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December 14, 2004: Handiwork

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Today has, except for a brief interlude called work, been all about food. It started this morning when I put together lasagna. Our social group at church is having a holiday potluck tomorrow night and I knew that I would not have time to do this any time between now and then. In order for me to get a lasagna into the oven so that it has cooked by the time we have to be at the church tomorrow night to open the doors and let everyone else in, the lasagna has to have already been put together by the time I dash home from work, which means that since I knew I'm not going to have time tomorrow morning since I shall be dutifully exercising, and I knew I was going to be spending any spare kitchen time tonight making cookies, the only time left to assemble a lasagna was this morning. So I rushed around doing that while Richard made coffee and packed lunches, and then I wrapped it in aluminum foil and stuck it in the fridge to wait, and we rushed off to work, where I discovered that the simple fact that I built a tiny little database to store very limited data about our projects means to some people that I must also have intimate knowledge of every little detail about every single project this company has ever done. Ha ha ha. Fun times, folks. Fun times.

The act of putting together lasagna and dealing with noodles and tomato sauce and minced garlic made me hungry for pasta all day. So when I got home from work I immediately began chopping up onions and peppers and garlic and mushrooms, tossed them into a frying pan with some tomato paste and a few sprinkles of random herbs and spices, let it all simmer together so all the flavors could blend, and then served it over whole wheat spaghetti, with grilled chicken and parmesan cheese on top. For an experimental, throw-it-together-quick meal, it turned out pretty good.

And yes, I did casually toss out that ‘baking cookies’ comment, didn’t I. One of the activities at the potluck is going to be the painting of sugar cookies for the kids (and also any adults who feel the urge to play with icing and sprinkles). The woman who suggested it wasn’t sure if she would have enough time to bake enough cookies and asked me on Sunday if I’d be willing to make some too. I was a little distracted at the time, and not thinking too clearly, so the word ‘sure!’ came out of my mouth before I knew what I was doing. So much for our self-imposed holiday treat moratorium in our house. I had intended to go to the monthly knitting circle tonight but realized that if I was going to churn out a few dozen cookies I just wasn’t going to have time to do both. Sigh. So instead of working on last minute Christmas presents and hanging out with other yarn-obsessed persons we ate dinner and watched the second half of the Earthsea miniseries, and then I dragged out the big bowl and the flour and sugar and shortening and cookie cutters and made half a batch of cookies. Considering that the original recipe makes enough cookies to feed a small army, half a batch is still a lot of cookies.

But it was actually kind of fun. Christmas is really the only time each year anymore that I do any kind of baking, beyond occasionally dumping a can of pumpkin and a box of spice cake mix into a bowl, stirring it together, and dumping it all into a pan to cook for half an hour. Plus there was admittedly a little selfish part of me that was glad I was making cookies to bring because I really do not like regular sugar cookies. They tend to be bland and a little too crispy and too sweet and I have never quite seen the point. But this recipe, which we have always called sugar cookies, isn’t the same as every other sugar cookie in the world. The cookies come out thick and soft in the centers, with just a hint of crisp at the very edges, and a deliciously delicate hint of nutmeg in the dough. My parents and my sisters like to frost them and my mother even sometimes covers them with coconut (yuck), but I prefer them plain, or with just a sprinkling of brown sugar on the top.

There are now bells and stars and Christmas trees cooling on towels in the kitchen, and the air is filled with the smell of cookies and nutmeg. There are splotches of flour all over my shirt, and quite possibly in my hair (rolling out cookie dough is a messy process). Making cookies really is one of my very favorite things about Christmas. And so I suppose I have just really been looking for an excuse to have at least one small baking frenzy. They aren’t gingerbread men, and no cookie press or raisins were involved, but they are, at least, cookies (and quite tasty cookies too because a good chef *always* samples) and they will just have to do.

This has been a Holidailies entry.

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