Monday, December 13, 2010

Cookie Day

This might be the longest blog post ever dedicated to cookies.

Every year for my 23 years of life my mother and I have done All Day Cookie Day for Christmas, which eventually morphed into All Day Cookie Weekend. It started before I was born; my mother, the baker, guiding two of her best friends, Kathy and Peggy in a cookie making extravaganza. As soon as I had the ability to help, I was a part of it. I started small with jobs such as adding sprinkles, stirring melting chocolate and scooping dough onto baking sheets. My absolute favorite job was using this ancient nut grinder with a little jack-in-the-box style handle. I distinctly remember the year Kathy thought it would save time to buy pre-crushed pecans. I stood in front of the counter, next to the stool I always climbed on top of to reach the action. I held the nut grinder in both hands, unable to understand what had happened to my job. Once I came to the realization that I would not need my beloved nut grinder, I cried. I cried and cried until my mom found some whole pecans in the cabinet and let me believe the grinding of those pecans were crucial to the entire operation.

As the years went on Kathy disappeared from the tradition and eventually Peggy did as well. Cookie Day and then Cookie Weekend became solely my mother and I's. My family is small, broken and overall disappointing. We have almost no traditions, no celebrations and barely keep in contact. Cookie Day has been a constant in my life, the one thing that meant Christmas was coming. Cookie Day has changed a bit over the years; the loss of Kathy and Peggy, the dropping from 7 variations of cookies to 6 (Sorry, Peanut Butter- you are too potent and cause too many issues with allergies and packaging), the extension of a single day to a weekend and a few other minor details. However, Cookie Day has held onto a lot of things as well.

My mother and I always plan for the first or second weekend of December, depending on when she is off work. I drop everything and go home on Friday night so we can wake up bright and early on Saturday morning with a cup of hot chocolate or coffee. We set out a game plan, set up stations in the kitchen and divide duties. Christmas music must be playing for the baking to commence. "All I Want For Christmas is You" by Mariah Carey must play a minimum of 5 times each day, dancing and singing included. Back in the day, my mom recorded a cassette tape with multiple appearances of the song. Luckily, we now have CDs to make that requirement a little easier to reach. Chinese food must be ordered for lunch because we cannot be bothered with cooking anything, the dish of choice is Orange Chicken with lots of Crab Rangoon. There is not real set time spent on baking, but the days are usually about 12 hours each. We make several batches of 6 different varieties of cookies: Chocolate Chip, Snickerdoodle, Sugar, Butter with Chocolate or Cherries, Mint Chocolate, Oatmeal and Mexican Wedding. We also make spiced pecans and almonds but these are mostly for us and a few very special people as the nuts are much pricier and more time consuming. These are usually made while we take on the daunting task of packing all the cookies into tins because another condition of Cookie Day is that we give almost all the cookies away.

This year, Christmas is all kinds of wrong. I am in South America where it is 85+ degrees every day which means no snow, no hot chocolate, and no sense in wishing for a white Christmas. Christmas spirit is seriously lacking here, which is truly depressing for a Christmas fanatic like myself. I won't be home for Christmas, which actually it's not all that bad. As I said before, my family doesn't celebrate much so I spent the last 4 Christmases with my ex's family; being home would only make me miss them more. So, it's not missing Christmas I am sad about, it's missing Cookie Day.

My mom and I both debated canceling it all together but we both decided Cookie Day must live on and we would both do our own Mini Cookie Days. Today was mine. I had a lot of obstacles. My mom has all the best baking supplies and ingredients on hand. Here in Argentina I don't even have the lovely gifts my mom has given me over the years. I have a tiny oven with no temperature control, just a little flame. I had to hunt down baking sheets, figure out how to ask for "cream of tartar" in Spanish and then find a place that sold it. I went on several failed expeditions to find chocolate. I also had to work around the ridiculous rules about buying a maximum of 2 kilos of sugar at a time or a few packs of butter. However, it all came together and I have photos to prove it.

I started the day with Chocolate Chip. Unfortunately, brown sugar is much darker here so they look burnt but I promise they are perfectly baked and delicious. I was even able to find a bakery supply store that sold actual chocolate chips, something I was sure didn't even exist here. I was planning on buying a block of chocolate and chopping it up. When the lady saw me clearing her shelves of the impossibly small bags she offered to sell me a kilo for cheaper. Thank you, nice bakery store lady.

After Chocolate Chip I moved onto Snickerdoodles. These are tricky because they are super thin and thus very sensitive to temperature. It took a few test tries with some adjustment of time and the little flame in the oven but I got them to be be perfect.

Lastly, Sugar Cookies. I mostly made these for the sake of the Christmas coloured sprinkles because, let's face it, all cookies are sugar cookies. Sugar cookies are tasty but they are more for show than anything else. I decided to make a very special gift for my mama:

Long story short, there is a book called "Love You Forever" that my mother and I have history with. She gave me a copy when I was 10 and my parents got divorced. She wrote in the front cover about how proud she was to be my mom, etc etc. She stole it from me and wrote in the back cover when I moved here. I'm going to try to have a photo taken with me in it so I can send it to her as part of her Christmas present so no telling! Luckily, she has no idea how to properly use the internet so she'll never see this.

I even ordered Chinese for lunch. However, the Chinese place was out of chicken and Wan Tans (the closest thing to Crab Rangoon). What the hell? The spring roll and tofu and vegetable dish was still tasty though.

It was a bittersweet day. I definitely felt like Christmas was more real after my first tray of Chocolate Chip came out of the oven. Of course, I felt pangs of sadness every so often because Cookie Day without my mom just isn't right.

I'm glad I did it though! Even though now my table is overrun with cookies and no one is left in the city to give them to.

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