It’s a source of family shame, I tell ya. My family members will stop at nothing to solicit the title of Best Christmas Cookie Decorator of the year.
As I’m sure you can guess, I happen to have the superior ingenuity and skill at this important talent, but I’m classy enough to allow loved ones a moment of glory when they create a cookie that has some merit. I do all the appropriate “Oohing” and “Ahhing” to build the aspiring cookie decorator’s self esteem – but soon after, can I help it if I produce an edible masterpiece that looks as if Rembrandt spread the icing himself? People in this family may beg to differ, but that’s just because they’re jealous.
Each holiday season we spend one night decorating cookies. We use traditional icing and sprinkles, with only a knife, a toothpick and our imaginations to create our fanciful treats. No fancy cookie decorating contraptions are ever considered or allowed. This is an old fashion cookie decorating stand-off, don’t ya know. And not having an icing gun or other professional gadgets to make these sweet treats look professionally decorated makes the quest very challenging. It is sort of like cave-man drawing cookie artistry.
Creativity counts, so rather than decorate each cookie in the shape originally intended, it’s not uncommon for people to hold up blank cookies, turning them this way and that, while awaiting inspiration. Interesting things happen. This year, Neva took a round Christmas ornament cookie and painted it to look like a snow globe. White sprinkles dashed over a light blue background featuring a reindeer with a little red nose made her cookie positively adorable. Hard to believe that only two years ago she was still at the icing and sprinkle dumping stage, where her cookies looked like sweet gobs of poop thanks to mounds of icing and an overload of decorations oozing off the edges and on the table, floor and all over the kid.
Denver took the same round shape and created a big gold diamond ring with the letter “5” in the middle. This was for “la la la la, 5 golden rings…” as the 12 days of Christmas song goes. She claimed her cookie is not only original and Christmassy, but representative of the artist since she just finished jewelry school. (She expected special credit for that. . ahem . . . but we all groaned and said, “Nice try.”)
Someone made a Santa shape into a dashhound in honor of Dianne’s mutt. Denver painted one Santa shape all black, claiming it was “Santa’s shadow.” Interesting, but no go, pal… “pretty” has to count. Mark turned a snowman upside down and made a poinsettia bush in a pot. Not bad. Denver turned a candy cane shape into a golf club with Grandpa’s name on it. Cute, in an ugly sort of way. As was her purple Genie face – which has nothing at all to do with Christmas, so I didn’t get it. Meanwhile, I kept gently suggesting someone make a wreath into a wreath and a stocking into a stocking so we’d have a few cookies resembling known holiday shapes. Apparently, tradition doesn’t much appeal to those in a creative frenzy.
This year, I was so busy preparing icing and cleaning up after dinner that I bailed from the competition early and took to just decorating basic, attractive traditional cookies to be sure we had a few snowmen, wreaths, and stocking for guest to see (otherwise, they’d think we’re weird, ya know). And frankly, I wanted to go to bed and that looked a long time in coming with 10 dozen cookies still incomplete. Sigh. So I was all about high production.
As it was, I knew I’d have a hard time getting everyone to finish decorating the huge quantity of cookies I’d baked. My family members tend to spend an hour on one cookie masterpiece, then claim they’re spent as they collapse on the couch waiting for me to serve them cocoa or something. Oh no you don’t. I put one of each shape on a plate in front of every family member and announced they had to decorate at least that one plate full (which was about a dozen cookies) Another plate held the extras in case someone broke a favorite shape or inspiration required a second cookie of a certain shape. I thought it was a brilliant plan until I noticed Kent stuffing blank cookies into his mouth at an alarming speed, just to get out of decorating them. And when people weren’t looking, extra cookies magically appeared on their plates. It was like we were playing cookie hot potato. It seemed the number of blank cookies just never dwindled. But I was a harsh taskmaster, forcing the decorating to continue.
Anyway, the fact that I was not buckling down to create this year’s masterpiece meant I wasn’t a contender for the coveted title, so that qualified me to serve as this year’s exalted judge.
As soon as my prestigious position was established, don’t ya know Mark’s next cookie happened to be one of those round ornament cookies decorated to be . . .ready for this. . . . a pretty peacock. Of course, I was enchanted. I love peacocks! And what could be better than a cookie tribute to my peacock passion?
The kids, seeing my delight, saw through his blatant manipulation and complained that the cookie wasn’t Christmassy so it shouldn’t be considered as a finalist.
Mark looked insulted. “Certainly, you all know the story of the Christmas Peacock. It’s a famous holiday folktale from . . . . um . . . Bulgaria. Yeah, the Christmas Peacock lays eggs with presents in them. Certainly I told you that story when you were young. You must have forgotten.”
The kids gave him a droll look – they were not buying this flagrant lie one bit. So Mark shrugged and said, “Well, if you’re going to insist you don’t know the story of the Christmas peacock, fine. It’s a famous story, right up there with Rudolf, but you obviously are going to play dumb to undermine my great contribution…. Never mind, I have another cookie in mind anyway. Not like a great artist has only one good cookie in him…. ” And he proceeded to make another cookie. This time he took an angel cookie shape and turned it into a bee. I kid you not.
The kids said, “No fair. Mom loves bees too. You’re cheating!”
Mark blinked innocently and said, “Now, you can’t mean to tell me you don’t know about the Christmas Bee . . . .a holiday custom from Australia. As everyone knows, the Christmas Bee is where we get all the honey we use in Christmas recipes.”
I pointed out that I’ve not, this year or ever, made any sort of Christmas dish or treat with honey. Admit it dear, there is no Christmas Bee, but it was a good try. Ahem…. It’s cute, but disqualified for lack of thematic appropriateness.
All this time, Kent was working on a special cookie. He painted a stocking shape black, and proceeded to put little Christmas lights along the top, with a window, a star, a wreath and a little lady dancing out front. He proudly displayed his masterpiece.
“What’s that supposed to be?” Mark said, with a forced lack of enthusiasm for the detailed work of art.
“You’re telling me you don’t know?” Kent said.
“It’s the little old lady who lived in a shoe, obviously.” I point out, sincerely impressed. And she’s even decorated the shoe for Christmas, thus keeping in theme. Now that looks like a winning cookie to me.
Mark lifted one eyebrow and said, “There was an old lady who lived in a SHOE. She didn’t live in a BOOT. Gee Wiz, if you veer from the basic premise of the poem, it’s gotta count against the cookie.”
I made an executive decision that a boot definitely qualified as a “shoe”, thus the cookie meets all criteria for excellence. And even the fact that it was black was OK because it simply made the Christmas decorations stand out.
So, Kent’s cookie was the winner in my opinion. Mark begrudgingly agreed that it was a damn good cookie, but I think that was partially because now he wanted to go to bed too. He then mumbled something about our son getting all his talent from his dad – a round-about way of trying to take credit for the cookie, if you ask me.
So Kent is Cookie Master Decorator for 2007. But between you and me, my favorite cookie is still the peacock, even if it isn’t Christmassy. And Neva’s snow globe displayed her future potential for sure. And I think it only fair Denver gets the prize for greatest wealth of original ideas.
Not that any of this will help them next year. Looking at the overloaded plates of decorated cookies now (that no one will bother to eat – it’s about the making, not the eating, you see) I’ve decided next year I should reclaim my title. Just doesn’t feel right not having something to gloat about at Christmas.