This will be the fifth holiday season my family will be without my grandmother and even though I’ve not spent a considerable amount of time at home the last few years, I find myself waxing nostalgic and missing her terribly. Even though we didn’t see each other as often as I’d have liked over the years because MarshFox’s career just didn’t allow for it, we kept in touch through handwritten letters and phone calls. Often times those letters contained handwritten recipes, which I still have today in a box.
During our first holiday season without Grandma, it struck me just what we’d be missing out on that first Christmas thereafter in the absence of her presence in our lives. It never failed that just as there were popcorn balls every single Halloween at her house there were sugar cookies cut in the themed shapes of whatever holiday was upon us. Many times, rather than a gift on a given holiday we’d receive a loaf of handmade bread or our favorite pie. My favorite pie is chocolate in case you’re wondering. My mouth gets all worked up when I think about it then I realize there will never be another chocolate pie at the hands of Grandma and my eyes get all worked up and I find myself crying and smiling all at the same time.
Yes, mourning can be a messy business and confusing at times. You laugh, you cry, you smile, you brood. Repeat. And there is definitely no time limit on this particular bit of messy business. Five years on since we lost her and I still get sad at times.
I’m pretty sure, however, my grandma is getting the last laugh right now, and she was sure laughing five years ago as I attempted to prepare for our first holiday season without her. I will continue to believe that and laugh along with her for as long as I wish.
Upon realizing there wouldn’t be Christmas cookies that first year, I decided to take up the torch and make sure my grandkids and niece and nephew had them. They might not be made by our Grandma’s hand, but I have a grandma’s hand and hey, how hard could this business be. Right?
I fondly remember pressing cookie cutters into soft, sugary dough on her cook table as a child. Then I’d realize my cookie wasn’t as pretty as Grandma’s was and it warranted destroying right away. The destroying was normally taken up by popping the now warm bit of sweetened dough between my lips and skipping away while happily munching.
What I didn’t know I didn’t know. Sure, I was learning by her side, but how much was I appreciating?
After having taken up arms with the coveted sugar cookie recipe and a few tons of ingredients give or take, I can definitely, without a doubt say I have a newfound appreciation for just what that woman went through every holiday and sometimes in between to ensure we had cookies. By the dozens no less.
I begin my tale of the cookies in the local Costco, circa December 2014…
“Look, honey, how much cheaper flour is in bulk. Twenty-five pounds for around seven bucks. No wonder Grandma stocked up and kept that stuff in those popcorn tins.” (Yes, Grandma stored her flour, sugar, rice, etc in bulk in the huge popcorn tins. I understand now WHY.)
“So get it in bulk.”—MarshFox while eyeballing the twenty-five pound bags of sugar alongside the mountain of flour.
“I think I should…”
An hour later I left Costco with twenty-five pounds of sugar, twenty-five pounds of flour, an enormous bottle of vanilla, a mass of cinnamon…
You get the idea.
Now the question became where to store that stuff. I no longer lived in a 2200 square feet home. I lived at the time in a 1400 square feet home and the kitchen was tiny compared to what I’ve had in the past with no real pantry space to speak of. Needless to say, this experience had me making a list of required amenities for our retirement home. (Here’s a hint: I don’t have a HUGE kitchen with walk-in pantry. Pity!)
Honestly, the smaller kitchen had never been a problem up until that point I decided I was Super Grandma and was about to solve the family cookie woes. I peeked into MarshFox’s garage pondering keeping things out there, but alas I wasn’t going to store my sacred cookie ingredients next to motor oil and lawn maintenance gadgets. Nope! But…if I had some of those buckets…
“MarshFox!” I slammed the garage door and looked at him with what I’m sure was a gleam in my eye because what I said next set a gleam to shining in his pupils. “I need buckets!”
“A girl after my own heart.” He winked! I was so proud of myself.
A list was concocted…
I needed two five-gallon buckets, a couple dozen eggs, colored sugar sprinkles, and (and this next part is VERY important) real butter. Four-four packs to be precise.
Now, anyone who’s known us for very long knows, he’d buy the moon for me if it’d make me happy and he never fails to attempt to do whatever I need during my hair brain Superwoman schemes. And there have been a few of them in the last twenty-three years.
I sent him forth with a list. He fulfilled the list and put everything away I had asked for while I busily tried to catch up with other matters so as to have the next day free to plunge into the cookie making.
The next morning, I’m working like a madwoman to catch up on my writing so I can have the entire afternoon to work on those cookies I HAD to get in the mail or they’d be late and useless. Not to mention a wind storm was scooting up the Pacific Northwest coast and headed straight for us. Wind meant the likelihood of losing power there was, oh, about a hundred ten percent.
