Continuing Tradition Far From Home

21 12 2009

This year has been a real rollercoaster for me. I’ve done a lot of things I’d never done before, and life’s been alternately strange and wonderful, but at the end of it I’m so excited to be here in this new city, making new friends, doing what I’m doing.

Of course, just as there’s always a silver lining, there’s also often a downside, and despite my attempts to live with my head stuck in the clouds (and in that silver lining), sometimes you can’t ignore it forever. Thus far, the largest singular downside has been my inability to get home for the holidays; I’ll be spending them here in Portland, and I’ll miss my family and friends hugely.

I’m lucky, though. My family is amazing. They’re supportive, smart, fun, strange people, and I mean all of that to be complimentary. Because my parents are divorced, I had the not-uncommon experience of spending holidays with one parent or the other, and from this traditions on holiday off-days have arisen. One of these is making sugar cookies. My mom has been making these cookies for as long as I can remember, and she and my sister and I make them every year just before Christmas.

It is a serious production. It starts early in the day and goes into the afternoon. A rotating cast of other family and friends helps with the decorating. Usually, I believe, we quadruple the recipe. I did not quadruple anything. I know people in Portland who would have made sure the cookies were not wasted, but I’m fairly certain being charged with consuming 200 cookies might have, at least initially, intimidated even these people. The table at my mother’s is covered in tin foil and, by the end of the decorating, looks like a very incompetent Pollock for someone with a sweet tooth and no aesthetic sense. It’s a mess, it’s full of sugar and butter, and it’s my favorite thing about Christmas. I have never missed cookie day. Not when I was in middle school and pretending to hate my parents, not when I was an angsty teenager looking for something to complain about, not when I had just come out to my family, not one.

So, today, my mom and my sister and a bunch of our wonderful family and friends made cookies, and I was 2,500 miles away, but I sort of, a little bit, as best I could, did cookie day with them. In whatever way I could, I did not miss cookie day. We even got to talk on the webcam a little, though mostly technology failed us.

Lucky me again – I have awesome friends and roommates up here in the gorgeous Pacific Northwest, and my friend Andrew and my roommate Joe did some cookie decorating with me and I had a blast! I hope they did, too, because I enjoyed shoving my family tradition down some lovely people’s throats. At least it was sugary and delicious. There was a minor incident with the fire alarm, but we won’t talk about that.

Without further ado, I give you a slightly modified version of Christmas in my family. It is full of butter and sugar and vanilla, and you will not be sorry. Decorating them to music with funny people is definitely a good thing to toss in. Though typically we listen to Christmas music, this year was soundtracked by Jenny Lewis, Menomena, The Fiery Furnaces’ Rehearsing My Choir (doesn’t that seem appropriate somehow?), Belle & Sebastian, and The Lovely Sparrows.

Here are some of Andrew's cookies!

And here are Joe's, except Tupac, which he requested I render in cookie form, and thus was it done.

I used royal icing this year, and was thrilled with the results! Also, those peppermint crunch candies are delicious.

Christmas Sugar Cookies with Powdered Sugar Glaze and Royal Icing


Sugar Cookies

  • 1 c butter, softened
  • 2 c baker’s sugar (or regular granulated sugar)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tbsp vanilla bean paste
  • 2 c flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • enough flour for a stiff dough (another few cups at least)

Powdered Sugar Glaze

  • Sifted powdered sugar (a little over a bag, usually)
  • Water
  • No, seriously


  1. Cream softened butter with electric mixer on medium-high speed for 30-45 seconds
  2. Slowly add baker’s sugar and beat, still on medium high, until light and fluffy (a few minutes, probably)
  3. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition
  4. Add vanilla and salt; beat until combined
  5. In another bowl (if you have a stand mixer you can do this while the sugar and butter are getting fluffy) sift together the 2c flour, baking powder, and baking soda.
  6. Slowly add flour mixture to butter and sugar mixture, beating well after each addition
  7. Continue adding sifted flour until you make a stiff dough. I don’t know exactly how to tell you what I mean by this, but it will roll out into gorgeous sheets of cookie dough and will not be terribly sticky. I probably added another two cups of flour, but I’m not certain exactly.
  8. Roll dough out on a lightly floured surface and cut into fun shapes or into circles (I did the latter)
  9. Bake cookies on a lightly greased cookie sheet for 8-10 minutes at 350F
  10. Cool completely before icing.
  11. To make powdered sugar glaze, combine about half a bag of sifted powdered sugar and about a half a cup of water (start slowly; add half the water first, stir, keep adding). You want to get a consistency thin enough to coat the cooking when you plop it face down in the glaze, but thick enough not to just run straight off.
  12. I used this royal icing recipe and divided it into thirds, coloring them teal, red, and sky blue. I transferred each color into a piping bag and we used these for all our designs. Fun! By the by: I made the version with powdered egg whites, and added some vanilla, and it is perfectly tasty. No salmonella risk required.
  13. Try not to make yourself ill eating cookies. Harder than it sounds.

Happy holidays, y'all!




3 responses

21 12 2009

Yeah, Rehearsing My Choir is definitely a Christmas-y record. Good times!

24 12 2009

oh, danger, i’m onto your blog now!!!!

24 12 2009

ps. tupac wins ❤ love tupac.

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