Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Christmas Cookies

In honour of Jeff's Tuesday Newsday Jeff's site and he had some cool stuff to say." I too am posting a story. Not copying you or anything. (but check out the link - I finally figured that out!)
But ...
This weekend I baked about 10 dozen buttertart bars. TEN DOZEN! Actually, it's more like 12. I have not cut them all. This is all because on Thursday of this week I am taking part in a cookie exchange ... with my BFAW's.
And then later in the week (date not set) I'm exchanging cookies with my family. That way we will all have lots of fun and entertaining Christmas cookies.
But the stress, people. The stress!
It sounded so fun. Until Matt decided to help me. Ever tried to bake 144 bars with a two year old? The recipe (for all the batches) took 24 eggs. Matthew loves cracking eggs. Actually, he did quite well at cracking them. Better than I could have. But, the point is that it is no easy feat.
But I did it. And I was proud. I still need to cut them. But I was pretty darn proud.
And then yesterday I read this. (below). It's funny. I enjoyed it. I hope you do too.


Arts & Life
Recipe for disaster: What was once meant to be a time-saving tradition between friends has turned into snarky competition: The dark side of the cookie exchange
Anne Marie Owens
National Post
1173 words
18 December 2006
National Post
(c) 2006 National Post . All Rights Reserved.
It was the day before the annual cookie exchange party when Christine Metcalfe decided the cookies she'd made didn't exactly match the size or the pale pink patina of the ones in the Gourmet magazine recipe and she began to bake all over again.
"Everything looks so easy when you see it on the TV or when you see Martha, but then it comes out and it doesn't quite look the same," she said. "I’m not a baker, but you want them to be beautiful."
As a result of this imperfection, she brought to her friend's party an assortment of five dozen baked goods, each cellophane-wrapped seasonal plate containing a mixed dozen of the raspberry- chocolate sandwich cookies, Christmas-tree cutout cookies and a marshmallow-chocolate confection so perfectly formed it looked as if it had come from a high-end bakery.
This Sunday night cookie exchange in Burlington, Ont., is convened by a woman who calls herself a "cookie party bitch," because after years of bringing home dozens of shoddy baked goods and choking back cookies she knew she would never serve to guests, she now secretly invites a select few she is confident can bake up to the standard she requires for holiday entertaining.
Midway through the evening's small, hand-picked party, she brings out one of the cookies she received in the cookie exchange she attended with workmates a few days earlier and makes everybody take a nibble of a plain-looking, decidedly untasty confection.
This is the dark side of the cookie exchange: Gossip-fuelled tasting sessions; covert cookie exchanges; cookie party bitches.
Billed as an efficient way of meeting all holiday baking needs in one fell swoop by having people each bake several dozen of the same thing and then swapping with everyone attending the party, the cookie exchange has emerged as a holiday-season solution for the busy working woman trying to do it all.
But the cookie exchange is no panacea. Some have standards so high that participants stay up all night trying to find the perfect recipe and spend a fortune on what amounts to a high-stakes bake-off; at others, the playing field is so lopsided that ample-sized, home baked goods are swapped for burnt gingerbread or brownies the size of quarters; and in some, the unofficial competition to exceed extends beyond the quality of the baked goods to the way they are packaged, making the practical, plastic-wrapped dozen seem an inferior trade to a multi-ribboned offering.
"I remember walking into [my host's] beautifully decorated home and stopping dead in my tracks as I saw all the cellophaned, beribboned cookie plates," recalls one Mississauga, Ont., mother, who immediately burst into tears when she arrived at her first neighbourhood cookie exchange lugging a bag full of large Tupperware containers rather than individually wrapped gems such as those laid out in her neighbour's front room.
Until that moment, the 42-yearold was proud she'd been able to pull off such a domestic feat in between juggling the conflicting demands of her high-powered, full-time job and the hectic schedules of her two teenaged children -- even though it meant staying up for most of the night, finally packing the goodies into containers at 3 a.m. before the 9 a.m. exchange; even though it meant an earlier breakdown in her kitchen when the shortbread recipe -- "It was kitchen tested!" she insists -- produced much fewer than promised and ended up having to be cut into portions as small as quarters.
"I think I must have some internal need to prove that I am indeed a supermom. No matter how much I work, or how much money I make, I have to be a baker too," says the woman, who like the "cookie-party bitch," does not want her name used for fear it will forever cut her ties with her cookie-swapping set, no matter how fraught the annual obligation.
Rather than aid the busy, time-strapped mother, the cookie exchange actually explains everything about the conundrum of the modern mother who really does, despite the evidence, believe she can do it all -- working full time, whipping up unbelievably perfect confections and beaming broadly when greeting the season's guests with goodies that are home-baked, not bought.
Those caught up in such things blame Martha Stewart, Nigella Lawson and all the other domestic goddesses who have elevated the art of home entertaining to unbelievably high standards, but others say it is modern motherhood that is to blame.
Susan Douglas, who co-authored the book, The Mommy Myth: The Idealization of Motherhood and How It Has Undermined Women, has not had much experience with cookie exchanges, but says, "Whatever it is, it sure sounds like yet more work for mothers."
Her book, which blames the unrealistic celebrity version of domestic life for the modern climate of competitive mothering, describes it as "the Martha Stewartization of America, in which we are meant to sculpt the carrots we put into our kids' lunches into the shape of peonies." Her book is meant as a rallying cry for women to say, without feeling like bad mothers, "No, I'm not baking you 40 blueberry muffins at 10 o'clock at night so you can bring them in for snack tomorrow. We'll go to the store tomorrow to buy something."
In the case of the cookie exchange, food-related Web sites and magazines only perpetuate this image of domestic perfection and efficiency. On the Chefs Web site ( www.chefs.com ), Penny McConnell describes the cookie exchange or cookie swap as "a holiday ritual that's easy to organize, fun to host and handles my entire cookie needs in two or three short hours." According to the Kraft Web site, "Everyone goes home with a great assortment of home-baked cookies for the holiday season! And all they had to do is bake one kind! … The idea of 'many hands make light work' surely applies when it comes to a cookie exchange!"
Even the blogosphere, where one might expect to find the candid tell-alls dished out by veterans of the cookie exchange, raises the domestic standards bar ever higher, showing pictures of beautiful baked goods, adorned with hand-crafted recipe cards and wrapped, by the dozen, to perfection.
"You can't help but set your sights high," says Metcalfe, who admits that each year she spends a fortune on the cookies she bakes and all the various baking equipment required for her once-a-year contribution to this domestic art.
"I think that now, you have to be the mother, the wife, the cookie-baking lady."