On a break from catching up, I went downstairs to grab a cuppa and when I pull the fridge door open I imagine not only was my Grandma laughing at the look on my face, I’m sure all her friends she’d settled in with up there in heaven were guffawing, as well.
MarshFox had indeed got me four-four packs of real butter. He did do exactly as my list indicated. In man terms and based on his experience with me at Costco. You see, I’d purchased real butter at Costco before in a “four-pack.” Four-pack at Costco means, four packs of four sticks each (four packs). I got four, four-pack, four-packs. Yes, yes it is. You added correctly. I had SIXTEEN packs of real butter in my fridge.
I blinked. I shut the door and giggled. Then I reopened the door to make sure I in fact had just seen sixteen POUNDS of butter in my fridge.
I LOVE this man. He did exactly as my list indicated according to my past behaviors. Observant is he not?
I had a French door refrigerator at the time. I hadn’t yet opened the other door. I eased it open. Yes, yes there was also a tad of confusion as to my notes on how many eggs I needed to complete the task. Any guesses as to how many eggs I had? Never mind. You’ll never guess.
Six dozen. I have six dozen eggs.
I did, however, have only two buckets—food grade at that. Whew! Any more buckets and I’d have had to go find something to put in them. Right?
MarshFox came home early due the wind storm, we had a good laugh, he went out to rescue all our outdoor goodies to include the Christmas wreath off the door and the garden flag as the wind was due anytime. I began the task of making ten dozen cookies. Anyone noticing a trend in excesses here?
Hey, I have seven grandkids and a niece and nephew. My dad loves sweets and my son is a healthy grown man who stuffs whatever’s available in his mouth between keeping up with the kids. Grandma logic says ten dozen is appropriate.
I creamed the butter and eggs just like I remember Grandma doing. Added vanilla and sugar, whirled it some more. (Oh! Did I mention I got a new stand mixer just for this job? I’m no fool. What better reason to get a new toy than this mission? Right?) Sifted the flour, baking powder and salt. Added that, whirled some more.
A dough formed! I was on the right track. Whew! So far so good.
Formed my first ball of dough, floured my surface, hands, the front of my shirt, the floor, my rolling pin, and my cookie cutter. Everything was sufficiently floured. I rolled it out and made the first cut.
How the HECK did Grandma always make a perfect reindeer that fell right out of the blasted cookie cutter? HOW? I pursed my lips, said a choice word, rolled the whole of the dough back up into another ball, and began again. Two tries later, I had a reindeer missing one leg and a tree that was a little lopsided.
Grandma-ing is NOT for sissies.
God bless that woman. She did this cookie business for us repeatedly and made it look easy. And she never complained, cursed the dough, had a legless reindeer, or looked like the Dough Girl when she was done. We did! Her? Not once that I remember.
It was about the time I’d finally mastered rolling dough the lights flickered for the first time.
“Oh, dear sweet Baby Jesus, please give me lights until I finish. Please, please, please.”
Three hours later, I had the last dozen cookies in the oven. After the first two dozen or so, I had some pretty good-looking reindeer and angels whose wings weren’t singed or lopsided. The lights flickered again.
“Oh, dear sweet Baby Jesus, please, please, please. I just need ten more minutes.”
I got my ten minutes. I’m pretty sure between bouts of laughter Grandma put in a good word.
Lessons learned from the experience? Grandma’s really are Super Women. Practice makes perfect. Sugar cookie dough still tastes great raw even if you’re pushing fifty-ish. And last but not least, make sure MarshFox has very detailed and specific instructions on grocery lists from now on.
I love you, Grandma, and thank you. It’s been five years, but I’m missing you a whole lot this season. Thanks to you watching over me and always letting me look like a little Dough Girl in your kitchen, we have a little bit of you through some hard-earned cookies with us this year. And I noticed you’d sent me your pie crust recipe at least six times when I went through my recipe box looking for the cookie instructions. I have every single note. I promise I’m going to get that one right and soon!
Grandma’s Holiday Cookies
2 sticks oleo (that’s southern for butter)
1 C sugar
1 tsp salt
½ tsp baking powder
1 T vanilla
2 ¼ C all-purpose flour
Cream the oleo, sugar, vanilla, and egg. Add in the salt, baking powder, and flour. Roll dough out to ¼ inch thick and cut with cookie cutters in various shapes. Bake at 350* for 8-10 minutes or until cookies are lightly browned. You can decorate with colored sugar if you like.