My oven broke last night.
It was a small tragedy. I had designs on a batch of granola last night and more cookies today. My husband had bread on deck. We did everything we could: restarted the oven, unplugged the oven, flipped on the cleaning cycle (sounds like tech support, doesn't it?), only to be faced with the grim reality: the oven would turn on, but not heat up.
Of course, it will be repaired. We're lucky we can afford to fix it. This is not the end of the world. I went a full week without oven access when we had no power, and I lived to tell the tale. But it's holiday baking season, and the oven is my refuge.
I was thinking yesterday about my complicated feelings about the month-long celebration that December has become. I dislike the shopping season that arrives earlier and earlier every year, the decorations in stores that make you feel like you're behind on your gift-giving preparations (not to mention assuming that everyone who shops celebrates Christmas). I dislike my trifecta of family gatherings--the Thanksgiving/Birthday(mine and my brothers')/Christmas get-togethers--that make me feel pressured to give out of obligation.
But I get it. When I was a practicing Catholic, I loved advent. I loved the lights, the candles, the music, the smell of pine, the general feeling of goodwill. Advent was appealing because it was about nurturing hope. And if you're feeling like you need hope (and really, who doesn't?) there's nothing better than more of it. Days and weeks of it. And it's for those reasons that I don't mind the December holidays taking over the entire month. The people who shop? Misplaced hope, manifesting itself in consumerism.
These days I don't celebrate advent, really. My son requested an advent calendar this year, because his grandpa (who is Jewish, mind you) gave him a secular one created by a famous illustrator last year, so we got one and we open one window each morning. We also tear one link off of a paper chain he made in his (Unitarian Universalist) religious education class. But those nods to the countdown until Christmas are background to the baking I do during late November and December.
It's not that the world needs more cookies. I sure as hell don't need to eat more cookies. But holiday baking is my coping mechanism, it's my reminder to hope. When I feel depressed about the obligatory elements of the holidays, I retreat to the kitchen and chop nuts and beat sticks of butter into fluff. Baking gives me a sense of purpose and accomplishment and forward-looking-ness that has been particularly welcome this year, as I continue to job-hunt and ask myself what it is I "plan to do with [my] one wild and precious life." When I'm done baking cookies, I have cookies. I can count them. They're a measurable achievement. And then I can give them away, which makes me feel good.
So here's hoping that the nice repairmen (and yes, they are men, because I called the old guys who have a shop down the street) will work their magic soon, and restore my coping mechanism to me. Because I need a little Christmas, my way.
What is your favorite way to prepare for holidays, whether they're the Christmas holidays or other important holidays in your tradition?
Pistachio Rosewater Cardamom Slice and Bake Cookies
adapted from Better Homes and Gardens
1/2 c. butter, softened
1 3 oz. package cream cheese, softened
1 c. powdered sugar
1/2 t. baking soda
1/4 t. salt
1 t. vanilla
2 t. rosewater
generous pinch of cardamom
2 t. finely shredded lemon peel
3/4 c. salted dry-roasted pistachios, finely chopped
Beat butter and cream cheese in a large bowl for about 30 seconds on high speed. Add sugar, baking soda, and salt, and beat until combined. Beat in egg, vanilla, rosewater, and cardamom. Beat in flour and 1/4 c. of the pistachios (you may need to knead them in).
Divide dough in half. Roll each half into a log about 1 1/2" diameter. Place remaining pistachios on a sheet of waxed paper, and roll the dough logs into the nuts. Wrap rolls in plastic wrap and chill at least 1 hours.
Preheat oven to 375. Cut rolls into about 1/4" slices. Place 1" apart on cookie sheets and bake 7-9 minutes or until the edges are slighly browned. Cool on cookie sheets 1 minutes, and transfer to racks to cool completely.