Posted tagged ‘sugar cookies’

“Stars of heaven, clear and bright, Shine upon this Christmas light, Vaster far than midnight skies Are its timeless mysteries.”

December 19, 2017

Last night it rained. The snow became pockmarked by the raindrops then most of it disappeared. The last of the snow is soft and wet. It was cloudy this morning, but I can see blue sky now and a hint of sunshine. Today is already 49˚ but it will be cold again tonight.

When I was a kid, the closer we got to Christmas the more difficult it was for me to breathe. I was in a constant state of excitement with all the Christmas doings. I loved the late afternoon when my brother and I raced to turn on the window candles. The best, a five candle tier, was in the picture window. It had all orange bulbs. The candles were sort of an off-white plastic, and most were taped to the window sill so they wouldn’t keep falling over from the weight of the bulbs. We had to screw the bulbs on as there were no switches. We had to screw them off as well, but we never raced for that. The bulbs were always hot to the touch. I used to lick my fingers before I touched the hot bulbs.

My mother kept us busy to distract us, to keep us calm, a huge undertaking. My favorite day was when we decorated sugar cookies. My mother made Santas, bells, trees and angels. She’d have bowls of white frosting and colored frosting in green, red and yellow. None of us were particularly talented. The trees were the easiest. I’d color them green, naturally, then I’d make strings of yellow and red lights. Santa was a bit more complicated because of the white pompom on his hat and his beard. The key was to frost the red parts first and try to leave space for the white. My Santas tended to look all the same. The angels got the yellow frosting. Sometimes we’d cover the whole cookie in white then we’d sprinkle with green or red or colored jimmies. That was usually when we had gotten tired and maybe a bit bored.

I always thought that at Christmas time everything seemed to look different, as if the world around me was covered by an aura. Even now I sometimes think that, especially at night when the air is clear and the sky star-lit and Christmas lights shine from the houses. Last night I went around and turned on my tree lights. In the kitchen I turned on the red pepper and scallop shell lights entwined around a shelf. I stood for a while enchanted by how lovely my house looks at night, how warm it is, how perfect for Christmas.

“Yes! Yes I do! I like Christmas! I love Christmas!”

December 10, 2017

Winter wonderland skipped us. We got rain the whole day, heavy rain at times. In the late afternoon, when I let Gracie out and brought trash to the car at the same time, we both got soaked. She wasn’t thrilled. My sister got around 6 inches of snow. I watched the news and saw the snow in Texas, an unusual occurrence in San Antonio. I laughed out-loud when a kid did a snow angel. Obviously snow was new to him. He did the angel face down.

Yesterday was a day of doing little for me. I made four or five trips carrying stuff like the displaced by the tree living furniture upstairs, wrote out more cards and went through catalogs but mostly I just sat. All the hauling up and down stairs made me tired. Today I have more energy and a to-do list. Gracie and I are going to the dump, to the small grocery store for bread and such and Agway for cat and dog food. I will decorate my wreaths and put them outside, and I’ll bring up bins from the cellar with the tree lights and some decorations. If I have any energy left, I’ll at least put on the tree lights. Tonight I’ll make myself a nice dinner and have some egg nog and watch Hallmark.

When I was a kid, Santa Claus had power over me. If I did anything wrong or fought with my brother, my mother threatened to call Santa. That was enough to get us to stop. I remember trips to Jordan Marsh to visit Santa. We’d take the bus to Sullivan Square then the subway to the Jordan’s stop. In those days Jordan’s and Filene’s had entrances from the stores to the subway. They were destinations.

I love Boston at Christmas time. The city is filled with people, some shopping, some just enjoying the festivities. The trees in the Common are lit for the holiday. Frog Pond is open for skating or for just sitting and watching the skaters while drinking a cup of cocoa. The giant tree from Nova Scotia is covered in lights. Small push wagons around the common sell roasted chestnuts and hot popcorn. Garlands hang from stores and street lights. People just seem happier.

My town was always decorated for Christmas. Swags of evergreen were hung from one side of the main street to the other. The store windows had trees and wrapped gifts and Santas. Carolers sang every night. The aroma of sugar cookies and bread wafted from Hank’s Bakery and hung in the air. The fire station was outlined in lights, and Santa was climbing a ladder to the chimney. I loved going uptown at night, and I still remember singing in the square.

