Tag Archives: cookies

A Merry Christmas Indeed

The only thing we needed was snow.

Really.

That’s all we needed to make it the perfect holiday.

I get it, there are those of you who might tell me that perfection would have been having my late spouse here with me and the kids, and perhaps they might have said the same thing at certain points in the day.  But only at certain points.

I devoted the end of the 24th and all of the 25th to them . . . and the random pictures, texts and messages to others to wish them their happy holidays.  I didn’t blog, I didn’t write, and I didn’t take time away from them . . . until now, when everyone is in bed.  No mice stirring, just the ants who’ve somehow invaded Abbi’s bathroom and the kitchen.

I worry, sure.  I was terribly worried about this Christmas.  I over-compensated last year and bought way too much stuff with money leftover from an old retirement account and stock options.  We needed a new car, the old one dying, and the money left over from that went toward paying for all their Christmas presents.  This year I didn’t have much.  We had to pay for college applications and doctor’s bills and auto repairs.  There wasn’t much left over for presents.

Still . . . I needn’t have worried.  The kids, in their infinite wisdom – wisdom beyond their years, by the way – just didn’t ask for much.  They didn’t want much.  They really didn’t.  I had bought some presents . . . Hannah and some books for the kids . . . months ago, just hadn’t wrapped them.  We considered opening gifts late on Christmas Eve, but the kids wanted to wait.

So that night I took the boys up and all the kids sat as I read How the Grinch Stole Christmas rather than our normal book routine.

I had a tradition – only my own since my wife fell asleep every year waiting for Santa – watching Jack Lemmon in The Apartment as I prepped for the next day.  I did it again this year, just because it is comforting to me.  I didn’t feel alone, I just mapped out where the big man in the red suit would put everything.  You know, to help him out.  It was about 1:30 Christmas morning by the time I went to bed.  That, of course, led to the inevitable 5am wakeup by the kids.

But the things they got from Santa were more than they had asked and therefore more than they expected.  They played their new games all day and I didn’t stop them.  They ate too many sugary treats and I didn’t stop them.  We had cinnamon rolls for breakfast and then opened our gifts.  Where I worried I hadn’t gotten them enough . . .their favorite gifts were from their grandparents anyway.  Three of the kids’ favorite things were stocking caps.  They wore them all day long!

Angry birds for Sam:

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A green hat for Hannah:

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And the most successful – a sock monkey hat for Noah.

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We made cookies, Christmas cookies, the kind Abbi’d been dying to have for months.

Spritz cookies - shaped like little Christmas trees!
Spritz cookies – shaped like little Christmas trees!

I made a Christmas dinner, a turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes . . . everything you’d expect, I supposed.  No china or silver, but we ate in the dining room, the first time since last year, I think.  We laid out the table and even the boys ate more than they should, which is rare.  It was a great day.

At the end of the day we watched two shows recorded . . . and that we were dying to see.  The kids all went to bed and as they were going they all looked at me and said “this was the best Christmas, Daddy!”  They weren’t doing it to make me feel better nor themselves.  They truly liked their day.

And you know what . . . so did I.  It wasn’t a Christmas their Mom would have prepared or tried or even thought about.  The presents were ones I’d come up with (with some help from Abbi).

Then we got word that Abbi had been accepted to one of the schools she’d been hoping to attend.  It made her Christmas.

None of today was the kind of Christmas we’d have had two or three years ago.  Didn’t matter . . . we were really happy.  The year’s almost over, but that’s okay.  It’s really been a good year.  It’s been a good Christmas.

And now I go to bed, not with sugarplums, but my smiling kids’ faces dancing in my heads.

Merry Christmas to you all.

Perseverance of preservatives

I’m a nightmare for a lot of those parents who push for preservative-free, gluten-free, allergen-free, nut-free, whole foods types.  I don’t do it on purpose, I really don’t.  I had a lot of allergies as a kid, though I don’t pretend that it’s the same crucial and life-threatening allergies you had.  My asthma was far more threatening than it is now, and I’m doing far better now than I was as a kid.  Sure, I had allergies and breathing problems but I was fortunate enough that I was neither pushed to do too much by my parents and I wasn’t babied too much so I never felt that I couldn’t do something if I wanted to try.

But my point is that I use peanut butter nearly every day in my kids’ lunches.  It’s not some “fight the power” issue to somehow send a message to people or anything.  I totally understand the sensitivity to nuts, the reaction that could seriously harm someone, all of it . . . my issue is that I have a very tight budget.  My kids’ lunches have a peanut butter sandwich every day.  The reasoning is pretty simple: even at its priciest, peanut butter is cheap, filled with protein, vitamins, and they like it.  My kids know who may or may not have a sensitivity and they’re sure to stay away, wash their hands after lunch, all of it.

