Winter has arrived here in Western Oregon. Painfully short days, darkness starting so early and lasting so long. Cold rain. Ice. Damp chill.
What does it mean at our house?
* Going to the gym a lot to keep obesity at bay.
* A gorgeous Oregon-grown Noble fir tree with LEDs (Light Emitting Diodes, as my husband tells me often).
* Lots of cookie baking.
* Chili and curries and things in the crockpot.
* Planning our winter escape to Mexico.
* Some entertaining of friends and neighbors.
* Holiday parties.
* Eating cabbage and kale from the winter garden.
* A little volunteering at the warming centers that open for the unfortunate freezing unsheltered when temperatures drop below 30 overnight.
* Buying a couple kids’ coats at Old Navy and taking them to the family shelter.
* Overwhelming gratitude for what we have and deepening empathy for those who are suffering.
A cold dark time for sure, for me, missing my parents, thinking of holidays past and people who have passed. I’m doing my best to honor my mom’s memory with her cookie recipes. I’m doing my best to make my tiny sphere of influence a little bit brighter and kinder.
And I’m focusing on the warmth of Mexico we will be enjoying soon.
I got this dough recipe from Vegetarian Times eons ago. They called it “4 in 1 cookie dough,” and listed various cookies that you could make from it. I always use it for iced cut-out cookies. When I am in holiday baking mode, I usually work in stages. First, I made the dough, form it into three portions and then freeze it in zip-top bags. When I have time to bake, I take out a portion, thaw it in the fridge, roll it out, bake the cookies, and then put the cookies in the freezer. The final step is right before gifting or serving — I frost the still-frozen cookies.
The recipe makes a LOT. Most years, I usually make 2/3 of this size batch.
4 cups all pupose flour
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
2 T baking powder
1/2 t salt
1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, softened (three sticks)
2 cups sugar
3 eggs at room temperature
2 T vanilla extract
Mix dry ingredients in a medium sized bowl and set aside. Using an electric mixer beat butter in a large bowl until light and fluffy. Add sugar and beat. Add eggs one at a time. Add vanilla. Beat well. Slowly add flour mixture and mix until combined.
Chill dough 30 minutes or freeze for future use. When ready to bake, roll dough on a lightly-floured surface until about 1/4″ thick. Cut into shapes and bake on ungreased baking sheets for about 10 minutes at 350 degrees.
Mix powdered sugar with a bit of soy milk until a thick, spreadable paste forms. Add a little bit of almond or vanilla extract and any food coloring you desire. (Sorry I don’t have proportions here — since I usually frost smaller amounts of cookies at a time, I tend to play it by ear.)
“The holidays” seem to start earlier every year. Before Halloween, you can see Christmas tree decorations and red and green M&Ms edging their way into the stores. My holidays now are generally quite non-traditional. We celebrate the Solstice with a yule log and sometimes a party. We do give gifts at Christmas, nothing elaborate, but still doing our part to help the economy. We have friends over for dinner and go to parties. I bake. And remember what the holidays were like when I was growing up on the South side of Chicago.
I don’t have the kind of holiday memories that you see on Christmas cards or on TV specials. No sleds, ice skates, magical encounters with Santa. Instead, we had the family gatherings of Americans not too far removed from the immigrants who landed at Ellis Island – we had big dinners, unpredictable relatives, drinking, and lots of cookies. Continue reading