Tuesday, December 14, 2010
Open Mouth, Insert Cookie
Among my Grandma Draeger’s well-loved Christmas cookies was a beautiful marzipan-ish “Strawberry” cookie. They were adorable; lovingly hand-shaped exactly like real strawberries, rolled in red sugar, and even topped with tiny “stems.” Waxing nostalgic one year, when Mr.4444 and I lived in upstate New York, I decided to make the cookies for a Christmas party we were attending. I somehow got the recipe (Grandma had long ago passed away) and started “cooking.”
I don’t remember a lot about the recipe, except that it involved sweetened condensed milk, coconut, and pink Jell-o powder and that no baking was involved. I made the adorable strawberries and painstakingly hand-painted the tiny slivered almond stems with a mini-paintbrush. Having wrapped them up on a colorful Christmas plate, I cheerfully presented my offering to my hostess when we arrived, and they were added to the Christmas bounty on the kitchen table. Grandma would have been proud!
An hour or so later, standing midst of the holiday chatter at the kitchen table, I watched as a party guest who was unknown to me (I later learned his name was Bill) chose one of my strawberry treats and took a bite. Before I could chirp, “I made those myself!” he coughed it back out and exclaimed, “Oh man! These things suck! Whoever made these needs to get fired.” (He was assuming that the cookies had come from a grocery store bakery as part of a sampler platter.)
By this time of the night, I had shared my holiday Christmas cookie memories (and the strawberry history) with others around the table, including Bill’s wife, Sue. Unfortunately for Bill, he had not been privy to the conversation. An awkward silence engulfed us, no one daring to look my way. Bill continued,
“Seriously, those things taste like cardboard!”
Some guests started to laugh uncomfortably, and I just laughed because it was funny; he had no idea I had made the cookies, and he was making a fool of himself! I laughed til I cried, some guests appeared relieved that I could laugh. Poor Bill took the laughter for encouragement. Reveling in the fact that all eyes were on him, he continued his stand-up act,
“If I wanted to eat wax, I would have grabbed a candle!”
We were all laughing hysterically at this point; Bill was in his glory. Unable to endure the embarrassment a moment longer, Sue interrupted sternly, “Bill! Barb made those cookies!”
I have never in my life seen a man turn more shades of red. Bill looked like he was going to choke to death. He got up from the table and escaped into the garage, muttering “Sorry…” on his way out. He did not come back in again, and when I went out later, he apologized profusely, tripping all over himself in the process. I felt so sorry for him, because I truly was not offended; the cookies were dear to me, and nothing he said changed that. Plus, the spectacle he made had really been quite entertaining (and is memorable today, obviously, 15 years later!) “It’s really okay,” I assured him, but he was still mortified. Later that year, at another gathering at same house, Bill avoided me like the plague.
I can’t say that I’ve made the cookies since, but it isn’t out of anything other than the fact that I, too, realized that while they were beautiful, they just tasted okay to me. It was the memories that they stirred which made me enjoy them. I may never make the strawberry cookies again, but I will always smile when I remember the story of Bill at the Christmas party.
Hopefully, Grandma is smiling, too.
[This post was originally published December 7, 2007]