I'm signing off for the next week or so. The family arrives Tuesday and I doubt very much that I'll sit down to write, or for that matter, sit down much at all. So I'll leave you with this Christmas story and a little sweet.
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A few days before Christmas I always make gingerbread cookies; cozily alone in my kitchen on a cold and snowy day, my favorite Dave Brubeck holiday CD playing on the stereo. Mom's classic recipe, just the right combination of butter, flour, sugar and molasses makes the best gingerbread cookies in the whole wide world.
Mom used to cut the cookies out in traditional bird shapes—Danish Ginger-Birds she called them, and I would watch her, fascinated, as she decorated each cookie in her very specific way, the way it was supposed to be— carefully outlining the bird's silhouette with a thin ribbon of pure white icing, embellishing it with a few tail and wing feathers, and finally dotting a tiny white "eye".
These days it’s not just birds; ‘though I always cut out the first couple dozen in the "traditional" way. When my daughters were little they begged and begged for gingerbread boys and soon we also had gingerbread girl and toddler and baby-size cookie cutters. Eventually we even invited bears into our cadre of characters...
As batch after batch of hot cookies emerge from the oven to cool on wire racks, my kitchen fills with the familiar, warm, gingery scent and I am once again reminded, connected, back to those days as I am every year, when Mom made these same lovely cookies. I taste one, then another—divine as always—the perfect combination of butter and sweet and spice and crunch, gingerbread cookies ready to be stacked away in tins, gingerbread cookies awaiting the finishing touch—decorations!
Now if I bake them, I shouldn’t have to do all the decorating, right? So I always enlist a crew to help out: my sister and her family, my daughters and grandchildren all gather eagerly around the kitchen table for the Annual Spencer Cookie Decorating Extravaganza. I mix up 7 colors of icing; red, green, yellow, orange, blue, purple— purple is everyone's favorite—and set out assorted sprinkles and sanding sugars in little bowls. Then the fun and creativity begins! (We even manage to get Gary to decorate a few.)
And while my band of cookie artists is busily working on the boys and girls and babies and bears, I alone decorate the Ginger-Birds—with that thin ribbon of pure white icing—just the way Mom used to do it—just the way it’s supposed to be.