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]


  1. Thanks for the laugh! I love the memories that food can stir up...even if the food doesn't taste all that great!

    (Mine is Chicken Divan. My mom used to make it all the time, and I LOVED it! As an adult, I asked her for the recipe, and once I discovered the copius amounts of mayonnaise in it, I gagged. I hate mayonnaise!)

  2. Good story.

    I'll bet those cookies were't as bad as Bill let on. After all, we eat first with our eyes.

    Good sport you were.

  3. That is hysterical! I must say the cookies are beautiful though.

  4. hahaha, I love your stories :)

  5. Poor Bill, he was just expressing his honest opinion.

  6. Poor Bill and you are sweet to take it like a champ...I would have been mortified and probably never bake again! But that's just me....wonder if my old family recipe that I make every year sucks to others!! Damn!

  7. Great story. You have always had such grace. You are a stand up woman.
    Do you still have the recipe? The strawberry cookies do look pretty cool. I would be interested in seeing the recipe to see if I could adapt it to something to make now by adding or subtracting things to add flavor. I did something similar the first time I did a Thanksgiving dinner. I was only 18 and made my first pumpkin pie. I served pie to all the guests and didn't have any myself till everyone was gone. The pies were just awful. Yikes.

  8. As your cousin, I know Grnadma's strawberries very well. They are terrific fun to make with children, since they don't need to be baked.

    I have the recipe and still make them because they look so pretty on the plate, but I personally never liked to eat them.

    So thanks for the laughs!

  9. The title of your post is perfect. I think Bill learned a valuable lesson there. Having made many a mistake as a man, a husband, and a person, I can attest to how he must have felt. You sure did handle it graciously though. And if they truly were that bad, it sounds like something I would have made.

  10. That is a funny tale indeed of how people can be so thoughtless yet others like yourself can laugh off mistakes and poor Bill he should have moved on too it happens... Funny story though and Grandma was surely smiling at you making those cookies no matter what!

  11. That is truly funny! I hope that I could have the same sense of humor in such a situation. Although I could almost see myself as Bill. I can feel his pain as well! I also confess, that for whatever reason, I never liked those cookies myself. I just picked one of the other 15 varieties instead!

  12. Thanks for recycling that one (the story not the cookie). A well told story is a joy to read.

  13. What a great Christmas story filed with memories of a treasured cookie and the embarrassment of a lifetime for poor Bill. I have to say I laughed hard baby!!!!

    Ya'll have a truly blessed day sweetie!!!

  14. Great story and a good reminder that we shouldn't take ourselves too seriously. You handled it with grace and are able to laugh AND enjoy he cookies!

  15. My husband would do something like that LOL

    Kristin - The Goat


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