Saturday, April 20, 2013

Only Santa guards his list more closely. (In the Category of Mean What You Say.)

I started thinking about Christmas this morning.  I wanted to post (on Facebook) the number of days left until Christmas (250). Part of me was curious to see whom it would goad.  It’s only just April – Spring, I thought the idea of counting the days until Winter would rouse some of my friends better than their morning coffee.

But part of me wants to think about Christmas. Not the tree decorating (which I love), or the gift shopping and wrapping (which I loathe); I want to think about baking Christmas cookies.

I have many happy, sugary childhood memories of time spent in the kitchen with my mom and sister, stirring nougat-colored chocolate chip batter, sprinkling the pale sugar cookies with red, green, blue, yellow – primary sugars that stained my finger tips and tongue.

In addition to cookies, Mom always baked (and still bakes) cranberry bread. The sharp smell of orange zest and chopped cranberries would permeate the kitchen. The batter flavor, when done correctly, strikes a perfect balance between salty and sweet.  Add the chopped walnuts, and as far as I was concerned, the baking process was completely superfluous. Just give me a spoon.

It’s a family tradition, actually, cookie baking. As my sister, older and stronger, stirred chocolate chips into the stiff batter, and I sprinkled the Santa shaped cookies with red sugar, Mom would manage the hot baking sheets as they emerged from the oven; tantalizing scents wafted as they cooled.

“I remember doing this with my mother,” she would say as she carefully moved the cookies from the baking sheet to the wire cooling rack. “Your grandmother.”

My mouth would start to water immediately, triggered by the smell of the cooling cookies and thoughts of Grandmother’s also delicious cookies…and pies. I’d sit up a bit straighter too, though, try to sprinkle the sugar more precisely. This was a family tradition. No slouching. No sloppiness.  We took pride in our cookies and shared them with friends and family… if I didn’t eat them all.

I don’t recall exactly when in my adult life baking got good to me, but it did. These days, what I call the “baking fit” hits, and I am powerless to refrain. It’s compulsive. I have baking OCD. And I don’t just bake cookies. I have a jar of sourdough starter in my fridge, proof that baking bread, too, has therapeutic value. (Truly, the starter, a living wild yeast culture, hasn’t been fed in six weeks and is probably plotting my demise…I’ll feed it tomorrow.) Oh, and have you tasted my salted caramel brownies? 

Cookie baking isn’t really seasonally appropriate in the Spring. I’ve got them – you probably do too -- those lingering Winter pounds, the promise (threat?) of bathing suit weather, that make it harder to accept, and thus give away, a butter soaked chocolate chip cookie. But it’s been a stressful Spring. I have baking OCD. It always starts with itchy palms. Then the little voice chimes in…

“Baaaaake. You know you want to. Use real sugar this time. Fuck a bunch of Splenda. Baaaaake. Wheat flour…gluten…you know you want to.”

In my last effort to fight the most recent compulsion, I opened my 2012 Christmas Cookie Recipient List. (Yes, I keep one. No, you cannot see it. Only Santa guards his list more closely.) I rationalized that by planning  the 2013 Christmas cookies, I could assuage the ill-timed baking fit, put off the actual baking and save us all the temptation of a) seriously yummy cookie dough and b) fresh baked cookies.

Seconds after reading the list, I realized I had to delete names. It broke my heart to do it. In any given year, The List is in no particular order, but on the 2012 list, Daddy was number two (send 2 doz. cookies, 2 Brownies, all candy). Aunt Nancy was number  nine (1 doz. cookies – sugar/gluten free, 2 Brownies, all candy). I hit delete. Crap. Delete again.

(I know you are wondering. Mom is first on the list.)

So I put it out there: Who wants cookies this Christmas? So far, I have been able to add two new names to the list. I appreciate that the balance is restored. I always loved the song I learned in Girl Scouts: Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other is gold.

In the meantime, I’m still having a baking fit. It’s on. Cookies? Any one?

[Author’s note: It’s been a rough week for the writers I follow in the #52Weeks project. (Hell, it’s been a rough week for America.) Most of you wrote your memories of the April 16th massacre at Virginia Tech or the Boston marathon bombs and what exploded thereafter. I wrote about cookies.  If any of you want me to send some fresh baked cookies, just DM your address. The baking fit has hit.]

The 2012 Cookie Selection

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