Last year, when I went to visit my boyfriend's grandma, he and I spent a lot of time sitting on stools at her counter watching (and occasionally helping) her cook. During all this whisking, chopping, and sifting, she asked me if I had spent a lot of time cooking with my mom.
I answered with an honest no and felt guilty about it.
My mom was a master of breakfast for dinner. No one can fry potatoes and grill pancakes like her. Her smothered enchiladas were my standard request for birthday dinner. What I am saying is: we were well fed, but we weren't a made-from-scratch, Joy of Cooking household. I did not realize that it was possible to make a cake without using a Pilsbury or Betty Crocker mix until I was 14. In second grade, on a special Mother's Day assignment where we answered questions about our moms, I wrote that my mom's favorite thing to cook was "Michelina Dinners" which are single-serving, microwave meals.
But, while we made our cakes from boxes--my mom explained to me that it was easier and tasted just as good--I have so many sweet and enduring memories tied to baking with my mom. While our day-to-day meals were whatever could be quickly cooked up, baking was an art. It was something that wasn't approached out of harried duty, but genuine excited and expectation for the finished product.
Christmastime always added an extra special element to our baking endeavors. There were two types of cookies that we only cooked during the yuletide: banana chocolate chip cookies and cranberry cookies.
Holidays have changed dramatically in adulthood, and while it takes some adjusting to, there are so many new good things to embrace even as old traditions fade. But even so, nostalgia and a unique sort of homesickness sometimes still creep in.
That's why I decided to make cranberry cookies today. I texted my grandma for the recipe. I did not want some internet knock-off that didn't taste like my Christmas. I shelled the cranberries, preheated the oven, put the soundtrack for A Charlie Brown Christmas on the turntable and got to work.
By the time I was taking the first batch out of the oven, I was almost too full from sampling the dough to really enjoy the final product. But now, as I write this with one hand, and stuff my face with the other, I can tell you the cookies taste like home.
Oh, and here's the recipe, if you want it:
1/2 cup butter
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
3 tbsp orange juice concentrate
1/4 cup milk
3 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 cup walnuts
2 1/2 cups halved cranberries
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Cream together butter and sugars. Add orange juice, egg, and milk. Sift in dry ingredients. Fold in walnuts and cranberries. Use a teaspoon to drop onto baking sheet. Bake for 7-10 minutes.