What a tough week. Mega understatement. Here in Newtown, everything has changed. But the overwhelming outpouring of love and good will on our little community has been, and continues to be, of the utmost importance to all of us. Honestly, it’s probably the glue that is helping to hold it and us together.
I personally want to thank you for being there for me, and allowing me to share my personal experiences and point of view with you. And your heartfelt feedback has helped me more than you will ever know. So, today’s posting I dedicate to you – my reader. And today’s subject is inspired by a fellow reader, Sweet Pea, who helped inspire me – or maybe motivate me, with a gentle nudge, to “get back on my horse”. She writes:
“On December 13th you were writing about Hanukkah cookies – something so simple and special…I know you will again write about fabulous cookie recipes, and grass coming up, and windy days, and family vacations, and rituals, and the perfect table settings…Because those are the things that TRULY define us. To be happy, safe, and loved is how we define ourselves….To remind us of all that is wonderful in our lives.”
So eloquently put. Thank you. You see, love, beauty, comfort, and joy is what started Connecticut Country House. And right now, more than ever, I need to get back to that and heed my own words. And now, more than ever, we need a nurturing environment filled with love, comfort, and joy – adding simple means of beauty to our world.
So this week, in super slow-mo, I decorated our tree. What would have taken me a half a day in years past, has taken me all week. I wanted to focus on what was really important and precious to me – and when it came to the tree only the ornaments that had special memories or meanings made the cut. This year, I also wanted to add cookies to the tree. There’s something so comforting about cookies. So, last Wednesday, when we baked the Hanukkah cookies for the blog, we also baked a big batch of snowflake shaped gingerbread cookies. We decorated each one by hand with royal icing, and just like real snowflakes – no two snowflake cookies looked alike. Slowly, but surely, I strung each one with linen twine, and strategically and ever so carefully – at various lengths – tied the end of the twine onto the heartier boughs. This was the start of our tree decorating.
And I have to tell you, there was something very light hearted and beautiful – almost childlike – in its simplicity on the tree. And since my mind was so filled with the thoughts of our children in our community, these snowflake cookies gave me a really good direction in decorating the tree in a happy, almost whimsical sort of way. (Happy…I think it’s just what we needed around here.) When I finally finished, the sight of the tree made me smile every time I walked by it, not to mention the wonderfully comforting scent combo of spicy gingerbread and woodsy balsam. And the added bonus of nibbling on broken gingerbread cookies that fell and broke – let’s just say they were comforting in their own rite – perfect for my sweet tooth fix – as well as Santa’s.
Sweet Pea’s right – simple pleasures. The cookies helped get me going in creating a one of a kind Connecticut Country House Christmas tree that personifies love, beauty, comfort, and joy – especially at a time we really need it. A little something that lightened my heart just a little bit this week was huge…maybe this simple pleasure will help you and yours too.
Snowflake Gingerbread Cookies
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 stick unsalted butter, cut into cubes (room temperature)
1/2 cup robust molasses
1/3 cup cold water
3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons freshly grated ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
In a large mixing bowl, beat on medium speed the brown sugar, butter, molasses, and water. Lightly beat in the rest of the ingredients. Shape dough into a ball, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for an hour.
Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Generously sprinkle work surface (I use a wooden board) with flour. Cut dough in half or quarters (keep unused dough in plastic until ready to use), and with a rolling pin – roll out to 1/4 inch thickness. With cookie cutter, cut as many as you can get out of “a roll”, and place on cookie sheet lined with Silpat or parchment paper. (Remember to cut a separate hole in each cookie if you plan on hanging them.) Keep each cookie at least 1 inch apart.
Bake for 10-12 minutes, and with a spatula remove cookies from pan onto cooling rack. When completely cooled, they’re ready to be decorated with the royal icing.
4 large egg whites
4 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
6 cups of confectioner’s sugar
In a mixing bowl, beat the egg whites with the lemon juice. Add the confectioner’s sugar and beat on low speed until smooth. (If it’s a little thick – add a little water, and if it’s a little thin – add a little more confectioner’s sugar.) The icing dries quickly, so use immediately or store in an air tight container.
Thank you Sweet Pea.