I like Food and Wine magazine. I like the fact that they have a recipe for virtually every occasion and that the majority of their recipes are an almost guaranteed success. That is, if you have access to all the ingredients and are capable of following all the instructions. Regardless, one of my favorite features of the magazine now that I am also subscribed online is the weekly list of recipes I get in my inbox that correspond to some commone theme, holiday, or ingredient. This week, among the list of holiday delights was the star of the show in any holiday party my mother ever hosted: the cheese ball.
Cheese balls were, at least to my child’s mind, a feat of extreme culinary expertise that resulted in a nut and chive covered sphere that rested elegantly on one of my mother’s glass serving plates. It was many years before I ever saw the inside of a cheese ball once it was cut into as my sister and I were often banished to other realms (the finished basement or our neighbor’s house) during adult gatherings. When one was served at family gatherings I seemed to miss the moments between when it was first presented and after its total destruction. And the presentation was always a grand affair with lots of oohs and ahs. My family might have been weird in that respect, but I don’t think so. I’m not sure what I imagined was inside, but once I figured it out, it was a few years before my taste buds could truly appreciate the blend of aged cheeses, pickled vegetables, and sometimes bacon, that resided within.
I realized something when that recipe hit my inbox today and although it looked delicious, what I was actually craving was not to eat an entire ball of nut -covered cheese, it was the nostalgia. Those were times when I could still hide underneath the dining room table or find an out-of-the-way spying place behind the couch or in the coat closet. The room smelled of apple cider that my mom flavored with spiced apple rings, oranges, and cloves. The adults were always dressed nicely and talking about things I didn’t care about, but there was usually lots of laughter. I would get bored of waiting for the cookies to make their appearance and eventually go back to my room where I would fall asleep long before everyone left.
In these days of Covid quarantines and a lot of uncertainty, I see a lot of families trying to create a sense of peace and comfort in their homes. The holiday lights these years are sure to be at epic proportions and I’ve seen plenty of Christmas trees already going up on social media. I think that everyone is seeking that sense of safety and comfort that we may recall from moments in our childhoods. Not only the sights, but the tastes and scents all bring those moments to mind. Although it briefly crossed my mind, eating a pound of cheese is not really a good plan for anyone on any given day, but just remembering the presentation of the cheese ball brought a smile to my face.
And just because, I picked up some spice apple rings from the farmer’s market.
*Photo from Food and Wine Magazine: Photo by Antonis Achilleos / Food Styling by Chelsea Zimmer / Prop Styling by Kay Clarke, https://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/classic-cheese-ball-spiced-pecans