Writer’s warning: I'm going to use the word Christmas regularly throughout this post. If you are actually offended by the word Christmas, feeling it’s not inclusive, then don’t read any further. I will not make any apologies for using it, especially since it applies to my mom.
On August 8, 2017, my mom died. I posted her wedding picture and shared my feelings in an Instagram post that morning, but this is the first time I’ve taken pen to paper, or more accurately, fingers to keyboard, to pen any further thoughts.
I’m still not entirely sure of what I will say, but I feel I need to say something. So if this sounds more stream of consciousness than rational thought, you’ll know why. Four weeks later, life finally feels like it’s coming back to some degree of normal. When it’s fully back to normal is anyone’s guess.
When I got the news of mom's death, I took four days away from the office, and was back to work the following Monday. That was a huge mistake. We’re under a tight deadline, but my productivity was awful, my heart just wasn’t in it. And while it’s understandable, I have a co-worker that might point out my lack of productivity (despite the circumstances). I digress, that’s for another post altogether.
Today, I finally went through a treasure of mom’s – her sewing kit. Nothing fancy, just a little brown case, with a taped handle, and her name on it.
My mom loved Christmas. LOVED it. Her house was always decorated to the nines and she always had some homemade, and fattening, Christmas goodie sitting out on a countertop or the table. Mom also made homemade Christmas stockings for everyone – the kids, the grandkids, the great-grandkids. Hell, even my cat even had one. She made each out of felt, they were handstitched on the sides, and she stitched the name of the recipient, in puffy white letters, on the front of each. They truly were a labor of love.
Today, when I opened the sewing kit, there was a stocking inside, half done. The name, however, was sewn on the front; it was for her youngest great-granddaughter. There was a small canister with a few jingle bells in it for trim, along with ribbon and embroidery threads. I looked through all the trimmings, and the half-finished trimmings, and started crying. I couldn’t use this case as my own, it wasn’t right. I don’t know if I could even finish the stocking she started, as I'm not very good at hand stitching, but I’m tempted to try, then send it to its intended.
As I went through some of her things after the funeral, I found her Christmas cookie cutter collection (in the photo above). The memories of seeing those come out at Christmas flooded back.
One of mom’s biggest traditions was making Christmas cookies, especially the frosted sugar cookie. Mom always made enough for a small army. She raised six kids, so I suppose cooking in volume was just habit. Mom kept the cookie cutters in a grey shoebox, frayed on the edges, but by the looks of it, she added a few since I saw them last. There was one that’s missing – an aluminum angel – and I don’t know where that one went.
When mom brought that grey shoebox out a Christmas, it was right up there with opening Christmas presents. Mom made one helluva Christmas cookie. Soft, chewy, moist, with frosting and sugary sprinkles. Damn, they were good….
I didn’t have to think twice, I took the cookie cutters. Now, mind you, I’m not much of a cookie baker. At all, really. It’s been a solid 15 years since I’ve attempted making cookies from scratch. My baking gene isn’t nearly as strong as my mom’s or either of my sisters is, but it seemed a shame to never use these again. Just wasn’t sure when I’d get the chance.
Later that evening, I got an invite to come up for Thanksgiving. Weather permitting, I’ll go and me, after a couple of beers, said I’d make sugar cookies. Had I not had the beers, I would’ve slapped the side of my head, but it seemed like a good idea at the time.
Mom had a recipe for her roll-out sugar cookies, but it wasn’t in her recipe box. Apparently one of my nieces has it (why, is a mystery since she doesn’t cook). But her mom, my sister-in-law, gave the ingredient list to another sister-in-law over the phone, who, in turn, gave it to my sister. When my sister sent it to me, I thought it looked … funny. Not ha-ha funny, but off somehow. I tried the recipe not once, but twice, and both times it came out gooey. Roiled cookie dough should be clumpy, not gooey. I even bought a mixer to get the dough just right, and that didn’t help either.
Luckily, another niece said she thought my mom used a Betty Crocker recipe for her sugar cookies. I did a search on the Interwebs and sure enough, Betty Crocker does have a sugar cookie recipe very close to what mom made. Or maybe it’s the other way around. The recipe passed to my sister had all the right ingredients, but the quantities were off.
New recipe in hand, last Friday, I tried making cookie dough for the third time and the third time really was the charm. The recipe worked. I even made the frosting recipe I found with it. I did have to adjust the oven temperature; I brought the heat down to 350 degrees (the recipe called for 375, but that was too high) and I plan on adding almond extract to the next batch for a little extra flavor.
The pictures of the successful cookies are below. The Halloween cookie cutters are mine. I love Halloween as much as mom loved Christmas.
I’m sure some would think it’s a lot of effort to make for cookies, but they’re more than just cookies. I want to keep this tradition alive for as long as I can, and I want to honor mom’s memory by making the best damn Christmas cookies I can. And if someone says they’re as good as hers, mission accomplished.