Every year, as we all crowded into my grandfather's house, we were greeted with the same distinctive aroma while the same kettle sat atop the stove, simmering. For my family, the smell of the holidays was oyster soup.
It goes without saying that our holidays are filled with traditions. And for many of us, those traditions are a unique combination of family, faith and food.
Now that my husband Glen and I have our own little family, we're establishing our own holiday traditions. One of these is making holiday treats together.
Two years ago, I decided it was time to start making holiday candies again. (I had developed an interest in candy making before we started farming, but, between taking care of our young kids and our cows for the past few years, I didn't have enough time, energy or patience left for candy making.)
I wanted my two children, Dan and Monika, to be involved, so I let them sprinkle colored sugar on the bonbons after they were dipped. By the time we were done, our kitchen was covered in sprinkles. But we had fun, and, more importantly, Dan and Monika were proud to tell everyone that they helped make the candies.
Last year, I was inspired to actually bake holiday cookies. I got a new recipe from Glen's mom for the most delicious sugar cookies I have ever tasted. These roll-out cookies are made with both real butter and cream cheese. Glen described them as perfectly crisp, yet almost creamy — even without frosting. And since cutout cookies go well with sprinkles, I figured they would be a hit with the kids, too.
So we mixed, chilled and rolled our cutouts. (If rolling cookies seems as daunting to you as it first did to me, this tutorial is helpful.)
Then we cut, baked and cooled.
Finally, they were ready for frosting and sprinkles.
We started our baking early this year. I found this early-season baking to be a lot more relaxed, since I wasn't already overwhelmed with all of our other holiday preparations. I know some of the cookies are likely to disappear from the freezer (Glen likes to grab a handful before he heads out to the barn for afternoon chores), but that just means we'll have a reason to make more.
With three seasons’ worth of cookie-decorating experience, here's what I've learned about decorating cookies with kids:
Keep it simple:
I limit our decorating to sprinkles. I would love to do fancy piping, but that's not realistic with small children.
Bonbons and other dipped candies can be decorated with sprinkles right after dipping. I turned our favorite peanut butter cookie recipe into Holiday cookies by letting the kids top the cookies with red and green candies.
Plan for a mess:
My kids get sprinkles everywhere. In an effort to corral as many stray sprinkles as possible, I set the frosted cookies on baking sheets before decorating. Then, when we're done, I sweep the extra sprinkles into a container to be reused later.
Lower your expectations:
When kids are involved in decorating, the finished cookies are not going to look like the chic cookies you pick up from a boutique bakery.
Remember the goal:
Decorating cookies with kids is as much about spending quality time with your children and making memories as it is about making cookies.
Keep a sense of humor:
I let one of our batches of cutouts cool while we did the evening milking. When I came in after milking and checked the cookies, I found that three snowmen and one gingerbread boy were missing arms. From the pint-sized bite marks, it was clear that the arms had been amputated by one of my little helpers. I could have been upset, but I just laughed.
After we finished decorating a batch of cookies, I asked the kids what they liked best about making Holiday cookies. Dan was quick to respond: "Eating them!"
I think my youngest daughter, Daphne, would agree that eating them is the best.
Monika's response was a little more altruistic. "Sharing the cookies with our friends so they can be happy," she said.
Isn't that what the holidays are all about? Happiness, sharing our time and love with our friends and family, making memories, and honoring traditions.
This year, I also hope to try making my grandmother's spritz cookies with the kids. Spritz cookies are another one of my family's holiday traditions, one that I'm more inclined to pass along than oyster soup.
What are some of your family's holiday traditions?