Our gingerbread cookies wear bikinis.
It’s probably better to say it forthright, at the start of things, rather than string you along.
It started when we were little. Dozens and dozens of cookies were made in our kitchen in December. They made their way into old tins and new platters and eventually to cookie swaps and school functions, the office, the concerts at church and our seven closest neighbors’ front doors.
My mother loved to bake with us. At least that’s how I choose to remember it. I’m not planning to ask her about it, because I’m quite fond of the memories. Somehow, she managed to keep a clean house, let us children make giant floury messes, host parties and run ministries as if she were Mary Poppins herself. As if she loved it more than anything.
I do wonder sometimes, if we all ceased lamenting about how much we’re failing, at least within ear shot of our progeny, if this kind of magic would hem together the threadbare edges of our children’s childhoods too? Perhaps they’d remember most the roaring laughter and the wild romps through the woods and the feeling of sticky dough across their foreheads.
Back to the bikinis, though.
So my mother mixes together the double, or triple batch of gingerbread. “Let’s start with gingerbread!” she’ll say blithely. She pretends to be quite careless and spontaneous about her homemaking, but really it’s her strict adherence to order that gives her that freedom. She always makes the gingerbread first so the dough can rest in the fridge a good hour. During this time she wipes the counters down, rinses her mixing bowl, and makes another batch. Rinse and repeat. One bowl, two sets of measuring cups (one for wet ingredients, one for dry) and a mixer. Clean between each batch, and somehow, in the midst of 3 dozen sets of 12 different recipes in process, her kitchen is cleaner than mine is at any given moment.
When we finally roll the gingerbread out, we line up a metal gingerbread cookie cutters to the edge and cut their pudgy little bodies from the dough. Of course we mostly cut out gingerbread boys, but we must insist on a few of the Gingerbread women, so we can dress them up fancy. We bake them, being careful not to open the oven, getting those counters clean again while they bake.
When I look back I can see us baking in the Mills Road house, my sister and I shimmying back into the coveted corner of the bench that wrapped the table. We are small and there are sprinkles everywhere. I can see us older, after we’d moved to the house near the farm, and we are running and the dogs are barking, and maybe we’re chasing each other around the kitchen? We are almost teenagers.
I remember three winters ago, cousins teetering on a chair pulled up to the counter to add an ingredient. My mom looks a little tired, has the dough already made when we get there, but she lets the kids crack the eggs in and takes a dozen pictures of the delight spread across their little faces. All the memories smell of gingerbread, sound like the roar of the mixer, her laughter.
Okay, so the bikinis.
We pipe the white frosting, or fill them in with bright colors. We make two pieces and one pieces, nothing too scandalous, looping generously around their rubenesque figures. We add belly buttons and sunglasses and flip-flops. We imagine Mrs. Smith’s eyes growing wide when she comes upon them among the Russian Tea Balls and Almond Spritz cookies at the church cookie swap. She’ll know the Quackenbushes brought them.
My mother insists on making a few classic Gingerbread Men for posterity’s sake. I imagine they feel a bit awkward in the Tupperware next to Gidget and Annette Funicello.
You’ll notice one gingerbread always wears a frown. I’m not sure about the reasoning behind this, but there will come a point during the holidays when handing a certain someone this particular cookie is most appropriate, and you’ll be glad you iced her that way.
When we began having children, we were so intentional in navigating what Christmas would look like in our house. I loved the simplicity of my husband’s family Christmases: four weeks of Advent readings and lingering through favorite hymns, earnest prayer, simple gifts, and raucous laughter that marked years of intentionality.
I shook off a lot of the zany traditions my family had established: the bikini-clad gingerbread, the Chinese food on Christmas Eve, the way my parents each strung their preferred Christmas lights on the tree. (My mother preferred the large colored bulbs of her childhood, and my father the classic white twinkles. They’d wire them to separate switches so they could turn the other’s off whenever they walked through the room.)
But as time goes by, I am picking up threads that were woven through the crazy: the deep joy that pulsed under the antics, the heart of hospitality that threw the doors open and invited anyone right into the happy chaos, the goodness of shared memories, sealed deep with cinnamon-scented laughter. So we’re making gingerbread cookies and icing them for a day at the beach. Who knows, I might even consider adding a string of colored lights to my refined little Christmas tree.
- 1 C. Margarine
- 1 C. Sugar
- 1 Egg
- 1 C. Molasses
- 2 T. Vinegar
- 5 C. Flour
- 1 1/2 tsp. Baking Soda
- 1/2 tsp. Salt
- 2-3 tsp. Ginger
- 1 tsp. cloves
- Cream first 5 ingredients.
- Slowly add dry ingredients, mix well.
- Chill dough for 3 hours.
- Roll dough out on floured surface.
- Cut gingerbread shapes.
- Place gingerbread boys on greased pan 1 inch apart
- Bake 5-7 minutes at 375 degrees.
- Keep an eye on bake time--they burn easily!
- Makes approx. 2 1/2 dozen.
- Cookies will remain soft.