Valley Breeze

The Valley Breeze & Observer 11-28-2018

The Valley Breeze Newspapers serving the Northern Rhode Island towns of Cumberland, Lincoln, Woonsocket, Smithfield, North Smithfield, Pawtucket, North Providence, Scituate, Foster, and Glocester

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THE VALLEY BREEZE & OBSERVER | NOVEMBER 28-DECEMBER 4, 2018 CHRISTMAS IN THE VALLEY 2018 19 The magic of Christmas cookies Valley Breeze reporter NICOLE DOTZENROD, as a child, above, helps bake cook- ies with her grandmother CELESTE BLANCO and mother ROBIN BLANCO in December 1996. "Grandma" CELESTE BLANCO, 87, prepares to roll out a ball of dough. (BREEZE PHOTOS BY NICOLE DOTZENROD) SPANISH ROSQUILLAS, below, are a cake-like dough- nut made with anise. PAWTUCKET – The smell of fresh cookies wafts through my grandmother's kitchen as she pulls a batch of gingerbreads from the oven, swiftly replacing it with a tray of dough for another batch. By the end of the day, her dining room table will be stacked three cookies high, every square inch lined with hundreds of treats waiting to be delivered to friends and family. The Blanco family's cookie baking tradition, nearly 40 years in the making, began with its matriarch, my grandma Celeste. As a mother of four, she began baking cookies for her family in the same Pawtucket kitchen we use today. "I was doing it alone for a while, and then (my daughters) started helping me out when they were young. I used to get up and bake from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.," she said. What started with a few batches has expanded into an annual daylong event, baking upwards of 300 cookies including chocolate chip, sugar, butternut balls, gin- gerbread, peanut butter, oatmeal, snowballs and rosquillas. "But the thing is, we bake two to three batches of each one," Celeste added after listing off our current offerings. "We started to completely take over the dining room table as the kids got older and got married … they wanted to give some to their friends and neighbors, too," she said. "We kept adding more and more and more." When she first married my late grandfather Julio Blanco, Grandma Celeste took on the daunting task of replicating his mother's recipe for Spanish rosquillas, a crumbly doughnut topped with glaze. "I learned to make them when I first married your grandfather," she told me. "I like the Spanish rosquillas because your grandfa- ther liked those. I started making those for him." My mother, Robin Blanco, remembers rolling out the dough to help make rosquillas with my grandmother, though she never dared to taste one as a child. "The first time I tried the Spanish rosquilla was as an adult," she said, explaining that she was repelled by the smell of anise. "I was in my early 30s before I actually tried one." She ultimately liked the taste – but her favorite, like mine, is the peanut butter cookies topped with Hershey's kisses. Those never lasted long in our home growing up. For my mother, the day of cookie baking has been more about memory making. She recalls her father being the taste- tester; the paper gingerbread man headbands I made for us as a child; my grandmother's silly striped shirt that she wears only during cookie baking; and the sprinkles and "crooked lines of icing all over the place" when us kids were old enough to help decorate. "It's a very nice day to be together as a family," she said. "We've been baking now for more than 30 years. It's been a treat," said Celeste. Now 87, my Grandma Celeste is still rolling out dough and leading the show. For my sister Meg and me, baking cookies with grandma will always be our favorite holiday tradition – one we've been lucky enough to con- tinue into adulthood. "My grandma has been the host of cookie baking since the day I was born, and I can't pic- ture it any other way," Meg said. "Knowing that it means so much to her and makes her so happy keeps the tradition going and brings everyone together." "Every year it seems like the one thing that never changes," she said. "The best part about it is seeing everyone come together for something that's special to our family." By NICOLE DOTZENROD Valley Breeze Staff Writer nicole@valleybreeze.com

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