For me, Christmas is not Christmas without shortbread cookies. And not just any shortbread cookies. My Dad's shortbread cookies. Every family has their wacky traditions, and ours involved quintuple batches of sugary dough. It would take all day to bake tray after delicious tray of specially shaped shortbread, each with half a candied cherry pressed into the centre. Yes, in my world a shortbread cookie must, MUST have a small piece of syrupy fruit embedded into it. Or it just isn't Christmas. Our kitchen counters would be overflowing with stacks of cookies, more than I could ever count.
Which was important to me. Counting food. Many family meals included extra people - grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles, friends, strays. If the menu was something I especially cherished, like hamburgers or cookies, I would count the people, then the food, over and over, to make sure there was enough for me to get my fair share. I don't know how or why I did this. I was certainly never deprived of food as a child (or as an adult. Hi thighs!). Hamburgers were scary because the men in the family would always say they'd eat one, and then eat two or three, which meant I might not be able to get a half as my second serving. Very traumatic.
But with shortbread cookies I never had to worry. There were more, much more, than even I could eat. I would get lots. All that mattered.
Last year I wanted to make these cookies, so I called up my dad and asked for Nanna's recipe. We had a book of family recipes, handwritten and covered with flour and grease from years of use, and this was the book that housed the sacred recipe. I remember it was called "Grandma's Shortbread" in this book. Odd, as we called dad's mom Nanna. But it had to be hers. All the recipes in that part of the book were from Dad's side of the family. So I was heartbroken when my dad denied all knowledge of a cookie recipe coming from his mother.
Me: The cookies you always made. When we were kids. And I'd get to add the gross cherry to the middle. Remember?
Dad: Sweetie, I got that recipe off the cornstarch box.
I leapt to my baking cupboard to confirm. Sure enough, the Bensons Cornstarch box proudly displayed "Grandma's Shortbread Cookies" on the side.
Another childhood illusion, destroyed.
After much weeping and a few shots of whiskey, I pulled myself together and made the cookies anyway. And brought them to work, where this conversation took place.
Colleague: Why are your cookies shaped like clubs?
Me: This is one of the shapes of cookie cutters we had when I was a kid. I was so excited when I found it, but I can't find the others.
Colleague: What were the others?
Me: Let's see...we had a club...a heart....diamond...and a spade.
Colleague: Oh, like a deck of cards.
Colleague: ...Like the suits in a deck of cards.
Colleague: You had noticed that, right?
Me: They were just shapes. I'd never put that together.
Colleague: You're an idiot.
Me: I have to call my sister.
Once Colleague had pointed it out it was so obvious. I assumed everyone in the whole world had gotten it but me. Because, like Colleague had tactfully said, I was an idiot. But when I get to the end of my story, my sister was all Oh my god! They ARE like a deck of cards! I'd never put that together!
Then we tell my mom, thinking she'll laugh at both of us for being so clueless. She thinks about it for a second before the glow of enlightenment shines through her eyes. Oh my god! They ARE like a deck of cards! I'd never put that together!
So if I'm an idiot, at least I come by it honestly.