July 2, 2009
White Velvet Cut-Outs
From the kitchen of Megan Kowalski
My mom is an excellent cook. She often baked things with me when I was little, teaching me how to measure flour and properly “fold” a batter. I cooked, baked, and prepared many treats with her as I grew up, but the ones that stick out the most are the Christmas ones. I have always loved December: the decorations, the children with lights in their eyes, sitting in the mall watching the shoppers grow steadily meaner as the twenty-fifth approaches. More than any of these things, I love baking Christmas treats with my mom.
While I was growing up, my mom made “white velvet cut-outs” for us to decorate
at Christmas. White velvet cut-outs make all other sugar cookies taste like a mouthful of sawdust that sticks to your tongue, mercilessly choking you. Making these cookies is a process that takes at least three days: for a child who has waited all year to bake these cookies, three days is an impossibly long time.
Day one: mix the dough. When I was little, this was part of the process that I did not always help with, but when I got older it became my responsibility, my contribution to the smoothly executed Christmas traditions. Mixing the dough is the equivalent of living in a cloud of powdered sugar for an afternoon. This dough requires more than cracking, measuring, and mixing: it demands life and breath, parts of you that you’re willing to mix into the cookies in exchange for the sugar that is now coating your lungs.
Day two: cut and bake the cookies. My brother and I spent the afternoon pushing the sharp edges of cookie cutters into the cool sweet dough that our mother had rolled out
July 2, 2009
into a thick mat on the flour-dusted counter top. Pulling the cut cookies away from the rest of the dough was more satisfying than putting the last piece into the middle of a large puzzle. I remember liking this part the most. It was essential to choose the right shape for each cookie; if you were too careless, you might end up with a giant batch of stars and Christmas trees, with only a few Santas and gingerbread men in the mix. I also remember tasting the dough as we cut. The cold batter would melt in your mouth, coating your tastesbuds in a beautiful velvet sensation like the dress I wore for Christmas Mass. All day we snuck pinches of leftover dough into our own mouths, although we were always allowed one raw cookie; the rest were to be saved for cooling and decorating.
Day three: frost and decorate the cookies. I am told neither my brother nor I were very good at helping frost the cookies. My mom prepared a thick fluffy frosting and split the sugary snow into separate bowls where it was colored red, green, blue, purple, and any other color we requested. We made a mess of frosting and sprinkles. By the time we abandoned our job as cookie decorators, there would be spatulas dripping grayish globs with random bits of sprinkles sticking to the edges. Our dog, Toby, was usually patrolling the floor in an effort to sniff out any stray sprinkles; if he was lucky, I found a way to sneak him a pinch of dough, too. After all, even dogs like Christmas.
Day four: regret that another year has passed without me frosting the perfect Santa. His suit and hat would be a bright jolly red, spread perfectly over his torso, arms, and legs. His beard would be a thick curly glob of white so that when you bit into the beard the frosting would fill the spaces between your teeth. And somehow I’d find a way to replicate his twinkling blue eyes in a way that cried “Merry Christmas to all…” Now I
July 2, 2009
wonder whether “the perfect Santa” is a goal I will ever achieve; I am beginning to accept
that it may be my own Holy Grail. I will spend the rest of my cookie decorating career searching for the right shade of red, the best frosting technique, and the ability to tempt normal sprinkles into a pair of twinkling blue eyes that conveyed magic to the receiver of my beautiful cookie.
With every passing year, these four days change, sometimes disappearing completely. To save the tradition from extinction, I make the white velvet cut-outs alone, trying to convince my mom to help me. I want her warm hands spreading the cool dough, her lovely eyes checking the oven, and her hair gathering powdered sugar more than I want the cookies themselves. I want the security of the cookies: the feeling you get when an adult who loves you helps you onto a chair, ties your hair back, and sings along to the Christmas songs.
Mode: creative flash nonfiction
Media: notebook and pen, computer
Audience: myself, my family, general reader
Purpose: to capture an experience that means something to me.
Situation of the writer & writing: This began during Jodi Roed’s demo on heritage. It
was a long piece exploring my different families and connecting them all through food (something all of my families value). It was written primarily during the writing marathon, which was when I decided to make it into a piece of flash as a challenge to myself and so the writing did not become sappy and dramatic. During Ashley Patton’s
demo on thoughtshots and snapshots, I added some detail to the “finished” piece that I ended up really liking. I bent my own rules so I could keep the new writing and almost doubled my word limit.