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Survive the Holidays by Starting New Traditions

December 22, 2010

One of my favorite Christmas memories involves food, naturally.

My grandparents–my dad’s parents–baked stellar cookies. Hundreds of them, it seemed. Cut-out cookies, freezer cookies (a sort of cinnamon snap) and lebkuchen (a traditional German molasses and spice cookie) were their specialties. Their cut-outs were exquisite. The cookie itself was quite tasty, but then each star, tree, reindeer, santa, snowman, angel, sleigh was slathered with a thick confectioner’s icing and decorated with all manner of non-pareils, jimmies and sugars. I don’t recall ever watching them bake and decorate, but I certainly remember enjoying the bounty.

Since their passing, I have attempted to replicate their cookies…even following their recipes. The results have been mixed, to say the least. My lebkuchen has come close, my effort to make freezer cookies was a tasteless failure and I don’t have the patience for cut-out cookies. My gingerbread men inevitably look like characters who wandered out of Monty Python’s Ministry of Silly Walks.

I love to bake, in part because of my grandparents’ example. And I really like to bake for others.

(DISCLAIMERS: Let me state clearly that I love to share food with others. I am not an adherent to the philosophy that food is love–as in, you show me love by cooking for me and I show you love by eating what you’ve cooked. Food is, in fact, food. I enjoy cooking it, eating it and sharing it. Let me also add that while I’ve written a lot about strategies for healthy eating, fitness goals and the like, I didn’t get fat eating a few cookies here and there. I got fat eating a lot of junk over a long period of time. A little–emphasis on little–splurge is okay, and actually a healthy strategy in itself.)

For the second year in a row, I devoted several dates of my Christmas vacation to baking. This bake-a-thon is a process I share with the lovely Sarah. She chooses the recipes, I bake them. Almost all of this year’s recipes came from the December 2010  issue of Good Housekeeping magazine featuring recipes from Ina Garten, Bobby Flay and Martha Stewart.  Each celebrity chef contributed three recipes.  I baked six of them: Ina Garten’s palmiers (Elephant Ears, a long-time personal favorite of mine) and coconut macaroons, Martha Stewart’s Vienna tarts, and Bobby’s Flay’s Mexican chocolate thumbprints, cranberry-organge streusel bars, and cherry pistachio blue corn biscotti. OK, Flay’s recipes all sounded outstanding. At the request of my sister-in-law, Cheri, I also baked cinnamon chip cookies.

The intent of the three-day bake-a-thon, and where the new tradition comes in, is that I bake the cookies to share with some of our closest friends. Last year was the first year of the bake-a-thon and I surprised our friends by leaving a box of treats on their front porches, along with a Christmas card from us. It was a lot of fun, so it was definitely something I wanted to do again.

Baking is like therapy for me. I admit to not being the most precise person alive, but because baking involves chemistry precision is required. Because I was baking by myself I could get totally lost in the recipes and the process of creating beautiful cookies. And, in all humility, they turned out beautifully. Here, courtesy of my friend Lola Alapo, is a photo of one of the tins loaded with tasties:

We prepared seven tins this year. We’ll take the extras to Sarah’s family this weekend and mind when I travel to Wisconsin next week. Given the response from Facebook and Twitter friends to my posts about the bake-a-thon, I’ll need to add to the list of cookie recipients next year–and start baking in October.

The bake-a-thon is a great experience…quality time preparing delicious food to share with people I care about is a gift for them and for me. There’s still time to find a new tradition before this holiday season is over, or to think about a new tradition for next year. Do something new. Whatever that something new is, the experience will make your holidays all the richer.

Merry Christmas!

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2 Comments
  1. Great idea! I’m starting a new year out with my fiance, and as we create our own family I’m looking into things we can do that is uniquely ours. We’re going home for the holidays this year, but plan to celebrate ourselves next year. This can be a way we can do something together, and send it home to our family since we won’t be there!

  2. Remind me to give you my address next year, lol!

    I still have my grandmother’s lebkuchen recipe somewhere… If I can ever dig it out, I’ll send you a copy and you can compare it to yours…

    I miss the times I had with my grandmother, baking at Christmas, but I don’t try to keep that tradition alive – you know my skills, 🙂

    Although, I’ve gotten better at cooking dinner!

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