Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Tradition Worthy

Small groups are an important part of our church. Back when the church first started, every member was required to belong to a small group, or module, as they were then called. Church business and pastoral care were a central focus of the module, and each module had a representative that attended the council meetings. However, as the church grew, so did the church council, until there were about twenty-five members, give or take a half-dozen, sitting on church council. It was not an efficient way to get things done.

The church has now restructured, and while small groups are still important, they are not required. Church council now consists of the chairs of the church commissions and the pastors, about ten people. As a matter of fact, I am on church council because I am chair of the youth commission. And I am not in a small group. Things have clearly changed.

So why the sudden lecture on our church structure? I really don't have a reason, except that I felt like explaining some things about our church. Oh, and because I was going to say something about small groups. Yes, that was my point---small groups.

When Mr. Handsome and I started attending the church together (I was attending before we even met), we were approached by some church members to see if we would like to join their module. We did, and it was a very good thing because the people in the group all turned out to be committed, loyal friends.

(In fact, the following year when we packed up and left the country for the Boonies of Nicaragua, they did not forget us, bless their hearts. David and Tina kept a steady stream of care packages headed our way—packages not only for Christmas and Easter, but also for Valentine’s Day and Thanksgiving and Just For Anyhow, and probably also for the Fourth of July and St. Patrick’s Day and our anniversary and birthdays... Jim and Ann actually came to Nicaragua and lived in Managua for a year, though not because we were there, and they came to visit us in our home; their daughter Sara visited us a grand total of four times that year. One of those times was when she served as tour guide for another family from our small group, Linda and Keith and their three teenagers, who bravely endured the bumpy, eight-hour long, headache-inducing bus ride to our little place. I alluded to their visit in the previous post.)


Every December our small group had a tradition of meeting at the local Mennonite highschool (where it was, and still is, Tina’s job to counsel and guide the students) to make Christmas cookies in the large kitchen with the industrial ovens and cookie sheets. Everyone brought containers of pre-mixed homemade cookie dough and we all spent a Sunday afternoon baking and decorating, divvying out the cookies amongst us, and returning home with a wide variety of goodies.


Mr. Handsome and I participated in the Cookie Baking Fest for the year or two that we were living in the valley and still with the group, but I don’t remember much of what we made (though I do vaguely recall that Tina made something involving Ritz crackers, peanut butter, and dipping chocolate that was sinfully good)---except for Linda’s butter cookies. She and her crew turned out mountains of the cookies, all different shapes and sizes, and decorated every which way. I begged the recipe from her, and now I make these cookies every year. Actually, I make them more than once a year—they make beautiful heart-shaped cookies for Valentine’s Day.

This dough is excellent for shaping because the dough is easy to handle and the cookies hardly rise at all while baking. And let me assure you, they are not just a dried-out sugar cookie; they are a butter cookie, delectable in their own right. Topped with a thin icing, they are splendidly exquisite, perfect with a cup of coffee.

Butter Cookies
From Linda

2 1/4 cups sugar
3 cups butter
3 eggs
3 teaspoons vanilla
8 1/4 cups flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt

Beat together the sugar and butter. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat some more. Add the dry ingredients and mix well.

Refrigerate the dough until it is thoroughly chilled. (You can store the dough in the refrigerator for several days, and it also freezes well.)

On a floured surface, roll the dough out to about a 1/8-inch thickness. Cut out the cookies and place on ungreased cookie sheets. The cookies do not rise much, so you can place them fairly close together. Bake at 350 degrees for 8-12 minutes, or until the edges are lightly browned. It's important for the cookies to have some brown to them because it adds flavor. Cool completely before icing with buttercream frosting.

To freeze the cookies, place the iced cookies on a cookie sheet and put them in the freezer for about half an hour till the icing has hardened. Gently set the cookies in a plastic container, placing wax paper in between each layer, and then return the boxed cookies to the freezer.

PS. Orangette just posted a recipe for butter cookies that I just may have to try. I do so like a good butter cookie.

PPS. Measurements for when I only have 1 pound of butter (so I don't have to keep doing the math every time): 1½ cups sugar, 2 cups butter, 2 eggs, 2 teaspoons vanilla, 5½ cups flour, 1 teaspoon baking powder, and ½ teaspoon salt.

5 comments:

  1. Ok, answer me this: Why is Christmas all about cookies? And why cookies? Why not pie, like Thanksgiving?

    Frankly, I think half my CAD (Christmas Affective Disorder) is because of all those cookies. I'd much rather have them in the summer when it's so much easier to get outside and get active...

    K

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  2. Hmm, interesting question. I didn't think Christmas WAS all about cookies, but I could be wrong. And the cool thing about Christmas is that you get to make your own traditions, so go ahead---make pie!

    -JJ

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  3. I wish we could make our own traditions (food and otherwise), but we seem to be stuck in an old tradition (from pre-kid days) of traveling to other states and families of origin for a week at a time, when I'd much rather stay home and make my own traditions with my own little family... Sigh. I'd have to get really creative to persuade the rest of the household that it's better to stay than to go. (Can you tell I feel pretty disenchanted with Christmas right now?)

    K

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  4. Maybe getting disenchanted with Christmas at some point during December is the Real Tradition, no?

    -JJ

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  5. Maybe. You know how much I like to control, how I like to do things my way. My favorite Christmas (post-kids) was when we stayed here all the way past Christmas day, had our own Advent preparations, celebrated the way WE wanted to celebrate. It just throws me for a major loop when I have to get ready for a trip in the middle of Advent and plop down in someone else's home and cooking and traditions, right when I'd most like to be in MY home and cooking the food myself. I generally have a crisis while there, and come home several pounds heavier and requiring several weeks to come down off my sugar addiction AGAIN.

    When I was a girl, we lived 8-9 hours from each set of grandparents and never traveled at Christmas. I have fond memories of candles and music and acting out the stories, just the five of us...

    Every year I intend to take charge and make suggestions (for the extended family we're to be with) so that I can feel better about it, but their schedules dictate and ours are more flexible, and I'm left trying to pick up my own pieces.

    Yes, I realize I sound depressed. I don't look forward to winter anymore. (With my birthday right after Christmas, I have to choose which day I want to have my way, meaning, at home.) I'd like to really shake things up and have the major family gatherings during another season, but I want to be a farmer, and the other seasons are gardening/farming seasons. Big sigh... Guess I'll have to choose what I most want to control. (Blah.)

    K

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