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The Holiday Cookie Swap: You’re kidding me, right?

Recipe: Date Crumbles

In the latest missive from Martha, the Darth Vader of domesticity offers up a bunch of recipes especially for holiday cookie swaps. Putting aside the question of who in her right mind would invite Martha to a cookie party (“How quaint! A chocolate chip cookie!  Here, do sample one of my Roasted Pecan, Marzipan and Sea Salt 100% Cocoa Dream Bars. They’re the ones packaged in my homemade Fabergé eggs and sprinkled with edible gold dust!”), let us for a moment focus on the strange notion of a cookie swapping party.

As I understand it, these things require everyone to bring about 50 dozen homemade cookies, festively packaged for the holiday and suitable for gift giving. Attendees then go home with 50 dozen assorted cookies to light up their holiday season and blow out the springs on yet another bathroom scale. Now, I myself have never been invited to one of these dream festivals, nor have I ever considered the possibility of throwing one, even in the midst of a weeklong holiday eggnog bender celebration, but I have it on good authority that these shindigs are fairly common and many people actually enjoy them. Mysterious, isn’t it? So let’s break it down.

Babs and Mandy via http://pyxurz.blogspot.com

Cookie party? Great idea, Babs! Count us in!
I’m guessing of course, but I’d wager this is how it usually starts. A couple of ex-sorority sisters are sitting at the table in a tastefully appointed, 800 square-foot kitchen sipping cinnamon-dusted, decaf, fat-free lattes and tossing around crazy ideas to really pep up the holiday season, when one of them recalls reading about a holiday cookie swapping party in, where else, Martha Stewart Living. This of course is the family-friendly, great-room version of the panelled-basement, Mateus-swilling, wife swapping parties of yesteryear. These days, however, instead of swinging, mom, dad, the kids and the nanny happily mingle while participating in a mid-afternoon sugar orgy and bake-off with alpha status on the cul de sac as first prize. (“OMG, Sally did NOT bring those disgusting Snickerdoodles again?! Last year I gave ours to the cleaning lady, and it was the last time we ever saw her. Just saying…”)

Why would anyone do this during the holidays?
I don’t know about you, but by the second week in December I am red-lining the stress meter. My house is cluttered with decorations and blinking lights that turn a garden variety hangover into a never-ending hallucinogenic nightmare; I have cuts on the soles of my feet from stepping on broken ornament shards; I’ve already gained five pounds from eating the entire, extra large fruitcake I made the day after Thanksgiving; and my credit cards are smoking. At this point I long for three things: clear surfaces, a stomach pump and a double martini after breakfast. Seems to me a holiday vodka swapping party would actually make sense at a time like this. How come nobody throws those?

Courtesy frockon.com

What’s the party dress code? The holiday sweater, of course!
If you’re actually going to put in an appearance at one of these binges, you’ll be expected to show up in the Christmas classic, on which you will certainly not want to squander precious gift dollars. So, if you don’t have a novelty sweater of your own (and I sincerely hope you don’t), borrow a Rudolph cardigan, preferably with jingle bells, from Aunt Marge or Chester, that goofy second cousin on your father’s side who keeps a spotless house, is the first to arrive at every family reunion (with his mother) and never fails to remind you that he’s “missing your Christmas card” on December 2nd.

In my opinion, if you’re going to throw a bash during the holiday season, you really should make it formal, but there’s just no way to pull off a black tie cookie party. With the annual request for evening attire, the old man’s mildewy tuxedo gets aired and stretched, and the ladies have a perfectly good excuse to nip into Lord and Taylor for fashionable party shoes, a cocktail dress that will be worn only once, and the Spanxx that are necessary to zip it, but which also require the victim to pee through the trap door in the crotch while hovering over the toilet bowl, because there is no way you’re ever going to get a garment with that much torque back up once you’ve pulled it down and released a cascade of fruitcake-infused gut flab back into the wild, even for the few seconds it takes to have a squeak. You cannot get this kind of merriment while upholstered in Mom jeans and a turtleneck.

What’s on the drinks cart?
Why milk, cider, coffee and tea of course, silly! How this passes for a party in any universe is beyond me. Enough said.

Don’t forget the straw!

Here’s what a “cookie party” at my house would look like:
Me still in my pajamas at seven pm, slumped against the kitchen counter, drinking directly from the bottle of Bushmills I keep under the sink (for emergencies) with half a bowl of cookie dough already working its way from my stomach to my ass. Smoke is rolling out of the oven where the final batch of cookies I need to meet my party “quota” is incinerating (This batch is for YOU, Babs.), and the Wing Hua delivery man is laying on the doorbell waiting for payment on the fifth consecutive dinner delivery of the week. Happy freakin’ holidays.

Nonetheless, since we’re on the subject, and I’m thinking about cookies, I’m going to break my no-more-cooking rule just this once to offer up the recipe for the Slattern’s best cookie, the date crumble. Not only is it festive and delicious, but it also contains dates (iron!) and oatmeal (fiber!), which in my book qualifies this as health food. As an added bonus, these cookies are baked en masse in a pan then cut into bars, thereby saving the baker the aggravation of multiple batches. So if you must attend one of these godawful events, at least you can shine. Just make sure to bring the Slattern’s friend along for company if you want to have any fun at all.

Date Crumbles
(They freeze beautifully, btw)

Date Filling
3 cups pitted dates, chopped (1 lb)
1 cup water
1/3 cup white sugar
Juice of ½ lemon

Crumble
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup cool unsalted butter (somewhere between refrigerator and room temp, no margarine or Crisco!)
1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ cups oats (you can use quick cooking oats, but I use old fashioned ones for more texture)
½ teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon salt

Heat the oven to 400°.

In a saucepan, combine the filling ingredients and cook over low heat about 10 to 15 minutes, stirring constantly, until thickened and kind of pasty with chunks. Cool for about 5 minutes.

In large bowl (preferably of an electric mixer, otherwise this bit is exhausting), stir brown sugar and butter together, then add the flour, oats, baking soda and salt and mix until crumbly.

Press half of the crumb mixture evenly in the bottom of pan to form a crust. Spread with filling. Top with remaining crumb mixture and press down lightly.

Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until light brown. Cool 5 minutes in the pan. Run a knife along the edge of the pan, otherwise you’ll have trouble extracting the bars after they cool. Cut into squares or diamonds or rectangles, whichever feels most festive to you.

What’s that? Your sweet tooth is calling? Might as well indulge your masochistic tendencies here, then.

Chocolate crinkles
Bar cookies
Molasses crinkles
The science of the chocolate chip cookie

Wednesday Satire: Bespoke Building

My muse, Bluto, courtesy idiotflashback. wordpress.com

Bespoke Building:
Downsizing endowments one brick at a time

Having recently logged some off-road miles during the college search process, I have a few thoughts about the current state of higher education in America, none of which one might describe as glowingly positive; however, I have chosen to take the high road of satire rather than the lower, easier path of the rant in airing my opinions. Happily, the good folks at the Cronk of Higher Education have agreed to feature one of my recent my scribblings, Bespoke Building. If you haven’t already discovered their whipcrack funny site, do toddle over at your first opportunity. The Cronk is to higher ed as The Onion is to Snookie — an SAT-worthy analogy if ever I endlessly drilled one in preparation for a completely meaningless test.

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