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Sunday, December 22, 2013

A Christmas Tale of Elves, Cookies, and Good Little Boys

A few days ago, my sister, Mara wrote this blog post about how Jewish People around the world "celebrate" Christmas. And while I do have fond memories of our family's tradition of eating Chinese food followed by being first to see the blockbuster movies being released on Christmas day, there are a couple of real Christmas-time traditions I've merrily embraced over the years.

Christmas isn't the only non-secular tradition I embrace. Over the years, I've been known to carve a pumpkin or two on Hallowe' en and my kids have been known to attend an Easter egg hunt or two. But Christmas tradition are the ones I like the most.

By the way, you'll notice that I said Christmas "tradition" and not Christmas "holiday." I do know that deep down underneath the piles of presents, strings of lights, and the big guy in red, there is actual religion involved. But for me, a Jew who's only experience with the church involves ballet lessons in the basement, Christmas is about two things: well-behaved children and cookies.

Last year, I heard about this thing called "Elf on a Shelf." Have you heard of this?
From what I understand, the idea behind this toy is that in the weeks leading up to Christmas, you position the elf in various locations around your house and on behalf of Santa, he keeps an eye on the children with the sole purpose of evaluating their naughty-to-nice ratio. My friend, Julie has fallen under the spell of the elf and thanks to her pictures on the Facebook, I have learned a lot about this..elf. Such as that he's into role-play.
"Snow White" and his seven dwarves.
 
And while I've never taken it that far, I do have to admit that I, too, have taken advantage of the fear magic of Santa. When my son was waist-deep in the terrible threes, my mom took him to one of those mall Santa while we waited for our table at the Cheesecake Factory in Adventure Florida (yet another Jewish holiday tradition). Santa asked him what he wanted for Christmas and when my son expressed that he didn't understand the question, Santa went on to explain that "if you're a good boy, Santa brings you presents."

This is exactly what he told me in his best Eddy Haskell-esq sing-songy voice when he and my mom returned. And what he repeated every time he chose the angel over the devil on his shoulders in the days that followed. Well, I'm not one to squash a little boy's dreams (or a tired mom's peace) so I let him go on believing this was true. And on Christmas morning, my "nice" little boy woke up to a toy-stuffed stocking hanging on his bedroom doorknob. That tradition continued for six more years...or until him and his baby sister were safely clear of the terrible years.

Was I sad to leave this tradition behind? I would've... had it not been for cookies. At the same time that I was giving up the stocking, I was learning about this magical event called
 
The Cookie Exchange
 
Apparently, us Jews aren't the only ones to host multiple guests around the holidays. But we are the only ones who are silly enough to cook every thing alone. Without help. And then proudly brag complain to anyone who will listen. Now I know that all of that complaining time could've been spent eating cookies. Cookies baked by other people. I have to assume that I am not the only one out there who's gone decades without hearing about this wonderful holiday tradition, so if you're in that boat, too, here's how it works: you bake a whole whack of one kind of cookie, go to a party where other people have done the same, and come home with a whole whack of lots of kinds of cookies. That is my kind of party! And since I was so excited about eating the cookies, I wanted to make the baking process and quick and easy as possible without compromising taste. After all, I couldn't risk mine being the loser cookie at the party. Here's what I came up with:
 
Beyond Decadent Chocolate Chip Cookies

 
Ingredients
1 package of The Decadent chocolate chip cookie mix (yes, that's right; your favorite store-bought cookie can now be baked at home)
1 bag of potato chips (I chose maple bacon..because why wouldn't I choose maple bacon?)
 
Directions
Bake cookies according to the directions on the package, with the addition of 2/3 of a cup of crushed up chips.
Bake and promise yourself that your only eat the broken ones. And then don't break anymore than 2...or maybe 3.
 
 
Cinnamon Roll Cookies

 
Ingredients
1 package of sugar cookie mix
1 extra tbsp of flour
1 tbsp each cinnamon, brown sugar, and melted butter
1/2 cup icing sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
Enough milk to turn the icing sugar into a glaze with the consistency of thick maple syrup-about 1-2 tbsp.
 
Directions
Make the cookie dough according to the directions, with the addition of the flour so that the dough isn't sticky at all and can be rolled into a ball.
Roll the dough into a ball (you knew that was coming), wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for about 20 minutes or until it stiffens up a bit.
Using a rolling pin, roll the dough into roughly a 9 x 12 rectangle. I like to do this right on top of the plastic wrap I used for the ball of dough; it makes the next couple steps way easier.
Brush with the melted butter, then sprinkle on the cinnamon and sugar.
Using the plastic wrap as a guide, roll the dough along the long edge as tightly as possible into a log. Rewrap tightly and refrigerate for about an hour.
Cut into 1/2 inch cookies and bake @ 350 for 10 min or until the edges are light brown.
While they're baking, make the glaze: mix the icing sugar, the vanilla, and the milk.
Make sure the cookies are completely cooled before drizzling on the glaze. Otherwise it'll sink into the cookies and not look as pretty.
 
 
You should know that as I write this post, I am in Florida and putting on my running shoes and going for a run before heading off to the beach. And cookie baking is the last thing I feel like doing. But I know that I am in the minority; that many of you are at home, weathering an ice storm (excuse the pun) and that when the power comes back on, nothing could be better than a house smelling like warm delicious cookies.
 
Don't forget to leave one for Santa...or his elves!




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