Earlier this summer, a few days before this quest began, we were invited to a wedding that would take place on October 1st. It was for my young cousin Sam who would be tying the knot with her fiancé Billy Joe at a ceremony in Connecticut. Naturally, because we believe in love and in especially in this particular union, we made plans to attend and in our RSVP, I wrote back that it was also National Homemade Cookie Day. I thought was important for them to know (I admit, I was still in the honeymoon period of this quest at that time and all the possibilities seemed exciting, so I was spreading the word). Still, if you are holding one celebration, I felt it was my duty to let them know about the other holidays they could celebrate too.
As the summer rolled on and the day of the wedding began to get closer, I started thinking about how I could mark the occasion. Obviously I could just bring some homemade cookies like the chocolate chip or pecan butter cookies I had made earlier in my quest, but I didn’t want to interfere with the regularly scheduled wedding plans. I had heard that my cousin Clare was baking all kinds of cookies for the wedding and she did. The dessert table yesterday was filled with a magical array of homemade cookies including a couple of my new favorites: a chocolate Mexican wedding cookie and an oatmeal aggression cookie (which was thin and crispy). There must have been ten different varieties of cookies all displayed in fun cookie jars and on beautiful trays. It was really something (and really something delicious). I must say, in regards to celebrating Homemade Cookie Day, Clare was the Grand Marshall of the parade. I knew that I had to do something a little different to celebrate, so I kept my thinking cap on. It was going to be a small, cozy family event and the wedding would be followed by a genuine hootenanny where everyone was encouraged to play music and sing along. Billy Joe and Sam are both folk music fans and the tradition of the hootenanny seemed rather harmonious for their big day. That’s when a light bulb went on above my head – I will make some cookies that look like musical notes.
One small problem – I don’t know how to make those kind of cookies and they are not really the kind you can look up on the internet to get right. However, I do happen to have a sister in law who is super talented in the art of cookie design and decorating. That would be Becky. She will make cookies for special occasions like her niece or nephew’s birthdays or for her daughter’s big events. It’s really a special talent of hers and it always brings joy wherever she brings them. I figured this would be perfect, so I sent out a quick text asking her if she could teach me this week. Now let me point out that I asked this of Becky without knowing these cookies are a little “involved” and not knowing the extent to what it takes to make them perfect. I just figured she could give me a few pointers and we’d be done. Kindly enough, Becky said she could pencil me in and suddenly I was enrolled in the Becky Breslin School of Cookie Design.
Becky will be the first to point out that the school’s origins come from her Windham, New Hampshire friend Steph who had mastered the cookie techniques and then shared her skills with Becky and a few other Windhamites. While all of Steph’s disciples continue to make some great creations, it seems like Becky had a particular passion for the art of the cookie. There was something zen to her about the decorating and she could be of calm mind while swirling icing around the edges of every cutout cookie. That’s when Becky started making cookies for special occasions and she sure has talent. Plus it’s a great tasting cookie, which is always a plus. I have to say that I was honored to be allowed into the cookie club. Not everyone is allowed in. You have to show a level of talent and appreciation to make the cut, and I guess I did. Granted, I have much, much to go before I make it to their level, but it’s nice to know I can hang with the crew (I think Steph, Becky, JDB and I should all get gang tattoos so people know we are in the club – something on the neck perhaps).
On Monday, we met Becky at Molly’s volleyball game at Portsmouth High and Becky gave me her rolling pin, her cookie cutter and her cookie recipe. I was to make the cookies at my house and then bring them to Becky’s house on Thursday for decorating. Becky had once made some musical notes cookies for Molly’s chorus class, so we figured that would be the perfect cookie to make for the hootenanny. Becky was very clear in her instructions and told me I needed to follow the recipe to the letter of the law. I did because I didn’t want to mess this up. I chilled the dough when I was supposed to. I measured every measurement to precision. I froze the dough when I had to. It wasn’t that hard of a recipe, but I could see why following the instructions exactly were important. This was a tried and true recipe. I ended up with about 60 cookies (Although I didn’t use all the dough). There were a few that were a little darker than I would have liked, but the taste was good so I was feeling good with my results. When I brought them to Becky’s on Thursday, she gave a quick taste and I had passed the test.
