Turning the calendar to December brings many happy memories, tinged with the sepia hue of nostalgia. The tree usually went up during the first week, leaving its silky pine needles strewn about the living room floor. The Christmas CDs were pulled from a basement cabinet, with Johnny Mathis, Amy Grant, and the Home Alone soundtrack still looking bright under eleven months of dust.
But the highlight of the pre-Christmas season for me always took place in the kitchen, gathered around two foil roasting pans. It was the evening we put on Vince Guaraldi’s Charlie Brown Christmas album and made the annual batch of nuts n’ bolts that would feed a month’s worth of guests.
Us kids would measure out boxed cereal under dad’s tutelage, while our mom would whip up the mysterious sauce that would transform it. We’d take turns stirring the fragile mixture, and then settle in to watch a Christmas movie while our favorite snack baked.
We could never wait for them to cool and crisp up properly, so our first bowls were served oven-warm. We’d pour glasses of cool eggnog spiked with coke, and sit around the tree munching on what was to us the taste of the holidays.
Over the years, despite boyfriends and girlfriends, first apartments, and busier lives, we managed to hold on to our tradition. Sure, there were years there were four of us instead of five. There were times it didn’t bring the same magic it did at five, or seven, or even fifteen. But somehow, each year the nuts n’ bolts got made.
This year the god of all things salty, fatty and delicious brought me back to Winnipeg for the festivities. I never realized how international our recipe was: Our mix always included Chex cereal, which we could only get in the U.S., and Shreddies, which you can only get in Canada. Suddenly, nuts n’ bolts had become an unlikely metaphor for my life over the past few years.
I scanned the recipe and sheepishly asked my mom if we could cut down the pound of butter. Both of us are fitness and health buffs, but her response reminded me that there are just some things you don’t mess with. As I watched a block of the stuff turn melt away in the saucepan, I made peace with my Christmas companion: Olive oil could wait. It was time to rekindle an important, buttery love.
I brought a small bag of the mix back to Syracuse with me, and after suffering through small rations decided to make my own batch. Mark turned his nose at the idea, but encouraged me nonetheless. I committed to a half batch, knowing I’d be sharing with lucky friends along the way.
Even without my beloved Canadian Shreddies and the warmth cast by 10 hands mixing and stirring away, my first crack at tradition was a success. I used raw cashews and no-oil roasted almonds to cut down on salt and fat. And yes, I even cut down on the butter by an ounce or two. (Don’t tell my mom!)
But what was really music to my ears? Hearing Mark utter these words while hovering over the cookie sheet: “I guess I do like them.” Looks like I’ll have to give up more than I bargained for. But it’s Christmas, and that’s fine with me.
Ward Family Nuts n’ Bolts
makes enough to feed a small army
1 lb butter over medium heat
4 tsp celery salt
8 T worchestershire sauce
3 tsp granulated garlic
4 tsp granulated onion
4 tsp paprika
large bag of pretzels, either twists or rods
2 cans worth of mixed nuts, or equivalent in nuts of your choice
- Preheat the oven to 250 degrees.
- Combine 48 cups of the cereals, pretzels, and nuts in two large foil roasting pans.
- Melt the butter over medium heat, and whisk in the worchestershire sauce and spices.
- Drizzle the butter and spice mixture over the dry mixture, stirring gently until evenly coated.
- Bake for 1 hour, stirring gently every 15 minutes. Let cool — they’ll crisp up even more upon cooling. Store in glass cookie jars or other sealed containers.