Christmas Cookies. Just the thought of warm freshly-baked cookies gives one a cozy, fuzzy holiday feeling. That’s what I was thinking when, a couple of days after Thanksgiving, I realized that soon Christmas would be upon us. We have a small “core group” of five people who live here or nearby and see each other regularly and are considered part of our “safe” household — as safe as one can be —during these unusual times. So that meant planning the next holiday get-together.
Thanksgiving had been lovely. We sat on comfortable couches and chairs in the living room, spaced apart, near a blazing woodstove fire and shared a huge traditional Thanksgiving feast that Diane cooked. She and Morris live across the creek, so we gathered in the tall Philo A-frame “community” house here at our property we call Dragonwood, and it was such a nice gathering. I agreed to clean up afterward, and that proved to be tricky, I realized as I made bone broth for the dogs with the turkey carcass for the third time (it was vegetarian Hell). It took a total of three weeks to fully put Thanksgiving to bed. Deciding to make Christmas simple this year, instead of a big complicated meal, I thought, Christmas cookies! We will sit around, exchange gifts, and decorate and eat Christmas cookies and drink hot chocolate on Christmas day.
What could be easier?
Soon I started thinking about this idea after all the participants had agreed to attend if possible, including my daughter Cassidy and her dad Mike, who live in Comptche in what we consider “our other household.” I had quit cooking when the kids became adults and am very rusty in the baking department. Since moving to Philo last year, I hadn’t quite mastered the propane oven. All my cookies I had attempted baking were perfect on top and burnt crisps on the bottom. I decided to sacrifice myself to sugar by baking multiple trays of cookies to perfect the process. I bought the easy “cut-and-bake” cookie variety; I was not trying to impress anyone by pulling out Aunt Margaret’s old-timey drop cookie recipe. I just wanted some damn sugar goodness to share for Christmas. Finally after a few attempts, I nailed it: Let the dough get to room temperature. Preheat oven to 350 degrees, put cookies in oven for 10, not 14, minutes. Turn off oven. Let cookies sit in oven 3 more minutes. Remove cookies, let sit again. Transfer to cold plate. Viola! Perfection.
The only downside to my Christmas plan was that I am missing my 27-year-old son Kodiak. When his sister and I moved back to Mendocino County after a long absence last year, he stayed in Los Angeles, with his great job, gorgeous girlfriend, cool roommate, nice car. He is settled, which is what a parent of course wants, but being over 500 miles apart has been emotionally challenging. Kodiak, though born in Comptche on Marsh Creek Road in the middle of winter in a small cabin, is now a thriving city dweller. Staying put made sense.
We can Zoom on Christmas, I told myself. Then it hit me: If I baked him cookies and shipped them to him, he could virtually join our holiday bash and still get cookies, and hot cocoa, on Christmas — with us! I was pleased with this plan and set it into action. Knowing Christmas was on Saturday, I reasoned that if I got the cookies in the mail by Monday, he’d get them by Friday. My daughter, who loves to bake, could get the cookies made and decorated, and I would wrap them up to ship them. Bam.
Cassidy and I were supposed to connect on Sunday in Comptche to bake the cookies, but she ended up stuck in Fort Bragg. On Sunday, I instead found out some interesting news: That Christmas was on Friday, not Saturday. That put a crimp in my Christmas cookie plan: one full shipping day less than I had calculated. I complained to my friends in a chat group that I had screwed up the holiday dates and wasn’t sure I could get cookies to Kodiak on time.
“Just have him go buy some, it’s so much easier,” one said. “He can eat Oreos, it doesn’t matter what kind he has,” said another. While technically true, and yes, simpler, I hadn’t cooked for Kodi in a year, since he came to visit last Christmas. I wanted to bake them “with love” (or at least have his sister do it). I wanted to add hot cocoa packets and marshallows and give him a gift box, not just something to eat, but a gift from the heart. I was determined to get him Christmas cookies that were just like what we would be having. I didn’t have ingredients on hand to make cookies myself, so Monday morning, determined, I set out on my adventure to make Christmas cookies happen for my son in Los Angeles by Thursday, Christmas Eve, the last day to receive mail. It would happen, Hell or high water.
I decided to start at Lemons Market and then go on up to Boonville to the Anderson Valley Market in hopes that I could complete my shopping list in the valley. As I drove down the ridge on Philo-Greenwood, holiday carols played on the radio and the solstice sunlight danced through the trees. I stopped at NorthWest Oil where Chris helped me out by putting $20 bucks worth of gas in the tank for me. We started shooting the breeze and he asked me what I was up to. I explained I had made Christmas simple by having a cookie decorating party and that I was on a mission to get some cookies for my son in Los Angeles to have with us via Zoom. Somehow when I explained it, it didn’t sound simple. He sagely explained that if Lemons and the Boonville store didn’t have cookies, likely one of the bakeries would. Here I was at step one of my adventure, chatting with a wise man who was kinda like the Scarecrow to my Dorothy as I traversed Oz in pursuit of sending cookies to my previous home for the holidays. Good advice, I agreed as he sent me on my way to my next stop.
