Saturday, December 3, 2011

First Saturday, December

First Saturday, December

Last night a light snow iced the roads and yards, accumulating only a half inch, just enough to be treacherous. Dawn came jeweled again, diamond dusted with white, and the air thin and crisp. A few thin clouds roped their way across the dawn-peached sky. Today was cookie baking day, and six-year-old Silas and I were scheduled to dive into the dozens of Christmas cookies we make each year. This was Silas’ first foray into the world of Christmas cookie baking with me, and he gallantly volunteered to be the official. taste tester, a job quite perfectly suited for him.

By eight a.m., I had emptied the cupboard; the kitchen table was covered with chocolate chips, mini marshmallows, cocoa, sugar, spices and nuts, colored sprinkles, cinnamon drops, and colored sugars. Let the cookie baking begin. I poured another cup of coffee and checked the student papers printing in my office, then called my daughter to see about picking Silas up to begin our baking adventure.

The news was not good. A wayward tummy bug had crept up on Si in the middle of the night and rendered him incapable of cookie baking for today, and so with Christmas only three weeks away, I was left to the task alone. Real cookie making requires a child. Who else will lend their hands for handprint cookies? Who else has a thumb just the right size to put the perfect indentation in the thumbprint cookies so the blueberry or raspberry jam we made last summer will sit there perfectly. Suddenly the day was not so rosy. 

But the cookies, destined to be shared with the students in my classes and for heaping platters for friends in our town, had to be done.  I fortified myself with another cup of coffee and made my list of things I needed to get baking: a couple dozen eggs from the Sadlers, sweetened condensed milk and maraschino cherries from the grocery. And then I was off to get the last few things I needed to begin what has become an annual ritual.
In the garage, wreaths hang from the rafters, shadowing the already dim interior. The air is sharp with the scent of balsam, the outdoors, and noisy with the whine of the machine Bruce uses to ake the wreaths and the roping we make to hang along th front of the garage, wrap aroud the mailbox. We confer briefly, and then I am off on snow-slicked roads, the morning glittering with diamond-dust whiteness. Winter is late this year, the temperatures hovering in the 40s, and the air amost balmy, but baking is as much a part of our Christmas traditions as the evergreens and snow.
As far back as I can remember, my mother baked trays upon trays of cookies, loaves and loaves of quick and yeast breads, fruit cakes and tea rings that were arranged on holiday trays wrapped in first cellophane and then plastic and adorned with a bow to give to neighbors and friends and anyone who stopped by. The first year Bruce and I were married and living on a shoe string, I made hot cinnamon raisin rolls for Christmas presents for family and friends. In years past, I have made more than 100 dozen cookies in a year, sometimes with help, but usually without, and I have always been content with the baking, the feel of dough beneath the palms of my hand, the careful shaping of biscotti, the heady smell of pumpkin bread and chocolate zucchini cake, snickerdoodles and molasses cookies filling the house. Perhaps even better is delivering the trays, mounded high with food made with love.

And so it begins again this year, but with some sort of poignancy. There are memories in every recipe, laughter and good friends in each, and because of the inevitable creep of time, this year there are fewer with whom to share. And so I am baking with nostalgia, and a few tears as I remember our friend Wayne, my dad, my brother, and most painfully, my dear friend Karen who left an indelible memory on so many hearts. This year’s baking is dedicated to her.

Karen Walker’s Coconut Bars

Melt: ½ cup butter

Add: 2 c. packed brown sugar

          2 eggs

           2 teaspoons vanilla                                           

Beat vigorously and then add:

               1 cup flour

               2 teaspoons baking powder

               ½ teaspoon salt

Stir until just mixed and add:

               1 ½ cup flaked coconut

               1 cup chocolate chips

Mix together.

Grease a 9-inch by 13-inch pan, and pour in batter. Sprinkle lightly toasted sliced almonds on top.

Bake in preheated 350 degree oven for about 25 minutes or until golden brown.

Makes 18 generous bars.

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