I have a friend who thinks we have the perfect Hallmark Christmas. Not so. If I had to pick the closest book/movie to describe our reality at Christmas, it would be “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.” For those unfamiliar, it is a story about a Sunday school teacher trying to put on a spectacular Christmas pageant, only to be invaded by the most unruly children ever born.
Everything turns out well in the end, but getting there is a bit stressful. I can relate. A perfect example is the hunt for our Christmas tree last weekend. For the first time in years, we simply couldn’t make it up to Vermont. Undaunted, I carefully researched every cut-your-own tree farm within drivable distance to the Cape and made a list.
We somehow crammed two car seats of granddaughters, two daughters and ourselves into the cab of the Kitchen Genius’s truck. After visiting three farms with small trees at big prices, we ended up at Botello Lumber Company in Mashpee, where we bought three gorgeous trees for $25 each.
It was a disaster in one way, and yet we all spent the day crammed in a very small space laughing so hard our faces hurt. That day is a memory I will always treasure, even if I didn’t get the tree I wanted.
Next example: Christmas cookies. I knock myself out every December 23 baking all day. I bake so many cookies in one day that no one could possibly eat them. This year, I decided to spread the cookies out. Monday morning I invited my mother and my four-year-old niece Gini May to make gingerbread snowmen with me.
“Are you sure?” my mother asked. “Gini is kind of a handful. She’s really independent and will do her own thing.”
I assured her that I only needed about three decent cookies for photos and Gini could then go to town.
Cookies used to be my least favorite thing to make. I didn’t have much success with them, so they frustrated me. That changed when I finally realized that my oven runs about 25 to 30 degrees too hot, which is a disaster for cookies.
For the snowmen gingerbread, I baked the cookies the night before which gave me plenty of time to perfect the art of cookies, especially rolled ones. When a recipe says refrigerate the dough, never skip this step. Longer is better.
A lot of extra flour on the rolling board is a bad thing for pie dough, but a good thing for rolled out cookies. Repeated applications of flour to the board, the dough and the rolling pin make this amazing dough do amazing things. But at some point the dough no longer felt soft. I threw away the last scraps of dough after rolling, chilling and cutting three times.
The next tip for perfect cookies is to set your timer for seven to eight minutes and check their progress. You can always bake cookies longer, but you can’t correct over-cooked cookies. I also decided to only bake one sheet at a time in the center of the oven instead of baking two sheets on the top and bottom thirds of the oven and rotating them halfway through.
As it turned out, my mother was right. Gini decorated to her own fancy and even I gave up after making about eight snowmen. Instead of fretting, I just relaxed and enjoyed a fun morning with my mother and Gini May. Because family, not perfection, is what this season is really about.