Mom’s Magical Christmas Cookies 2019

My mom’s cookies look like normal, boring, everybody’s-had-one frosted sugar cookies.

Then you take a bite. 

And fall off your chair.

The Kid and I discuss them each time we’re lucky enough to get our mitts on some.  We can’t figure them out.  How is it that this little, regulation baked good can pack such an extraordinary punch?  We joke that maybe she puts crack in them, or fairy dust.

When Kid was in college, Gramma baked a batch freshman year and shipped them up to our little scholar in Vermont.

Those NECI people had no idea what they were in for.

There were probably four dozen cookies in the box.  The Kid ate some and then decided to share with a few lucky souls.

Not my mother. An actual random grandmother.

Nobody was very enthused to be offered boring baked goods from some random grandmother in North Carolina.  My child didn’t try to talk anyone into a sample.  If they didn’t want one, it was just more for The Kid.

Then one person took one.  Eyes lit up, and word got around.  People came out of the woodwork wanting these miraculous confections.  Chef-instructors approached The Kid to ask when Gramma would send more.

When making them, I’ve tried to gentrify the ingredients. 


Something about the synthesis of these particular components is the secret of the amazing results.  Don’t substitute butter, or cake flour, or speak with a French accent while making them (unless you legitimately speak with a French accent).

When icing the cookies; more is better.  A fifty/fifty ratio of frosting to cookie is just about right.  Sprinkle each one right after frosting it, so the decoration sticks.

These are not the gorgeous showstoppers of the cookie platter.  In fact, they kind of look like near-sighted kindergarteners put them together.  But, that’s part of the charm.  The astonishing deliciousness is all the more special for their, shall we say…rustic countenance?

About two weeks before Christmas, Mom has a frosting party. Everyone shows up and decorates hundreds of cookies.  We have lunch, and then negotiate how many cookies we can take home.

There is one rule: you break it, you eat it.

You’d think, awesome!   You’d think we break as many as we can, and gorge on frosting cloaked shards.

Yeah, not so much.

Mom’s no dummy, and she can tell when cookies are intentionally broken.  And that woman has a mom-eye glare that can chill your very soul.

So, we usually only scarf about two per session.

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at

Mom’s Christmas Cookies

Preheat oven to 400°.

1½ cups all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon baking soda

½ cup sugar

½ cup butter-flavored Crisco

1 egg

2 tablespoons milk (whole or 2%)

1 teaspoon vanilla

Sift dry ingredients into bowl.  With mixer, cut in shortening until it resembles coarse meal.  Blend in egg, milk, and vanilla.

Roll out to 1/8-inch and cut into shapes. 

Bake on parchment-lined cookie sheet for 6-8 minutes or until golden.  Remove to cooling rack.

Frost cookies when they’re completely cooled.  Makes about 1 ½ dozen.

Mom’s Frosting

1-pound box powdered sugar

½ teaspoon salt

1 scant teaspoon cream of tartar

1/3 cup butter-flavored Crisco

1 egg white

¼ cup of water (or less)

1 tablespoon vanilla

½ teaspoon fresh lemon juice

For decorating: gel food coloring & holiday sprinkles

Dump all ingredients, except water, into mixer. Beat ingredients at low until it starts to come together.  Put water in at this point, so you can judge just how much to use. Beat until it’s creamy and fluffy. Dye in festive colors.  Let the cookies sit out overnight to set the frosting.

This Little Piggy Went To Market

It’s been a pretty awesome week.Last Friday was my birthday, with all the obscenely frosted cake that it implies.  Then, Wednesday was the first afternoon market of the year at the Durham Farmers’ Market.

Petey worked just about his whole nursing career on the third shift, from 7PM to 7AM, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.  And, I’ve something to say about folks who work the night shift.

One Tuesday morning my mom called about 9:30 to check on The Kid, who’d been up in school in Vermont a couple months. She woke us.

It wasn’t the first time, or the second, and I got a little snappish.  And so did Mom.

First, she called me a “lazy thing”, for being asleep at that time.  I explained we’d gone to bed at 3AM.  So, she asked why Petey and I didn’t go to bed earlier on Mondays.  Because when Petey had gotten home from work on Monday morning, he was exhausted and slept until 4PM.And if he switched his sleep to a more conventional schedule every Monday, he’d have to flip it back at the end of the week.  And, I’m no sleep expert, but I’m guessing that after a couple months of poking his circadian rhythm with a sharp stick, he’d be insane or dead.

