So much of life is in small things

So much of life is contained in small things.  What holds meaning for you?

Each week, The Washington Post Magazine publishes a column featuring small essays about items that are important to us.  This week’s column was a beautiful reflection on a religious medal that the author’s family carried through several generations.

photo (50)As I baked our annual candy cane cookies and packed them away in the Ward Paradise Fruit Cake tin, I realized that Christmas is all about the items of significance—the ornament, the wreath, the candle or nativity set.  It’s easy to go to the store and buy everything at once, but it’s collecting the old, small, hand-made or important over time that makes Christmas. When my parents give us “heritage” gifts, these special items beat a store-bought presents any day.

I don’t know when I became the keeper of this tin that my mom used to pack away cherry winks, snowballs, and other Christmas cookies.  I suspect I appropriated it one year in my young mother days and didn’t give it back.

This Ward Baking Co. tin was designed to hold a fruit cake, and my quick research reveals its from the 1920’s.  My mother thinks that the tin was manufactured by the Continental Can Company, where my Aunt Pauline worked for most of her life.  Pauline may have given it to my mom in some ordinary transaction, like taking home leftovers in Tupperware.  I don’t know.  Ward Baking Company, I learned,  became the largest bread distributor in the country, the baker of Wonder enriched bread products and the maker of Hostess Twinkies.

Chances are the beautiful tin with the birds of paradise on the top may have been an ordinary object for many in the mid-1900’s, but it’s bruised and scratched surface is made more beautiful now to me by years of use and Christmas memories.

Speaking of Cookies…

As we alluded to in our podcast, this next week Natalie and I plan to bake a variety of shortbread cookies.  We will be analyzing the recipes for ease, expense, and of course results.  This got us to thinking more and more about all those cookies that add to a wonderful Christmas.  We want some information from you to help guide our research and preparation for more cookies in the coming months.  Please vote in our poll so we have some idea of what cookies are YOUR favorites.

Krusteaz Sugar Cookies: A shortcut worth taking

When we were kids, baking and frosting my mom’s homemade sugar cookies was high on our list of anticipated Christmas activities.  I am still partial to the 8-piece red plastic set of cookie cutters that was my mom’s, and I just can’t settle in to using the newer metal ones.  It may sound odd now, but we sucked a hole into each raw cookie with a straw so that they could hang from the tree at Christmas. I had no qualms then about eating them off the tree.  Now, it would be a different story.

Rolled and cut sugar cookies, of all the Christmas treats are, in my humble opinion, the most labor intensive.  In the years when my Christmas spirit doesn’t develop, the sugar cookies are the first to be sacrificed.  The solution, I discovered this year, is to cheat.

At Thanksgiving, we were trolling the aisles at Costco, presumably buying “only what’s on the list,” but our cart was already full of extras, when we stumbled upon an enormous back of Krusteaz Sugar Cookie Mix.  In full impulse shopping mode, we bought a $17.00 bag that advertised it made 21 dozen cookies.

We made our first two batches in early December, dropping the dough on the pan.  They were thin, crisp, and amazingly sweet (even without sugar sprinkles).  We proceeded to make more batches through the holidays, using the alternate recipe on the bag for rolled and cut cookies.  Perfect every time (even I didn’t ruin them).  No frosting needed.

We calculated that we got our money’s worth:  total investment (with butter and eggs), $22.00.  That’s less than 10 cents a cookie.  Voracious cookie eaters, we couldn’t bake and eat enough to finish the bag until I baked them for a birthday party tonight, in late January.  I cut them into heart shapes and sprinkled them with red sugar.

I discovered this size bag is available November – December at Costco, but plenty of grocery stores nearby stock the regular single-batch,  3-dozen variety year-round.  Making a list of things to remember for next year?  (Who doesn’t ?)  Keep your eyes peeled in November for Krusteaz.

Tate’s Bake Shop Cookie Bake-off

Tonight, we have a family celebration and we invited our friend, Gini.  C.J. calls her “Just Gini,” which is his way of designating her as a family member (no special behavior required.) Part of Gini’s gift to us at the holidays was an enormous box of Tate’s Bake Shop White Chocolate Macadamia Nut cookies.  Cookies and Christmas go together, but the hectic Christmas season is not always the best time to roll out a new recipe.  In December, I made a jelly-filled, delicate cookie for the Christmas cookie exchange.  My sister-in-law made Aunt Irene’s recipe, and they were awesome.  Mine?  Not so much. (Nicole was away at college, so my results were bound to be inferior.) But it was too late to re-bake.  Christmas Advice 101: Experiment with new baked goods in the quiet days of winter.

To that end, on a recent weekend, Gini and I decided have a cookie taste test.  Could we (using Tate’s Bake Shop recipe) bake the same delicious cookies created by Tate’s Bake Shop cookie entrepreneur, Kathleen King. (WARNING:  You will be required to eat multiple cookies; this could lead to a stomache ache.)

No, we could not.  However, without the original on the same plate, most people would be fooled.  We failed to reach the extra crunchiness and the Macadamia nut texture of the original, but we were highly satisfied with the results.  One of the best parts of the recipe is that it produced 5+ dozen, more than enough for gifts or for a Christmas cookie exchange.  Perhaps my error is that the recipe recommends white chocolate made with cocoa butter, as opposed to palm oil, which I did not find in the regular grocery store.   Mmm.  Sounds like I should try again.  I rarely need an excuse for baking cookies.  This is not an “excuse.”  I have a serious purpose!

Next year I’ll be sharing the homemade version of Tate’s!  I am including the link to Tate’s Bake Shop in case you want to compare.