The Great Cookie Exchange
by Jane Charles
When I think about holiday traditions I immediately think about baking. I can remember my mother making Christmas cookies. Only one kind, and she made 12 dozen. She would then meet with her friends who also made 12 dozen cookies for an exchange. I couldn’t wait to see what she brought home and hoped for my favorite – Mrs. Foster’s Stained Glass Windows.
My mother made cutouts. The best cutouts ever! As soon as I was old enough I was put on decorating duty. No sloppiness (at least for the ones we were giving away). The snowmen were white with either silver balls or red hot candy for his buttons; a red fruit roll-up type of candy sliced thin was tied into a bow for his neck, and small, chocolate dots for his eyes. The trees were always green with neatly placed ornaments (shiny candy balls), stars were gold. You get the idea.
I learned how to roll the dough to the correct thickness so the cookies baked evenly and didn’t burn. And how to mix the frosting so that it wasn’t too thin or too thick.
Eventually the ladies stopped doing the cookie exchange, which really bummed me out because I still lived at home and this was something I looked forward it to every year. However, around this time grandchildren started arriving (not mine – I was the baby of the family. It would be 10 years before I delivered my own bundle of joy). As soon as the grandchildren were old enough to wield a spoon mom had them decorating cutouts. That three-year-old could have more frosting on the table and himself than the cookie, make a pink tree and throw every type of sprinkle on it and it was the best tree ever.
This tradition continued for years. We have pictures of various grandchildren decorating from their highchair to older kids showing off their plate of cookies that they couldn’t wait to show their parents. Soon, great grandchildren entered the picture until mom stopped doing the cookies because of age and dementia. However, I had started the cookie baking at my house years before mom quit. Unfortunately, I wasn’t involved in an exchange so I set aside a long weekend for nothing but baking and candy making, including Stained Glass Windows. I taught my children how to roll out the cookies to the right thickness, and mix the frosting to the prefect consistency. . . (you get the idea).
My kids would gather around the table and we would decorate for hours. This is when I got the first hint my oldest was an artist. Each cookie was painstakingly decorated to perfection. These were the ones that were just too pretty to eat.
We still bake the cookies but the oldest is now in Oregon. That doesn’t mean the tradition stopped. I still remember that early December call the first year she was married. “Mom, what is the recipe for the cutouts?”
It is easy to imagine my character, Elizabeth Whitton, making cutouts. After all, she did start off in the kitchen when she took up residence in the Tuileries as a spy. We’ll just pretend that cutouts and sugar cookies were popular in France in 1812 – lol.
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Lady Elizabeth craved excitement and adventure. Unwilling to endure further boring Seasons, she convinces her uncle, who has lived a more adventurous life than anyone else she knew, to let her work for him. A few years later Elizabeth was established in Tuileries Castle, a servant in Napoleon’s court known as Lisette Renard.
John Phillip Trent has been working in the stables of Tuileries as Jean Pierre Bouvier for the past two years. His only English contact being Lisette Renard, a lovely blond lass, who he desired but kept at a professional arm’s length.
When Lisette receives a summons to return home for Christmas, John learns that she is none other than the granddaughter of the Duke of Danby and she had named Jean Pierre as her husband. Their cover is compromised with the same letter and the two find themselves escaping the palace and France, knowing they could very well never see each other again and must face the truth of how they truly feel for the other.
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