Let the frenzy begin

As I write this, I’m preparing psychologically to clean and straighten out my baking pantry before the Christmas endurance contest begins.

Baking Christmas cookies with my mother the first two weekends in December remains one of my favorite childhood memories. Mom gave cookies away in droves, never forgot a generous box for the rectory, and saved the rest for trays to serve when family came to visit between Christmas and New Year’s.  She made the prerequisite Italian cookies but also became very adept at paper-thin German sand tarts, and every year she tried a new cookie from the current Pillsbury Bake-Off collection. Whether the new winning recipe became part of the permanent repertoire depended about equally on how much she enjoyed making the cookies and how much we enjoyed eating them. There were no Toll House or plain sugar cookies (like the ones mentioned in my last post) in her holiday mix—they were far too ordinary for Christmas.

My guess is that every daughter reaches a moment of truth when she realizes that she isn’t compelled to do everything exactly as her mother did. I enjoyed baking for the holidays, but I longed to develop my own Christmas cookie repertoire. One of my dear friends was the food editor of the local paper, and when her daughter was about three, she published a full-page spread on the joys of establishing a holiday baking tradition that children can carry forward. The article was irresistible, and I ended I “adopting” several of her recipes, which my daughter and I still rely on Christmas after Christmas. The clipping is yellow and tattered now. I always intend to replace it with neatly typewritten “receipts”; but truthfully, like Mom’s recipe cards, there’s something so precious about leaving that clipping just the way it is.

With time at a premium, I have tended in recent years not to make cookies, or at least not many, but instead to surprise friends and neighbors with apple pie or homemade bread. I’m not sure what I’ll do this year. Hubby’s mother, whom I was never lucky enough to know, made cinnamon buns for the neighbors. They were memorable enough to be mentioned by more than one of his classmates  with great fondness at his recent high school reunion. I would rather like to try reviving that tradition.

We’ll see how things go. I am happy to ponder, day dream, and anticipate; but I’m wary of over-committing. We all know where that primrose path leads.

If you appreciate a bit of humor as you work through the pre-Christmas frenzy, please allow yourself the time to enjoy this story from a gone-but-not-forgotten CBC radio series called “The Vinyl Café” on the Canadian Living magazine website.  After you’ve read it, drop me a line and let me know if you’ve picked your Christmas colour yet.

*I may have mentioned in a prior post that years ago,  “wish book” was the popular name for the Sears Roebuck catalogue.

It’s been a while

I’ve been “out of pocket,” as they used to say in the ’90s, for the last few weeks, recovering from a surgery that, while not extensive, pretty much knocked the wind out of me. Just to let you know how “zonked” I was (how’s that for a high-class word?), during the first ten days, I barely even opened a book, much less tried to blog.

I am happy to report and reaffirm, however, that the curative powers of the human  body are indeed miraculous. In the last week, I’ve perked up considerably and  can report with confidence that I am definitely on the mend. I can also say with confidence that healing is far more than physical. Being surrounded by people who care about you, who dispense dose after dose of love with every well-intended (but not always graciously received) direction—that makes the difference. That is what it means to feel truly blessed. Hubby and the kids were loving, patient, attentive, and comforting. I couldn’t have asked for better care. But they weren’t the only ones to be there when I needed them.*

Kindness counts. 

I’ve gotten good wishes and cards and flowers and phone calls and texts from so many—family, friends, neighbors—and I am grateful to every one of them, near and far, for wishing me well. I also received wonderfully nurturing gifts of pudding and soup to get me through the first and toughest patch.

So do cookies.

After days of soft food, though, I began positively yearning for texture. Watching one cooking show after another was probably not helpful, but one has to pass the time somehow. In a moment as delightful as the turning point in any of Shakespeare’s comedies, a grocery store rotisserie chicken finally set me back on the road to “normal” everyday life.

At about the same time I savored that tender white meat, I began fantasizing about old-fashioned soft sugar cookies. The only thing I can compare this fantasy with, from an intensity standpoint, is the wild craving of pregnancy—you know, the kind that would send your spouse out in the middle of an August night for a hot turkey sandwich.** Before long, my BFF and I were texting back and forth about each other’s sugar cookie recipes. My mother’s recipe had come from a Pennsylvania Dutch neighbor; we’ve referred to the big, luscious treats  as “Mrs. George’s Cookies”  since 1970. My BFF’s recipe came from her cousin’s Pennsylvania Dutch in-law. When we compared notes, the recipes were very similar, except that Mrs. George’s called for buttermilk and were dusted with a bit of cinnamon, while my BFF’s recipe called for sour cream and cream cheese icing.

A few days after the texting marathon, my BFF showed up at the door with a plateful of those pillowy cookies, freshly baked and iced.

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How did they taste?

Like a little bit of heaven on a plate, that’s how.

*What’s good for the gander is good for the goose. I tried to be a good, compliant patient and to practice what I preached in an earlier blog post on the idiosyncrasies of the male patient\. My lineage is Calabrese. That’s pretty much all I need to say about that.

**That particular craving was actually not my own, but my dear friend’s, who, on reporting it to me afterward, said with a sigh, “You can’t get a good hot turkey sandwich in this town.” Forty+ years ago, and the story still makes me smile.