You know what they say: a cookie is never just a cookie.
They don’t say that? Well, they should. Because it’s true. And before ours fade fast into the relentless peristalsis of family members and friends, let me spill the beans on the cookies.
This year my daughter, Linnea, yielding to her shameless penchant for David Tennant, the most soulful of the various Doctor Whos, invented a TARDIS cookie. If you don’t know what a TARDIS is, get you to the Netflix site and find out. (For your information, it’s a British police call box that does duty as a time travel machine for the Doctor.)
The TARDIS cookies are blue, like the actual traveling machine. And, like the machine, they are bigger once they are inside of you. Or maybe it only feels that way when you eat too many of them.
Now this was new to our repertoire of cookies this year and we take innovation seriously and view it with great suspicion. I introduced the cranberry-pistachio brownies two years ago after finding the recipe in an issue of Coast Living. There was some a-hemming about the rightness of monkeying with the usual cookie line-up. But the cranberry-pistachio brownies passed muster and have joined the ranks.
The ranks? Well, every family has its own cadres of cookie recipes it trots out come December each year. And I’m convinced that every family is also convinced of its singular baking superiority. (I will definitely argue in the affirmative for the Page prowess.)
My earliest memories are of helping my mother press colored sugar into her thinly-sliced rolled butter cookies, pressing the pecans into the perfectly-formed balls of her “may malers” (what kind of name is that?) and painting the shaped marzipan with diluted food coloring—green for the peas in their peapods, pinkish for the strawberries (then to be dipped in colored sugar), red for the apples (with their whole cloves for stems).
When I was in seminary I took it into my head to go all Paul McCartney/Michael Jackson/“Ebony and Ivory” inclusive and make cookies using dark brown dough and a lighter dough. I thought that a hand cookie cutter and a foot cookie cutter would be, I don’t know, politically correct and humanitarian. But after hours of rolling and baking and a few glasses of Chardonnay, I looked down and saw a table of disembodied hands and feel. It looked barbaric. I felt like Mr. Kurtz.
However, the delicious dough survived the indignity. Now we make angels from the anise dough and trees from the chocolate pepper dough. Much more sensible.
The chocolate-dipped coconut triangles have survived the cut because they are beautiful to look at and mighty tasty. But the chestnut cookies fell by the wayside the year I looked down at the finger-sized oblongs with their chocolate-dipped ends and I saw a table full of child-sized phalluses. (I know, I shouldn’t drink Chardonnay when baking cookies. On the other hand, it seems to have saved me from some embarrassing cookie moments.)
The shortbread remains in the line-up. My sister out-Martha-Stewarts-me every year by making a variety of flavored shortbreads. But I’m a traditionalist. I do plain and I do espresso. Besides I know I can always score some other flavors from her.
And that leads to the melancholy of cookies, as well. My sister, so recently devastated by her husband’s death, was going to swear off cookie-baking this year completely. What was the point when Alan wouldn’t have the chance to savor his favorites?
But my sister is big on tradition and big on tenacity. She decided that if Alan couldn’t eat them, his colleagues from work, colleagues who had been so supportive for so long, would. And she began her baking. She has her own repertoire of traditional cookie recipes. And she made all of those.
But it wasn’t enough. It was enough, but it wasn’t enough. Because she wanted to give back. She wanted to say, “thank you.” She wanted to do something that would make people happy, even in sorrow.
Cookies can do that. Like I said, a cookie is never just a cookie.
And so she made 15 different kinds. Fifteen. In wordless gratitude, in tenacious creativity. In hope.
Which may be why we bake in the first place.