I will end with this entreaty.  If you know someone who works when the rest of the world is sleeping, have a heart.  Don’t visit during the day.  Don’t ask them to give you a ride, or babysit, or be functional at 1:00 in the afternoon.  It is the same as someone showing up at your house at 3AM on a Wednesday to try to get you to have pizza and binge watch “Stranger Things”.So, have a heart.  That person you don’t bug when you think they should be out and about in the middle of the day might be the person manning the emergency room when Grandma falls and breaks her wrist on a trip to the bathroom in the middle of the night.


My point was that the Saturday farmers’ markets are just too early for some (me).  Which is why the Wednesday market makes me so very happy.This year, there’s a plan: each time I visit, I will purchase food that I’ve neither cooked, nor eaten.  I will then pick the brains of both the farmer, and fellow buyers as to preparation.

Last Wednesday, I bought escarole.  It’s a bitter green beloved by Italians and is big in bean dishes and Italian wedding soup.  I chose to sauté it.

Garlic Lemon Escarole


4 slices bacon, cooked crispy and reserve 1 tablespoon of grease

4-5 cloves of garlic, peeled and cut in half

2 large bunches of escarole

Juice of 1 lemon

¼ cup toasted pistachios

Pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)

Salt & pepper

Wash escarole by filling sink with cold water.  Swish each bunch and drop into water.  The detritus will drop to bottom of sink.  Wait a few minutes then gently remove escarole without disturbing dirt.

While escarole is soaking put garlic into large skillet with bacon grease and cook on medium-low until garlic browns.  Remove garlic and set aside.  Turn to medium.

Pat dry.  Cut into 2-inch pieces. add to skillet, and cover.  Cook 8 minutes or so until completely wilted.

Remove cover, stir in pepper flakes and pistachios, then cook until tender (5-7 minutes).

Take off heat and stir in lemon juice.  Season, taste and season again, if needed.Plate and top with browned garlic and crumbled crispy bacon.  Serves 4.

Thanks for your time

French Market Bag Pattern by Two of Wands

A Christmas Miracle

Half the family thinks she puts crack in them.cookie-dustThe other half, a wide-eyed, innocent, ‘Happily ever after’ bunch if there ever was one, thinks it’s probably fairy dust.

I’m talking about my mother’s Christmas cookies.  They’re a simple sugar cookie, generously slathered with the frosting she learned to make when she took a cake decorating class in Puerto Rico, back in the 1970’s.

Each year she makes 8-10 dozen.  Then one day, a week or so before Christmas, she invites/conscripts a confectionary army to frost them.  After icing, each cookie is sprinkled with holiday-hued sugar, or jimmies, or nonpareils from her vast collection.  As each cookie is festively decked out it’s laid on the dining room table for the frosting to set.But the thing is; these are stealth cookies.

On the surface, they are the same boring sugar cookie everybody on the planet has eaten.

But take just one bite, and you get it.  Forget Helen, this cookie is so good it could launch ten thousand ships.  Both flavor and texture are perfectly balanced.  They are insanely delicious.

One of my favorite things is to watch a neophyte take their very first bite.  I’ll explain how awesome they are, and the newbie will smile politely, all the while thinking I need to get out more and taste a cookie or two.Then, they sink their teeth in and taste it.  Their eyes get real big and their faces light up.  “Oh my Gosh!  I get it.  What’s in these things?  They’re the best cookie I’ve ever eaten.  What the heck?”

Mom’s Christmas Cookies

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Ingredients:moms-cookies1½ cups all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon baking soda

½ cup sugar

½ cup butter flavored Crisco

1 egg

2 tablespoons milk (whole or 2%)

1 teaspoon vanilla

Sift dry ingredients into bowl.  With mixer, cut in shortening until it resembles coarse meal.  Blend in egg, milk, and vanilla.

Roll out to 1/8 inch, and cut into shapes. 

Bake on parchment lined cookie sheet for 6-8 minutes or until golden.  Remove to cooling rack.

Frost cookies when they are completely cooled.  Makes about 1 ½ dozen.

