When you grow up in a house of home cooking, holiday memories run deep. My mom made almost everything from scratch and from her own plants. Cooking from the garden is full of fresh vegetables, herbs, color and savory aroma. Baking from scratch is the intended reward for eating those vegetables, and with my help, just as colorful.
The cookie exchange at Christmas-time was a decadent time for me, and, I imagine it was the same for most kids with a voracious appetite for sugar and colorful things. My mom and a few friends would meet at one house and bake together the whole day. I was incredibly helpful, and would argue that without my diligence, the cookie exchange would have been a complete, disorganized disaster with the adults nervously busy and getting in each other’s way. Not only did I get my hands dirty doing most of the baking, I also kept the utensils, trays, pan, cookie cutters and countertops clean and clear. I worked the dough until my small hands ached and diligently pressed my thumb into hundreds of cookies to form a small crater for jelly. I was prodigiously honing skills in the kitchen, patiently trying and re-trying to master the fragile and flaky cream wafers with Mom's help. All of this foreshadows my career in the kitchen today, where I reign.
Okay, fine. I admit it: the above is a largely exaggerated fantasy I’d love to project onto my blog readers to impress upon you an early interest or genetic gift in the culinary arts. The truth is that I was interested in two things: decorating cookies and eating them. I basically avoided the mixing and kneading and contributed to the cleaning by providing more things to clean, scattering icing and sprinkles recklessly. Cutout cookies hypnotized me. Did the Christmas tree have enough dazzle? Enough colored crystals or those teeth-breaking shiny silver and gold sugar pearls? Was Santa's bearded frosting enough? Never!
I ate cookies like it was my job. I think it WAS my job to mow through the pile of damaged ones: the canes with edges too browned and stars that lost a tip. I over ate cookies into young adulthood, sampling from each batch - Russian tea cookies, snowflake cutouts, walnut or almond snowballs, gingerbread, chocolate or raspberry thumbprints, peanut butter kisses, chocolate crinkle, Wreath Spritzer, cinnamon rolls, Snickerdoodles, vanilla meringue, star windowpane, Serviceman Bars, chocolate chip, bourbon balls, eggnog shortbread, lemon bars ad cookinum (that is my Latin joke for a continuous stream of cookies).
My daughter Izzi has taken over these jobs with eagerness and skill. She is adept at making a mess while over-decorating and is essential to the disappearance of all misfit cookies, broken or burnt. She eats her vegetables, so she’s earned her cookies.