We started the decorating process at 9 am (after Becky had been to Boot Camp – she’s got a lot of energy). Becky was cute because everything was ready and all set up to begin. There were three totes of decorating supplies on her table ready for use. The stand mixer was on her kitchen island with the ingredients already to start. She could have totally made the icing before I got there, but she waited because she knew I wanted to learn. Becky is a great teacher too. She is clear about what she is explaining, always tells you want she is looking for and is patient and encouraging. The icing came together pretty fast and we were careful not to overmix. Becky also explained how we had to make sure we cleaned the paddle attachment immediately so it stays clean. She had all these little pointers for me which were from her past experience and it really made such sense. We scooped some icing into a bowl and started to thin it slowly with warm water. When it was the perfect consistency, we filled up some pastry bags and it was time to get the first layer on the cookie. I watcher her do the first two very slowly making the outside line around the cookie (the dam) and then coming back and filling in the rest (the flood). She smoothed out the lines that were shaky, she got rid of any air bubbles and she was meticulous in her movements around the cookie. I on the other hand moved with the gracefulness of a drunken ape. My lines were sloppy, I had air bubbles and my technique was all wrong. But Becky was patient and she showed me what to do better. It’s a process of learning and I had never used a pastry bag before, so it took a while to get used to. I did eventually, to a point. Still, I could easily tell which cookies I decorated and which cookies Becky did. But Becky kept encouraging me throughout. When we were done with layer one, I left so the cookies could dry and we made plans to resume later in the afternoon.
Later that day (which if you recall was National Coffee Day, so I was as jittery as an anxious bee), I returned and the white icing had dried sufficiently. We now had to add the black. Becky had me thin out the frosting to see if I remembered how (I needed her assistance), but then we added in the food gel and ended up with a nice, dark black icing. Becky told me to take my time on these because black icing is not as forgiving as the white icing and after I watched her do a couple I jumped in. My lines were especially squiggly (coffee) and I was a little shy about how close to the edge I should go. Once again, Becky gave me the encouragement and pointers to get it done and with a few more tries I got the hang of it. Was I perfect? No, far from it, but I still think they came out very nice. We were done by 4:30. Becky even cleaned everything up and to be even nicer, she dropped off the cookies at our house on Friday once they had dried. That’s a good teacher.
One of the challenges of the quest was to learn new things so putting cookie decorating under my belt was an accomplishment for me that I was proud of (even though Becky walked me through the whole process with baby steps). Still, I am in the cookie club now, so I can be proud of that. The other part of this quest was making everyday a celebration and by spending the time learning at Becky’s side gave me something that went beyond the norm. I was able to share in one of her joys, learn it and share it with my family. I had no idea how much time this took and I couldn’t be more grateful for all the time Becky took to teach me. It’s nice to have someone like that in your life that is always there for you.
Saturday came and we were on our way to the wedding. I wrapped them up on a silver platter with some clear cellophane and a nice black and white bow. I also added a tag that said “Happy National Homemade Cookie Day!” Sam and her mom Annie are regular readers of the blog so I figured they would know who it was from and what it meant. When we arrived, I put them at one of the food tables hoping someone would put them out later and we joined the celebration. It was a beautiful ceremony and everyone was in good spirits despite the less than ideal weather. Sam arrived via a pontoon boat and then walked up a little path from the water to the cottage surrounded by friends and family cheering them on. The ceremony was beautiful too with special remembrances of those not there and loving reminders of what marriage is all about. It felt good to celebrate this couple. After the ceremony dinner was served (prepared by my cousin Charlie who did a fabulous job) and the toasts began. It was great to hear all the nice things people had to say about the two who have clearly had a big impact on their world. Cheers to the bride and groom!
The cookies started to show up later in the night sometime after dinner but before the hootenanny kicked in. I tried to keep a low profile about them (I didn’t want to be that guy bragging about his cookies at the wedding), but it was fun watching people’s reactions when they’d see them and try one. When people found out I made them, a got a lot of surprised and disbelieving looks (maybe they were actually “who brings cookies to a wedding?” looks). They were actually delicious. I tried to give Becky credit where I could, telling about how she taught me everything and how she is the true talent. But people liked them and I can say I added a very little something to the spirit of this wonderful wedding. This was a day that was all about celebration and I was glad I was there to sing along. Any day I can spend celebrating with my family is a fun day, but it was especially nice to be able to join in the celebration of Sam and Billy Joe. We wish them a lifetime together of love with songs of happiness in their hearts that they will keep on singing. Plus, we hope they always have cookies too.
Next Up: National Pizza Month and National Sausage Month