"Christmas celebrations begin with my in-laws," says DeAnna Alm of Fremont, California. "My husband Erik grew up with the tradition of cutting out and frosting dozens of sugar cookies for Christmas Eve. Over 20 years ago someone started writing funny jokes on each cookie, and the tradition continues to this day. Now spouses and children join in the fun.
"About 5 years ago I asked my mother-in-law if there was anything I could do to help with Christmas preparations. She had a very busy work schedule and fewer days than usual to prepare the family Christmas Eve dinner. She asked if I would make the Swedish Meatballs and gave me a copy of the family recipe.
"The meatballs turned out very well, and I have been asked to make them ever since. Last year I added bay leaves and smoked Spanish paprika to the gravy. Everyone agreed the changes should become a permanent part of that revered recipe."
DeAnna's own family heritage flavored the holidays while she was growing up. "Until we kids left the house, Christmas Eve was the night my mom would make a Chinese feast. Her mother, Grandmother Unger, would amaze us with delicious meals and Mom followed in her footsteps. My dad would take us to the movies so Mom could do the initial chopping. When we returned home it was time to belly up to the counter and start rolling eggrolls.
"Now my extended family (my parents live in another state) gathers together on the closest weekend to Christmas. Cooking with my mom continues to be an expression of our love for each other. We talk and laugh and enjoy the act of creating something for the whole family to enjoy.
"We'll recall moments with Grandmother Verna joking about 'having a little cake with her lemon sauce' each time she baked a gingerbread cake or how she would send Oatmeal Bars to my grandfather when he was serving in World War II. There's always a lot of cooking when we visit. The conversation and warmth around the dinner table comforts and sustains me in a way that nothing else does."
DeAnna shares, "Sometimes during the holidays you need a quick, simple yet pleasing dessert—maybe for guests who dropped in or who just stayed longer than you expected! These oatmeal bars have long been a favorite in my family. My grandmother, Verna Bueckert, used to bake them and mail them to my grandfather when he was serving in Europe in World War II. The recipe didn't originally call for cinnamon, but I have found that the addition of Vietnamese cinnamon (my most favorite of all my Penzeys spices!) makes them spectacular!"
Preheat oven to 300°. Melt the butter and place in a large bowl. Add the remaining ingredients and stir well. Press firmly into an ungreased 8x8 glass pan. Bake at 300° for 30 minutes. Let cool about half way (not totally cold) and cut into bars. These freeze well.Prep. time: 15 minutes
Nutritional Information: Servings 12;
Serving Size 2 bars (39g); Calories 170; Calories from fat 80; Total fat 9g; Cholesterol 20mg; Sodium 90mg; Carbohydrate 23g; Dietary Fiber 1g.