Thursday, January 05, 2012

The Mad Cookie Elf

That's what my husband calls me because I spend the week before Christmas baking cookies nonstop. My kitchen is a disaster; flour all over the cabinet doors, sugar crusted on the counters and egg yolks stuck to the floor. I usually end up with flour in my hair, too.

Every year Michael asks me, "Why do you do this?"

"Because," I reply, "it isn't Christmas without cookies."

That's what my mother said. I bake my cookies the same way she did, in a mad rush the week before so they'll be fresh on Christmas. I had no idea you could freeze cookies until my friend, Kathy, called me the Tuesday night before Christmas. When I told her I was baking cookies, she told me hers were in the freezer and had been since the week after Thanksgiving.

"What?" I blurted, so shocked I almost dropped the cookie sheet I'd just taken out of the oven. "You can freeze cookies?"

"Sure," Kathy said. "I take them out of the freezer and arrange them on a plate. In ten minutes they're thawed and fresh as a daisy."

When Kathy I hung up, I baked the last dozen butter cookies and Googled "freezing cookies."

Wednesday morning I followed the directions I'd found online. I wrapped all the cookies I'd baked two at a time in plastic wrap (bottoms together) tucked them into gallon-size freezer bags and laid the bags flat in the freezer. I was worried about the chocolate snowflakes and the pecan balls, both of which are rolled in powdered sugar, so I froze those in tins, the layers separated by wax paper.

When I took the cookies out of the freezer on Christmas morning they were perfect. They thawed in ten minutes and tasted like they'd just come out of the oven. I was one happy Cookie Elf.

I realized then that my mother baked cookies in a mad frenzy because she didn't have a chest freezer in the basement. She had a freezer compartment in the top of her fridge that wasn't frost-free. Most of the time it looked like an ice floe. My mother had five kids, plus she worked full time. Defrosting the freezer was at the bottom of her To Do List -- but baking Christmas cookies for her family was #1.

I have a lot more conveniences than my mother did: that freezer in the basement, a frost-free side-by-side in the kitchen and a self-cleaning oven. The cheese sauce that bubbled out of the au gratin potatoes on Christmas Day would've had my mother on her knees for hours with Easy-Off and SOS pads.

I wish she'd been here (my mother died in 1973) to watch me push a button on my ceramic top electric range and walk away, come back four hours later and wipe up the ash. I thought of Mother when I bought this stove. She was a great cook, but she could dirty every pan in the kitchen making you a cup of tea. I did the dishes one night after supper when I was in high school. Mother had made spaghetti. I ended up scrubbing sauce off the ceiling.

Next year I'll start baking cookies the weekend after Thanksgiving, one batch per week. Then I'll tuck them away in the freezer until Christmas. Thank you, Kathy!

That's the lesson I learned this Christmas. Cherish your traditions, hold them close in your heart, but if you can find an easier way to implement them don't be a fool -- be grateful and adapt.

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