I get excited for Christmas even now. I love the lights, and I could eat a dozen sugar cookies. Christmas music plays in the car and around the house when I’m decorating or baking. I sing along, out of tune, but that doesn’t matter. It’s Christmas!

“The cookie-verse is infinite”

November 28, 2016

Trying to find something to watch on TV is a losing battle. I told my remote to find me science fiction movies. The choices were strange. Cinderella was one. I guess it is the talking mice and the fairy godmothers. The only scifi choices I wanted to watch I’ve already seen or they cost money. I don’t get that money piece as many of the films are old and have already been on regular TV. If I had my druthers, I’d have a free channel devoted to B science fiction movies, the old black and white ones. I’d totally binge on those. Luckily, though, I don’t really need movies. I have books from the library, a couch and an afghan. I might even make popcorn.

The plastic dog door fell off again so I had to shut the back door because of the cold. It’s a good thing this is Gracie’s nap time or I’d be standing at the back door waiting for her to come inside. Later, I’ll try yet again to attach the new plastic door piece to the dog door frame. Because I did it once on the old plastic, I am determined to do it again.

My mother used to start calling around this time. She’d say, “Guess what I bought you this weekend,” and then she’d chuckle. I’d guess a few things, but I wasn’t ever right. On another call she’d tell me I was going to love what she had just bought me. Teasing me part of the fun of Christmas. My mother loved these days leading to Christmas with all the decorating and the baking. We’d discuss what each of us was making. I always made date-nut bread, coffee cake for Christmas morning, fudge for my sister and my dad, orange cookies for my mother and English toffee. My mother made sugar cookies, chocolate chip sometimes, biscotti one year and cookies press cookies another year. She’d also make a pie or two. The dining room table always had trays of goodies. My dad used to make several trips each night. He always drank milk with his cookies.

Every week I keep track of the number of miles I drive. Why I do that, I have no idea, especially now. I don’t go out every day. Tomorrow is my only must go out to do something day as Gracie has a vet appointment. Maybe on some other day, I’ll get a sudden urge to hit the road, if only for a ride, but then again, my house is warm and cozy and, best of all, I love being at home.

 

“Christmas, when observed with the right spirit, still has the power to call miracles from Heaven to Earth.”

December 17, 2013

The day is dark and getting darker: snow first then rain. The sky has that light gray color, the almost white which heralds a storm. Cold doesn’t quite describe the chill. When I ran out for the papers, I had to fix my star, a big white one which hangs on the fence to the backyard and has a trail of lights. I noticed it didn’t light last night because it had fallen off the nail and disconnected itself. I stood in the freezing morning connecting cords and rehanging the star. When I walked into the house, I could feel the warmth and smell the coffee. I was happy. I had my papers, the star was fixed and the coffee ready.

My back is almost its old self, achy but not bowed. I can even get out of bed without moaning. I walk almost upright: homo erectus again. I don’t know what I did to it but it was a doozy.

My first Christmas away from home was in Ghana. I will never forget it.

It is the harmattan in December when a dry, dusty wind blows from the desert and brings hot, hot days and cool, almost cold, nights. My students were dressed in layers every morning as they went about their chores, mostly sweeping the school compound. When I’d wake up, I would hear the swish of the hand-held sticks used as brooms. I knew I would later see the imprint of those sticks fanned across the dirt when I walked to class. Christmas is a low-keyed affair in northern Ghana. It is a morning spent in church. For my students, it meant school vacation. Empty busses would come, fill with students then head south to places like Kumasi dropping students at junctions on the way. The lucky bus drivers got their quota for the day with the one stop at my school. The Sunday before vacation started was when the Christmas celebration was held. Staff members wore their finest cloths and some male teachers wore kente, students were dressed in their Sunday uniforms and ministers and the white father from town were invited and sat at the head table. A tree was erected in the dining hall. It had mostly homemade ornaments though I lent a few of mine sent by my mother. They gave the tree a bit of home. The Bible was read and students sang carols. The ministers and the white father offered words of wisdom and spoke about the meaning of Christmas in our lives. Students sang more carols. We then stood as the head table left the dining hall followed by the rest of us, students last.

