‘Tis the season

There’s a lot of pressure at Christmas to be perfect: Perfect Christmas tree, perfect family photo, perfect Christmas dinner, perfect gifts, perfect fucking Christmas cookies. I find it overwhelming, upsetting, and in no way realistic.

When Christmas time comes around, I tend to fall apart. I miss my mom. I miss traveling. I miss warm weather and having a tan. Seasonal Affective Disorder starts kicking my ass because I live in Canada and haven’t seen a ray of sunshine in weeks. Cute stories about people being nice to others, sappy TV commercials, and the incessant Christmas movies on every channel leave me constantly trying to discretely wipe the tears away. Stress over money, missing my mom, and the constant pressure to be ‘perfect’ leaves me short tempered and searching for a drink. Memories of 10 years working retail during the holidays make me fearful of large bearded men wearing red and the sound of festive jingle bells make me want to scream bloody murder.

Finally, a few years ago, I decided to cut myself a break. I always wind up in tears at Christmas and I always get drunk (whether it’s appropriate or not), so instead of feeling like a failure for never living up to some made up standard of how we’re supposed to look, feel, and act during the holidays, I made it my Christmas tradition.

That’s right, my Christmas tradition is to get drunk and cry.

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Instead of it being something that just happens I have made it part of my plan. I mean, it’s easy, and you can do it practically anywhere. (I’ll note that they can be happy tears or sad tears, or even tears from laughing so hard that you can’t catch your breath.  Weeper’s choice, as it were.)

If you’re not sure what to do this year, I invite you to join in my tradition. Raise a glass and pass the tissues.

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It’s not your fault

(alternate title: why do bad recipes happen to good people?)

I couldn’t find my mother’s recipe for sugar cookies.  It should have been on one of those index cards, in her handwriting, along with all the others.  I keep them in a VERY SAFE PLACE* and when I went to use it the other day, it wasn’t there.

Fine, I thought to myself, whatever. It’s just a sugar cookie. I’ll use a recipe out of one my very reliable and always works Canadian Living cookbooks. The good one. The one with stains on the often used pages. The one missing its dust jacket. The book that I’d be sad if I didn’t own.

I made a double batch because Christmas baking is a real thing and I hate to shop for gifts for anyone but myself. I wrapped up the dough and put it in the fridge to chill while I went on to bake some ginger cookies out of the very same book.  They were delicious. Golden, spicy, chewy, sugar coated balls of fat and flour, molasses and sugar, spices and …stuff. I ate 4 and went to bed.

-end scene-

Two days later I turned my eyes back to that sugar cookie dough in the fridge.  I rolled it out, being careful not to use too much flour, or to overwork the dough, lest we end up with tough cookies (tee hee, tough cookies). I cut them out into little stars, and thought about all the food network shows I watch where ‘chefs’ roll out a dough and promptly cut only 2 or 3 cookies/biscuits/whatever out of the entire sheet of dough, putting them onto their brand new silpat lined baking sheets, and put them into their perfectly clean oven to bake.  Oh look, here we have some that we made earlier today.  Please! Who do you think you’re fooling? If you’re doing all the work yourself, you’re going to do like I was, and try to get as many cut out shapes out of one roll of the dough, lining the edges of one right up against the next, turning the cutter this way and that way, just to squeeze one more in.

I filled 2 pans and put them into my noticeably less than clean oven to bake for the requisite 8 minutes.  I kept rolling and cutting, rolling and cutting, getting a head start on the next batch.

beep beep beep beep

I opened the oven to have a look and my beautiful star shaped, cinnamon scented sugar cookies.

The little fuckers bubbled and spread.  They were more starfish than star. They over-browned. They were hideous.

I moved them off the pan. Do I keep going? Do I stop? I had more cut already, so I tried 1 more pan. 8 minutes later…bloated starfish again. 3 looked passable (likely the ones that had gotten more than their fair share of flour as the dough had been re-rolled and re-rolled again.

Fuck that noise, I thought to myself. I’m done. I considered throwing in the kitchen towel, opening the wine, and leaving the entire mess for another day, dirty counters and all. No, I thought to myself, I can do better than this.

I pressed the dough into the Lucky Pan pan**, blind baked it for 15 minutes while I whipped up a tart filling of coconut, sugar, eggs, and slivered almonds. Out came the cookie dough and I covered it with the coconut/almond mixture and baked it again for another 30 minutes.

The base was puffier than I would have liked, but the top was yummy, and it got kind of goopy in the middle at the filling/cookie interface.  I’ll bring it over to a friend’s place tonight and we might just eat it out of the pan.

Here’s the most important part (are you still reading this?).  Cross that recipe out. Take a sharpie, put a big X through the recipe, and don’t forget to right a little rage filled explanation about why the recipe is dead to you. It’s not my fault that the recipe didn’t work.  It’s not your fault if it happens to you.  Sometimes bad recipes happen to good people.

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I’m sure there’s a life lesson in here about perseverance, or making the best of a bad situation, or whatever.  All I took away from it was that if you’ve tried your best and you’re not getting what you want out of a situation, change things up so that you might have a reasonably successful outcome.  Play to your strengths. Use your lucky pan. And don’t forget to cross bad recipes out of your life so that you don’t make the same bad choice again.

* Loose, in a bowl on top of my refrigerator.

** Yes, I have a lucky pan. It’s rectangular and aluminum. It cooks evenly, and it’s the perfect size for just about everything. Very few things seem to stick to it. It can even make weird gluten free brownies taste okay.  It fits an entire batch of cookie dough, when  I get lazy/tired/drunk between the mixing of cookie dough and the baking of cookie dough, so I end up making cookie bars instead of drop cookies. It’s magic.  It’s the Lucky Pan.