Archive for December, 2021

Cookie Exchange Day

Wednesday, December 22nd, 2021

I wrote about cookies and a virtual cookie exchange last week in my local newspaper. Nevertheless, I am obliged as a food writer to return to the topic again this week. Today, December 22, is National Cookie Exchange Day.

I long suspected that this holiday had something to do with the cookie-industrial complex. That didn’t keep me from celebrating the day, but I tried to bake ironically.

Happily, I have since learned that National Cookie Exchange Day was the brainchild of a freelance writer and pet sitter (we writers have to cobble together a living!) named Jace Shoemaker-Galloway. Shoemaker-Galloway, who lives in Illinois, calls herself the Queen of Holidays.

Americans are more or less unique in the English-speaking world in using the term “cookie” for small, sweet snacks. The Food Timeline cites two reasons for our departure from the English word “biscuit”:

“(1) Our early Dutch heritage and (2) Our revolutionary tradition of separating ourselves from ‘all things British.’”

Dutch settlers to this country called their treats “koekjes,” small cakes. This term soon became “cookies” to Dutch and Anglo New Yorkers.

New York, our nation’s first capital and a center of Dutch-American life, soon convinced the rest of the United States to use the word “cookie.” It’s a comforting word, one that speaks of home and hearth.

Amelia Simmons of Connecticut, our country’s first cookbook author, used the spelling “cookey” in her landmark 1796 book American Cookery.

The Time-Life book Cookies & Crackers notes that cookies have an ancient history.

“Like cakes and pastries, cookies and crackers are the descendants of the earliest foods cooked by man—grain-water paste baked on hot stones more than 10,000 years ago,” write the authors.

According to the Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America, pre-20th-century American cookies “were baked as special treats because of the cost of sweetness and the amount of time and labor required for preparation.”

Luckily, most of us can now afford a bit of sweetness at this time of year. The time and labor may have been reduced, but they still hover over the cookie-making process. They make cookies more precious to those of us who give and receive them.

Cookie parties over the holidays have been popular throughout American history. According to the Christian Science Monitor,” George Washington adopted the Dutch habit of hosting a cookie party for the new year when he was president.

No one is sure exactly when the exchange of Christmas cookies became widespread, however.

According to the website “,” the oldest documented cookie exchange was in Syracuse, N.Y., in 1936. The Syracuse Home Bureau’s Lincoln Unit advertised that it was holding a cookie exchange, along with “a lesson for remodeling hats given by Miss Maude Loftus.” I wish I could have attended!

I have a feeling—and so does the exchange website—that cookie swaps were around for quite a while before that. I have always enjoyed these occasions. They’re a simple way to entertain guests during the holidays: no elaborate menu is required, and the host or hostess doesn’t have to do all the food preparation.

Just about everyone has a go-to cookie to share during this festive season, and just about every cookie has a story behind it. Many of us feel cautious about large get-togethers right now. Nevertheless, small cookie exchanges can help us share the fun of the season.

We can swap cookies and recipes with our immediate friends and relatives. We can deliver assorted cookies to shut-ins. Each cookie reminds its receiver that someone has cared enough to bake.

Here is a recipe that comes from the recent Greenfield (Massachusetts) Public Library Zoom cookie exchange. The formula for Pecan Pie Bars was shared by Mary McDonough. Mary, who loves pecan pie, says that her bars are even tastier than the actual pie. My sister-in-law, a pecan fiend, concurs.

I have to admit that the bars were a little hard to slice. (You can probably tell this from my photograph!) Nevertheless, my family and my neighbors enjoyed the slightly messy cookies.

Merry Christmas. Happy baking.

Pecan Pie Bars


for the base:

2-1/2 cups flour
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, cut into pieces
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt

for the filling:

4 eggs
1-1/2 cups light or dark corn syrup
1-1/2 cups sugar
3 tablespoons butter, melted and then slightly cooled
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2-1/2 cups coarsely chopped pecans


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Mix the flour, the butter, the powdered sugar, and the salt with an electric mixer until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. (I started with a pastry blender, then used the mixer, and then used my hands. The butter is a little resistant.)

Press the dough firmly and evenly into a greased 13-by-10- or 9-by-13- or 17-by12-inch pan. (I used a 9-by-13-inch pan.)

Bake this cookie base until it begins to turn golden brown (about 20 minutes). Leave the oven on when you remove the pan.

While the dough is baking, prepare the filling. Beat together the eggs, the corn syrup, the sugar, the butter, and the vanilla in a large bowl until they are well blended. Stir in the pecans. Pour this mixture over the hot base when it comes out of the oven.

Bake the cookies until the filling is firm around the edges and slightly firm in the center, about 25 minutes. Cool the bars completely on a wire rack before cutting and serving. You may use almonds or walnuts instead of the pecans. Makes about 4 dozen cookies, depending on how you cut them.

Holy Guaca-Latke!

Wednesday, December 1st, 2021

I have a Ph.D. and can talk about such intellectual topics as literary theory and Marxism. At heart, however, I have tastes that are distinctly middlebrow. I read tons of mysteries. I happily munch on popcorn while gazing at movies made for the masses.

And at this time of year, I watch an awful lot of Hallmark Christmas movies.

Although they are generally Christmas themed, these films have surprisingly little Christian content. A Martian might infer that the holiday was about singing, trees, and a guy in a red suit rather than the birth of a special baby.