The compound was quiet once the students were gone. Patrick, another volunteer, and I prepared for a party on Christmas Eve. We knew they’d be volunteers passing through town on their way north into then Upper Volta and onward to the desert in Niger or Mali and Timbuktu. Patrick and I thought we’d all need to be together that first year, to take comfort from one another. I decorated my house with what my mother had sent including a small tree, ornaments, brick-designed crepe paper and a stocking with my name on it. Her Christmas package wouldn’t arrive that year until late January. We convinced the woman at the Hotel d’Bull bar to sell us beer. Her concern was getting back the bottles as beer was often unavailable because the bottling company would sometimes run out of bottles. We swore we’d bring them back, and she relented. We got gas for my oven, and I baked for the first time. I made sugar cookies using the cookie cutters my mother had sent. I had a tree, a reindeer and Santa. The cookies came out perfectly. We bought a few foodstuffs in the market but only a few as we knew our guests would bring food. A volunteer would never come to another volunteer’s house empty-handed. We didn’t know how many guests were coming. Five or six volunteers who were staying at my house and sleeping on my living room floor went to the market and brought back fruit, groundnuts, kelewele and I don’t remember what else. I just know it was a bounty.

The house was full on Christmas Eve. There was a lot of laughter and we sang carols. Someone said please don’t sing I’ll Be Home for Christmas, and we didn’t. Later that night a few of us went outside to cool off a bit and we sat together behind my house near the wall. The sky was ablaze with stars, the night was chilly and we were quiet until someone said,”The night must have been just like this on the very first Christmas.” That went right to my heart and made me realize Christmas is what we make of it and it doesn’t matter how or where or with whom we celebrate. That year I had a most wonderful Christmas. Everybody was my family, and I was home.

“Smells, I think, may be the last thing on earth to die.”

November 12, 2013

I woke up to the sound of rain. It was earlier than usual, but I had a nine o’clock meeting anyway so I got up, started my coffee, ran out for the papers then ran back inside to a house filled with the wonderful aroma of freshly brewing coffee. I filled my cup and took the first sip. I can’t imagine starting any day without my coffee.

While I was at the library board meeting, the rain turned to snow for a few minutes, but at 37˚ it is still just a bit too warm to sustain the snow. I couldn’t be happier as I think it is far too early in the season for snow. On my way home the rain became sleet, giant globs of sleet. Gracie didn’t even want the window open. I was just so happy to get home and inside my warm house. It still smell of coffee.

We all have favorite smells. Some conjure memories of childhood while others bring to mind the people we love and miss. Places where we’ve been are pulled from memories, drawn by a smell. I love the smell of spring, of the earth and flowers and the first mown grass. I can smell rain before it comes. A summer rain cooling the hot pavement has a strange, easily recognized smell. I know when any neighbors have a fire going as the smell of burning wood permeates the air. Last year when the electricity was off for so long my house was filled with the aroma of burning wood, and it stayed for days. The pine smell of the Christmas tree fills the living room then spreads to all of downstairs. Sugar cookies baking always remind me of my mother. They were a Christmas tradition as was the decorating and eating cookies heavy with icing. The smell of turkey cooking in the oven at Thanksgiving draws the cats and the dog to the kitchen. They sit near the stove hoping for a taste. I never disappoint them.

I think that winter gives us a gift starting at Thanksgiving and lasting until the tree comes down in January. It is the season of smells mixed with memories.

Marge, it’s 3 AM. Shouldn’t you be baking?”

July 16, 2012

The day is breezy and sunny. It’s also warm and will stay that way through tomorrow when the high is predicted to be 88˚. Last night we had rain. The drops started slowly around one. I know that because that’s when I went upstairs to bed and that’s when I found the dead mouse in my room. Earlier I had heard the ruckus and knew Maddie was the cause of the noise. It didn’t occur to me she was playing with a mouse. That’s the third one in a little over a week. There must be a small welcome mat outside the cellar walls. I wrapped the deceased in paper and took it outside. That’s when I felt the rain. I could also smell the air, the smell of the rain hitting the hot pavement. I stood for a moment enjoying the rain then came back inside and went back to bed in the cool house. I fell asleep right away.

