I love Christmastime and I love baking. When I was growing up, we spent every Christmas Eve baking the day away. We made cookies in three or four varieties, various candies and fudges which we then gathered up into foil tins and delivered anonymously to families we knew. It was the ultimate Ding Dong Ditch and I loved it!
As a young girl, and even as I got older, my dad always had the assignment of helping make the Oatmeal Gingersnaps (recipe below). Mom always said it was because the recipe was stiff and needed "a man's strength" to stir it. Knowing that my mom is no weakling, and as a mom myself, I'm beginning to understand why that became a tradition.
Sure, it's fun baking with my kiddos. In fact, there's very little in this world I enjoy more. But after a while the fighting over who's turn it is to stir the cookies (and resulting flour and sugar poofing all over my once-clean counters), having to wash someone's hands every few seconds because they've licked the sugar...again, and general craziness that is baking with small children can be taxing. But Oatmeal Gingersnaps are the best cookies for young chefs to help with. There are many parts they can help with, and who doesn't like watching a three-year-old try to figure out how to roll the dough ball around so every orifice is coated in sugar?
This morning we started baking for a Cookie Exchange I'm having tomorrow afternoon. My kiddos are still a bit too young for the Ding Dong Ditch Cookies, though that is certainly a plan for the future. But it doesn't mean we can't enjoy that blessed time in the kitchen. My kiddos are learning how addictive those gingersnaps are (especially since they can't have any more until tomorrow). They're learning how delectable cookies in the oven smell. And they're learning how to take turns and cook in a clean(ish) way.
But it's exhausting too. It would go a lot faster if I just made them myself, that's true. And I'd even enjoy it since I love the kitchen so much anyway. Yet, despite knowing that I'm going to spend half my time rewashing licked fingers and scooping bits of dough back into the bowl to be stirred in again, I love this time with my kiddos. I sometimes think though Mom was right. Oatmeal Gingersnaps need a man's strength. It isn't just the muscular kind, though trust me: if you double a batch of Oatmeal Gingersnaps you will need the strength. It's the patience too. My dad could handle us kids being, well, kids while baking easier than Mom could. And perhaps it's because every other time she was cooking she had one or more "helpers" and just enjoyed the break. I know sometimes I need it! Dad would laugh as he washed our hands...again. He'd put a finger to his lips as he snuck us bits of dough while Mom wasn't watching (even if she was watching). He'd wink and sweep up the messes and say, "A little flour never hurt anything." And more than once he snapped a wooden mixing spoon from the sheer effort of mixing the ingredients. We'd laugh and he'd show us his muscles before getting a new spoon.
One of the most precious parts of Christmas baking with Dad was how he always had a Christmas story to tell us while we baked. I can't even begin to count how many times I heard the Schofield abridged versions of Christ's birth, A Christmas Carol, The Other Wise Man, and other tales I'm pretty sure my daddy made up just for us kids. He sang Christmas carols with us, getting everyone in on the fun. And Mom watched us play together and laughed and sang and occasionally nabbed a child who'd licked their fingers without getting caught by Dad. These memories of Christmas Eve baking together are some of the best memories I have. Mom told us about having Christmas in Hawaii, Japan and other places she'd lived as a "Navy junior" (Dad always says she was actually a Navy brat). Dad talked about the snow in New Mexico and how he truly did have to walk through three feet of snow uphill both ways to get to school.
Yep, some cookies just need a man's strength. You dads of the world have so much strength to give. And I'm not just talking your muscles. Your kids need your laughter, they need your stories. They need your goofiness and mischief. They need your tenderness and your love. They need these moments with you to help them build strong character and to see what it really takes to be a good person in this crazy mixed up world of ours. Your kids need you. There are unique things only you can give and your children need that from you.
So yes, Oatmeal Gingersnaps are tough to make. So tough, I think I might just need a man's strength the next time they need baked.
P.S. Daddy, I love you!
1/2 cup shortening
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup molasses
1 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cloves
3/4 cup rolled oats
Preheat over to 375 deg. F. Cream together shortening and brown sugar. Add egg and molasses and stir till well-mixed. Add 1 cup flour and baking soda, ginger, and cloves. Stir until well-mixed. Add remaining flour and oats. Stir until a stiff dough forms. Put sugar on a plate. Create 1 inch balls with dough and then roll in sugar. Place on a baking sheet about 2 inches apart. Bake 8-10 minutes. Makes between 2 and 3 dozen depending on how big you make them. :)
Jessica L. Elliott
Author, artist, mom and super-genius