Another Day in the Country
The Great Ramona Baking Show
© Another Day in the Country
During this “quieter year,” I’ve watched things on television that I used to ignore. Other people would say they liked cooking shows, but I’d just shrug and say, “Never seen it.”
The “Great British Baking Show” is one of those programs. I’ve changed my opinion. I’ve actually learned a lot — like French terms for exotic fancy cakes that I’d never eat. And, I’ve been inspired to try baking sweet breads again — which I hadn’t done in years. I usually let my sister make all the cakes, breads and pastries because she loves baking and does it so well.
Now that it is officially the Christmas season, the California Sisters Annual Cookie Bake-off has commenced. Last week we were on our way to Abilene to exercise. I wasn’t thinking food because I’d just had breakfast. For sure, I wasn’t thinking “cookies.”
“What kinds of cookies do you think we should bake for Christmas this year?” Jess asked out of the blue.
I was driving so I wasn’t paying attention to what she had in her bag — recipe books!
“I want to do those key lime cookies again,” she went on. “For sure we have to do biscotti this year and dipped pretzels — even though they aren’t cookies — and of course, ginger snaps.”
She was excited.
I did have a vague idea of food we needed because we often do grocery shopping at stores where they carry unusual things. Many of our favorites are on what folks would call the “foreign food” aisle.
They have new things all the time. This week I discovered “plant-based” hot dogs in the fresh produce section of the store. As a “mostly vegetarian” I’ve eaten what I call “vege hot dogs” for fifty years but hadn’t expected to find something like that in a country grocery store. I tried these new ones and ended up feeding them to my chickens.
While I’m driving along making a list of things I need for our regular menu, Jess is tallying up how much butter, brown sugar, and flour to buy.
“Do you still have that good vanilla?” she wants to know.
“How many kinds of cookies are you going to make,” I asked.
My sister immediately started tapping her finger down the list she was holding.
“Thirteen so far,” she said.
“And how many people are you giving all these to?” I asked, seeing her scribble down another name on the second list in her notebook.
“Oh, I don’t know for sure,” she added, with a cookie-baking dreamy look in her eye. “We have to get cellophane. Do you have any of those fancy cupcake holders left?”
I did, and we do have a bunch of cookies to bake. I suggested we take the first batch over to the Ramona House, which pretty much qualifies as a freezer in this cold weather, so that I could actually eat at my table.
So far, two wagon loads of carefully wrapped confections have made the journey: peanut butter surprise, ginger snaps, peppermint pecan crunchies, Santa sugar cookies, two kinds of biscotti, ice-box cookies, triple chocolate chip, anise stars — the list goes on.
We’ve always baked cookies at Christmas, but it was Christmas 2010 that set off this big annual baking extravaganza.
We’d had a very bad year. “Tool Time” Tim had died that spring, setting off a string of hard times, and we needed extra Christmas cheer.
“Let’s do a whole bunch of cookies,” we said, “and we’ll invite kids in town to help us.”
We made a list of town folks to take them to, and I took pictures of all the fun we had surprising folk. When it was over, I did what I often do — put those memories into a book. This time I added the recipes we’d found in magazines and books for our stash of Christmas goodies along with pictures of everyone involved.
I pulled out that book last night to find the recipe for peppermint pecan cookies made with pink peppermint chips that you can’t even find in stores anymore.
We’ve made these every year since 2010. When we could no longer find the pink chips, we enlisted the help of our cousin Keith in Colorado to check in Denver. We promptly got a package from Keith with 10 packages of those chips, which we’ve parceled out through the years. This year, I found them online.
As I paged through our keepsake recipe book, I realized all the “oldsters” pictured as getting cookies in 2010 were gone: Betty, Warren and Paula, the Sondergards . . . .
The kids helping us in 2010 are long gone from Ramona, too — all grown up. And here we are in 2020 — another rough year for many folks and we’re still here, baking cookies to conjure up an extra dose of Christmas cheer, on another day in the country.