Dating Ethnic Foods for Christmas

Pamela Hill NettletonEssaysLeave a Comment

Our family of six sisters had a tradition as we dated in high school and college. If you brought a boy home for Christmas Eve dinner, you had to force him to bring along a traditional dish representing his ethnic heritage. This was how we learned to embrace exotically diverse non-Scandinavians, not to mention expand our culinary experience outside of all things white and flavor-free. Eventually, as our custom continued over the years and down through the younger sisters, we created a legacy of sorts. Where other families’ holiday tabletop decor ran to holly boughs dotted with berries, ours evolved into a motley assortment of oddball kitchen concoctions that were only occasionally edible. Secure in our own superior annual consumption … Read More

A Bad Gifter

Pamela Hill NettletonEssaysLeave a Comment

I give bad gifts. Size 5 shoes to size 11 feet. Yogurt makers to the lactose intolerant. Diaries to the discreet. Sheet music to the relentlessly tone deaf. It’s not that I am thoughtless—I’m thinking, I’m thinking, believe me. It’s just that I have this holiday weakness of idealizing my friends and family, sometimes to the point of making them unrecognizable. Since they are the finest people I know, and you would think so, too, should you ever have the good fortune to get to know them, I choose to believe that they are nearly flawless. At least, come shopping time. Trying to select the perfect scarf, handbag, or tie for the people behind the names on my list, I … Read More

Baking for Nobody

Pamela Hill NettletonEssaysLeave a Comment

I just baked 12 dozen Christmas cookies for no one. I do the baking every year; the “no one” part I’m still getting used to. When I ran a magazine, I’d make a batch of these each December week and bring them in on Mondays for the staff. A junior editor who became a senior editor and went on to launch food magazines and publish cookbooks dubbed them the “Like Heroin Cookies,” a moniker I treasure. It was hard to stop eating them. The art director came to my desk one afternoon. “Are there any of those cookies left?” he asked hopefully. I shook my head. “O-kay,” he said, sounding like Eeyore, and shuffled out the door.  When the scent … Read More

Christmas Jell-O

Pamela Hill NettletonEssaysLeave a Comment

IT JUST WOULDN’T be Christmas without Jell-O. Holiday traditions are built around this concoction of sweeteners, dyes, and stuff that hardens like amber to preserve the items that are lovingly placed in it. The lunch ladies at St. Raphael’s Elementary School were masters of suspending the four food groups in Jell-O. Carrots were an odd and particular favorite—not traditionally sliced, but shredded in a frenzy. Flurries of carrot peelings, snowing in Jell-O. Now that I am an adult and have struggled myself with kitchen mysteries, I wonder how they managed to get those carrot peelings to stand on end as the Jell-O hardened, forever ethereal in a vertical dance of keratin. My pitiful attempts only result in a clotted mass of … Read More

The Christmas Card From Strangers

Pamela Hill NettletonArticles, EssaysLeave a Comment

This December week, I received precisely one dozen Christmas cards. They’ve been collecting day by day in the garage, slowly shedding their potential viral load  out there next to the band saw.  I have a large family, and the holiday letters and annual summaries typically numbered many more times that. But this is the social media age, and one of the treasures of that technology is that I do not see my cousins once a year on a flat Kodak card but weekly in Facebook and Instagram. I watch their children and grandchildren grow in increments rather than suffer the shock that yearly photos from afar can deliver of seeing a child I remember as a toddler suddenly appear six … Read More

Hating the Whos

Pamela Hill NettletonEssaysLeave a Comment

THIS IS THE TALE of the holiday letter and the handgun, with the legend of the discarded tree and the decapitated other tree tossed in. For unimportant reasons, it wasn’t until the morning of Jan. 6 that I sat down by the roaring fireplace to write my annual holiday letter. Let’s call it an early valentine greeting; mine had been a hectic season. Cup of tea steaming on the sofa table and down pillows plumped around me, I was ready to compose a heartwarming note of at least limping genius, when the police arrived. Out on the lawn, there arose such a clatter that I sprang from the sofa to, well, you know. Two officers stood on the corner over a … Read More