I’m on a plane back to Santa Barbara, to the Goodland, to… home. For more than twenty years, my parents have lived in the house I grew up in; a red-tile-roofed, white-stuccoed house nestled up against sloping ranch land and shady avocado trees. Every year I come back for Christmas, and though the distance is becoming ever greater, our family traditions remain mostly unchanged. A big, Noble or Douglas fir will stand gloriously next to the piano in the living room, decorated with a happy conglomeration of colored string lights, vintage family ornaments, sparkly glass bulbs, and elementary-school art projects. Colorful, knitted stockings will hang on the mantel, guarded by a small army of nutcrackers in various sizes and dress. The smell of fresh pine will waft intoxicatingly through the house, melding with sweet spices – cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves – as holiday baking marches on at full-steam.
On Christmas Eve, we’ll read from our fading, illustrated version of The Night Before Christmas, a copy from my Dad’s childhood that grows ever more fragile each year. Cookies will be set out, or maybe thick slices of Mom’s pumpkin bread, before we children are tucked all snug in our beds. We’ll awake early on Christmas morning to find our stockings filled by Santa, with a few delicate tangerines tucked in their toes. He used to bring us each a single navel orange, but over the years must have developed a taste for their more flavorful cousins.
Coincidentally, in a small corner of my parent’s vegetable garden, beyond raised-beds of shaggy tomatoes, and sprawling, prickly raspberry bushes, sits a very happy Satsuma tangerine tree, which dutifully produces a bounty of sweet and tangy, soft-fleshed fruit throughout the mild, Central Coast winter. They are prized jewels of the season. When I happened upon a big basket of Satsumas on display at our local grocery store this week, I thought of home, and excitedly filled a bag full of the little orange beauties. Just the sort of antidote needed to combat the pangs of homesickness that crop up every once and a while in those of us transplanted far away from our natural roots.
Most of the tangerines the Honey and I consumed fresh, peeled quickly and eaten as little snacks throughout the day, but I saved a few to make these citrus olive oil cakes. These are moist and flavorful treats, and pair nicely with a big, steamy cup of tea – Vanilla Rooibos is my current obsession – while tucked inside on cold Winter days. Or, as the case may be today, tucked into a carry-on bag as sweet sustenance while on a homeward journey across the country for Christmas.