Saturday, December 13, 2003

It’s cookie baking weekend. And I am not there.

I could begin by reiterating that the Cookie Bake, in its current form, is not my fault. But that would contradict my general policy of accepting blame when possible, since I am less troubled by guilt than the other females in my family. If it makes them feel better to blame me, I will let them and go on my merry way.

So here is their story: Once upon a time, when Karen was a little girl, her mother wanted to trick her (that is, the mother’s) sister, who was not particularly fond of children, into babysitting. So she asked Karen’s aunt, whose skills at baking were well known, to come and bake cookies with the children. Then she and Karen’s dad sneaked out and went Christmas shopping.

And the next year Karen brightly asked, “When are we having our traditional cookie bake?” Thus it was canonized.

Well, yes, maybe so. I have a fatal habit of getting a single simple and romantic ideal, like feeding a stray cat, and only discovering later that I have opened a restaurant for cats and all other mammals of moderate size. Because in my family ideas never live alone. Other ideas flock after them, spawned by their interaction in the network of our all-too-fertile brains. It’s synergy at its most dangerous.

Somehow that simple afternoon that produced, say, 24 dozen cookies, grew to The Annual Cookies To The Death Marathon Weekend.

It grew gradually, of course. One year we tried one new variety, and it became somebody’s favorite. The next year somebody else saw a cool idea and tried something else. And again it stuck. Naturally if you have a semi-immediate family of fifteen to twenty people, you have fifteen to twenty favorites. And then there are the cookies whose position is so sacred that nobody even bothers to claim them as favorites. Like krumkaka, a traditional Norwegian cookie, which actually gets its own special day separate from The Cookie Bake.

Malinda and Becky both like to Organize Things. So they begin plotting weeks, nay months in advance, as to what we will have this year. Some time ago they began aspiring for a single cookie variety in every potential flavor. Not that flavor alone is sufficient. It also must be artistically decorated, with a reasonable variety of shapes.

To save time during the weekend itself, dough and even some of the cookies are made in advance. Does this simplify the work and get everyone in bed sooner? Of course not—it frees up time for more, and more elaborate, varieties. (I should note here that we have almost never done those flat sugar cookies decorated with frosting. Too simple and too much like what normal people do.)

No doubt they have a new division of labor this year. When I was still there, Malinda organized the program of the day, printed recipes and did the more complex icing. Becky did the most labor-intensive shaping and baking, while I concentrated on the mass produced varieties. Sarah specialized in no-bake or no mix kinds. We switched off mixing dough according to whose specialty in other realms was currently up.

Cookie Bake has its own attendant traditions besides aching backs and feet, of course. There is the curious assortment of eccentric Christmas music Malinda puts on the CD player. (A Goth Noel, anyone?) There are the hasty but very welcome snacks of meat and vegetables provided as a respite from endless gobs of sugar. There are the towering plates of cookies, wrapped in cellophane, to bedazzle the favored friends and relations. And there is the end result, which is a Christmas dinner which is only an excuse to provide enough protein to balance the sugar high.

And sometimes, Christmas cookies lingering until Valentine’s Day. But we try to dump them before that. After all, we’ve got a great idea for a new Valentine’s dessert . . . .

No comments: