The holiday season is an especially busy time for us Quarter-Life Cooks. Among our twenty-something friends, our expertise is in high demand for planning, prepping, and decorating all sorts of festive gatherings. But one particular grown-up event we always look forward to attending is Kate's holiday party. Two years ago, we were rather delinquent helpers -- Cara had just flown back from Spain and could barely keep her eyes open, and I was busy all afternoon running around the city in a Santa suit. But last year, we were honored to be brought on board early in the process to decide what dishes would make it to the large banquet table for 100 of their closest friends.
As can be imagined, a meal for so many people is quite an impressive undertaking, especially with the high expectation for quality that Kate's mother, Barb, has upheld for the gathering year after year. Over Indian food sometime in November, Cara and I talked about the menu with Barb and Kate. There was a universal consensus that the famed corn pudding, scalloped potatoes, and spiked cider were must-have staples. Some newer additions: Beef Bourguignon for the main course, and lemon bars for the dessert spread. And as always, there were to be dozens of decorated Christmas cookies, the centerpiece of the table.
The Friday evening before the party, Cara and I showed up at the Kate's to offer our helpful hands. We thought, perhaps, the tasks ahead of us might involve browning 30 pounds of beef, peeling a large bag full of potatoes, or juicing lemon upon lemon for the squares, and we came prepared for blisters and exhaustion. Unsurprisingly though, given her all-powerful planning genius, complete with shopping lists from the last ten years, Barb had done almost all the work before we got there. The stew was simmering in the oven, the lemon bars were sitting on a beautiful glass platter, and all that was left for us to do was decorate the Christmas cookies.
Cara was elated by this news, but I, on the other hand, was a little worried. As my baking days have slipped away from me, I've become a little rusty when it comes to multiple icing shades, colored sugar, and snowflake shaped sprinkles. Summoning my artistry from 15 years ago, I got to work sprinkling green sugar on my Christmas trees, and haphazardly pasting candy cane morsels on the green shading. Cara looked over at my work, and looked at me with slight disappointment in her eyes. "Maybe try to make them a little fancier?" she said. Horrified by my apparent failure, I ate two cookies and started over.
Little did Cara know: she created a monster. For three hours, I obsessed over my cookies, picking out all the red colored balls to line stripes on my stockings, stringing ornaments in perfect bowing lines on my trees, and striping my candy canes in perfectly measured patches of color. The result was more beautiful than my seven-year-old memories, if involving way more patience and attention than should ever be imparted on a single cookie. Kate, holiday cheer master, was more than pleased with the results, as were we, until she plucked up one of my stockings and took a bite, and I suddenly felt like I had lost my best friend.
--Phoebe Lapine of Big Girls, Small Kitchen
Ices about 2 dozen of your favorite sugar cookies
1 egg white
2 cups powdered sugar
a few drops of lemon juice
lots of sprinkles
Whisk ingredients together. Separate into bowls and add food coloring to create your desired scheme. Use knifes or offset spatulas for decorating. If you're ambitious, use icing bags with tips.