The films have a little romance, a little humor, and a lot of pretty people. Over the past few years, Hallmark has been introducing more diverse casts. This year has featured Asian-American, African-American, and Latin protagonists.

Hallmark hasn’t managed to bring in any LGBTQ+ heroes and heroines. Nevertheless, it is slowly creating gay supporting characters. I have a feeling one of them will eventually become the focus of one of the stories.

I love these films because I’m a food writer, and they feature food galore. The protagonists prepare holiday meals, bake more cookies than I have seen in my life, and put together an astonishing number of gingerbread houses.

In the world of Hallmark films, everyone can cook, there is no pandemic, every town lights up a huge Christmas tree annually, and every lonely person finds a soul mate. What’s not to love?

A couple of years ago, the Hallmark Christmas movie lineup was expanded to start including other religions, principally Judaism. My father was Jewish, and I light the menorah he inherited from his parents ever year, so I was happy to see Hanukkah featured in these films.

The one with the most interesting food content (to me, at any rate) is called Love, Lights, Hanukkah!

I believe that it actually first aired last year, but since the Hallmark Channel and its sister channel, Hallmark Movies and Mysteries, run holiday content nonstop from late October until the New Year, it can still be found on the lineup.

In this film, heroine Christina is going through a rough time. Her adoptive mother recently died, leaving Christina in charge of a bustling Italian-American restaurant. She has no other family and has just broken up with her boyfriend. Lonely during the holiday season, she decides to take a DNA test to find relatives.

To her shock, she finds several DNA matches living near her. One of them turns out to be the mother who gave her up for adoption. And they are Jewish. Catholic Christina gets a new family and learns about Hanukkah in one fell swoop.

Her birth family is also in the food business; her half-siblings run a sports deli. (I didn’t know there was such a thing, but it makes more sense to me than a sports bar.) For the eight days of Hanukkah, her half-brother is introducing “eight crazy latkes” to his customers.

He doesn’t get to name all of the latkes in the course of the film. There’s a lot of plot to get through, after all. He does mention a few, including (shudder) the “Choco-Latke.” My favorite idea was the “Holy Guaca-Latke,” a potato pancake topped with guacamole. I set out to make my own version of this treat.

My recipe appears below. I found it delicious.

By the way, this Saturday, Dec. 4, at 3 p.m. pianist Jerry Noble and I will offer a holiday concert at the Federated Church on Route 2 in Charlemont, Massachusetts.

The concert will feature mostly Christmas songs, but there will be some Hanukkah content. And because I can’t resist food in any form, I will sing the song “Grandma’s Killer Fruitcake.”

The concert is free, although donations for Mohawk Trail Concerts will be gratefully accepted. If it snows on Saturday, the concert will take place the following day at the same time.

Whether I see you or not, happy Hanukkah! Have a lovely holiday season.

Holy Guaca-Latkes


for the latkes:

2 large baking potatoes
1 large onion, finely chopped
chopped fresh chives to taste if available
1 egg, beaten (you may need another one!)
2 to 4 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt or sea salt
lots of freshly ground pepper
extra-virgin olive oil as needed for frying

for the guacamole:

3 scallions (green onions), white and some green parts, chopped, or 2 tablespoons finely chopped red onion
1 large garlic clove, peeled and minced
1 small jalapeño pepper (more if you like spicy foods!), with the stem and seeds removed, finely chopped
5 sprigs fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
the juice of 2 limes
3 small, ripe avocados
1 teaspoon salt

for garnish (optional):

sour cream and/or pico de gallo


To make the latkes, preheat the oven to 250 degrees. Wash the potatoes well. Grate them with a box grater or with the grater attachment of a food processor. Wrap the potato shreds in a dish towel.

Carry it to the sink, wring it out, and allow the potato pieces to drain while you get out the rest of the ingredients and maybe have a cocktail or two.

In a medium bowl combine the potato pieces, the onion pieces, the chives (if you’re using them), the egg, 2 tablespoons of flour, and the salt and pepper. In a large frying pan heat a few tablespoons of oil until the oil begins to shimmer.

Scoop some of the potato mixture out with a spoon and flatten it with your hand. Pop the flattened pancake into the hot oil.

The latkes should be a little ragged. If they don’t hold together and are hard to turn, however, add a little more flour to the batter or even another egg.

Fry the latkes a few at a time, turning each when the first side becomes golden. Drain the cooked pancakes on paper towels and pop them into the oven until you have finished cooking the rest and made your guacamole.

To make the guacamole, combine the scallions, the garlic, the pepper pieces, the cilantro, and the lime juice in a medium bowl.

At this point, you may leave the mixture for a few hours. You don’t have to, however. A few minutes before you want to eat the guacamole, get out your avocados. Slice them in half lengthwise, stopping at the pits.

Separate the avocado halves from the pits, and use a spoon or fork to scoop out the flesh of the avocado. (If there is brown flesh, don’t use it; aim for the light green stuff.) Put the flesh in the bowl with the onions, garlic, peppers, tomatoes, cilantro, and lime juice.

Mash the avocados into the mixture with a fork, adding the salt as you mash so that it is stirred in. You don’t have to mash them too much; a few chunks add to the flavor.

Decorate each latke with a generous dab of guacamole; then throw on some sour cream and pico de gallo if you want to. Serves 6 to 8.

To see videos of this recipe, visit these links: Part I and Part II.