Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Cookies and Messy Kitchens...
So first - when you are making sugar cookies from scratch, you must go to the web, and you must find the recipe with the least ingredients. Now, I thought sugar cookies probably only contained three, maybe four ingredients - but no - every Grandmother from here to Missoula, Montana has come up with their respective twist on sugar cookies. What the fuck is lemon zest anyway - and why would you put something that sounds like dishwashing detergent in a cookie - I was unable to figure that one out - but I imagine that it is a perfectly good cooking item - just one that they don't put in Hot Pockets...
A couple of the strange items that I found that you can add to sugar cookies - peanut butter - why in the hell would you add peanut butter to sugar cookies - does that not make them a peanut butter cookie? Do they have some sort of internal conflict - no, these really are sugar cookies, they just look and taste like peanut butter. Vanilla Bean seeds - I understand why one would want to use Vanilla Bean seeds after purchasing Vanilla Extract - at the current price of extract, I could afford to actually buy gifts, and not deal with shit sticking to every corner of my kitchen floor. Lemon Zest - see above. Mint extract - nothing like having that just brushed feeling after wolfing down a dozen sugar cookies. Cinnamon - once again - SUGAR COOKIES - pure simple sugar cookies - if you add cinnamon, you have a snickerdoodle - not a damn sugar cookie. Perhaps on those dictionary websites someone should really set the record straight about what a sugar is, and why you just use flour, eggs, butter, SUGAR, and vanilla - not fruit, liquor, bark, or other spices - it is a sugar cookie.
Needless to say, I did find a fairly simple recipe, and set off on my journey to find the ingredients and necessary tools to work with my children on these wonderful creations...
Step 1 - You might as well take the Tylenol now. Going to any grocery store two days before Christmas is pure insanity. Women and children clogging every artery of the store with shopping carts full of raw turkeys and hams and chips and candy and wine (I don't mind that part) - and that was just the parking lot.
Step 2 - Make a list. Make a list of the things you wish you had done right in life so that you could hire someone to make the damn cookies, and you and your kids could be skiing in Switzerland somewhere. Then, make a list of everything you need. If you don't, the Grocery Manager will KNOW that you are on a sugar cookie expedition, and that's where the trouble starts. For some reason, every grocery store (of the three I visited) was out of the cheap plastic cookie cutters - but every single one of them had the copper keepsake cookie cutters. Yup, now I have two damn sets of gingerbread men and angels, and trees, and doves and bells. I am going to rent them next Christmas, so give me a call if you need them.
Step 3 - Stop in the beer aisle, drink one or two, then go back to the baking section. This not only calms the nerves, but typically gets people off your ass. If they see you, they know you are having a really bad time at this whole thing, and just need to give you some distance and time. The women with their little bastards also move further away from you. (Of course during this entire excursion, my two children were perfect angels - except for the color combinations that we had to list as necessities)
Step 4 - Enter the baking aisle. Buy Powdered Sugar, Vanilla, Copper Cookie Cutter, Flour, Sugar, writing icing, (hopefully you remembered the butter and eggs after you chugged the two beers in the refridgerated aisle) - and as a man in the baking aisle, be prepared for the disdainful stares and tsk tsk tsk sounds coming from the grandmothers who see your cart and realize you are not going to put Lemon Zest in your cookies. Oh and don't forget the little candy things, that, when properly placed on a tile kitchen floor, feel just like walking on a bed of nails.
Step 5 - Escape the Grocery, give the kids a dollar for the Salvation Army Bell Ringer, and pray that you just purchased the winning powerball ticket.
Step 6 - Here is where the real fun begins - you mix all of this crap in a large bowl, and you realize you just made something that resembles and tastes like pizza dough. No problem, just add more sugar until you have sweet pizza dough. I would recommend taking a shot of the vanilla extract, but expensive tequilla is cheaper - so do that.
