The Christmas Cookie Crisis – Or Why Anna Should Stay Out of the Kitchen

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You know those people who gather the family during the holidays and do happy, fun, traditional holiday things?  Yeah, we’re more like the Griswolds – we start out with the best intentions, but somewhere on the way to our Norman Rockwell Christmas, we take the detour at dysfunction.

Christmas cookies are no exception.  With the new KitchenAid Stand Mixer I got for my birthday in September, this was going to be the year of the cookie at our house!  No more scratching the word “Oreo” off of those chocolate sandwich cookies with the red middles and calling them my own.  No more soaking the ‘Nilla wafers in red and green food coloring, then telling the kids Elf pee made the cookies soggy, and Elf pee has magical properties!  No, not this year.  I was making my own cookies!

Of course, every child in the house clamored to help – until they realized that there would be more work involved than opening the package.  Once words like “mix, pour, drop, and separate” came into play, they opted to separate themselves from the whole process.

I began with an ambitious list of cookies I’d never made before, then figured I’d better throw in a few that I could not possibly mess up.  My old standbys were my Aunt Lee’s butter cookies, which I’ve made a bazillion times before; and Jim’s favorite – white chocolate macadamia nut cookies.  To those tried and trues, I added a list of new ones.  There would be pistachio cream cheese, lemon ricotta cheese, peppermint snowballs, jewel box cookies, ooey gooey Paula Deen chocolate cookies, and Snickerdoodles.  At the last minute, I threw in peanut butter blossoms, only because, c’mon, who doesn’t love chocolate and peanut butter?

So this is how it went.

Lemon Ricotta – Did I tell you about my new oven?  The convection oven that I don’t know how to work?  So, yeah, I put all three cookie trays in, and within a matter of minutes, the bottom tray was as close to on fire as you could get without actual flame coming out of the oven.  The parchment paper was burnt, the cookies were burnt, and the house stunk.  Good times.

After nearly burning down the new kitchen, I thought I’d better switch to something I know.  Aunt Lee’s butter cookies have always screamed “Christmas” to me.  It’s the only time of the year we ever had them, and they were always fun to make, because the kids could get involved in sprinkling them (not like the Elves and the ‘Nilla wafers – with sugar and jimmies).  I even had a brand new cookie press to make quick and easy work, which would surely help lure the children back to the kitchen.  Yeah, not so much.  The cookies were a disaster, not one came out of the cookie press in usable condition, and after almost an hour of messing with the whole thing, the dough got canned.

So with that boost to the baking morale, let’s tackle the peanut butter blossoms.  I have to say, these turned out okay!  I didn’t burn any, the kids helped roll the balls in the sugar, no one squashed the chocolate kisses as they came out of the oven.  Success!

So, on the heels of that fabulous success, and with the attitude that I’d better not press my luck, I grabbed the peppermint snowball recipe from Sandra Lee.  How could I mess these up, right?  You make these cookies with pre-made, store bought cookie dough!  It’s a no brainer.  Well, Sandra Lee’s cookies looked like this:

Mine did not.  Scrooge you, Sandra Lee!  Mine still tasted pretty good – even if they looked a bit scary.  They got all the flavor, none of the fluff.

Well, back to the tried and true, right?  How much humiliation can one woman take in a holiday baking season?

White chocolate macadamia nut cookies.  Well, of course I know my way around nuts – I live with a house full of them!  These probably turned out the best – closest to what they are supposed to be, no house fires, no culinary disasters.

I’m encouraged again!  Let’s try those Jewel Box cookies!  I knew I could rope the kids in for this one – poke their fingers in the cookie dough?  Of course!  That sounds a lot less like work and a lot more like Play-doh!

So, the recipe I have says it makes 66 cookies.  Yep, 66.  Does anyone EVER get the amount of cookies they are supposed to?  I NEVER do.  And when I see the ball of dough I end up with, I know that not only is 66 really optimistic, I think those Smucker’s people are messing with a whole different kind of grape concoction.  I can’t imagine jelly giving you these kind of hallucinations!

I roll the balls to the diameter they say they should be, and discover that Granuaile is the only thumb who’s print will actually fit on these cookies.  But it’s not fun enough for her to stick around for all of them, so Brighid and Eilis take turns putting their prints on the cookies, through the cookies, crushing them like fragile glass.  Even the 1/4 teaspoon of jam that I’m supposed to fill them with seems to overflow.  Something’s not right, but in the oven they go, and out they come.  They’re good.  Not pretty, but good.

This is about the time when I was praying the spirit of Christmas Yet to Come would turn up and show me to MY final resting place.  There would be no begging not to see the name on the tombstone – I’m just gonna roll right over….

Next to go into the oven are the pistachio cream cheese cookies.  I had to make the dough earlier, since they needed an hour to cool.  What could possibly go wrong with pistachio and cream cheese?  Sounds yummy, right?  So, why do they taste like cardboard?  What did I forget?  No idea.  But they’re nasty.  The dogs were offering to go into their crates voluntarily at bedtime if I promised NOT to give them a cookie.

After nearly six hours in the kitchen, you can stick a fork in me – I’m done.  I made up a tray of cookies for the house, and put together the treat boxes Eilis wanted to give her teachers for Christmas – which is why I really undertook this task.  Don’t worry, she’ll still get good grades – I hid the pistachio cookies on the bottom of the boxes!

Next year, when the bug strikes me that we need to do something traditional and holiday-ish, I may just finally learn the correct order of the gifts in the 12 Days of Christmas and just sing Christmas carols.  I’m fairly certain I can’t burn the house down doing that.