Mom’s Frostingmoms-frosting

1 pound box powdered sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 scant teaspoon cream of tartar

1/3 cup butter-flavored Crisco

1 egg white

1/4 cup of water (or less)

1 tablespoon vanilla

1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

For decorating: colored sugars and jimmies

Dump all ingredients, except water, into mixer. Beat ingredients at low until it starts to come together.  Put the water in at this point, so you can judge just how much to use. Beat until it is creamy and fluffy. We usually dye it festive colors.

A few notes about the recipes:

You might want to fanci-fy the ingredients or procedure.  Don’t do it!  The recipe is some kind of alchemy that only works if made as written.  I’ve tried, and was rewarded with mediocre cookies and regret.  If you have to change things, just make a different cookie.frosting-faceThe frosting is really good, and works on anything that needs frosting, and stuff that doesn’t.  My dad and I have been known to eat a bowl of it, on nothing more than a spoon.

And about the disagreement of what she puts in the cookies?

I’m pretty sure it’s not crack because mom herself is firmly in the wide-eyed camp.  She’s so sheltered she thinks crack is the thing you see when the plumber bends over too far.

So, it must be fairy dust.Thanks for your time.

Totally Nuts

I’ve got a riddle for you.When is a pound cake not a pound cake?

When it’s a pound cake (I’ll explain later, I promise).

A few days ago I had my third and final session as one of the judges for the specialty cooking contests of the 2016 state fair.  I was really looking forward to it, because the category was pecans.

Uh oh; here comes the educational portion of the program…

The pecan, or Carya illinoinensis, is actually a variety of the hickory.  The trees, which can grow up to 144 feet tall, are native to Mexico, and from the Gulf coast of Texas up to Illinois.  It is one of the most recently domesticated crops.  Until the 1880’s it was solely harvested from the wild.

A pecan orchard.

And although they have been enjoyed since well before the Europeans showed up, people can still not agree on whether they are “pee-cans”, or “pick-kahns”.

But regardless the pronunciation, these nuts are absolutely delicious, and work well with both savory foods and sweets .  As much as I love pie and pralines, my favorite preparation is salt & pepper pecans; merely generously seasoned pecans sautéed in butter.

I have to ruthlessly limit my exposure though, because I can devour a pound of them while in a pecan-induced fugue state.  Then I regain consciousness into a pecan-induced shame spiral.

The contest last week, in addition to being a heck of a lot of fun, included a notable first in my role of cooking judge.  Heck, it was a first in my entire existence as a human.


This is literally porn to me…

It was cake that was too sweet.  I’ve never even understood the term “too sweet” before. I’m the girl who considers frosting a food group.  I always thought it was a phrase made-up by light weights that couldn’t hold their sugar.

But the phenomenon exists.  It felt like biting into tin foil with a mouth full of fillings.  My mouth recoiled from the sensation.  It coated my tongue and made my teeth hurt.

Happily, there was another cake which wasn’t too sweet, but just right.  It took third place; a pound cake from Chapel Hill’s Cherie Michaud.

Nana and Roux’s Butter Pecan Pound Cake

Cakepecan-cake½ lb. or 2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature

1 ½ cups granulated sugar

1 ½ tsp. vanilla extract

1 ½ Tbsp. whole milk

½ tsp. baking powder

½ tsp. salt

1 cup pecans

½ cup vegetable oil

4 eggs

2 cups flour

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine 2 eggs, vanilla, milk, oil and butter in mixer. Begin mixing on low to medium speed. Once blended together, add the last 2 eggs.

In another bowl, combine sugar, flour, baking powder and salt. Sift the dry ingredients into the egg/milk mixture. Mix until combined, about 30 seconds.

Place pecans into a food processor and pulse for 30 seconds. Add pecans into the cake mixture and combine for 1 minute or until everything is well blended.

Spray a Bundt pan with cooking spray and sprinkle with sugar to coat. Pour cake batter into pan and tap on counter to remove air bubbles. Bake for 50 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool in pan 30 minutes. Remove from pan and let cool completely.

