by Cassondra Murray
It all started with a candlestick.
I’ve spent the past three weeks trying to figure a way out of this. But I made a tactical error when I commented on Suz’s cookie blog earlier this month. Then I told Donna and Anna Sugden about it when we met two weeks ago to plot books, and they wouldn’t let me out of it. They said I had to tell.
I’m not a cookie person, you see. I’m a cake and pie person. In direct opposition to the persona one imagines based on my blue-black fingernails and fondness for bladed (and other) weapons, I actually know how to make a decent double crust apple pie (been rolling my own crusts since I was ten) and a killer scratch German Chocolate cake from a 1930’s recipe that—hold onto your cholesterol levels-- uses 18 eggs.
In contrast, I don’t even own the recipe referenced in this article. The cookie sections of my cookbooks never see daylight. But I do have a fond memory of baking cookies, and had it not been for these cookies, my life might have taken a far different, and less productive, direction.
Oh, let’s cut to the chase, shall we? I would have ended up barefoot and pregnant.
It was a recipe for Salt Cookies.
Terri (not her real name) was my best friend in high school. She’d moved to our county with her mom, Sally, and her stepfather, when she was a sophomore and I a freshman. They’d moved all the way from Lancaster, Pennsylvania to rural southern Kentucky. Terri and I were the oddball girls at school, so we bonded. We both were interested in agriculture and art, and some of my fondest memories are of weekends spent with her, riding her horses, eating her mom’s amazing Pennsylvania Dutch cooking, and listening to Barry Manilow records.
I should tell you, first, that Sally was a bit more open minded than the average buckle-of-the-Bible-belt mother. Thank God.
It was Christmas break during Terri’s first year in Kentucky, and I was invited to spend the night so we could bake Christmas cookies. After a meal of something wonderful (Sally’s meals were always wonderful) Sally brought out a ginormous bowl of cookie dough and the box of cookie cutters.
Sally had all the regular cookie cutters. I suppose there was a star and a camel and maybe a reindeer. And I’m almost certain there was a Christmas-tree-shaped cutter. But those didn’t change my life. The one that changed my life was shaped like a candlestick. Sort of.
I’ ve done a Google search. After three hours, I’ve come up with poor imitations for the marvelous manufacturing mistake that was then, and remains today, my favorite cookie cutter ever.
In three hours on Google I found cookie cutters shaped like every state in the U.S., including one just for Michigan’s Upper Penninsula.
There’s one shaped like Canada.
There are cutters shaped like lips.
There are even Rorschach cookie cutters—in case you can’t decide what cookies mean to you, I guess….
There are shoes.
Okay, I’m stalling. Ahem. Back to the life-changing event.
At first glance, this cookie cutter appeared to be an innocent candlestick. You know, the kind with the roundish, saucer-like base, a large round, uh…..handle….on the side for use in carrying the candlestick from room to room, and as any cheerful holiday cookie cutter candlestick would, this one had a flame. Actually it was a double-tipped flame, with a slight indentation in the center. Quite realistic, actually. Can’t you just see the dribble of wax oozing down the side of the candle??????
Now, speaking of states, there were a few I had not seen at that point in my life. Since I was only fifteen, I believe that was entirely appropriate. NOW, I have seen a few more…uh…states…and I have indeed seen the state of which I speak. You might say I’m…well….intimate with it.
May I speak plainly for just a moment?
If it had been left to my hyper-religious mother, I would have gone through puberty and straight into relationships without knowing the first thing about said …uh … …relationships. I was carefully shielded from all knowledge of male-female…..interactions, and would have walked into my first encounter completely blind. If I got caught reading a romance novel with anything more than kissing, I was in trouble. Grace Livingston Hill was as far as relationships went. I’d worked cattle all my life, but was not allowed in the barn when the vet came to artificially inseminate the cows.
Now I can’t say what my mom hoped to achieve by keeping me in total ignorance, but I’ll tell you that in the late '70s, the health classes at my schools were not adding to my knowledge one bit. Myolder brothers had both graduated and gone from home when I was born, so I never walked in on one of them undressed. Never, in fifteen years, had I accidentally walked into the boys’ bathroom at school. Or the wrong locker room. I’d seen pictures of unclothed males.
But not in THAT state. THAT was a state I had not seen.
Are we clear?
So, the problem with cookie cutters is that they have no inner detail. There’s just the aluminum outline. Take a look at this lobster.
With just a drop of imagination, it could become something else entirely. Squint your eyes up a little and look at it. Can’t you imagine an angel with wings reaching heavenward?
