I am so grateful to be able to introduce you to Catherine Ryan Gregory today. For the last year or so, I have been faithfully following Catherine’s blog, The Ten Thousand Hour Mama, where her gentle, honest writing always leaves me feeling uplifted, as I’m sure it will you. Enjoy!
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In my house growing up, Christmas was such an event that it was simply too much to be called just “Christmas”; to express how much we crammed into the holiday, we called it Xmas Xmas (often in all caps, and always followed by a surplus of exclamation points).
The season was accompanied by a handful of family traditions: Putting together the Santa puzzle whose mustache piece disappeared years ago. Taking ridiculous family portraits in the ugliest sweaters/ski suits/pajamas we could find at Goodwill. Hanging tinsel on the tree. Arguing over whether the tree had enough tinsel or too much. (Answer: There is never enough.)
And for every Christmas that I can remember, we made and decorated the same sugar cookies.
In preparation, we would pull out countless cookie cutters and sprinkles of every color of the rainbow. We’d ready every cookie sheet we owned. And my mom would step onto a chair to get her copy of the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook she stored above the fridge.
To call its red and white checked cover battered would be kind; even to call it a book anymore is generous. Its pages are tattered and covered in splatters of brown. Recipes written in my mom’s slanting scrawl and my grandma’s tidier cursive are tucked inside, finding a home alongside Jiffy Spaghetti Sauce, Meat Loaf Florentine and Pizza Cubed Steaks. (Mercifully my mom never subjected us to those.)
The dated dishes make the book an artifact of its times. In the index, it includes diagrams for setting the table in family-style or buffet service, and it offers suggestions for centerpieces for holiday occasions. (“Paisley-print table runners give a subtle background to red and white earthenware,” one caption reads.)
More importantly, New Cook Book is part of my family’s history. Globs of batter tell of the mornings my mom surprised us with pancakes instead of the usual Kix; the index card with instructions for Holiday Cheesecake is so stained and creased that it’s a wonder anyone can still read it.
Now the book is part of my kids’ cooking heritage. This Christmas, I brought the Better Homes and Gardens tome to my home in West Linn. I broke out our bags of cookie cutters and all the decorations (minus the silver balls we always used that I’m pretty sure were toxic and the red hots my sister insisted on using in spite of the fact no one liked to eat them). I prepped the dough when my noise-phobic toddler was sleeping. And then I rolled out the dough on the same oak table we gathered around every night growing up.
My littlest is only five months old so she just watched, but my toddler loved decorating the cookies. My family paints the cookies in colored egg wash before baking instead of frosting the cookies (instructions here), which my craft-loving tot adores. It’s easy to guess which cookies she adorned—they’re hiding under a mound of sprinkles. And she poked holes into almost all of them, making “belly buttons” for the gingerbread men, teddy bears and stars.
Most of the recipes I use today are found online and pinned, but every so often this tattered cookbook with the checkered cover will make a special appearance. And chances are, it will become a familiar touchstone for my daughters. And maybe—just maybe—it will endure long enough to help them make cookies of their own.
- 11 tablespoons butter (1 stick plus 3 tablespoons)
- ¾ cup granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 egg
- 4 teaspoons milk
- 2 cups sifted flour
- 1½ teaspoons baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- Preheat oven to 375.
- Beat room-temperature butter, sugar and vanilla in a large bowl until creamy. Add egg and beat until light and fluffy. Stir in the milk until incorporated.
- Sift together the dry ingredients and blend into the mixture in batches.
- Divide the dough in half and wrap in cling wrap. Refrigerate 1 hour.
- On a lightly floured surface, roll out one half of the dough to ¼-1/8 inch. Cut with cookie cutters and transfer to a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Decorate with egg wash painting and sprinkles. Repeat with the other half of the dough.
- Bake 6-8 minutes or until cookies are done in the middle. Cool several minutes before transferring to a cooling rack.
About Catherine: Catherine Ryan Gregory is a Portland writer, and mother to Peeper and new addition Kiwi (as they are known online). She explains the name of her blog, The Ten Thousand Hour Mama, thusly: “Malcolm Gladwell famously wrote in his book Outliers that after 10,000 hours of practice, anyone can become an expert. Rather than set my sights on becoming a virtuoso, basketball star or CEO, I’m aiming to become a good mom… and every hour counts toward that goal.“