Each year I go through the same routine. About a month before Christmas, I take out my cookbooks and my cookie cutters and prepare to embark on a holiday bake off. I dream about creating gingerbread men dotted with raisins and icing. I imagine sugar cookies in the shape of snowmen, reindeer and Christmas trees. But despite my wishes and dreams, mainly what I create are big blobs of dough.
I can’t explain how this happens. I follow the directions. I knead my dough thoroughly, I refrigerate that well-kneaded dough. I flour my cookie cutters. I do everything the cookbooks tell me to do. You would think that after years of practice, my cookies would look like real cookies. Instead, my gingerbread men look like they’ve gone three rounds with Mike Tyson, and my Christmas trees look as if they’ve been in one too many brush fires.
But each year I try. My husband and my daughter have learned to stay out of my way when I’m trying to bake. My friends have bake days with their children during the holidays. My family leaves town, and the dogs beg to go with them. When my daughter was little, before she went off to college, she was the one who warned my husband about the approaching bake off. Then the two of them would alert the fire department and take off for a two-day shopping spree.
“Daddy, we need to leave the house,” she would say with a frightening tone in her voice. “There’s real butter in the refrigerator — lots of it. Do you know what that means? She’s going to make cookies! We have to leave now, Dad! Now!”
From experience, my hubby has learned to heed this warning quickly. He used to ask if I was going to bake. He’d hint around that maybe that wasn’t the best idea, and then he’d wait for my response which usually involved a few curse words and a remark about his lack of sensitivity towards me. This is how we knew our holiday season was in full swing.
While we savored this special Christmas tradition for many years, I think it may be time for a change. I think my family needs to break out of the old cookie mold — so to speak — and take on a new tradition: Boxed cookies.
I know buying cookies goes against every old-fashioned, Christmas tradition that exists. I know when I mention boxed cookies that baking women everywhere shake their heads at me and say, “Tsk, Tsk. There is nothing like the smell of Christmas cookies baking. ”
You know what? I don’t care. I’ll burn one of those scented candles that smells like homemade cookies baking. I’m tired of bringing my homemade cookies to the houses of relatives and friends and watching as everybody laughs at them. I’m tired of putting hours into the baking process only to throw my scorched creations into the trash. I’m tired of buying the rolled cookie dough with the designs already painted into the center and telling people that I made them from scratch.
No one believes me anyway, and now I have the reputation of being a bad baker and a Christmas liar. So, this year, I’m telling the world.
“You’re all getting professionally baked cookies. I will put them in pretty tins, and I will even let you keep the tins so you know I went to some kind of effort to bring you holiday goodies. But I will not bake.”
Do I resent people who can bake? No. I enjoy their efforts. Both my sisters and my sisters-in-law are great in the cookie baking department. No matter which family I visit, I can scarf down about thirty different varieties of cookies. I’m happy as a clam during the holidays. But I run into trouble when they say to me,“Take this recipe, Donna. It’s fool proof. No one can screw this up. Trust me.”
And I fall for it every time. Cookie recipes are never fool proof. I can screw them up! But not this year. This year I am liberated from cookies. This year the only dough that passes through my hands is the dough I’m going to pay the bakeries for the tray of butter cookies they make for me. So, with that in mind, I just want to say that I hope everyone’s holiday season is filled with sweet thoughts and sweet treats. I know mine will be.
I never published this piece on HO, but it is an excerpt from my award-winning book Life on the Off Ramp which is available on Amazon.com at http://ow.ly/fxETt