And this candlestick cookie cutter was unfortunately….well, perhaps FORTUNATELY….simple. No actual sharp division between the, uhm, handle and the candle’s…..well…shaft. The metal two-tipped flame was sharp-pointed on the outside of the cutter’s form, but on the inside, it left the pale beige, soft, pliable, flexible…uh, the cookie dough flame tips a bit….well…..flatter. And more rounded. With an interesting tiny dip directly in the center of the flame.
See this cookie cutter?
Well, it's lacking. See that squarish, sharp pointy part at the base? Our cookie cutter didn’t have that squarish part. Nothing sharp about our cookie cutter....uh, you’ll have to engage your imagination here just a bit……ahem.
I’m pouring my third glass of Petite Syrah at this point, and doing a bit of yoga breathing, hoping, praying…please God, don’t let us get a thousand extra unique hits on the blog from readers we really don’t want to attract, Amen.…….oh, back to the subject.
Now Terri, having a mom like Sally, was far more informed than was I. But let’s just say I’m a quick study.
Here's a cutter that's a bit better, but still not as good as ours. The flame is too pointy....
Once the cookies were baked, and the cookie was no longer....well... flexible, the decorating began. So amid the candy sprinkles and glittery colored sugars, there were two adolescent girls, each with a glass of watered-down cheap wine, vinyl Copacabana on the stereo, and one liberated mom with a tube of white icing and an impressive catalog of dirty jokes.
Did you know that the right blend of red or pink and white sprinkles can make a somewhat acceptable flesh color?
Uh, here are some llamas.
Amazing all the cookie cutters you can find on the internet.
And can I just say that wax had never oozed so copiously down the sides of candles in my short experience? (Thank God. Otherwise I’d have a whole lot more issues to work through).
Where was Terri’s stepfather during this annual event?
He had sports on the television, turned up loud to compete with Barry Manilow.
That’s where I got my education. Not the one about polynomials or sentence structure or ribonucleic acid or quarks. I could get that stuff anywhere.
But in real life, for a real girl, it was this education that made the most difference.
For years Terri and I talked every few months on the phone, and I always asked about the cookie cutter. It disappeared for a time, when Terri was in college and during the years before she married. We mourned its loss.
In November I attended a memorial service for Sally. I saw Terri for the first time in two years. I don’t suppose Sally ever knew how deeply she affected this small-town girl, but I believe that now, she knows. I hugged Terri really tight and we both cried and she whispered in my ear, “I found the cookie cutter.”
This coming Sunday I’m driving to Lexington to bake Christmas cookies with Terri for the first time in twenty years.
I suppose we’ll make some stars and a few reindeer. After all, her little girl is only three.
Do you have a Cookie Cutter education of some kind?
What did you learn about life from friends that you’d never learn from school or books?
Where did you get your…uhm….adult education?
Will anyone admit to getting their education from novels?
Here’s a recipe. Not for cookies, but this recipe is my kind of yummy. Decadent and easy. Tastes a bit like a banana split. Gets better after it rests for a couple of hours. Looks beautiful for little effort. Very festive. People will make strange satisfied noises while they eat this. You know..THAT kind of noise.
I get requests for this dish every year about this time for holiday potlucks.
Punch Bowl cake
1 box cake mix (the moister the better. “Pudding in the mix” is best. White or yellow)
1 can Strawberry Pie Filling
1 package vanilla instant pudding
1-2 containers of extra-creamy cool whip (or real whipped cream if you’re energetic)
A few fresh strawberries for garnish
Bake the cake mix in a flat cake pan according to directions. Let cool. (Really. You HAVE to let it cool or it'll melt the whipped cream and pudding.)
Make the pudding according to package directions and leave in fridge until firm
Cut the cake into small cubes about 1-1/2” square.
Layer in a trifle dish in the following order: (you can use a big clear glass bowl—make sure you use a clear container because the layered colors are part of the point)
Pile in 1 layer of cake squares.
Spread with vanilla pudding.
Layer in sliced bananas.
Cover with thin layer of Strawberry Pie filling.
Add a layer of cool whip.
Repeat layers until trifle dish is full.
Top with whipped cream or cool whip.
Garnish with real sliced strawberries
Feeds a bunch. Double the recipe for an actual small punch bowl. Triple or quadruple for a real large punch bowl. But that will feed 50. Seriously.
Oh, I forgot! I'm giving away a Romance Bandits coffee mug to a guest who comments. I'll draw for the winner in a couple of days.