Amanda said...

You let Matt crack eggs? Boy, are you ever brave...well, I guess he is a bit older than Jess! I think if I gave her an egg, she would try to eat it..haha!

Anonymous said...

I'd love to see other newsdays, maybe you should do your own every week.

An interesting article. While I can understand why the "filtration" process was necessary, the competitive aspect seems pointless (although admittedly if I was in one of these I'd be damned if mine weren't the accepted "best"... so who am I to throw the first stone?)

Anonymous said...

Wow, that is a lot of cookies !! You should be proud !! You ARE brave to let Matt crack eggs, I'm such a chicken when it comes to letting my kids crack eggs.:)

Laural Dawn said...

Matt is an expert egg cracker. Last year in daycare they made cookies and let him crack the eggs. I know - brave. But, he actually is good at it!

Searaygal said...

Do you rent Matt out for egg-cracking? I could use him for sure!

Excellent article and so true! I usually go to an exchange and I always have fun, but man, is it ever a lot of work. In my first year there I was so down about my crappy packaging that the next two years I really uppped the ante. This year, I passed on it, I was way too busy. I miss the cookies, but not all the work.

Maybe next year I'll hold my own instead? Hmmm. Food for thought!

Haley-O said...

Matt can crack eggs for me! I SUCK at it! ;) Mmm....Butter tart bars.... ;)

Searaygal said...

The butter tart bars were soooooo yummy!! :)