Fairly certain.

School Friends, Teachers, Tutors – and the Christmas Shopping List Grows Longer!

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With three daughters, all of whom have friends and teachers they like to give holiday gifts to, it seems that the holiday budget has to grow to nearly the size of the national debt in order for me to accommodate all the people on the list!  The kids also like to give a little something to the grandparents that’s just from them.  Add to that the people I always find at this time of year that I’d like to give a little something to – like the two girls who tutor me in chemistry and save my sanity.  And the guy who works the tutoring desk who asked me the other day if I knew the DMX song that was playing in the tutoring center (I did not) – he earned a spot on the list by insulting me when he said, “But you’d probably know it if it was Tony Bennett, right?”  He gets the burnt cookies.

But what is a mom with a budget tighter than that chunky monkey Santa’s squeeze down the chimney to do?

Let’s go to my old favorite standby – Oriental Trading.  The place has everything you could ever want to make your own inexpensive gifts!  Something cute I found that would be great for Grandmoms and teachers is this adorable gingerbread man necklace.  It’s festive for the holidays, and you can make 12 of them from one kit – that’s just over 50 cents each!  For the teacher, add a $5 Starbucks gift card, and she’ll have something handmade to help her remember your child for years to come, plus she gets a little treat while she’s out doing her own Christmas shopping!  You can find this and MANY more gift ideas at www.orientaltrading.com.

For your teenagers friends, think along the lines of something your own teen would like.  Perhaps have him/her choose a collection of songs they like and make each teen a CD that they’ll all enjoy listening to.  Teenagers also love photos of themselves with their friends, and you can find frames of all sizes and shapes at the dollar store.  Buy a simple frame, grab some wooden letters that spell out BFF at your craft store, have your teen paint them, then glue them to the front of the frame.  Print out your teen’s favorite picture with each friend to put in the frames, and viola – the perfect gift for around $2.50!

Younger kids get a kick out of snowman soup!  Again, hit up places like Oriental Trading or the dollar store, and find some inexpensive holiday themed mugs (Oriental Trading usually has plastic ones at $10 per dozen.  In each one, put a single packet of hot cocoa mix, a chocolate kiss or two, a candy cane, and a few marshmallows.  Wrap the whole thing in cellophane, and tag it with this little poem:

Snowman Soup
Was told you’ve been real good this year.
Always glad to hear it!
With freezing weather drawing near,
You’ll need to warm the spirit.
So here’s a little Snowman Soup
Complete with stirring stick.
Add hot water, sip it slow.
It’s sure to do the trick!


These also make great party favors for your holiday parties, and if you are going to make a bunch, skip the mug and put the ingredients in a holiday treat bag, twist tied at the top.  You eliminate the cost of the mug and save about .75 per gift!

Never underestimate the value of Christmas cookies and holiday fudge.  I know we all say a dozen times a year “If I eat one more Christmas cookie, I’m going to explode!”  But we usually say it as we are snagging another cookie.  What other time of the year are you going to have this many fabulous treats in front of you?  As someone who is lucky I don’t burn the slice and bake variety of cookies, homemade treats are one of my favorite gifts!

I hope this helps you save a little in your holiday budget for you to do something nice for yourself this Christmas season.  Splurge on some fuzzy slippers you can wear while sipping your snowman soup and noshing on those Christmas cookies.  You know you deserve it!.

 

 

 

Frugal Christmas – What to Get Grandmom?

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You know Grandmom.  She’s the one person on your Christmas list you have no idea what to get.  She has everything, if she doesn’t have it, she doesn’t want it, and she’d probably rather see you spend the money on the grandkids than on her.  But you have to get her something – it’s Christmas!

Gone are the days of the Grandmoms who sat home, watching her stories, crocheting slippers.  Grandmoms now come from a generation of working women, and many of them work still.  They are more likely to be out and about, active in more organizations or hobbies, and not the type of sit at home, wait until family comes kind of grandmom.

I love the jar gifts for Grandmoms.  I know, you’re thinking they’re played out, no one uses them, and you don’t want to give an old idea new life.  But guess what?  On the days Grandmom heads out in the morning to play tennis, stops to have a coffee with her friends at Starbucks, puts an hour or two of time in with some volunteer work, and stops at the grocery store to pick stuff up for a weekend sleepover with the grandkids, she doesn’t feel like making a big dinner from scratch.  But as active and healthy as she is, you want to keep in mind that she is a senior citizen, and frozen foods loaded with fats and sodium aren’t good for her.

How awesome would it be for her to come home, dump out the jar of ingredients into a big pot, throw in some cubed meat or diced chicken she picked up at the grocery store, and let it simmer on the stove while she checks her email and catches up on Facebook?  Dinner in an hour, and she’s beaten your score on Bejeweled Blitz and harvested 800 crops on her Farmville farm while it cooked!

And when she has the kids over this weekend, it will be fun for Grandmom and the grandkids to whip up a batch of muffins or cookies, using the jar gift you gave her.  She doesn’t have to scramble to find the ingredients in the pantry, and she doesn’t have to buy a whole bag of brown sugar, which she won’t need again until it is petrified way beyond viability.  She and the kids just dump the ingredients into a mixing bowl, add some eggs or oil, and in a matter of minutes, Grandmom is the superstar of the weekend with fresh, hot, homemade cookies.  We’ll let Grandpop put the dishes in the dishwasher!

Food is always a great gift for an active senior – the easier, the better.  And if you can make it healthy by assembling it yourself, you’ve got an inexpensive winner of a holiday gift!