It's been a weird week.
My son has banged his shin four times in the last three days, hard, in the same exact spot. My husband's new i-Mac does not work, doesn't even have i-Photo installed on it. And my holiday baking attempts are coming in far below expectations.
I'm never much of a baker. I am left-handed and as a group we are just clinically unable or unwilling to follow directions.
But if I just pay attention and keep my mojo to a minimum, I can usually manage to turn out something both delicious and attractive. So during a recent playdate, my daughter and I kicked off the holidays with the same basic cookie recipe I've been making for a few years now.
I used white whole wheat flour, my old standby. It worked, but they came out as "health cookies". I mean, I liked them; the girls, not so much. Maybe I'll mix in half unbleached white flour next time.
This was cute, though -- on a whim we put red food coloring into egg whites and brushed the cookies before baking. Much easier than frosting, and just as satisfying for the kids. They came out with a shiny translucent glaze. That one's a keeper.
Then I made ginger cookies.
Another parent at my daughter's preschool brought these into a meeting last year, and they were the best ginger cookies I'd ever had! She gave me the recipe, and I made them and they were AMAZING! I made them this year and they were... eh. Is my powdered ginger old and weak? Is my candied ginger lacking in spice? I don't know, but there were more like cinnamon cookies than the spicy carambas I was looking for.
My kids liked the dough, anyway.
And they did all get eaten. I brought them to work and everybody very politely devoured them, so as not to hurt my feelings, I'm sure. (Okay, they were tasty, but I didn't get strangers wandering into my office looking for cookies they'd heard about, like last year.)
Then I had this idea to make peppermint candy. Amanda Hesser wrote about peppermint candy in the Times' magazine a few weeks ago. Chris loves spicy candies, so this seemed like a great present for him. I bought some peppermint oil, and melted some organic cane sugar... past the point where you are supposed to melt it, apparently. It is supposed to be a spread-out shiny melted-glass kind of thing. We ended up with peppermint crumble! Great sprinkled on top of ice cream or in hot cocoa. Except why put more sugar on top of sugar? So that got filed, permanantly.
Then, I made a gingerbread house. We have an elderly neighbor who ate the gingerbread house we gave him last year in about 15 minutes. I figured we'd make him another.
Look at this cute elf who happened along in an apron and got to work!
Unfortunately, even with elf help, the house did not turn out so cute. I used butter, first of all, instead of shortening, which probably makes a softer cookie and is just a reality I have to live with, since I don't want to use shortening. And I didn't use a template. Well, I did use one, but it was homemade, and largely residing in my head. This is my usual procedure, and things have been good. But I wanted a tall house this year, like a towering Victorian, a painted lady that we would paint with pastel frosting... and the buttery cookie walls were too soft, so the walls split when I tried to assemble the house. So I had to make some quick changes. Good thing I'm so **creative** and can change half-assed plans in mid-stream so quickly. Yessiree, it's lucky to be me when you're putting together a half-baked, half-assed gingerbread house.
Once we get it frosted I might have the chutzpah to show it to you. Right now it's not fit to be seen. It's hideous, actually.
You'd think that would pretty much wrap up our holiday baking for the year. Unfortunately, I've gotten sort of used to having cookies and leftover gingerbread mistakes to nibble on while I drink my coffee, or for a midmorning snack, or a dessert after lunch, or a quick pickmeup before dinner, or for dessert... There'll be more coming, I'm sure of that.