Step 7 - Remind yourself that you should have wrapped everything in Saran Wrap - the couches, the carpet, the utensils, yourself - as little dismembered angels and gingerbread men and bells and doves fly around the kitchen at lightening speed whilst little hands work furiously to create these gifts. Now, I can understand shoving nickels into a slot maching at breakneck pace while sucking down well vodka - but kids, they can understand rolling dough, cutting dough, licking dough, cooking dough, eating dough, and wearing dough faster than I could ever possibly feed nickels into a slot machine (and trust me, anyone who has seen me in Vegas knows that I am pro-freaking-lific at that).
Step 8 - First batch in the erroneously non-preheated oven. Note to self - when baking, ignore all instructions about sea level. I never believed that crap - and the fact that I just watched the cookies until they looked okay seemed fine to me. Last thing I need is to actually have to be an engineer to bake cookies (even though, based on my experience, it probably will not hurt) - anyway, I digress. You must continue to cut and shape cookies while the first batch bakes. This way, your little helpers do not constantly say, "Can we make frosting now, how about now, are we ready to make frosting now, not right now, can we make it in a few minutes, when do we make frosting...." you should get the point. After cutting about fifteen dozen shapes of mangled innocent cookies - the first batch comes out the oven, and the cooling begins...and the second batch and third batch and fourth batch and fifth batch go in the oven...eventually you will tire of hearing the question above, and you move on to step 9.
Step 9 - Frosting. You must make the frosting. These recipes are just as complex as sugar cookies. Keep it simple. Add milk, add vanilla, and add powdered sugar. Done. Don't add anything else. Don't add anything else for multiple reasons - first - you already spent $94 on the ingredients to make the simple recipe. Second - you may not be at sea level. Third - by the time you get done making fourteen different colors based on the four food coloring bottles that you purchased, you will not have any clean bowls left to handle any additional ingredients, extracts, flavors, booze, grindings, shavings, nuts, fruit, or whatever they make suggest to liven up your cookie frosting. For Pete's Sake (who the hell is Pete anyway) - they are SUGAR COOKIES. Anyway, mix the simple ingredients, and watch your children slowly stain their teeth blue and green and red and turquoise and burnt umber etc etc etc - be sure to make two batches - because the first batch generally gets eaten mysteriously prior to making it onto the cookies. Another reminder - keep the Benadryl handy - this is a safe and effective way to negate the sugar high that both you and your children are experiencing, and it keeps the neighbors from thinking that all of you are amped up on crystal meth and freaking out to Christmas music.
Step 10 - Decorate the little cookies. Now the amazing thing here is that those mangled chunks of dough, once they swell up in the oven, actually come out looking like little bells and angels, and trees and whatever the hell those copper things were - so you have a pretty clean palate from which to work - and you know - step 10 is the best step - that's when the kids buckle down, and start sprinkling and painting and giggling and laughing and making birds that look like deformed bats and gingerbread men that look like they just got off a three day binge. Step 10 is by far the best part - they laugh and they are enjoying the hard work you just did - and for about half and hour, you forget about steps one through nine - and hope that they don't remember you saying "Why in the fuck did I just not buy these folks a damn box of Chocolate"...
Now with all of that being said - the real story is simple. It was great to make a mess, and get my hands sticky and gunked up with sugar cookie dough. It was fun to watch my little girl gingerly cut out angels, and watch my son knead cookie dough. It was a wonderful experience to watch them paint each gingerbread man, and talk to each other about the color of the buttons or the eyes of each of the cookies. It was a reminder that the season gets into every ounce of their bones. It was refreshing to me to see my eleven year old son hedge his bets on Santa, and my eight year old daughter eyes sparkle as she wondered what was going to be under the tree this year. The best part - were the smiles in the photo above - and the joy and pride they felt in making cookies with their Dad for their family - and the pride and joy they will feel when their family bites into them - and knows that every single bite is a little bit of youth and love -
Merry Christmas everyone -