Frostingpecan-frosting3 cups powdered sugar

½ cup unsalted butter

½ tsp. cinnamon

1 ½ tsp. vanilla extract

2 Tbsp. plus 2 tsp. whole milk

½ tsp. nutmeg

½ tsp. salt

½ cup pecans, chopped

Combine butter, milk and vanilla with a mixer. Once combined, add the powdered sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Mix on low-medium speed for 1-2 minutes. Spread frosting over cake and top with pecans.So, about the pound cake riddle.  Traditional cakes have one pound each of flour, sugar, butter, and eggs, with no leavening (baking powder or baking soda).  It gets it rise from air whipped into the batter, and starting in a cold oven.

A modern pound cake uses leavening.  This reduces the possibility of failure, but purists feel it’s the cheater’s way, and an affront to all decent pound cakes.  Imagine Martin Luther with a Bundt pan and a manifesto.  A confectionary Luddite, if you will.                                                                              Thanks for your time.

Pucker up

What’s better than lounging around your pool, drinking a thick, creamy, chocolate milkshake?  Or if you’d rather, a daiquiri; you be you.

How about Antonio Banderas holding that glass for you, and bringing the straw to your lips.

You know…I don’t even need the pool, the milkshake, or the boat.

What’s better than lounging around your pool, sipping on a drink held by Antonio Banderas?

Drinking from a glass held by Antonio Banderas while lounging around the pool on your disgustingly opulent yacht.

In that same vein, what’s better than a creamy lemon cheesecake?

full cheesecake

A creamy lemon cheesecake that’s unbelievably, insanely, easy to make, and topped with a lemony blueberry streusel, that’s what.

When I started cooking in earnest, I loved to pick up the little cookbooks in the checkout line in the supermarket.  My favorites are the Pillsbury Cook-Off booklets.  They have the top recipes from all categories.  I purchased my favorite, which I still have and use, in 1994.

Although there are quite a few dishes in it that I still prepare, there’s one recipe in it that I’ve made literally hundreds of times.  It alone was more than worth the price (which back then was all of $2.75).

As always, I played with it, tweaked a few things, and made the recipe my own.  The newest twist is the addition of blueberries.  I love them, but my mom’s really crazy for those navy nuggets.  She is whom I had in mind when I made the change.

It would make a terrific dessert for Easter dinner.  And it travels great, in case you’re doing dinner elsewhere.

Vanilla bean lemon cheesecake with blueberry streusel

lemon blueberry cheesecake


1-18.25 ounce package lemon cake mix

½ cup butter, softened

Zest of 1 lemon


2-8 ounce packages of cream cheese, softened

3 large eggs

1-8 ounce container lemon yogurt

1-16 ounce can lemon frosting

1 vanilla bean


1-2 cups fresh blueberries

Heat oven to 325 degrees. Lightly spray bottom of 9 or 10-inch spring form pan with non-stick cooking spray.  Place a piece of spayed parchment that is about 2 inches larger all the way around over the bottom, then clip the bottom and ring together, letting parchment hang outside. 

Blend cake mix, butter, and zest in large bowl at low speed until crumbly. Reserve 1 cup of crumb mixture for topping. Press remaining mixture into bottom and 1 ½ inches up sides of pan.  Using a metal measuring cup to help form it will get a smooth, even, crust.

Beat cream cheese, eggs, yogurt, frosting, and vanilla bean innards in same bowl at medium speed with whisk attachment until completely smooth. Pour into crust-lined pan. Very gently, one at a time, place the blueberries evenly on top.  Sprinkle reserved crumb mixture evenly over berries and filling.

Bake 1 to 1 ½ hours or until center is set, but slightly jiggly and edges are light golden brown. Cool 30 minutes. Run knife around sides of pan to loosen. Remove sides of pan, then carefully slide the parchment off the pan bottom onto serving plate and trim the excess paper. Refrigerate 2 hours before serving.  Slice with unwaxed dental floss or serrated knife dipped into very hot water.  Sliced thinly—and you really should, this serves 16.


Store leftovers in the fridge.

This makes a delicious lemon cheesecake.  But the only thing limiting the potential flavor is what kind of cake mix, frosting, and yogurt you pick.  You could also combine flavors, like chocolate and coffee, vanilla/pomegranate, or orange/caramel.

Heck, this fall you could go nuts and get your pumpkin spice on.


Or not.

Thanks for your time.