December 25, 2010

Christmas Blintzes

We all have our own holiday traditions, those things we do or make or become once a year. The end of the year, however arbitrary it may be, seems a natural time to reflect on what has happened and what is to come. Perhaps this is why traditions persist in everyone's family at Christmas/ Hannukah/ Saturnalia/ Holiday: we pay homage to those things that shaped us in some way but that we don't necessarily carry with us every day. The combination of ethnic heritage and food is a common theme in many Americans' holiday traditions.

When I was growing up, my mom made stuffed blintzes every Christmas morning, from a recipe she'd cut out of a box of Aunt Jemima buckwheat pancake mix in the early 80s. Blintzes (or блины in Russian) were not specifically part of her family's holiday food tradition, not like cream cheese cookies (kolachki) were. But with two parents whose first language was Russian, my mom ate her fair share of blintzes over the years. They are deceptively simple to make: pancake mix (3/4 c), milk (1 c), eggs (3), oil (2 T). Dump 1/4 c into a skillet and cook a few seconds. Although I consider myself a decent cook, crepes are definitely not my strong suit. I went through three-quarters of the batter before figuring out the right pan (one was too big, one was too small, one was juuuust right) and the right temperature (stupid electric range), and was eventually able to eke three crepes out of the remaining batter.

A trip to Trader Joe's was necessary for the procurement of additional eggs, and I whipped up another batch, with my muscle memory finally kicking in and allowing me to flip the crepes without ripping them. The second part of blintz-making is easy: fill the crepes with dollops of a mixture of ricotta cheese (2 c), cream cheese (3 oz), sugar (1/4 c), and vanilla (1 t). Roll, tuck in ends, and place in a 13x9 buttered glass dish. Bake at 375 for 20-30 minutes. Top as desired. My blintzes aren't exactly food magazine photogenic, but they are tasty - warm and slightly crispy around the edges, sweet and creamy, with just a hint of sour cream.

For me, blintzes are like a family-level revitalization movement, a syncretic Russian-American-Killgrove tradition. My mom's sister got the recipe a couple years later, and she makes blintzes for her family every Christmas. Now I do too. It's a way of remembering our Russian heritage, even if none of us goes to church anymore and we all now celebrate Christmas on December 25th rather than the Eastern Orthodox date of January 7th. Every year, blintzes connect me to my mom through a shared frustration with crepe-making and to my brother and late father through a shared love of sweet cheese-filled deliciousness. They remind me of childhood Christmases that were sometimes lean but always full of love. This connection to my past - to the family that supports me, to loved ones who left this life too early, and to generations of ancestors I never met - is important to me, as my past shaped who I am today and where I am going in the future. What better way to honor the past and greet a new year than with a hearty breakfast of blintzes?

Merry Christmas and
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