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A wise old crone dressed in a cochineal-dyed caftan, leaning on a gnarled staff carved to resemble the most potent of male organs and sagging under the weight of several dozen primitive-looking fertility totems once told me —
Wait, no, it was Julia. I was telling her that I'd known it would hurt to get to this point, but I hadn't imagined how much. And that I'd known it was probably coming, since even if we'd gotten to retrieval and transfer the chance of a pregnancy was still not especially great. That I'd been scared to reach the end of the line, scared of how awful I'd feel, but that I hadn't anticipated just how awful awful would be.
You know, I love these little heart-to-hearts over a hot, restorative beverage. (Her: tea with sugar. Me: café au lait et cuisse de mouche.) We have regretfully agreed that it's simply a shame that we'll have to stop speaking upon her next positive hCG test. Yes, a real shame, but there it is.
Anyway, she said something that has stuck with me, something profound worth passing on to you. "Grief," she said, "unlike pie crust, cannot be prebaked."
Plenty of other things can. Some people drink to deal with their stress. Believing that there are few circumstances so dire that they cannot be more bravely endured with a liberal application of butter and sugar, I bake.*
Also, come the holidays, I bake to say thank you, to our friends and family, Charlie's caregivers, the mailman, the neighbors, the people who, in one way or another, helped us through another year.
And this combination — crushing stress plus weepy gratitude — made me think of all of you, my friends inside the computer, who have made this awful month easier. I want to give you cookies.
* And drink.
This year's holiday cookie project encompasses 26 different kinds of cookies mixed, dropped, rolled, cut, baked, decorated, packaged, and delivered. (Not pictured: three gluten-free varieties.) This is almost double my previous record. Do you think I've been a little, well, anxious?
Here is the fruit of my labors (and by "fruit" I mean "not actually fruit, because unlike cookies, I don't have a problem with Charlie eating enormous quantities of that.").
|Cheesecake brownie bites. From Nancy Baggett's The All American Cookie Book. Resist the temptation to overfill your mini muffin cups or else they'll look very sad when they deflate upon cooling.|
|Oatmeal butterscotch bars with an additional drizzle of melted white chocolate.|
|Chocolate cherry toffee brownies from Regan Daley's In the Sweet Kitchen. (Recipe modified by using cake flour instead of all purpose and baking in a square pan. Usual practice modified by not eating half the pan as soon as they came out of the oven.)|
|Chocolate mint brownie cookies. Think Girl Scout thin mint, only...not thin, and not chocolate-covered, and not sold by Girl Scouts.|
|Double chocolate coconut cookies. From Martha Stewart's 2005 holiday cookie edition. (Scroll down here for the recipe.) I suggest you add some coconut extract if you want coconut flavor in addition to its chewy texture.|
|Peppermint checkerboards. Recipe and technique from Nick Malgieri's Cookies Unlimited. I modified Malgieri's vanilla sablé recipe by replacing half of the vanilla with peppermint extract, and then dyeing the holy Christmas shit out of half of the dough.|
|Chocolate chip cookies. From Carole Walter's Great Cookies: Secrets to Sensational Sweets. The name of the recipe is Carole's Really Good Chocolate Chip Cookies. Know what? True. Pulverized quick-cook oatmeal seems to be the key.|
|Caramel brownie bites. From the Baggett book. The recipe calls for a mini peanut butter cup mashed after baking into the still-hot cups. I used a Rolo candy.|
|Cashew caramel cookies. From Martha Stewart Living, March 2005 and the 2005 holiday cookie edition. Stupendous, probably my favorite. However, they don't travel well at all because the caramel stays sticky even upon setting. Make them and save them for yourself.|
|Cinnamon swirls. From the Walter book. These were made from her basic refrigerator cookie recipe, with cinnamon sugar swirled into part of the dough. I rolled the log in finely chopped walnuts before slicing and baking.|
|Coffee shortbread squares. From Fine Cooking's 2003 holiday baking issue, plus a drizzle of bittersweet chocolate to the top of the cookies.|
|Cranberry pecan tassies. A basic cream cheese dough filled with chopped cranberries, chopped pecans, brown sugar, egg, vanilla, and bourbon.|
|Cuccidati. Figs, nuts, sugar, juice, and booze, macerated for weeks, then baked with a good friend. What's not to like? Family recipe (included in the comments) courtesy of my friend T.|
|Dulce de leche bars. From Catherine Atkinson's The Cookie and Biscuit Bible. They're topped with swirled white, milk, and dark chocolate, some of it tinted a startling blood-red. I mean Christmas red.|
|Fruitcake cookies. The faded Xerox from my mother with this recipe on it claims that the true name of this cookie is Mrs. Claus's Cookies, but I'm guessing that's a typo because I think that's pretty dumb. Candied fruit, coconut, and chocolate chunks. Plus rum. I did say I drink, you know. (Super-crappy scan of a printout of a super-crappy scan, complete with my mother's handwritten note. Analyze it as you will.)|
|Refrigerator cookies. Carole Walter again. A single batch of this dough can be divided to make several variations on the plain cookie, like the cinnamon rounds above.|
|Chocolate snow caps. Walter. If you can get good quality nonpareils, they're worth it; I buy appropriately colored ones from a local chocolatier when they're produced for various holidays and freeze them until I need them.|
|Maple sugar cookies. Nancy Baggett. The dough is very sticky and fairly fragile once cut; chill it ruthlessly and repeatedly. Prettiest cookie I know of. (Scroll down for recipe.)|
|Oatmeal cinnamon raisin cookies. They're chewy and cinnamony and really, really sweet. In fact, they have just bored several new cavities into your molars as you looked at their picture. Merry Christmas!|
|Orange slices. From Good Housekeeping, October 1988. Good enough and pretty enough that I make them every year; the orange sparkling sugar on the outside makes a very realistic looking rind. (Crappy scan of printed recipe. I wash the outside of the log with egg white, then roll it in coarse sparkling sugar before wrapping tightly to chill.)|
|Spice pretzels. From The King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion. They're rolled and cut, then brushed with egg wash and sprinkled with Swedish pearl sugar. Very trompe l'oeil. (Charlie, looking at the printed map I included with my trays: "[Sobbing.] Want to eatta pessssellllllll.")|
|Rainbow cookies. I am not going to tell you where this recipe is from because I forbid you to bake them. They are a gigantic pain in the ass and they are simply not worth the trouble. (Okay, okay: it's from Carole Walter's book, but don't say I didn't warn you.)|
Please bake and enjoy. And if you have an excellent cookie recipe of your own, please point me to it in the comments — there's no telling what next winter will bring, but I'll most likely need to get baked.