I'll confess that I'm not a person who gets excited about the holidays.
You know the type of person I'm talking about? I'm picturing an over-the-top co-worker who decorates their oatmeal cubicle for every holiday and also dresses for the holiday right down to a a sparkly sweater, holiday-themed turtleneck, matching socks, and -especially for Christmas- a Santa hat with jingle bell.
I'm equally not celebrating the fact that one of the local radio stations decided to begin broadcasting Christmas music 24/7 - in early November. Please! Halloween had just ended.
Christmas cookies, on the other hand, I can relate to. So on a recent business trip I picked up a copy of The Christmas Cookie Club by Ann Pearlman. But, uh, I have two small cookie-related issues with the book:
- I like bar cookies. In fact, I like bar cookies so much that I started a tumblr feed for them.
- Individual cookies are too much work - too much standing, too much stirring. I know this because I have made large quantities of them on my own many years ago, and have refused to make them ever since then.
So perhaps you can understand why I was rather appalled that the hard-working bar cookie was written off immediately in the opening salvo of The Christmas Cookie Club: "No bars. They stick to each other and crumble."
No bar cookies allowed? Bah humbug.
Nevertheless, I still enjoyed the book. It was a light-hearted, gossipy, chick-flicky romp through an annual Christmas cookie club event, accompanied by cookie recipes and ingredient history lessons. I don't really know what the history lessons were doing in the book, but they were informative and brief.
The characters are stereotypical, but lovable: there's Marnie, the party hostess (aka, head cookie bitch,) who's widowed with children and learning to love again; then there's Vera, the former cocaine addicted stripper who turned her life around, and there's Sissy representing for all women of color replete with sassy attitude and talented (yet troubled) children.
The premise of the novel is equally simple: there this Christmas Cookie party every year. There are rules you must follow. If you don't follow the rules, you're out of the club. One of the club rules is that you have to share the story of why you chose these cookies this year - which becomes a metaphor for everything that's happened to you in the last twelve months because apparently the characters rarely see each other except on this mandatory first Monday in December. Still, as a Christmas Cookie Club participant, you get some eating, some drinking, some dancing, and twelve dozen cookies out of the event, plus all of the recipes.
In fact, there are more than twenty recipes in the book - and not only for cookies. Being a bar cookie snob, I snubbed the hand-rolled, fastidiously decorated cookies throughout the book. I am not going to take the time to hand-write fortunes, then hand-turn the little fortune cookies even though I have all of the time in the world to do so. And truth be told, not all of the cookies are that fussy.
I went for the Roasted Carrot Ginger Soup on page 327 and the Mandarin Orange Salad on page 328, and wasn't disappointed one iota. I chopped and combined the carrot, parsnip, onion, and brown sugar.
|Chopped Vegetables with Brown Sugar|
Making the salad was even more of a breeze. That involved macerating mandarin oranges in a combination of honey and cinnamon, and mixing with olive oil, salt, and pepper. That was added to fresh spinach and topped with toasted walnuts.
|Mandarin Oranges, Honey, Cinnamon|
|Soup and Salad|
Roasted Carrot Ginger Soup
1 1/2 pounds carrots, peeled and halved lengthwise
1 pound parsnips, peeled and quartered lengthwise
1 large onion, sliced
3-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar
8 cups rich chicken broth, more if needed
Salt to taste
Pinch of cayenne pepper
1/4 cup creme fraiche for garnish
Snipped fresh chives for garnish
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Combine the carrots, parsnip, onion, and ginger in a shallow roasting pan. Dot with butter and sprinkle with brown sugar. Pour two cups of the broth into the pan. Cover well and bake until the vegetables are very tender, about 2 hours. Transfer the vegetables and broth to a large soup pot. Add the remaining six cups of broth. Season with salt and cayenne pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer partially covered for 10 minutes. (I completely forgot the butter, cayenne, creme fraiche, or chives. Still delicious!)
Mandarin Orange Salad
11-ounce can mandarin orange segments, drained
1 tablespoon honey
Handful of walnuts (broken into large pieces)
Lettuce (romaine, red or green leaf or mixed)
Extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
Place the mandarin oranges in a small bowl. Add honey and sprinkle with cinnamon. Set aside for several hours (or longer). Toast walnuts at 350 for 3 minutes, and let them cool. Wash and tear lettuce into bite-size pieces. Add oranges. Add enough olive oil to wet greens and toss well. Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper and sprinkle with walnuts. Note: If taking to a potluck, wait to toss with olive oil and keep walnuts in a small bag until ready to serve. (I used spinach instead of lettuce and toasted my walnuts in a dry pan on the stove top until nearly smoking and slightly burnt.)
P.S. CBS picked up rights to the book, so don't be surprised if The Christmas Cookie Club becomes another one of those oft-repeated holiday specials.