Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Christmas-cookie-making mania

Here’s a part of Christmas-celebrating that seems odd to me: the compulsion people have to make cookies. I’m talking about normal people, non-baker-types, who for the other 11 months of the year feel no yen at all to fire up the ovens and get all nitty gritty with the flour and the sugar. I know a whole host of people like this, who when December rolls around, suddenly catch cookie fever and take on these extraordinarily complex baking projects which lead to cookie boxes that look store-bought – ribbons, bows, cellophane wrapping, the whole nine yards.

My mother was always one such person. There were at least five different kinds of cookies in her repertoire – all of them traditional Italian cookies – the powered nut balls, the frappe’s which look like bows, biscotti, among them. Her and my grandmother would spend hours tying the bow dough perfectly, fighting the whole time

“You’re not doing it right! Look at that one! We have to re-do it!”

“Whatta you talking about? Fifty years I make the frappes!”

“Then you’ve been making them wrong ALL THIS TIME!”

We kids did not help in the endeavor, because if my grandmother’s seasoned fingers were not nimble enough, then ours certainly weren’t. It was much like that scene from The Hours where Julianne Moore tosses out the birthday cake her son helped her make and makes a new, perfect one by herself. Except without the first cake altogether.

I, too, feel compelled to bake Christmas cookies, but I’ve stumbled onto the formula which works for me and for the kids, and it is this:

1. We bake one batch of sugar cookies

2. We separate each stage – 1.mixing, 2.rolling, cutting and baking, 3.decorating – by several days

These two decisions helped me to avoid several awful side effects of Christmas cookie baking:

I no longer get that overwhelmed, why-the-hell-did-I-start-this-goddamned-project, I-am-a-trapped-hausfrau feeling that comes when I do anything domestic for over one and a half hours.

Since each stage only last 30 minutes or so, the kids can help the whole time

AND most crucial of all, by letting the kids help decorate, I am able to tell everyone I give the cookies to, “The kids made them” which covers up my lack of skill, because the truth is, they’d look precisely the same, if I made them all by myself. I can’t coat a Douglass Fir sugar cookie with red icing to save my damn life (cookies in the picture above are not, obviously, mine. I was too depleted after making them to take a picture, as usual).

I put four or five awful-looking but delicious cookies in a Chinese food container and then take a Sharpie and write “Happy Holidays” on the top. Maybe I’ll draw a Christmas tree underneath. And that’s it. Done and Done. Season’s greetings people. Eat your cookies.