There is one thing, though, that I have managed to do most every year since I was 15 years old, thanks to a recipe shared with me by my best friend growing up, Rachel.
When I say best friend, I mean best friend. Rachel knew me inside and out and loved me anyway. She was the one person who “got me.”
Years ago, I tucked away our many notes from high school, passed during biology lab and complete with illustrations, in a greeting card box — to be whipped out whenever I needed a good laugh or even a good cry. This box of notes is one of my prized possessions. It’s moved with me from Connecticut to Maine to Maryland to Florida to Connecticut (again) and finally here, to Vermont.
In these notes, we referred to each other as “Fat Ass” and “Jelly Belly.” We drew pictures of where we’d rather be. We talked about the boys we liked — actually, usually men — really attainable chaps like those who starred opposite Julia Ormond in period films like “Young Catherine” and the 25-year-old substitute teacher. We trusted each other with our deepest, sometimes dark, secrets.
We cried in each other’s arms, and I have never laughed as much as I did while hanging out with Rachel.
When Rachel became a vegetarian, I decided I would still love her. And when I moved out of state and left all my friends behind, Rachel decided she’d still love me.
Not long after we graduated college, Rachel died.
It’s still somewhat unbelievable to me that my young, beautiful, intelligent, compassionate best friend is gone — I miss her every day — and for a long time I couldn’t forgive myself that I wasn’t there with her at the end. Maybe I haven’t yet.
I was far away, in the throes of my early 20s, out of touch with the people in the small town we had grown up in, and I had no idea she was sick.
It happened that fast.
Making Rachel’s Bread, a braided breakfast or coffee bread, is the one tradition I manage to continue from year to year. Rachel taught me how to make it in her mother’s kitchen. She showed me how to fake a braid and turned me on to dried apricots. She also showed me that a little Christmas kitsch with maraschino cherries and white icing is a good thing.
(makes 3 loaves)
Note: Rachel’s original recipe uses active dry yeast (2 packages), mixed with water. I use instant dry yeast, so I mix it with the flour first before adding to the rest of the ingredients.
2 cups sour cream
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
1/2 cup warm water
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons salt