Brisk air does a lot to set the scene for the holidays and a break to the Midwest instilled the Christmas spirit in me. Cold weather and a little snow on the ground made a visit to Iowa City with my boyfriend, Danny, even more romantic. Visiting old haunts made him sentimental in this nostalgic time of the year.
After the turkey, the smoked ham with a candied pecan shell, and the scalloped potatoes, we needed something that more plainly conjured up thoughts of Christmas: Cookies. And since we were in Danny's hometown, where better to get a classic cookie recipe than from his family? His parents, Kathy and Rich, pulled out family cookbooks and journals, and it was like the past spilled right into the kitchen.
Kathy showed me one of her mom's cookbooks. The pages are barely held together, with clipped recipes and photos that evoke another time, another lifestyle. Her mom baked a pie every Sunday and often made ice cream, churned by hand. Her collection of recipes include a contest-winning Orange Kiss Me Cake, pickled cherries and meatloaf.
Rich showed off his cooking journal, which he said is actually more of an experimental lab book. It seemed to contain a Christmas ham recipe for every year since 2003 with tweaks and substitutions along the way. A page for porchetta is a mess of feverish scribbles, so it must be good; Danny has made me a version with duck. A recipe for Low Carb Pancake No. 1 is crossed out with the word "BAD" on the side to warn you.
One of the recipe collections in a small binder belonged to Kathy, and among the recipes from friends and relatives was her Swedish grandma's recipe for Cookie Jar Gingersnaps.
So we got to work. We had all the ingredients except the baking soda, which we borrowed from a neighbor (oh Iowa, you're so sweet). The dough is thick and sticky, but it's easy enough to form into balls and roll in a plate of sugar.
The cookies are done before you know it and crisp up when allowed to cool. They are deeply brown and rich with molasses, and they go very well with coffee. I have a feeling they'd also be great as an ice cream sandwich, maybe with mulled cider ice cream. That could find its way into our kitchen some time soon. After all, I'm building up my own experimental lab book of recipes.
Ileana Morales is a freelance writer who cooks in a small apartment kitchen in Tampa with boyfriend Danny Valentine, an education reporter for the Tampa Bay Times. For more of their kitchen adventures, visit Ileana's blog, alittlesaffron.com. She can be reached at [email protected]