Morning light in early December is suffused as it comes in through the windows. It is the type of light that is in dreams; magical fog that frames the scene. This is the type of light that begins my food memory. I am eight years old sneaking downstairs to the kitchen in this December light, and there sits a plate of Christmas Cookies on an avocado colored laminate counter top. Lifting the aluminum foil, I spy a variety of cookies that my mother picked up at the neighborhood cookie exchange the night before. The star cookie that stands out is the date nut roll shaped like a strawberry. It is dusted in red sugar on the bottom and green sugar on top. Of course, there are the other fine soldiers of the cookie brigade; thumbprint cookies rolled in nuts with pink frosting in the middle, crescent cookies rolled in powder sugar, rum raisin slices, and date pinwheels. On reflection, this may be why I am so fond of early mornings. They hold the possibility of secret solitary surprises and the anticipation of good things to come.
If making cookies was part of the war on Christmas, my mother was a General. She and her friends would gather early in the morning and work long into the night crafting these delicacies to be handed out to neighbors and families. Powdered sugar plumed into the air as mixers whirred and butter flavored scents wafted in the air when the oven opened. In smaller production settings, I was her apprentice and benefitted from leftover dough. She would make small pies just for me sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar.
The joy of cookie making changed when we moved and my Mom was left to baking on her own. She still worked tirelessly, but the camaraderie wasn’t there, nor the neighbors. Somehow the cookies tasted different. And, we were getting older and our interests went beyond making cutouts.
As a young mother, I began to think about food and how recipes and the memories associated with the recipes are passed down through generations. Christmas cookies immediately came to my mind and I entreated my Mom to go over favorite recipes with me. One Saturday in December, we gathered together and made springerles, rum raisin slices, and pinwheels. This tradition changed as time moved on and in subsequent years I just started to bring cut out cookies for all of us to frost together.
My mother has passed on, my family has grown, and grown apart. My life has become more hectic and the Christmas cookie exchange I once hosted, no longer belongs to me. I rarely get to make more than one kind of cookie in the month of December. But, nights when I can’t get my mind to stop racing, I start going over the recipe for date pinwheel cookies, and my breathing returns to normal.
Today, my family is home, there is time, and we are making cut out cookies.