illustration: tram nguyen
What is up with America’s national obsession with “Christmas cookies”?
It only recently occurred to me to wonder. I was discussing this with Tram, like, “duh, we should do a Christmas cookie post,” and she was like, Okay, sounds good! “So… can you explain to me what the deal with Christmas cookies is? Is there a religious reason?” (Ha! As if any Christian holiday traditions are based on religious reasons.)
illustration: tram nguyen
This recipe is dedicated to my little brother, who despite being as thin as a rail and blessed with the metabolism of a very fast hamster, was diagnosed with gout at the tender age of 22. The doctor remarked that he had never seen this particular affliction in one so young, and that it was usually the disease of unusually large, prosperous, middle-aged men, such as Henry VIII. You develop it by eating too much steak, organ meats, and other rich foods and the best way to treat it is a massive overhaul of one’s diet. Upon learning of this diagnosis, my brother went to Macy’s and bought himself a deep fryer for Christmas. He had a gift card, he said.
An historic recipe from The Art Institute of Chicago’s current exhibition: Art and Appetite: American Painting, Culture, and Cuisine…
Jane Cunningham Croly, Jennie June’s American Cookery Book, 1870
Mix dough as for a soda biscuit; that is to say 1 quart of sifted flour, piece of butter size of an egg, 2 teaspoonsful of cream of tartar, 1 of soda, a pinch of salt, and a sweet milk to form a soft dough. Put cream of tartar in the flour, and soda in dry also, and, when thoroughly mixed, roll out half an inch thick and bake in a shallow pan 15 or 20 minutes. Have ready 2 quarts of fresh, fine strawberries; split the cake, place half the strawberries between and cover thickly with white sugar and cream; put the other half on the top and cover in the same way; send to the table immediately. This is the method of making at the finest city restaurants.
I’, going to test this as soon as I can procure a “piece of butter the size of an egg”. To coincide with the exhibition, The Art Institute has also assembled an online cookbook with 50 food and drink recipes from local Chicago chefs and mixologists. The show runs until the 27th of January.
“Life is hard, we say. An oyster’s life is worse. She lives motionless, soundless, her own cold ugly shape her only dissipation, and if she escapes the menace of duck-slipper-mussel-Black-Drum-leech-sponge-borer-starfish, it is for man to eat, because of man’s own hunger.” – MFK Fisher
Perhaps you are dreading the holiday season with your family, or the looming depths of winter, or any of the various other trials and tribulations of modern human life? Take solace in the fact that, no matter how utterly your life sucks, it could not possibly suck as much as that of an oyster. (Unfortunately, it also turns out you are a party to this mollusk’s bleak fate, which is an entirely new thing to feel despairing about. Take it up with your therapist, I guess.)
This depressing oyster fact has been brought to you by MFK Fisher’s perfectly slim little volume on the subject, “Consider the Oyster.”