Eating Christmas

Robrt Pela's Dreaming of a Moist Christmas

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I don't eat pizzelles, a traditional Italian cookie I've heard people describe as resembling snowflakes and giant drinks coasters, but I've been making them practically since I was old enough to stand. I've got it down to a science: Plop two spoonfuls of sticky, anise-flavored batter onto the grooved face of the electric pizzelle iron; close iron; open second iron and remove cookies and place on cooling rack; fill second iron with batter; move on to third iron, filling it with batter and closing it, by which time the cookies in the first iron are done and I'm ready to start again.

To my palate, pizzelles don't taste like much, no matter what kind of flavoring I add. But white people seem to like them, and I can make a lot of them in very little time. Today, I've been making pizzelles for a half-hour and I've already got about 400 cookies made.

My spouse, Tevye, wanders through the dining room where I've set up my pizzelle assembly line. "Oh, hurray!" he sneers. "Sawdust cookies! It must be Christmastime!"

Ha ha. Tevye contends that all the Italian sweets I make are dry and flavorless. Not because he's unkind or because I'm preparing the recipes badly. Because he's right. The seven dozen biscotti I made yesterday are exactly perfect, and just like the ones for which people pay three bucks apiece at coffee houses and better delis. They're also like roofing shingles: brittle and flavor-free. I've attempted biscotti recipes other than the traditional one used by my grandmother, ones with exotic ingredients like rosemary and toasted almonds and dipped in melted chocolate, and the cookies are certainly tastier. But they're not traditional. They're someone else's Christmas.

"At least someone else's Christmas doesn't require a half-gallon of milk to force down," Tevye reminds me as I plop out my eight hundredth spoonful of pizzelle batter. "Please tell me you're not going to make taralli this year."

"Too late," I mutter into my mixing bowl. "They're in the freezer."

"Oh, good!" Tevye crows. "Because it's not Christmas without freeze-dried pepper-and-fennel pretzels!"

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Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela