This year, the Clarke family got a special early Christmas gift. The youngest member of their large clan, baby Mary Myers Clarke, survived a harrowing health crisis against all odds.
“The doctors say she is a miracle, ” her dad, Will Clarke, shares. At the age of three months, Mary Myers suffered cardiac arrest caused by a critical, undiagnosed heart defect. She was life-flighted from Mobile to Birmingham. Open-heart surgery, a second cardiac arrest (requiring an agonizing hour of CPR) and 37 days in the cardiovascular infant intensive care unit at Children’s of Alabama followed before she emerged smiling yet incredibly fragile. Her mother, Ashley, recounts how one of the surgeons told them that there was a good chance Mary Myers wouldn’t make it. “At one point, they said, ‘Every hour is a victory, ’” she says.
“Mary Myers could hold onto my finger, so I knew that she was there and she knew we were there, ” says Will. “It was day 13 before she opened her eyes.” Not every day since has been progress, but now she’s home and still smiling.
“It is amazing the number of people who came and supported us, ” says Will. As luck would have it, Will’s sister Miriam’s in-laws live in Birmingham and provided housing for friends and family throughout the lengthy hospitalization. And, because Miriam is a teacher and it was summertime, she was often able to keep Will and Ashley’s 2-year-old son, Murphy.
“And there were so many people praying. You could tell just from watching Facebook, ” says Mary Myers’ grandmother, Penny Clarke.
All of the Clarkes agree that this tumultuous year of joys and sorrows has brought them closer together and made them realize the strength and importance of family. Joe Clarke, Will’s dad, says, “We have had a lot of prayers answered, and we are so grateful.”
Penny adds, “It has been a whirlwind and there were a lot of hard times, but we feel incredibly blessed. So it is a happy ending.” In celebration of the season and the gift of family, the Clarkes share their story along with some of their favorite recipes for their own holiday gatherings.
Grilled Pork Tenderloin
Instead of the traditional turkey or beef, the Clarkes always enjoy these grilled pork tenders on Christmas Day. Penny says they double the recipe to feed their crowd.
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
3/4 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons dry mustard
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1 tablespoon black pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 (1-pound) pork tenderloins
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon dry roux (Will prefers Kary’s Dry Roux.)
1. For marinade, combine oil, soy sauce, vinegar, lemon juice, Worcestershire, dry mustard, parsley, pepper and garlic. Cover and refrigerate for 3 hours.
2. Place tenders in a large zip-top bag or airtight plastic or glass container. Pour marinade over meat and close container. Marinate in the refrigerator for at least 12 hours, preferably 24 hours, turning occasionally to evenly distribute the marinade.
3. Remove tenders from marinade, reserving marinade, and cook covered loosely with foil on grill over medium coals for approximately 15 – 20 minutes until no pink remains. Slice to serve.
4. Meanwhile, strain the marinade to remove solids, pour into a saucepan and add butter. Bring to a rolling boil for about 3 minutes and whisk in dry roux, stirring until there are no lumps and mixture is slightly reduced and thickened. Serve with the sliced meat. Serves 10 – 12.
Penny Clarke’s Tabouli
Penny Petro Clarke’s family is of Lebanese heritage, as is her daughter Miriam’s new husband’s family, so traditional Lebanese dishes play a prominent role in any holiday feast. Tabouli is a sprightly, refreshing complement to almost any entree.
1 cup cracked bulgur wheat, medium or fine
1 bunch green onions, finely chopped
2 bunches curly-leaf parsley, finely chopped
1/2 – 1 cup finely chopped fresh mint or 2 – 3 tablespoons dried mint (Penny uses dried mint.)
6 tomatoes, chopped
juice of 4 lemons
1/2 cup olive oil or vegetable oil
pepper and garlic salt, to taste (Penny uses a couple of good shakes.)
1. Soak the wheat in cold water, then cover for about 30 minutes or until tender. Drain well, squeezing out excess water, and return to bowl.
2. Stir in green onions, parsley, mint and tomatoes along with lemon juice, oil, salt and pepper and garlic. Mix well. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Serves 6 – 8.
Ashley Clarke’s Holiday Dressing
This family recipe originally came from Ashley’s late grandmother, Patricia McDonough Murphy.
2 – 3 large yellow onions, chopped (approximately 3 – 4 cups)
3 – 4 cups chopped celery
2 sticks butter, divided
3 (6-ounce) boxes turkey-flavored dressing (Ashley prefers Stove Top.)
1 pound regular sausage
1 pound hot sausage
1 1/2 – 2 (14-ounce) bags Pepperidge Farm Herb Seasoned breadcrumbs
1 cup chopped pecans (save extra halves for optional garnish)
1. Boil onion, celery and 1 1/2 sticks of butter in approximately 6 – 8 cups of water for about 1 hour.
2. Meanwhile, prepare the dressing according to package directions. Cook the sausage and drain. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
3. In a very large bowl, mix the cooked dressing, sausage, breadcrumbs and cooked onion and celery mixture, reserving the liquid.
4. Stir in pecans. (Ashley only puts pecans in half the dressing.) Pour in half the reserved liquid and mix. Add more liquid, 1 cup or so at a time, until mixture is “very moist but not too mushy.”
5. Spray a 9-by-13-inch pan and a 7-by-11-inch pan with nonstick cooking spray. Spread dressing evenly into each pan. Dot with the remaining butter, and cover with foil.
6. Bake for 30 minutes, remove foil and bake for another 15 minutes. Garnish with pecan halves. Note: Dressing can be made ahead and frozen. Serves approximately 8 – 10.
Emily Clarke’s Iced Sugar Cookies
These stunning, splendid sugar cookies are Emily Dobbe Clarke’s specialty. Making these beauties is a festive labor of love.
2 cups unsalted butter at room temperature
2 cups sugar
2 large eggs
3 teaspoons almond extract
5 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1. Cream the butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer using the paddle attachment at medium speed for about 1 minute. (Do not overmix or your cookie will not hold its shape.) Add eggs and almond extract. Slowly mix, scraping down the sides of the bowl.
2. Sift flour and salt. Add to mixture and mix on low speed for approximately 30 seconds. When the dough clumps to the paddle attachment, it is ready.
3. Roll the dough out between two large pieces of wax paper. Place on a baking sheet and place in fridge for a minimum of 1 hour. Cut out cookie shapes and place on lightly greased cookie sheet. Re-roll scraps and repeat. Put cookie dough shapes back into the fridge for 10 minutes to 1 hour to chill again. (They will then hold their shape better when baked.)
4. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake for 8 – 10 minutes or until the edges become golden brown. (You may need to adjust baking time according to the size of the cookies.) Let cookies cool to room temperature before decorating.
5. Prepare Royal Icing. (See below.)
6. Add outline icing to an icing bag fitted with a No. 2 tip. Pipe the outline onto the cookie. Let it dry for a few minutes.
7. Add a few drops of water to the colored icing and add to a squeeze bottle. Start piping from the outside and work your way to the middle. Pop any air bubbles with a toothpick.
8. Let cookies dry overnight. Makes approximately 2 dozen cookies.
1/4 cup meringue powder (Available in the cake decorating aisle)
1/2 cup cold water
4 cups confectioners’ sugar
1. Combine meringue powder and cold water in mixer with whisk attachment. Beat until peaks form. Beat in confectioners’ sugar.
2. Divide prepared icing into separate bowls and add gel coloring for desired colors.
text and styling by Sallye Irvine • photos by Elizabeth Gelineau