Holiday traditions good and bad

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By Vince Luecke

The holiday season isn't just about eating, but meals seem to be an important part of year-end celebrations for many of us. They certainly are for me.

One of my holiday goals has been finding more time to spend with family, friends and others in the community. With one holiday down and two to go, my record is mixed, but I'm still determined to spend more time enjoying others' company and less time working.

I had hoped to find time Saturday to make it to the holiday bazaar at St. John Lutheran Church. My quest were springerles, the Christmas cookies I probably love too well. The ladies at the church have a knack for making the cookies with just the right taste and texture, not too hard, but not all that gooey.

My holiday baking has been limited since moving into the heart of New Boston, but I hope to find the time during upcoming weekends to try my hand at some recipes, including bourbon balls, whiskey and rum bonbons and other liquor-containing recipes I've been gathering for a few years.

They make tasty gifts for those friends who enjoy them and it allows me to use up the bottles of spirits friends and neighbors gift me with every Christmas. While I think of them whenever I lift my glass, there's only so much bourbon and schnapps a single guy can consume (in a healthy way) in a year's time. I kept one bottle of high-quality bourbon a neighbor gave me last year and shared it with friends on a fall excursion that included a boat trip to Cloverport, Ky. The bottle was emptied with gusto, although one fellow who said he didn't care much for my whiskey ended up being laid low at the night's end by "white lightning."

He swore off the hard stuff for a while, but I'm not sure how long the lesson will stick.

But holiday feasting for me is more about food than drink. As I get older I find myself wanting to make things that remind me of family members who used to make those dishes, whether they're homemade noodles or German chocolate cake. Maybe it's nostalgia or simply wanting to keep a family recipe alive for a new generation.

I'm always open to new traditions, such as the Reuben dip I made for a fall gathering at my parents' home that will make a nice addition to a New Year's Eve party and apple strudel that doesn't taste quite as good as the dish served to me one cold evening in Austria with a sweet wine. Still, it's close.

Some holiday traditions I've tried once and have pledged not to repeat. Growing my own geese two years ago was too much of a chore and a cold afternoon of butchering birds left me dribbled in blood and nearly turned me into a vegetarian.

Friends who had seen the white fluffy birds earlier that fall and laughed at their friendly honking only picked at the tasty meat when it landed on their plate and offered me damning looks that made me feel like I'd served up a family pet.

I now stick to dishes that don't require me to chop off heads, like the meatballs I'm learning to make from my mother and a cheesecake recipe that is easy to assemble but tricky to get just right in the oven.

Practice makes perfect and eating the practice batch isn't that hard of a job.

Take time in these weeks before the holidays to try out new recipes, dust off old family favorites and, most importantly, make time to spend with family and friends.

The memories will last a lifetime.