When I was a kid, I never cooked anything. I wasn’t interested in the kitchen except to sit down to dinner. For lunch sometimes, I’d make a bologna sandwich, but I always cut the meat a bit lopsided, thin on one side and thick on the other. I’d add hot peppers to give the bologna a bit of a zing. It was always mustard on my bologna. Even in college, when I had an apartment, I didn’t do much cooking. I became quite adept at opening Dinty Moore’s beef stew. My roommate actually cooked meals for us with meat, potatoes and a vegetable. I was amazed.

I made sugar cookies for Christmas when I was in Ghana; they were traditional in my family, and I needed a connection to home my first Christmas away. I was hesitant as I had a total lack of baking skills, but I had nothing to lose so I gave those cookies a try. Despite my having to sift out the bugs and use a beer bottle as a rolling-pin, those cookies were perfect and they were delicious. They brought Christmas to me.

After that no recipe fazed me. When I got home, I was willing to try anything, even chicken Kiev. After all, I had made sugar cookies looking like bells and reindeer in a small oven in Ghana so I knew I could make anything.

“Childhood smells of perfume and brownies.”

April 15, 2012

Today is beautiful with no breeze and the brightest sun hanging in the sky. Fern is so relaxed lying in the sun shining through the front door that I had to check to make sure she was breathing. Gracie is outside sitting in the sun. She has a favorite spot on the back side of the yard where she sprawls on the grass. When she comes in to check on me, her fur will feel hot to the touch.

Yesterday I heard dogs barking, including my own, mowers and kids playing but not today. My neighborhood is Sunday quiet as if there was reverence still left for the day.

I have favorite smells. The every day favorite smells give me a sense of comfort and continuity like the smell of coffee brewing first thing in the morning or the smell of the ocean borne this far by the wind or the fog. Other smells transport me to different times and places. Last week I smelled leaves burning and saw a man tending his small fire, rake in hand. I slowed down and lowered my window when I went by him and his leaves. All of a sudden I was a little kid again watching my father tend to his fire burning on the street beside the sidewalk. The smell of wood burning brings me back to Ghana. During the harmattan, when the mornings are chilly, the family compound behind my house had smoke whirling into the air from fires lit to keep everyone warm. The smell of that burning wood was almost sweet as it filled the air. Food in Ghana is still cooked on small, round charcoal burners, and the charcoal is still made from wood. Last summer when I smelled the cooking fires I was transported forty years in time to when I lived in a small white duplex and behind my house was a field with a family compound. I can still see and smell the smoke from that compound as it rises into the air. My mother and the smell of sugar cookies baking are forever linked in my memory.

“C is for Cookie, that’s good enough for me.”

April 25, 2011

Yesterday was an Easter gift. Today we’re back to a sun-less day with white gray skies, but it is still warm at 56° so I have a few upstairs windows open. I awoke this morning to the sounds of birds. I can’t think of a more delightful way to greet the day.

Dinner was spectacular yesterday. We sat in the bar waiting for our table and from the windows we could see only water making us feel as if we were on an Easter cruise. Our dinner table was in the main dining room by a window where we could see the shells and sand. We watched the tide come in along the break-way. We toasted the day. It deserved recognition.

Mondays have a stigma attached. I don’t have to drag myself out of bed any more, but Mondays still have nothing redeemable. Friday used to be my favorite day, but now I have no favorites. I like them all except Monday. I don’t even have much energy today, but I do need to get out for a few things, the in-between stuff I run out of before a massive grocery run. I need bread.

The day after Easter meant a half eaten bunny in my basket. I ate the small stuff, the jelly beans and hard eggs, but I left the bunny until last. He was always the star.

I have a special fondness for sugar cookies, and for most big holidays my mother would make batches of them. I remember waiting and waiting until they were cool enough so I could eat one, unfrosted. I remember the bottoms of the cookies were always a light brown, and when I first made my own, that’s what I looked for when I checked to see  if they done. For Easter my mother made eggs and rabbits. Sometimes we’d help decorate. The rabbits were just white, but it was the eggs which brought out our creativity. We’d try and frost them with designs and lots of colors. I was never very good with the decorator bag. More frosting got on me than the cookies, but it really never mattered how they looked. They always tasted just right.