I am in the checkout line at the Giant Eagle which is Pittsburgh’s version of Publix. While waiting, I skim an article on Christmas family gatherings: a recipe for a Holiday Ham, glazed with brown sugar and rings of pineapple (the way Mom used to make it), escalloped potatoes, lemony Brussels sprouts, and a Linzer Torte. The picture shows the food deftly plated and arranged on a Christmas tablecloth. There’s a vase with red roses, white lilies and pine.
You want the magazine? The cashier winks at me. Later that night, after my daughter, Sydney’s bath, and of course, her bedtime story, I read to my husband, Larry, in bed from the magazine, The Linzer Torte has two delicious layers of rich and buttery, nut flavored pastry sandwiched together with raspberry preserves. What makes this torte so beautiful is the lattice design of the top crust.
I keep looking at that beautiful picture of the Linzer Torte; Larry turns his light out. I stare at the Linzer Torte, the flowers, the tablecloth, and decide, this is what I will make for dinner on Christmas. Neither Larry nor I have ever tasted a Linzer Torte. And, I am pretty sure my brother and his family will be stunned when they see the table. This Christmas it’s my turn to cook: the first Christmas since my mother passed. The Christmas of the Linzer Torte!
Christmas morning, I press a tablecloth I’d found at Marshall’s that is eerily like the one in the Woman’s World magazine, green and red plaid with gold threads. I spread it out on the dining room table. Instead of the roses and lilies, I arrange red and white chrysanthemums with some pine clippings from our Christmas tree. Picture perfect is what I am going for!
The ham is in the oven, scored with cloves and pineapple and basting in brown sugar and ginger ale. The potatoes I’d made earlier are in the fridge, along with the Linzer Torte. Like an architect, I had cut the pastry into strips with a pizza cutter, and weaved them into the lattice top crust.
I vacuum cat hair, while Sydney and Larry are playing with Barbie’s Limousine. I set the table with my grandmother’s Limoges china, gold flatware, and the beeswax candles that Sydney and I have hand rolled the day before. Both the potatoes and the torte need the same time to cook and at the same heat. I pop them into the oven together. Ah perfection! The timing allows me to run upstairs, shower, dress, dry and style both my hair and my daughter’s hair.
While I’m in the shower, my brother calls. They’re on their way, Larry shouts up the stairs. Jeff is an ex-Marine, married to Margo, an ex-singer, now a school counselor, redheaded Maxwell has just turned three. They arrive just as I finish the Brussels sprouts, and spoon them into a serving dish. Everything is out of the oven and on top of the stove, warming.
Sydney, so grown up at 5, runs up the stairs with everyone’s coats. Maxwell is playing with our orange cat, Felix. My brother is so very hungry. I let him know that everything’s ready; I just have to plate and serve. Sydney comes back downstairs; she wants to open presents first. We decide on one present each; then we’ll eat. Larry takes the drink order and comes back with everything but Margo’s hot apple cider. We laugh at Maxwell because the cat is tapping his red hair with his paw. He is giggling the way three year olds do.
There’s a POP POP in the kitchen. I run out of the living room, through the dining room yelling SHIT SHIT SHIT. I hear my nephew mimicking, SHIT SHIT SHIT. In the kitchen, raspberry preserves are splattered on the ceiling, on the floor, the refrigerator, the stove….everywhere. Larry has mistakenly turned the burner on underneath the Linzer Torte instead of the saucepan for Margo’s cider. I turn the burner off and assess the damage. There are Pyrex glass shards on the ham, in the potatoes, on the Brussels sprouts, and even floating on the cinnamon sticks in the cider. My picture perfect Christmas dinner, ruined. Maxwell is still saying SHIT SHIT SHIT. Larry starts to apologize. I want to cry, go upstairs and punch a pillow.
My brother, Jeff, asks if we have a menu for a Chinese restaurant, and offers to buy our Christmas meal. I microwave fresh cider for Margo and throw away everything including the Linzer Torte, Pyrex baking dish and all. Maxwell and Sydney chant SHIT SHIT SHIT and giggle. We open our presents. We all sit down and I light the candles. The Chinese food is delicious, just perfect!
The following year, Larry and I buy the Chinese food, and bring it over to my brother’s. Every year after, each family alternates: buys and delivers. It becomes our family tradition to re-tell the story of our The Linzer Torte Christmas.
Twenty some years later, I move to Tampa, alone, after my divorce. On Christmas Day, I FaceTime and watch my grown daughter and nephew in Pittsburgh, open their presents via iPad. Margo has put up two trees! Everyone takes turns with the iPad so I can see all the decorations and, look: Charlie, their dog with a Christmas bow on his collar. Their doorbell rings; my nephew shouts, SHIT SHIT SHIT, the food’s here! My sweet pea Sydney looks into the iPad, I will call you after we eat, Momma-doo. Love you. Merry Christmas! The iPad, on my end, goes to the home screen, and then black. I sit in silence, one thousand miles away.
There’s a knock at my door, a delivery man presents a bag from a Chinese restaurant, says, Brother Jeff, Merry Christmas, No tip, he tip me already. Happy Christmas!
“The Linzer Torte,” Breaking Rules Publishing, The Scribe Magazine, Holiday Issue, January 2020 – Victoria Dym 10/12/2019
RASPBERRY LINZER TORTE Mostly unchanged from The Silver Palate 2½ sticks unsalted butter, room temperature 1 cup sugar 1½ tsp grated lemon zest 2 eggs 1¼ cups flour ½ tsp ground cinnamon ¼ tsp ground cloves ¼ tsp salt 1¼ cups blanched or slivered almonds, very finely ground to be ¾ cup (I used a food processor) ⅔ cup raspberry preserves Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar together for five minutes or so until light and fluffy. Add grated zest and eggs and mix well. In a separate bowl, combine flour, spices, and salt. Add flour mixture and almonds to butter mixture and mix until combined. Pat half of this mixture evenly into the bottom of a 9- inch tart pan (with or without a false bottom. Spread raspberry preserves to within ½ inch of the sides of the pan. Roll out the remaining dough. Cut the dough into strips and weave them into a lattice crust on top (making all the lines in one direction first, and then making lines in the other direction), leaving over an inch between each line if you can help it (the crust grows as you cook it, so much of the space goes away). Don't fuss over the lattice crust too much—it won't keep its shape perfectly while cooking, and it will look rustic and beautiful regardless! Also, you may have quite a bit of dough left over—I have found that this recipe makes more than I typically use (which is why I end up eating raw dough until I feel sick). Bake in the center of the oven for 50 minutes or until crust is evenly brown. Let cool slightly, at least 15 minutes, before removing from pan. Slice and serve with fresh whipped cream.
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Victoria Dym is a graduate of Ringling Brother’s Barnum and Bailey Clown College with a degree in Humility. She has also earned a Bachelor of Arts, in Philosophy, from the University of Pittsburgh and her Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing-Poetry from Carlow University. Her chapbook, Class Clown, was chosen as one of ten finalists in the Coal Hill Review Chapbook Contest by Autumn Hill Press and ultimately published by Finishing Line Press in 2015. Her second chapbook, When the Walls Cave In, was published by Finishing Line Press in 2018. Her prize-winning chapbook, Spontaneous, was published by West Florida Literary Federation in 2022. Victoria’s full-length poetry collection The Hatchet Sun is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press in 2023. Victoria lives in Tampa Florida with her cat, Mook. Victoria teaches writing, storytelling and laughter yoga courses for OLLI-USF.