 minutes until pale in color. Add sugars and blend well. Add egg and vanilla and blend. Add flour and spices, mix well.
Shape dough into 1 tablespoon ovals. Place 2-inches apart on parchment-lined cookie sheet. Whisk egg and water and brush each oval with egg wash. Roll dried currents into little balls and press in dough as eyes. Stick 2 almond slivers as ears. Insert chow mein noodle as a tail.
Bake 350 degrees for 17-20 minutes. Cool on racks. The ears and tails are delicate so be careful with them. Makes about 2 dozen.