(We’re thrilled that this recipe is being featured at Oprah.com’s roundup of holiday recipes for 2009. For more of our featured posts, visit Oprah.com today.)
We returned from Tucson on Monday, tired and amazed. Little Bean did not cry once, on any of the flights we endured going to and fro. Instead, she looked up at the lights, and the rings on the handle of her car seat, or whichever pair of eyes hovered above her, and seemed to say, “Cool. Here’s a new experience.”
We’re pretty sure we’re in for a tough time when she’s a teenager. This part is so easy.
She touches her toes now, and holds them in her hands for hours. Her bright little eyes take in everything. She cranes her neck to see more. She rolls onto her side with vigor and an arched back. She laughs at nearly everything. She loves music (especially Cat Stevens and Daler Mendhi) and the smell of dill under her nose. When we tell people that she sleeps, most nights, from 7 pm to 7 am, we receive astonished looks. When we say she has been doing this since she was 10 weeks old, we see some glaring. (For the most part, we’ve stopped saying this now.)
Our favorite part of the day, among many moments of presence and laughter, comes before the sun rises in the morning. We wake up to hear her babbling, laughing in the darkness. Most mornings, the Chef and I lay under the covers, whispering quietly so that she won’t hear. We never want it to end, the chatter and consonants spilling from her lips. And I swear, she cracks herself up, staring up at her favorite blanket, in the pitch blackness.
Seriously, she’s going to be a difficult teenager.
Of course, her grandparents in Tucson (the Chef’s parents) were besotted with her. There were morning feedings at the kitchen table, time on the sun-dappled blanket on the carpet, walks past the golf course, and the nightly ritual of a kiss before bedtime. We were all relaxed and happy.
However, as soon as we landed, we were flung headlong into the stress of the impending deadline. People, the book is due to the publishers in 28 days.
Wish us luck. Send us breath. Cross your fingers.
We love this time, of cooking together with Little Bean in the kitchen, working out the words to describe the gentle simmering of a veal stock on the burner, tasting something together and deciding it works (dinner rolls; handmade pasta; berry pancakes; focaccia). This is the time of warmth and laughter and light and stress.
Sort of like the holidays, really.
Why do we rush headlong, every year, into the stampede of giving, the insistence of pleasure, the obligation of generosity? Does anyone actually enjoy it?
It took me years to stop crossing off lists and letting days go by without ever breathing because I had four more dozen cookies to make before I could go to bed. I’d say the year I caught double pneumonia and nearly died slowed me down, a bit. The terrible winter I endured the car accident precluded the possibility of buying presents for everyone. Two years ago, I had another book manuscript due — I wouldn’t mind a book being due in March some time — and I just couldn’t think about Christmas cards. They weren’t ever sent.
I don’t think anyone died.
But someone died in a Wal-Mart, at 5 am last week, because he was trampled to death by a mob of shoppers desperate to find more bargains.
This year, the Chef and I have vowed to take pleasure in the holidays, the way we did as kids. Little Bean is too young to have it mean anything. (Seriously, it’s all about the bubbles at the moment, the ones that come in a bottle for 59 cents.) As much as I loved the mound of presents yet to be opened, I love even more, in retrospect, these experiences:
– the cold bristle of pine needles near my nose on the day we brought the tree home
– sitting underneath that tree, now decorated, my eyes filled with primary-colored lights
– drinking hot cider, my hands cupped around the warmth
– opening the Advent calendar, the cheesy $2.99 teddy bears and grinning elves Advent calendar every day (we bought one for Little Bean the day we came home)
– practicing Christmas carols on the piano, from the John Thompson piano series
– watching all those Rankin/Bass specials I loved so much (the ones that seem just plain weird to me now. All those talking puppets and elves who wanted to be dentists and heat meisers and the schoolteacher flirting with Santa. Were those guys on acid?), in the same order every year
– complaining that my mother wanted to watch The Gathering or The Bishop’s Wife or the Albert Finney version of Scrooge, even though those are by far my favorite now
– feeling warm in my new pajamas Christmas Eve
– anticipation. all that anticipation of evenings at home, gathering, books of Lifesavers in my stocking, my brother playing songs on the guitar, egg nog from the carton, and the hope of that day meeting all our expectations.
That’s what lingers now, when I think about the holidays. Most of it didn’t cost anything. Much of it had nothing to do with presents.
When you think about the best gifts you have ever been given at the holidays, what were they? Is it really that big-screen television? Or was it something more quirky, less expensive, something meant only for you? I’d love to hear.
So over here, we are working to find those moments of light this next month. Forget the shopping, the scrabbling, the squabbling. We’re going to slow down and sit in front of the fire, put on Harry Belafonte, and remember to breathe together, even in the midst of an impending deadline. We are grateful to have each other, and our daughter, whom we so easily could have lost when she was born.
This is enough.
And gluten-free sugar cookies don’t hurt, either.
ROLLED SUGAR COOKIES, adapted from The Joy of Cooking
Instead of making a dozen different kinds of cookies this Christmas, I’m only making these. And I’m not sending tins of them to friends, making an epic trip to the post office to show off my baking skills. We’re just going to be munching some in the next few weeks, enjoying every bite.
I have a sugar cookie recipe on this site already, an adaptation of a Bette Hagman recipe I learned the first Christmas I was gluten-free. It’s a good recipe, and I’d make it again. But I like these better now. Every holiday might be the same structure, but I learn more every year. And in this case, I’ve gone back to the basics. It doesn’t grow more plodding and brilliant than The Joy of Cooking, really.
These are only slightly sweet, in anticipation of the thick rich frosting waiting to sugar them up even more. If you want to eat them plain, I’d bump up the sugar even more. They have the soft bite of snow under boots, the flakiness of that snow first falling, and the ephemeral pleasure of the first storm of winter. (Snow is on my mind. The Chef misses it, terribly.)
We made a little simple syrup for the top and dusted them with powdered sugar. But buttercream frosting and the green sprinkles from our childhood would be fabulous too.
350 grams gluten-free all-purpose flour mix
1 teaspoon psyllium husks
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch fresh nutmeg
Combining the dry ingredients. Place the gluten-free flour in a medium-sized bowl. Whisk them together. Slowly, sift them through a fine-mesh sieve into another bowl. Add the psyllium, baking powder, and salt. Whisk together. Set aside.
Creaming the liquids. Stir the butter (or let the beater attachment of the stand mixer do it for you). Add the sugar and cream them together until they are just combined. Add the two eggs and vanilla extract and beat for a couple of minutes more. Throw in the pinch of nutmeg and stir one last time.
Making the dough. Sift the dry ingredients into the liquids, one cup at a time. When the entire mixture is combined and well integrated, you are done. It should be a thick batter, not entirely stick to the touch, but not as stiff as traditional rolled cookie dough. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate overnight.
Baking the cookies. Take the dough out of the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature. Don’t let it reach complete pliability. The dough should still be rather stiff from the refrigeration. Preheat the oven to 375°.
Roll out the cookie dough between two pieces of parchment paper (saves on gluten-free flour on the board). This dough doesn’t go paper thin, so you’ll have cookie with a bite to them. Cut out with your favorite shapes.
Bake for 8 to 12 minutes, depending on your oven and how crisp you like them. Let them cool for 10 minutes before eating them. I know. Try.
Makes about 15 to 20 cookies, depending on the shapes.