It was the creak of the wood floor when I awoke and scampered downstairs, bleary-eyed in anticipation of what Santa had left. I saw the plaid tablecloth, upon it a platter with mom’s homemade rocky road cake; a few inches away was her “famous” almond toffee, which sat in the stillness begging for a taker; and that mysterious yellow poppy seed bundt cake with the unbelievably moist center, sliced and dusted with fine sugar. A turn of the corner would reveal a half-eaten cookie and a note from that fabled fat man who happened to have penmanship unbelievably close to my fathers’. The coffeemaker would click on, and soon a parent would blindly make their way into the kitchen, filling two mugs to almost-overflowing and then disappear back into their flannel cave. My sister and I were left to discover treasures inside our stockings, while our parents gently awoke with the help of a locally roasted coffee bean called “Morning Fog Lifter.”
This is more or less what Christmas looked like at our house every year. My sister and I were tucked into bed on Christmas eve with the “Night Before Christmas” read aloud to us by my father. He always chose the comical route for the story, annually claiming, “And laying his finger INSIDE of his nose-up the chimney he rose!” Ashley often slept on my trundle bed that night because of the special occasion. In the morning the four of us would exchange gifts, then later that day my Dad’s family appeared. Grandma and Grandpa would spend the day fighting (they hadn’t been married for eons, after all); the guys would play poker and the three of us cousins would occupy our time with new toys, until Grandma’s emergence from the kitchen-every pot, pan and utensil left for someone to wash by hand after dinner-signaled that the feast was ready.
My husband and I had a discussion this year about our Christmases as children. He doesn’t remember a special tablecloth, but he loved making sugar cookies with his siblings. As adults, we move into new chapters of our lives and create traditions of our own. Since being married, Matt and I have our own Christmas traditions: We choose a new ornament for our tree each year; we place the tree in our bedroom because we want to see it when we retire at night and smell the woodsy pine as we drift to sleep; we watch “Christmas Vacation” while we decorate our tree; he uses his mom’s recipe to make sugar cookies every year.
This year I was feeling awfully nostalgic– I asked my mom for her poppy seed cake recipe. I only remember her making it at Christmastime. It was moist and had a distinct flavor (cream sherry anyone?), with tiny, bubbly-poppy-crunchiness from the seeds.
Everyone, please meet mom’s Poppy-Seed Cake:
It’s really easy to make. It’s technically not even “from scratch” because you use a yellow cake mix!
1 box of yellow cake mix (I found one at the health food store by madhava which I was totally excited about! CHECK OUT THEIR WEBSITE HERE)
1/3 cup poppy seeds
1/2 cup cream sherry ( I found this at my local liquor store)
1/2 cup vegetable oil (I used walnut oil)
1 cup sour cream (My sister-in-law introduced me to Nancy’s Organic cultured sour cream. It is SO GOOD!)
1 TBS vanilla extract
NOTE: The original recipe called for 1 box of french vanilla pudding mix. However, after reading the label and basically deciding it was synthetic vanilla flavoring + food color + sugar, I decided to omit it. Did it change the flavor? Maybe a little. Did it change the texture? Not that I could tell. I added some vanilla extract in its place.
Pre-heat oven to 350°. Mix all ingredients together with a mixer for 5 minutes. Pour batter into greased and floured bundt pan.
Bake for 40-45 minutes (Mine was done at 40). Remove from oven and let set for 10 minutes before removing from pan.
Flip and release from pan onto a platter. Dust with powdered sugar when cooled.
I told you it was easy. This cake was just as yummy as I remembered it. It was a little less sweet, which I had hoped for with the cake mix choice and omission of the pudding mix. It’s sweet enough that you know it’s cake, but mild enough to have with a cup of coffee for breakfast 🙂
What holiday traditions does YOUR FAMILY have?