Saturday, December 17, 2011

Memories Through Candy Cane Coloured Glasses

When I think back on the merriest Christmas memories of my childhood, I think of baking candy cane cookies with my mom. 

I can see my mother whipping the butter and sugar in a big plastic green bowl.  I can see her kneading in the red food colouring so half the batter was pink.  I remember us helping her roll out the cookie dough into long snake-like pieces, then cutting them so they formed small pairs of pink and white squares and then rolling each of these into a long thin candy cane, then folding the end over carefully and laying them flat on a cookie sheet.  I think we must have quadrupled the recipe because I imagine us doing this all afternoon, filling the whole house with the sugary aroma of the holidays.

Naturally, now that Cole is three, and since he loves baking, I envisioned that this Christmas would be the year that he and I could share some of our own lovely, sugar-laced moments of candy cane cookie making.  It doesn't hurt that cookie dough is an awful lot like play dough and he could play with play dough for hours and hours on end.

So while Mark was out at Costco, and Amelia was bustling around the living room making motorboat noises with her lips and leaving puddles of drool in her wake, I began to whip up a batch of cookie dough. 

Cole suddenly ran into the kitchen and then I heard the scraping sound of a kitchen chair being pushed along the tile up to the sink.  Then he was rolling up his sleeves and washing his hands.  How independent! I thought.  Oh, this was going to be a good year for cookie making.

I pulled out his chair, the one with the cushion on the seat, so he could climb up.  And I had just added a cup of flour and I had to nip into the kitchen to get some salt and I said to him, "I know you want to help, but PLEASE don't touch the spoon yet." And as I turned to the kitchen, I knew in the back of my mind that the wooden spoon was resting under a pile of fluffy flour, poised and ready like a loaded cannon, and beckoning all the while to an impulsive preschooler's hands.

Then POOF and, "uh oh.... Mom.... I made a mess."

I turned and there was a thin film of flour dust on the table, on the chair and on the floor.  Cole began immediately to trace shapes in the flour on the table.

"Good thing we washed our hands, eh?" I said, then I added, "Please don't mix the flour until I add the salt...."

I turned again and another POOF!

I took over, moving the bowl from him.  "I WANT TO HELP!" he pleaded.

"Oh yes, you can help.  As soon as I get this mixed together..." 

I kept creaming the ingredients together and all of a sudden Cole held up his hand, his pinky dipped with yellow creamy goo.

"What's this yellow stuff?" he asked.

"Butter," I said, wiping his hand.

I began mixing again.....

"Oh oh!" he held up the same hand, the same pinky gooey with yellow again.

"Cole, be careful please...."

I wiped his pinky clean again and then watched as he grinned and, when he thought I wasn't watching, dipped his hand in the batter to coat his finger a third time.

I sighed deeply and kept adding flour to the mixture.  Then I took off my wedding rings and began to knead the dough by hand.  I remember my mother doing this.  I tried to let Cole do a bit but when his hands became coated, he began to shake them all around and dough got on the ground, it became embedded in the fabric of our socks, it got stuck on the knees of his pants and on the cushion of his chair.  It mingled with the already present flour and cheerios on the floor. It was a crazy, crazy mess.

Then Amelia began to fuss. I put her in her high chair where she watched us for a short time, then proceeded to have a guargantuan poop.  All hands had to be cleaned of cookie dough and we all had to trek upstairs for a short diaper-changing intermission.

Back down to the dining room table we went and this time with red food colouring. Now our hands were red and the pink cookie dough was flying off Cole's fingers and landing in the fruit bowl, on Amelia's tray, in our hair, on the floor, everywhere!

I rolled the dough into balls and then tried to get Cole to help with rolling it into long logs.  He didn't have enough gentle energy.  The moment his itchy little fingers got the soft dough beneath them, they urgently squeezed the life out of it.

I was perspiring mildly by this point and my pulse rate was definitely up.  I kept trying to amuse Amelia by shaking the Cheerios box over her tray and letting a few drop out to stall her.

I gave Cole the bread knife and asked him to cut the snake but before I could guide his hand to making one centimetre cuts, he was chopping like an automatic rifle,  making indents every two millimetres and unable to stop until he'd slaughtered the whole snake.

I carefully peeled the knife from his hands and set it down on the kitchen counter. Realizing he couldn't roll out the snakes without pulverizing them, I rolled out the dough and then handed them to him to bend into candy cane shapes.  He pulled each one into two pieces and set them delicately on the cookie sheet.  He rolled the third one into a big pink and white ball. I wondered if perhaps this year we should call them Candy Cane Bits. 

Then, by the grace of God, Mark's car pulled in the driveway.  And he took Cole and distracted him with unloading yogurt from the grocery bags and I could sit quietly, by myself, and finish rolling out my candy cane cookies.

When the third and last tray went into the oven, I was completely out of steam.  I wondered if baking with my kids would always leave me feeling this way.  I thought back to those heart-warming memories I had of baking with my mother and wondered if she had hung up a tea towel wearily after we'd gone to sleep and breathed a sigh of relief too.

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