But the one thing that’s really caught my eye lately is all the commercials, ads, billboards, everything for foods and items that aren’t simply an allergen-reaction fueled campaign.  There’s been a myriad of Chex commercials for “gluten free” cereals.  Gluten free pizza crust.  Gluten free this, that, the other.  Preservative-free foods.  Plastics-free bottles.  Filtered water from your tap.  Reverse-osmosis fueled spring water with all the minerals and vitamins removed.  There’s a freaking bar/restaurant in New York that’s selling distilled water for ungodly amounts of money.  I watch and wonder . . .

How the hell are our kids going to survive?

Seriously.

I get it . . . some people don’t want or can’t have gluten…though I don’t know how that’s happening.  There’s a fear of carbohydrates.  There’s a backlash against meats.

When I realized I was making all the decisions for my kids’ lives it became clear that I had to start doing that: making decisions.  One of those wasn’t the avoidance of glutens or preservatives… it was reverting to life as I remembered it.  I cannot do what my parents did, not just because I’m no longer married but because I work 8 hours most days and then get home.  I wanted, though, for my kids to have what I had.  Sure, every kid thinks they’re under the thumb of their parents but when you have your own children you realize what it is you wish you could do for your own children.  Mine was trying to bring them some of what I had.

It started with breakfast.  I fix it for the kids every morning.  Working around my schedule, I might make a triple batch of waffles and cook them – freezing them – and then serving them via toaster each morning.  I might do pancakes or the simple scrambled eggs.  I generally make the breakfast myself.

Same goes for the desserts.  I realized early on that Sam was affected heavily either by the processed sugars or corn syrup or preservatives or whatever in the bought treats.  Make chocolate chip cookies at home he’s fine.  Buy a bag of Oreos and give him more than one – he bounces off the ceiling.  As a result I make all the desserts myself.  I bought a Sunbeam mixer with better power so I could make more.  I use the Betty Crocker “Cookie Book” my Mom got me.  I learned a lot from my Mom – whether I knew it or not – and as a result I can cook, bake, all of it.  Give me a recipe and the odds are pretty decent I can figure it out.

One of my dessert attempts

The thing here is that I have a theory: I don’t necessarily think it’s the gluten, allergens, chemicals, or preservatives that are causing the havoc in our lives.  It’s the convenience we think we’re attaining but not really seeing.  We buy cookies rather than make them.  We nuke foods rather than cook them.  We buy McDonald’s rather than frying up a burger.  The problem with that?  We are feeding the machine ourselves.

I could say it’s sooooo much easier and I’d be lying.  If you absolutely despise cooking or baking you won’t do this.  I don’t mind it and my kids have a far wider pallette than McNuggets and hot dogs.  We drink water out of the tap or the fridge – I buy bottled water for lunches but use a reusable bottle much of the time.  We try new desserts and treats.

We could be afraid of every little thing, but where gluten occurs when you’re using dough or cooking with flour, why avoid it so much?  I worry more about the chemicals and preservatives and when you buy cold cereal because it’s got no gluten rather than making homemade waffles or pancakes or eggs . . . something that takes just a few more minutes or steps . . . what’s the problem there?  Not the gluten in my mind.  It’s the short attention span and need to “want it now”.

I don’t criticize the gluten-free-ers or those who suffer from sensitivity to these things.  I do believe our reliance on pre-packaged foods and not making our own created the sensitivities we face today.

One of our Dinner Excursions

I say this knowing full well I ate Twinkies and Reese’s Pieces as a kid – and yes, I know Twinkies supposedly have rocket fuel in them – but I didn’t have a Twinkie a day . . . nor did I have Reese’s.  I did have a home…filled with what I needed and some of what I wanted…because that’s what you do for your family.

I only wish more people understood that.

The Mother of Invention

The Betty Crocker Cooky Book

Necessity, well, necessitated how my evening went tonight.  I got home and, even though I’d budgeted as absolutely tightly as I possibly could, I hadn’t taken into account that I have 4 children who are voraciously inhaling any and all food in the home to fuel the insane growth spurts that run through their bodies.  My son, Sam, has grown beyond anything I could possibly describe.  I remember going through these growth spurts myself.  Your knees hurt, the muscles stretch and cramp up, it’s really not a lot of fun.  As for Sam?  He’s already just a few inches, at 9 years old, from being his oldest sister’s height.  Hannah, my middle girl, is just a few inches from being her Mom’s 5′ 10″ towering frame.

The Boys, during our March trip to NE

But the problem with that when you’re completely broke is the fact that you cannot factor their habit of coming home from school and snacking when you’re not home.  I’d bought a giant bag of pretzels – simple, normal, salted pretzels – and figured it would be the salty snack that would last the week.  I bought them yesterday.  I got home tonight in anticipation of making pizza – homemade – and realized that Hannah and Sam had inhaled the entire 3/4 of the pretzel bag in one afternoon.  I was unreasonably frustrated with them because they didn’t even think about it.  They walked in, ate a few . . .then a few more . . . then a few more still.  I looked at them and just had to ask them how they thought I was going to get their lunches going for them if they eat all the food in the house.  I’m at the end of my financial rope for the week.

