My grandmother (father's mother) made the absolute best dinner rolls every Christmas. While my cousins were making a beeline for the pies and cakes, I was trying to see how many pans of rolls were left. I would sneak them before the rest of dinner was ready. I would add them to my plate once I had gotten my ham, mac and candied yams. When my plate was empty, my to-go plate was ready... filled with more rolls.
They were perfect. Golden brown on top. Just the right balance of gooey in the middle caused by the melting butter in the center. They were soft and warm with a hint of crunch on the outside. Even though a million things were being cooked and baked and warmed in the oven, those rolls were distinct and bright, the smell wafting through the entire house.
There was one Christmas when my aunties let me help make them. The kitchen was small, tight, warm, and perfect. I was hip to hip with my two aunts as they showed me how to let the yeast soak. They stood behind me to add flour to my hands so they wouldn't be so sticky with dough. I was never much interested in cooking, but in this moment, I was all in. I wanted to remember every single moment as it was happening. Its the one pan of rolls I don't remember eating; it was the making that was so special.
After my grandmother passed, I hadn't had her rolls for more than a decade. I missed her. I was grown, with my own kitchen and couldn't come home for Christmas. I texted my aunt, asking if she would send me the recipe. Yall, when I opened the little packet of Red Star yeast to start baking, tears fell down my face. I was not prepared for the instantaneous memories of my grandmother, my aunts, the family kitchen. Everything came rushing back. I was suddenly transported to Akron, OH with my family again.
I was overwhelmed.
My rolls came out terribly. I mean really awful. They were too big. They were kinda hard. They smelled so good, but didn't taste nearly so wonderful. It was almost laughable. But I was grateful. Grateful for all the memories wrapped around a tiny packet of yeast.
A couple months ago, deep in the pandemic, my family started having regular zoom calls. For my grandmothers birthday, we all gathered around our computers to make her recipe together. We laughed. We shared memories. We updated one another on our current lives. We cooked apart, together. And at the end, all of our kitchens smelled like Christmas.
This holiday I am grateful for little packets of yeast... for small, warm kitchens... for passed down recipes... for new memories based on old traditions... for the people who formed me, loved me, took time with me... for all the things that the holidays can mean in community, even when community has to look differently.
I deeply hope that you will find the small important things that fill you up, that make you feel connected to the people you love, that there are new memories or old traditions that make you feel rooted. I hope you have a happy holiday.