We’ve been baking for years, my girls and I. When they were little, they would pull their chairs up to the counter in the kitchen and watch and ‘help.’ It didn’t matter what I was baking, they just liked to be there. It seemed like as soon as I turned the dial on the oven to preheat it they showed up. Taking the flour bin out of the closet was like a homing device, calling them to gather into the room that is, in more than a physical way, the central hub of our home. They would dot their noses with flour because that was part of the baking ritual. It showed that they had been part of the process.
I’m a nut in the kitchen (of course some people just think I’m a nut, period). I like a clean kitchen. Clean, clean, clean. And tidy. You can’t bake in a messy kitchen. And you have to clean things up as you go. My kitchen is very tiny so everyone knows that if I was baking or cooking, you don’t cross the line and come behind the counter. There’s just no room for me to maneuver and do what I need to do. Even now, the girls tease their Daddy when he comes into no man’s land while I’m preparing a meal.
So when little girls started pulling chairs up to the counter to help me with my baking, it was hard for me to involve them but I made a vow, to myself and to them, that no matter how bad the mess, no matter how much flour ended up on the floor, no matter how many times we had to cut out the cut-out cookies before we could get a recognizable shape, we would do cookies. I asked God for patience as my little ones worked on their sugary messes. They were always so proud when their cookies ended up on the tray for visitors who came throughout the Christmas season, and I realized early on that a clean kitchen couldn’t begin to compare with the golden memories that I was making when we made cookies together.
One of the girls’ favorite cookies to make were the cut-out cookies. We use a set of cookie cutters that I bought years ago. They were made by Hallmark and every year after Christmas I would buy 2 or 3. They went on sale after Christmas and they were so cute that I wanted to have them all but the only way I could afford them was to buy them on sale. Each of the girls would cut out their own set of cookies to decorate. I always wanted to make icing for the girls to use but I never knew how to make royal icing and, with three busy little girls, it seemed like one more thing that I didn’t have time to do. So the girls would use store bought, gel icing and they loved it.
Over the years, I could see the progression from blotchy, clumps of gel icing to detailed, careful decorating. I was still frustrated, though, because the gel never really dried and the cookies were difficult to store. They did look nice on the tray and people always commented how pretty they looked but I still wanted to do the beautifully detailed cookies that you can only do with royal icing. I just thought that it was too hard to even attempt.
And then, the whole cake thing happened and we learned how to do royal icing.
Megan was hesitant, early on, to try royal icing but we were determined to be the most professional amateurs that we could be so we dove head first into royal icing. We quickly found that we could get the detail in piping that we had been looking for. Megan, especially, became extremely proficient in it and her piping was some of the most intricate that I have ever seen. She really outdid herself on the Philadelphia Marathon cake that we did in November. She found that she loves piping with royal icing and she uses it every chance that she gets. She jumped at the chance to do royal icing on our traditional cut-out cookies. She was also excited to teach her sisters since they don’t really get very involved in our caking.
So one evening last week, my three treasures sat down at the dining room table to pipe their sets of cookies but this time, with royal icing instead of messy store bought gel. Since the girls are adults, they are all busy and even though they see each other frequently, they don’t get much opportunity to actually do things together. Before I knew it, the familiar chatter, giggles and laughter that I have come to associate with their cookie time together echoed through the room, as it has for so many Christmases. It’s a sound that I love to hear….my girls, enjoying each other. I’ve loved to hear it ever since they were little and I will never get tired or hearing it.
It took some time to perfect the technique of flooding the cookies, giving them time to dry, and going back to add the detail. I’ve written before about all the things that we’ve learned this year and many of the things that have to do with our ‘caking’ process have been things that you just have to have a feel for. Royal icing is one of those techniques. Megan has learned to work with different consistencies of royal icing because each task requires the icing to be slightly different, depending on whether we are flooding or piping.
And the cookies turned out great!! Gracie, the youngest, was hesitant. Cookies and piping are not her strong suit, her creative outlet is the piano, but even though she struggled with how to decorate her cookies, she stuck it out just to spend time with her sisters. Bethie, my middle, married daughter, was laughing at her own efforts. They all knew that Megan was more experienced with royal icing but that didn’t stop them from having a good time together. Bethie’s favorite cookie was what she called her ‘bird angel.’ It looked more like a parrot to me (notice the angel shaped cookie just to the right of center at the bottom of the picture).
In the end, I tucked the evening away in my mental book of treasured memories. I have so much to be thankful for this Christmas. Our family has always enjoyed establishing and maintaining Christmas traditions. I believe that traditions are part of what solidifies a family and gives each family it’s own unique identity. However, there have been some drastic changes in this past year and we have had to alter some of our well worn traditions.
Even so, I’m thanking the Lord for so many things. I’m thankful that God gave me the patience and opportunity to bake cookies with my daughters and for the incredible pay-off of spending time with them as precious young women. I’m thankful that even with all the things that have happened, and the fact that our Christmas may look a little different this year, we are still a family that loves each other and loves spending time together.
I’m thankful that, even though traditions can change, little girls grow up, and Christmases come and go, God is faithful and He is the one constant in our lives that never changes. This Christmas, may you experience the peace and joy that comes from knowing the Christ of Christmas.
So this Christmas make cookies with your kids, kiss a baby, hang a stocking, sing a carol, light a candle……….and eat some cake.
Merry Christmas Everyone!
See you all in 2012!!!