Sunday, December 18, 2011

Would it still be Christmas if I didn’t make cookies?

My mother makes amazing cookies. She’s a wonderful cook across the board, and while my brothers seem to have inherited more of her creative cheffiness, I got the baking thing. I make delicious, beautiful cookies. Chocolate chips, raspberry-coconut bars, oatmeal-chocolate sandwiches, sugar cookies with a hint of almond extract, walnut powdered sugar snowballs, and our traditional Hungarian family cookie, pineapple-walnut kifels. My mom’s recipes, most of them, because why mess with perfection? But I have added my own favorites over the years. Smitten Kitchen’s “World Peace” cookies. The Scandinavian almond bar recipe I snagged from my college roommate’s neighbor. And then, I also make… don’t judge me… that toffee with the saltine crackers. It is the epitome of suburban wrongness, I know, but damn, that stuff is so delicious. I just can’t help myself.

I just can’t help myself. There it is. If there are homemade cookies in the house, I will eat them. I will eat one every time I walk by the kitchen. And every time I have a meal and want a little something sweet after. And every time someone says the word “the.” I will eat them and eat them and will have to buy new pants.

So what if I just didn’t make them this year?

Just thinking about it, I feel sad. I want my kids to help me make cookies. I want them to grow up knowing how to use a rolling pin. I want them to have memories of pulling a kitchen chair up to the counter, of turning on the Kitchen Aid mixer, of learning to scrape the back of a butter knife across a measuring cup full of flour, tap tap tap tap and scrape. I want them to lick the beaters, squeeze the cookie press 1½ times to make a perfect tree, and sprinkle colored sugar and nonpareils all over my kitchen floor. When they’re old enough, I want to teach them to make my grandmother’s kifels, with the sticky, temperamental dough that requires the ruthless efficiency I inherited from her. I want their Christmas memories to include the smell of butter and sugar baking in the oven, and the taste of tradition melting in their mouths.

I would also like my ass to stop expanding.

I have so much to say about why I should make cookies. The words roll around on my tongue, like melted Scharffen Berger chocolate. The reasons not to make cookies are practical, like salad, and not even a good salad, but the sad kind of salad with the dressing on the side, where you dip your fork into the dressing to save a few more calories. If I only had the self-control, it would be a no-brainer.

But, you see, I don’t. I can have a lot of things in the house. Oreos, Reese’s cups, brownies (from a box or from the grocery store… from-scratch brownies don’t last long around me). I can have things in the house that are sweet and naughty, and most of the time, I don’t really want them. Because, truthfully, they’re not that good. I mean, Reese’s cups are pretty good, but not, like, my mom’s chocolate chip cookies good. Not like little miniature pineapple pastry good. Not like two oatmeal cookies glued together with chocolate good.

My relationship with food is complicated, clearly. It means home, and love, and tradition, and family to me. As I chop up vegetables for yet another salad in hopes of saying goodbye to the plus sizes, or finally ditching that "2" in the first digit on the scale, I wonder if I am doing my kids a disservice by passing along a tradition of butter and sugar and white flour.

But when I think about what I want them to learn from me, in the end, I hope they learn that life is for living, fully and fearlessly and with passion. For savoring, and baking, and family, and joy, and love.

And cookies. But hopefully not too many.


  1. Love this. I am right there with you!

  2. I am the same way. There is ONE peanut blossom cookie sitting on a plate across the room, calling me by name. I have sworn I am going to leave it for Karl (I have already had one today after all, and we don't need to get into how many I had yesterday), but it knows my name!

    I try to limit myself to making cookies when I have a place to bring them so that I don't wind up eating the entire batch by myself.

  3. If I don't make them, my mom brings them over. So there's no winning with me. At least if I make them, I can make one batch and avoid the continuous.. did you make XXX yet. Oh, I'll share mine.

  4. I'm very angsty about cookie-baking this year. I love baking cookies to share with loved ones...but this year, my loved ones are a very long way away. So if I bake cookies...they're just for me. And that's a dangerous, dangerous thing. I can easily polish off a whole batch on my own in a weekend.

  5. If only we lived closer!

    Try this: Find a trusted neighbor to keep an offsite cookie jar for you. They dont have to keep you from anything, and you keep what you want around the house, of course. But in short supply. Abundance makes us rationalize and keeps us from rationing. If only a few treats are at hand, we are more likely to consume at a slower rate.

    Or you can enjoy making huge batches of cookies and send all but a few to your uncle. That would work.

  6. Yip yip yip yip yip yip yip yip, un-hun, un-hun. Yip yip yip yip yip yip yip yip! (Brought to you by the yip yip aliens when Sesame Street rocked.)

  7. My technique when I want to bake things, but not to eat all of them, is to make whatever it is that I am wanting to make, save a few servings for the household, and then gleefully distribute the rest to everyone I encounter!