I looked at the two of them and informed them that I had nothing for their lunches.  Not a thing.
“I can make you sandwiches, and maybe something I can pull together for a dessert, but you ate all the pretzels!”

Now, you’re reading this wondering why I’ve made such a big deal about pretzels because . . . well . . . they’re pretzels.  It’s not a big deal, certainly not worth writing a whole blog post about.  You’d be right.

I looked through my pantry and realized that necessity is the mother of invention.  I stared at the shelves trying to figure out what I’m going to do.  Fortunately I have my pantry somewhat organized.  I had all the dry ingredients on one shelf; the spices and ingredients another.  I looked down and next to the sugar and flour was a box of corn meal.  Right on the spine was a recipe for cornbread muffins.  Pretzels replaced!

The dessert was something else altogether.  I have a standby that I’ve used for years to solve that problem.  You see, I’m out of brown sugar as well and it’s 9pm, well past when I can get to a close by grocery store to cobble together money to buy it.

Years ago, one Christmas, my mother gave me a cookbook.  You’d probably wonder why a Mom would give her son, particularly when he’s still married and working, a cookbook for Christmas.  But I’d been looking for this for awhile (and in print again).  My Mom, when I was a kid, had a book just filled with cookies.  It literally was called “The Cooky Book”.  It’s very ’70s, bright Kodachrome colors, but I loved the fact that it was filled with recipes from old world eras and amazing flavors.  Even better, instead of pictures of play-dough and elmer’s glue for frosting they actually made the cookies and took pictures of them, putting them on the pages.  On top of that, it’s just a great, amazing, thorough cookbook.  There are cookies you’ve never thought of.  There are old-world recipes from times gone by that you probably never tried but SHOULD because they’re amazing, homemade, and nowhere near as bad for you as the stuff you buy in the stores.  Why eat an Oreo when you could have a homemade butterscotch brownie?

But this day was just so crazy.  I still had an inordinate amount of chores to deal with.  Hannah had 3 days of back-homework to do and I wasn’t going to pull her from that simply to do her chores.  God forbid I get more zeros on her report card.  So I did her chores – which she’d avoided for 3 days – and did the dishes and cleaned the kitchen.  Then, while the muffins cooked I ran upstairs and did another load of laundry.  After the muffins came out of the oven I found a recipe for Snickerdoodles in the cookbook and found it used little or no butter, no brown sugar, all fitting the ingredients in my pantry.

Now, before you reach the conclusion I’m bemoaning my situation, like I’m angry I don’t have time; that I’m shouting to the heavens for having no money, all of it, I want you to know it’s not the case.  The budgeting is my fault.  I have made mistakes and assumptions about a tax refund that put me where I am.  I can get to work.  I have eggs, butter, flour, sugar, meats in the freezer, I’m OK.  Sure, I wish I had my gas tank at full and a pantry full of treats for the kids, but we’re not surviving on beans and rice, either.  On top of that, I have shown my kids you can survive when things are perfect.  My kids went for so long, with their Mom’s money, living with tantrums, angry complaints, and getting everything they wanted.

That was the trend in my house, too.  I loved Andrea too much, it’s true.  She wanted something, she got it.  When her friend got a brand new Coach purse – something costing waaaayyy too much money – I pulled together everything I had and got her one.  It wasn’t until the latter 1/4 or more of her life that we both came to realize we needed to keep each other in check.  Andrea realized that when she was being unreasonable, she knew it, but would ask anyway.  I realized as well she just wanted someone who would tell her “no” once in awhile as well.

On top of all that, my kids now see that we can be happy, comfortable, and OK without buying stuff.  Sure, I’m stressed out, my face is breaking out, and I’m feeling the remaining black hairs on my head going grey, but I am proud of my kids.  When I gave them their lunches today they looked and weren’t disappointed, they were thrilled to get cornbread and Snickerdoodles.  They see that we’re making food, that the house is filled with the smells of cornbread and cinnamon sugar and vanilla.

This is the closest I’ve come to the days I met my Grandma for lunch.  The house may not have an over-abundance of cookies and desserts, but we have them and they’re not bought and tasting like perservatives.  I went to bed, late, exhausted, but I wasn’t angry or disappointed.  It was a good night.  I was the father of invention – not Edison, no, but inventing nonetheless – and used what I had in my house.  The combination of a family cookbook, the Cooky book, and a pantry with staples in it, has made me be the parent(s) my kids need me to be.

Necessity may be the mother of invention, but their Mom wouldn’t have done any of this.  She couldn’t cook staples or comfort food.  Since we lost her we’ve had a wider pallette, more homemade treats than just chocolate chip cookies from the back of a Nestle package, and we’re surviving.

And maybe, just maybe, I’ve shown my kids just what it is like to have a house that’s a home.