At the Philo post office, there was a package waiting for me, ironically from my son with everyone’s Christmas cards and a gift. While there, I asked about the Christmas week shipping policy with the clerk. He gave me a shipping slip and ‘promised’ the cookies would be there by Thursday, for $7.75. I told him I would be back tomorrow, he said be here by 3 p.m. “Can you ship them today?” he asked.
“I still have to bake them!” I replied. The super-nice postal clerk was like the Tin Man, showing me the ropes.
Next stop. Lemons. Lo! While they weren’t on the shelf yet, I found an unpacked box in the cooking aisle full of packages of mini-marshallows, and on the shelf I found a box of envelopes of hot cocoa, and yes, even cookie frosting. I loaded up my cart and looked for instant cookie mix or the cut-and-bake variety, but couldn’t find either. After a brief chat with the friendly ladies at the market about baking cookies for my son in LA, I was ready to continue my quest. Onward!
I stopped briefly in Boonville at the Anderson Valley Market, and while they had similar items to Lemons in the baking aisle, the cut-and-bake cookies eluded me still. (I did pick up a bag of kitty treaties for my somewhat spoiled calico feline, Athena). The nice clerk with a mane of beautiful red hair and I wished each other happy holidays as I purchased the treats and left. Because I was close to the 253, I made a last-second decision to do a Hail Mary run to Ukiah. Safeway would likely have what I needed.
The drive to Ukiah revealed a stunning display of sparse winter landscapes full of shadows. A bright sun darted behind dramatic dark clouds that graced the otherwise blue sky. Usually a trip to Ukiah is a Big Deal. Gas, Safeway and Walmart, a quick fast food stop, and sometimes other errands too. Today, I was focused, like an Olympian who had trained for the big event, or, like Dorothy focused on getting back home. I found the correct simple-to-use cookie dough: 2 for $6 at Safeway, easy, refrigerated sugar cookie dough. I bought four, three sugar and one chocolate chip for good measure (does Kodiak even like sugar cookies?).
Last stop: Dollar Store to buy stuff to mail the cookies in: parchment paper, a shipping envelope, a cookie tin, two new baking pans, and some plastic baggies (I was thinking for the marshmallows but they had another use).
Driving home, the sunset in the solstice sky illuminated the hills with magical light, and I was amazed by the stunning beauty of our area once again. Somewhere far above, Saturn and Jupiter were doing a danse fantastique in the night sky, creating a replica of the Christmas star. Finally, after traveling many miles, I made it back home. I built a fire in the A-frame, preheated the oven, got all the ingredients sussed, and began my baking. Remembering that it was Cassidy who was supposed to actually bake the cookies, not me, I had to calm my nerves and just go for it, pulling up memories of myself as a mom who used to bake and make meals for her family every weekday night for two decades.
The cookies turned out great. Decorating them, not so much. I forgot to buy a “piping nozzle” for the frosting, but YouTube quickly showed me it was serendipitous that I bought the plastic baggies. I emptied the frosting into the baggies, cut off the tip, and squeezed. I also discovered I actually suck at decorating Christmas cookies. But my heart and soul was fully in it by now. By midnight, and remember my adventure in simple Christmas cookies started at 11 a.m., Kodiak had a care package ready to go full of cookies, hot cocoa, mini-marshmallows, and a couple lottery tickets I picked up at Lemons with my leftover two dollars, thrown in for good measure.
Tuesday morning I got up and went to the post office, and had my packing slip filled out and $11 in my wallet, ready to pay my $7.75 shipping to get the cookies there by Thursday. On my way out of the property I stopped by and borrowed a twenty-dollar bill from Morris. “They said it was about eight dollars, but just in case, I don’t want to waste a trip,” I explained. I didn’t have a lot of cash left, having been on a cookie-making shopping spree.
At the post office, I handed my $10 bill to the clerk and was told, “$39.55.”
Even with Morris’ twenty, I didn’t have enough on me. Apparently the previous day it was $7.75. Now, it was way more. Damn! All that effort, just to screw it up at the last moment? I didn’t even have my bank card on me. Now what?
Right then, and there are witnesses, a Christmas miracle occurred.
Desperate, as someone was now behind me in line, I reached into a side pouch of my purse and pulled up $8 I didn’t know I had. Then I reached in and found my change had fallen out of my wallet and was accumulating in the bottom of my bag. Finding another $1.55, miracle money appeared to cover the fee to give my son his Christmas cookies. According to the post office slip, the package will arrive at his house Thursday by 3 p.m., and if it doesn’t, I will get a refund. But I know those cookies will get there, and instead of store-bought Oreos, my son will get food prepared by his mom who misses him, and hasn’t been able to see him since February of this year. It is officially the longest we have ever been apart. This is his first Christmas away from family, and while his life is good and he has a tribe of people to rely on, there is something special about sharing food with family over the holidays, even if the journey to get it there involves a lot of steps to make it happen on those winding country roads.