I’ve been part of a little cooking club for the last 11 years. Every month or so, we gather for a dinner, with each member contributing a course, always presenting something delicious. For the most part, from my family’s perspective, my participation in this club entails me freaking out and destroying my kitchen as I concoct my culinary creation, then disappearing for the evening. My family may get tastes, or even full portions, of my dish, but for the most part, my cooking club is my thing, having little impact on the four of them.
But December is different. With anticipation, my group approaches the crown jewel of all our gatherings — our annual Christmas cookie exchange. Each of us arrives at our hostess’s home with seven packages containing seven cookies each, keeping an eighth package of our own cookies. We distribute the treats, engage in a little wine drinking, appetizer eating and culinary gift exchange merriment, and then head home, three dozen cookies under our arms.
The variety of cookies seems representative of our eclectic group, the types of cookies reflective their creator’s personality. Some practical, full of healthful ingredients; others exquisitely decorated, still others old favorites that appear year after year.
In theory, our bounty is to be shared. Some in our group reportedly create baskets and trays of cookies to give others. At first, I fought to route cookies to others, hiding the cookies from my kids, assembling cookie platters in the dead of night.
By now, though, I’ve abandoned the notion that our home would be merely a rest stop for the night’s offerings and have accepted that our home is the cookies’ final resting place.
The first year the cookies failed to make it to my coworkers, family and friends was at my own hand — or should I say mouth. I was four months pregnant, chasing my high-energy toddler and living with my husband’s parents — a temporary arrangement between selling and buying houses. I arrived in their home with a basket of baked goods and nearly immediately found myself tucked in a hidden corner after my son had drifted to sleep, shoving chunks of chocolatey stress-relieving goodness into my mouth.
In following years, I exercised more restraint. My growing family, however, is much less committed to sharing the goodness and more interested in becoming cookie connoisseurs. I’ve all but given up the idea that this exercise was for anyone other than my closest loved ones.
These days, my family stops eating weeks in advance, emptying their hollow legs to make room for the goody tray.
During the month of December, cookies become their very own food group, earning a spot at every meal until they’ve dwindled to just a few. In a token offering, we share some with family and friends, but we hold out a few, each of us creating a personal stash of our favorites.
At first it seemed wrong — indulgent with a touch of selfishness. So much work, so much love went into the sweets, making them worthy of the finest of presentations. Would I really waste them on my family?
But now, I’m ashamed I ever felt that way. Are my children — my husband — our parents, siblings and grandparents — not worthy of the very best I have to offer?
This year, I’ll bake my cookies with joy, paying the closest of attention to their creation. I’ll pass them to my friends, providing them gift-worthy delicacies. And this year, I’ll bring home the best for my family. Their chocolatey smiles and swoons over the deliciousness will be the goal.
Overland Park mom Emily Parnell writes alternate weeks. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @emilyjparnell