As I mentioned before, these cookies are a Christmas tradition in my family. I learned how to make them over many years of peering over my mom’s shoulder, “helping” her measure and mix, and oh-so-sneakily swiping dough and frosting when she wasn’t looking.
When I left home, I’d make those cookies not just for holidays, but whenever life felt too overwhelming. Finals week in college would find me coated with powdered sugar; an upcoming job interview would leave warpaths of stray frosting through my apartment; and breakups would have me channeling my devastation into fastidiously decorated stegosauri and snowflakes.
When I first left for college, I’d call my mom for the recipe every time I wanted to bake, even though I probably could have made them by heart. When I went abroad and telephone calls weren’t as simple, she sent me the recipe at Christmastime. Now, anytime I bake these cookies, I always pull out the index card with her handwriting on it:
It’s an easy recipe–you just mix the butter, sugar, egg, vanilla, and almond extracts until creamy:
Then mix in the flour, refrigerate it for a while, and roll it out:
Cut pretty shapes:
And frost and sprinkle to your heart’s content:
The frosting and sprinkling is my favorite part of the process (and trust me, all said and done, this is a multi-hour operation), not least because I get to unleash some creative energy without subjecting anyone to some horrific “art” or “crafts.”
This time around, I spent my frosting interlude recalling all the various kitchens I’d made these cookies in, from the kitchen I grew up in, to my cramped college apartment that I shared with six people; from the cute yellow and blue kitchen in Barcelona, where sugar cookies were something exotic, to the cavernous, drafty kitchen in Chicago where there were literally NO counters. (That made rolling out my dough particularly tricky!)
Amid all the vagaries and meanderings that make up the 20-something life—emerging adulthood, if you will—there’s something powerful about a tradition that you can carry from one temporary existence to another. Especially a tradition that is rooted in the body: in the experience of taste and smell, and in the muscle memory of an oft-rehearsed routine. It’s a way of escaping thought patterns that threaten to break you, a way to step away from the world and immerse yourself in a soothing, safe place, where the greatest dangers are a broken gingerbread man or a strangely shaped menorah.
Tonight, I feel grateful for this ritual. And for the sprinkle collection that has improbably survived cross-country moves. And for all the kitchens, and all the rites of passage, and all the emotional trauma, that helped to make this ritual into a place of retreat.
And mostly? I’m grateful to my mom, for pretending not to notice my sneaky frosting swipes, for encouraging the overzealous application of sprinkles, and for patiently teaching me, over so many years, to find peace in such a simple place.