December 22, 2009

Hitting the wall, rescued by the Original Supermom: NaCoBakMo, Days 23 & 25.

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:55 am by the Green-Eyed Siren

Day 23 was my first day of really not quite making it on NaCoBakMo. I made the dough for gingerbread early in the day, but turned over the actual cookie production to the crack team of my mom and kids, who handled it zestily. This is my mother’s signature cookie recipe, so I felt almost justified in passing off the work to her experienced hands. She was on call for a night of babysitting so Mr. Unfocused and I could get out to one of the very few social engagements we ever seem to have, an annual Christmas party that is always an elegantly raucous good time. Unfortunately I was tied to the sewing machine for hours and hours that day making a backdrop for the Sunday School Christmas pageant taking place the following morning, and as the hours wore on it appeared that I might not be going anywhere after all.

About now I’m guessing you’re wondering what the hell is going on with me and church. Honestly I’m not quite sure myself. I realize that all the church activities I’ve been describing for the last month makes it look like I am not merely a churchgoer but one of God’s Chosen Messengers, and you’re going to have to take my word for it that that is really not me. Far closer to the truth would be to say I’m more like Ado Annie from Oklahoma!—I Caint Say No.

Yes, I’m easy. Tell me your organization is in need of someone to take on an outrageously large volunteer task and I can’t resist. I go all in. A few years back, that’s where I was with one of the kids’ schools, and now that’s where I am with church. But, as Annie wonders, “Whatcha gonna do?”

So Saturday night found me at the sewing machine, surrounded by yards upon yards of muslin and quilting fabric in varying shades of starry blues, in much the same position I had been in that morning, not to mention the previous Wednesday. My mother had the cookies well in hand, and the kids were having a ball examining all of the new cutters from the assortment I had picked up a few days before.

If I had not been starting into full-on panic mode, it would have been a perfect pre-Christmas late afternoon—and even with my increasing worry about finishing in time to get to the party it was still pretty nice. We had this episode of A Prairie Home Companion streaming live; we were excited to tune in because one of our best friends from college sings with the Russian Chamber Chorus of New York and they were featured on the program. They sounded great (and we followed our friend on Twitter throughout, which was fun), and Keillor was entertaining as always. (The Lutheran jokes were, of course, the most appreciated around here, although we also were quite amused by the Unitarian Christmas carols.) Meanwhile, my mom was rolling, the kids were cutting, I was sewing, the tree was glowing, and Mr. Unfocused was buzzing about, keeping everything moving and under control. Even as I started to wonder in alarm if I would actually fail at this theatrical undertaking I was aware that it was a very pleasant atmosphere.

Around 7:30 I reached the point where I was confident the worst of the work was over, leaving me with a few manageable hems I could finish upon returning from the party (hopefully not too late). I flew up the stairs, grabbed a quick shower, and dressed appropriately for a lovely evening, all the while attempting to refocus my brain away from harried anxiety to breezy party mode. We went out and had fun, but I was back at the machine by midnight. Eventually I made it to bed for a refreshing four and a half hours before it was time to haul out to church and make sure that backdrop would actually hang in the sanctuary (it did; pictures to follow). Thank goodness for my mom and kids handling the actual baking that day.

My mom, coming to the rescue, teaching my kids the finer points of making rolled cookies. Thanks, Mom!

Mom’s Gingerbread (from Better Homes & Gardens Cookies and Candies, c. 1970; leafing through this book now brings back memories of childhood days spent in deep contemplation of its fascinating pictures)

1 c shortening
1 c granulated sugar
1 egg
1 c molasses
2 T vinegar
5 c sifted all-purpose flour
1 1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
2 to 3 t ground ginger
1 t ground cinnamon
1 t ground cloves

Preheat oven to 375º. Grease baking sheets.

Thoroughly cream shortening with sugar. Stir in egg, molasses, and vinegar; beat well. Sift together dry ingredients; stir into molasses mixture. Chill at least 3 hours.

On a lightly floured surface, roll dough to 1/8″ thickness. Cut with cookie cutters. Place one inch apart on greased cookie sheets. Bake for 5 to 6 minutes. Cool slightly; remove from cookie sheet and cool on rack. Once fully cooled, decorate if desired. Makes 5 dozen 4-inch cookies.

Now, once you get your gingerbread cookies done they are perfectly lovely just as they are, but they also inspire decorating desires in the hearts of children and madwomen. Further, decorating gingerbread cookies (particularly with the assistance of two helpers under the age of ten) is EXTREMELY time-consuming. In my case, I was too worn out to attempt it on Day 24 once we returned home from the Sunday School pageant; instead I baked a quickie after the kids went to bed and called it a day. That meant doing the decorating today, on Day 25, fitting because it is my mother’s birthday. How better to honor her by lovingly and carefully embellishing her signature cookies? I had expected to accomplish both this decorating and the baking of another cookie which I consider to be my favorite of my mother’s recipes, but after nearly four hours of dealing with icing-covered children I figured I had put in my NaCoBakMo time for the day. Here are the finally-done cookies along with the icing recipe I used, courtesy of Joy of Baking.com.

Royal Icing (using Meringue Powder)

4 c sifted confectioners’ sugar
3 T meringue powder
1/2 t almond extract (I used imitation, due to the nut allergy issue)
1/2 c water
gel paste food coloring

In the bowl of your electric mixer (or with a hand mixer), beat the confectioners’ sugar and meringue powder until combined.  Add the water and beat on medium to high speed until very glossy and stiff peaks form (5 to 7 minutes). If necessary, to get the right consistency, add more powdered sugar or water. To cover or ‘flood’ the entire surface of the cookie with icing, the proper consistency is when you lift the beater, the ribbon of icing that falls back into the bowl remains on the surface of the icing for a few seconds before disappearing. The icing needs to be used immediately or transferred to an airtight container as royal icing hardens when exposed to air. Cover with plastic wrap when not in use.

AND LAST BUT NOT BY ANY MEANS LEAST: A very Happy Birthday to a mom I love, respect, and admire. I am so fortunate to have such a strong, smart, and savvy lady to guide me through this bumpy life.

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3 Comments »

  1. Unfocused Me said,

    “…and Mr. Unfocused was buzzing about, keeping everything moving and under control.”

    HA! My wife, the internet comedienne. In reality, Mr. Unfocused was buzzing about, completely useless, trying not to get in anyone’s way, while the Siren and her mother did complicated things with style, grace, and superlative competence. The most difficult thing I managed that evening was tying my own shoes.

  2. […] you can also see a portion of the backdrop I was frantically sewing the night before, as described here. I must say it was pretty fantastic. I think the big “reveal” when the curtains were […]

  3. Laura said,

    I didn’t even see that you blogged about us! Yay! Happy to have been a part of this frantic and fun and ultimately screamingly successful day of yours!


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