It was at the end of summer, my husband and I were enjoying some late afternoon rays with our friends, Bob and Lisa, at their lakeside home, having a relaxing, casual conversation. I said to Lisa, “So… I’ve got this crazy idea.”
“Me too!” she said. “Oh! Wait! You go first!”
“OK… so, I was thinking about cooking—”
“Yes!!! –Sorry! Continue!”
“OK, so I’m THINKING about learning to cook and getting my friends to teach me.”
“You’ve GOT TO BE KIDDING ME! That’s what I was thinking! Well, except I was thinking, ‘I wonder if Lori would want to bake with me at Christmas.'”
“YES! Let’s do it!”
A weird convo, right? Besides the fact that we were both thinking the same thing at the same time, it was summer. Who thinks about Christmas baking in August? Who wants to learn to do work when they’re otherwise relaxing? But here we were a couple of months later, in November, in Lisa’s kitchen, doing these crazy ideas we said we wanted to do. I’m proud of us.
If I’m jealous of any kitchen, it would be Lisa’s. It’s actually just a regular-sized and normal-functioning kitchen. But she’s got this view, looking right out at the lake. It’s the first thing you see when you walk into her home. See that stool peeking out on the right there? I’ve dreamed about sitting on that stool to write. It’s technically in her kitchen at her breakfast counter, but I’d be open to blogging while the fam eats their omelettes.
Here’s more of her kitchen.
I love the cottage-y feel of it. And windows looking at nature instead of a backsplash? Gimme.
Here’s Lisa in her kitchen. Isn’t she cute in her apron?
It took me a few times to get that ^ shot because Lisa’s a mover and her hair was whipping around her face while she talked and that’s one of the things I love about her, but first I had to put my camera on sports setting.
The plan was to bake “Auntie Lisa’s Gingerbread Cookies.” Lisa is KNOWN for these cookies. They give her great joy to bake them, which is why she makes loads and loads every Christmas and has done it for years and years. She got the recipe from her very good friend, Tove, with whom she actually bakes and decorates them every year. That is part of the tradition, not just the cookies, but the baking them together. Tove and her husband are such good friends of Bob and Lisa that they cut down Christmas trees together each year. She said I didn’t have to write that part, but it says something about their relationship and my imposition into it. This Christmas baking is a yearly ritual between two good friends. I felt very honoured that Lisa would let me in on it. To have my friends open up their kitchens to me for this experiment is one thing, but to get to experience a meaningful tradition in their lives is a particular honour. I’ll have to thank Tove.
Here’s the famous recipe … or rather, the well-worn recipe card, perched in a holder made by Lisa’s grandfather.
Don’t worry if you can’t read it. Here’s the actual recipe because–SPOILER ALERT–you will want it.
1 C soft butter (not margarine!)
2 tsp baking soda
3 tsp ginger
a good pinch of cloves
1/2C cold, strong tea
1 tsp vanilla
*first make the tea and set in freezer to cool down….
Cream butter & sugar until light. Beat in molasses.
Stir dry ingredients together in a separate bowl, and wet ingredients together in a cup.
Alternate adding dry & wet to the molasses mixture. Blend on high until well mixed.
Cover and store in refrigerator overnight (~24 hours).
Roll out a section of dough at a time, to ~1/4″ thickness, on well floured surface. Use cookie cutter to cut out your wee men, making sure that thickness is consistent with each. Bake on greased cookie sheet for ~8-10 minutes (6 minutes my oven!), or until they appear slightly browned on the bottom. Let cool on tray for a minute or two, then carefully move onto a cooling rack. When cooled- ready to decorate!
Lisa had the place all ready to go, ingredients pulled out (mostly), Christmas music on and equipment fired up. We would be spending the next couple hours learning to bake, making our summer ideas a Christmas reality.
I caught a glimpse of Lisa’s baking cupboard.
Check out her flinging hair.
“I’m very excited about THIS,” she said.
“Dominican VANILLA,” Lisa said. She had just been in the Dominican Republic to visit her daughter, Sarah, who was there for 10 weeks on a mission trip (another story!).
She made me do the smell test.
“Pure. Vanilla. Totally makes a difference.”
And I’m sorry, she’s right, Club House. Your vanilla smells acidic and chemically compared to the REAL Dominican stuff. It was so rich, I had to ask Lisa, “Is this LEGAL?”
Also, “But what if it makes your cookies TOO tasty?”
We decided it was worth the risk.
If you are replicating this recipe, I’m sorry, Club House will have to do. As for us, we’ve moved to the next level of gingerbread.
Here’s Lisa’s spice drawer.
This was a major inspiration to me. I have used spices in all four recipes so far in this experiment and suspect it will be an ongoing thing. I have been frustrated trying to look through the cupboard, lifting things up to see behind them. I thought, “There’s GOT to be a better way.” I promptly went home moved my spice cupboard into a drawer. I’m happier already.
First thing I learned right off the bat: you have your “wet ingredients” and your “dry ingredients.” Keep ’em separated, or else.
I also learned that, with baking, you should not use the big spoon, little spoon method for tbsp and tsp measurements. Baking is a much more accurate exercise. My friend Tanya tells me that baking is like science and cooking like art. Y’all should know I dropped out of Grade 11 Chemistry. As for Art, never took it.
Also, you can cut butter right through the foil. Hello!
I asked Lisa how precise I’d have to be before setting to the task of scooping and measuring ingredients. Lisa said, “You don’t have to be SO precise. In Home Ec. they take a knife to level it. I don’t think it matters that… well… sometimes when you’re baking bread or making candy, it really matters.”
Only to hear a minute later with her hands reaching to quickly level out my scoop or fill in a divot, “Hmmm…. Turns out that I’m a little pickier than I thought!”
There are basic skills and then there are basic skills. She would have to switch up her teaching techniques to accommodate the latter.
Look how messy we were getting! This means we were doing a good job.
I also learned that:
- Cream is a verb that you can do with butter and sugar .
- You don’t just pour molasses, you scoop all of it out with a spatula. You get right in there.
- There’s a difference between a pinch of cloves and a GOOD PINCH of cloves – you wouldn’t want to ROB anyone of the FLAVOUR EXPERIENCE.
- When you pre-heat the oven, move the trays in your oven to where they should be just in case they were high “when, for example, you were making bruschetta last night when you were… making bruschetta?”
- You should double-check your recipe. And by double-check, she means quadruple check.
We then had to stir the ingredients into the molasses and creamy buttery sugar mixture, alternating some dry, some wet, some dry, some wet. Lisa says these things at first separated then need each other. I compared it to marriage.
Speaking of marriage, Bob bought this state of the art mixer near the beginning of theirs “when he thought buying appliances for gifts was a good idea.” 20+ years later, he was right after all!
As I watched the ingredients get swirled around together at dizzying speeds, I thought to myself, I should invest in a spatula.