This time of year causes me great anxiety. There is so much pressure as an adult and parent to “buy” stuff for the family. Everywhere I turn for the last two months I feel like I’ve had stuff shoved in my face. Whether its clothes, toys, even food – I can’t get away from it. And for someone who suffers from anxiety during the rest of the year, it makes it almost unbearable to leave the house. I constantly compare what I am able to afford to give with what I think others are doing. Am I giving my son enough stuff to be one of the cool kids when he goes back to school? Are the gifts I’m buying going to measure up to the name brand items other family members are giving their kids? How do I compete with my coworker who went out and spent $2500 on presents for her family of four?
These are the things that roll around and around in my head on repeat for pretty much the entire length of November and December. Every stinking year. I have taken over the role of Grinch from my dad and made it my very own. I used to LOVE the Christmas Season; putting up the tree, decorating the house, driving around town to look at lights. These were things I looked forward to every year, but the last ten years or so its all been dread and anxiety.
I have decided to change things around a bit this year and start a new family tradition that has helped me get through the season leading up to Christmas Day, the end of the line, generally, for my season of crippling anxiety. As a kid, my Mom and Grandma always made a lot of sweets to take around to neighbors and friends at church. Mom made rum balls and divinity and fudge while Grandma made cookies and fruitcake. The house always smelled so good during those days. We would then bundle all the goodies up into pretty packages of tissue paper and foil and take them house-to-house to deliver. I still have fond memories of those years as a kid.
This year I decided to do the same with my son. It might not be exactly the same experience that I had – I have a tiny kitchen compared to my Grandma’s old farmhouse, and we don’t really have many neighbors that we’re close to – but we made sugar cookie dough the night before last and it’s currently chilling in my refrigerator waiting on my son’s creative abilities. I bought two “ugly sweater” cookie cutters and have poured over recipes for royal icing and watched endless youtube videos on decorating Christmas cookies in preparation. All the presents are bought and under the tree and all that is left is to make some memories with my son. I’m really looking forward to this afternoon and evening. I want to see what his idea of an ‘ugly Christmas sweater’ is and if my ability to recreate the stunning decorations I’ve seen in videos is going to come to fruition, or just be a really ugly Christmas sweater. I hope that, if nothing else, I’ll be recreating a tradition within my own family that will carry on year after year, and well into my son’s role as a parent.
Grandma’s Sugar Cookies
2/3 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
Beat butter on medium to high speed for about 30 seconds. Add sugar, baking powers and a dash of salt. Beat until combined, scraping bowl frequently to assure even mixture. Beat in egg and vanilla, then beat in as much flour as possible with the mixer, adding about a 1/4 cup at a time. Stir in remaining flour by hand with a wooden spoon, if needed.
Divide dough in half. Place each half on parchment paper then roll tightly, twisting the paper at each end to make a sausage-like roll. Place each roll in the refrigerator for a minimum of 3 hours, but up to 3 days, before continuing.
Once the dough is chilled, roll one half out on a lightly floured surface until 1/8 inch thick. Using a cookie or biscuit cutter, cut into desired shapes. Place on uncreated cookie sheet and bake at 375* for 7 to 8 minutes or until the edges are firm and the bottoms are LIGHTLY browned.
Cool on a rack then frost with royal icing.
Makes 36-48 cookies, depending on cookie shape.
The recipe that I’ll be using for the icing is below. This one is courtesy of Alton Brown, via the FoodNetwork’s website. You can find the original recipe here.
3 ozs pasteurized egg whites
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 cups confectioners sugar
In large bowl of stand mixer combine the egg whites and vanilla and beat until frothy. Add confectioners’ sugar gradually and mix on low speed until sugar is incorporated and the mixture is shiny. Turn speed up to high and beat until mixture forms stiff, glossy peaks. This should take approximately 5 to 7 minutes. Add food coloring, if desired. For immediate use, transfer icing to a pastry bag or heavy duty storage bag and pipe as desired. If using a storage bag, clip corner. Store in airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
NOTE: Only use pasteurized egg whites. As the CDC keeps reminding us, eating uncooked eggs can lead to salmonella. I got my egg whites in the egg section of Kroger. Make sure the carton does explicitly say pasteurized so that they are safe to eat without cooking.