Snow Dusting, and Snowflake Cookies

I complained a lot about last winter.  I really did.
In retrospect, I would take it all back.  That’s not to say that it hasn’t been horribly cold for the past few days.  The cold bites.  It chills me to the bone, and I walk to and from work every day.  But I’d take this, any day, over a DC summer.  I am elated to not be sweating in front of my air conditioner amidst extreme humidity (for four, arguably five, months).  I revel in actually needing my down comforter.  And I’m wild about snow.
But for as much as I love and appreciate winter, I’ve never been a huge fan of what we know as the “Christmas spirit.”  I grew up in one of those neighborhoods that over-decorates, and is ridden with cars and teenagers selling hot chocolate on the street, with children hanging out of SUV windows in gridlock as they drove by my parents’ minimally decorated ranch-style home.  I’m actually not a fan of Christmas decorations, most holiday songs, or shopping.  I shudder at the thought of buying a Christmas tree as a young adult, for which my friends call me a Grinch.  But the holidays are worth so much more — spending time with the people you care about, and new beginnings.  Well, maybe the new beginnings aspect is unique from my perspective, considering it was around the holiday season last year when I began to feel settled in Washington.  The holidays are about what cold weather makes us want to do: stay warm, inside, with our friends and family.

While I was in college, my family decided to cut back on the presents aspect of Christmas.  For the young kids, it was okay to get gifts upon gifts, but for the adults, it was pointless and just too extravagant.  We set a $10 limit on Christmas presents, which basically turned the Gerrity Christmases into giant wine exchanges (fine by me).  Even with the little kids, the big presents never seemed to be their favorites; a couple of years ago, I bought my little brother, who is now six years old, a blinking red reindeer nose.  It cost me two dollars, and won the prize for best gift overall.  Kevin refused to take off the nose for days and days after Christmas, which keeps reminding me that gift-giving isn’t about getting what you want — it’s about finding ways to make the people around you feel loved.
Yesterday, we got a little bit of snow in Washington.  Nothing big, just a little dusting.  I was in my kitchen, of course, when I noticed it outside — the light pollution in my neighborhood gives the sky a seductive violet glow, and the falling snow just settles itself onto the balcony, the railing, and my bike.  With the clothes dryer and the oven going, our window panes fog up along the ceiling.  It was just charming. 

Since this is just my second winter, I stood in my kitchen and compared it to last winter.  And after I baked these snowflake cookies, I watched the snow fall outside my bedroom window as I read a book.  I felt at home.  Winter is finally here, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Acoustic Guitar Cookies

I thought I’d post photos of my most recent feat — the guitar cookies.  I recently stumbled across an acoustic guitar cookie cutter, and I had to have it.  And there they are.  The recipe for them can be found here.  Just beware — the necks of the guitars kept breaking.  These cookies are fragile, but as my roommate Jonathan says, they’re legit.

Royal Icing and Sugar Cookies

I have been battling my limited walking-only relationship with Washington in search of basic food dye for months.  What would have been a simple task in Los Angeles (with a car) turned into a four-month struggle between searching every grocery store within a three-mile radius of my home and decidedly talking myself out of any want or need for food coloring.  Once, Safeway did carry food dye, and I used the red on something — the details of which are meaningless — and left it out over night.  The next morning, it was gone.  My kitchen swallowed it whole — a lesson I will interpret as punishment for ever using my alma mater’s cross-town rival colors in my kitchen.  Red and gold, never again.  It’s a glorified vomit-inducing combination anyway.
Out of boredom, I googled “where to buy food coloring in Washington, DC.”  Nothing useful came up.  So I tried searching for baking stores — and came across Hill’s Kitchen.  When I walked into this cozy row house shop, I realized I had never bought cookie cutters, ever.  Cookie cutters were always aplenty in my home growing up.  If my mom didn’t have a particular shape, Grandma definitely did.  Cookie cutters must have been some form of candy them; I used to always hear about the new shapes my grandmother would come home with.  And whenever we’d try them out, the cookies always ended up spreading into misshapen, formless blobs.  That was another fear I had in making cut-out cookies — that they wouldn’t shape, or that I’d attempt to pipe frosting and end up with horrifyingly unattractive cookies.
Anyway, I walked out of the store with a six-pack of gel food dye and twenty dollars worth of cookie cutters.  It was time to make cookies.  California-shaped ones, capitol building-shaped ones, and ten kadjillion different butterfly-shaped cookies.  As winter in Washington winds down (re: blizzard diminuendo and recent temperatures above 32 degrees), I find myself aching for things that remind me of spring.  March Madness, flowers, sundresses, grass, and the one thing I long more than anything else: flip-flop weather.  As my longing for winter’s end continues, I find myself veering away from my long red coat to lighter, less fashion-conscious but happier wardrobe items, like say, my bright blue little girls’ snow boarding jacket.
Snow, snow, go away.

Recipe taken from The Food Network.
For the dough:
3 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tablespoon milk
Powdered sugar, to sprinkle
For the royal icing:
3 cups powdered sugar
2 egg whites
2 tablespoons lemon juice
First, cream the butter and the sugar — I used my electric hand mixer on low speed until they were evenly mixed.  Then, add the egg and milk, beating until smooth.  In a separate bowl, sift the flour, baking powder, and salt together, before gradually adding the dry ingredients to the butter-sugar-egg mixture.  The recipe calls to use your hand mixer for this, but at some point the dough was too thick, so I dove in and mixed all of the flour in with my hands and formed the dough into two spheres, and set them in the refrigerator to chill.
After ten minutes or so, sprinkle some powdered sugar on a sheet of wax paper, and rub it in.  Then, remove one ball of dough from the refrigerator, and roll it out as thin as you possible can.  And I mean thin.  No thicker than 1/8 of an inch — because the dough will spread.  We don’t want misshapen capitol buildings, do we?
Carefully cut out your cookies and place them on a cookie sheet with parchment paper, and bake at 375 for about 10 minutes, until the cookies are evenly golden brown.  Remove from the oven, let sit on the sheet for a few minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack.  Repeat.
For the icing, begin by beating the egg whites and lemon juice with an electric mixer until frothy.  Then, gradually mix in the powdered sugar.  Continue until all sugar is mixed in, and the icing is relatively stiff and gooey.  I used gel food dyes to color the icing; if you use liquid ones, you might need a little more sugar to balance out the sugar-liquid ratio.
You can use a pastry bag and tips to ice the cookies, but I just made a cone out of wax paper — it’s easy, and requires less clean-up.  These disposable cones are a good replacement for going out and purchasing a pastry bag of bottle for each color of frosting that you use.