YesA few years ago, I spent an afternoon baking holiday cookies with my three children in an effort to create a lasting Christmas memory.
I had these wonderful memories of baking with my grandmother in her tiny kitchen in Lynchburg, Virginia, standing on her pink and white checkered linoleum floor. I can still smell the almond cut cookies right out of the oven. I wanted my school-aged children to have memories like this too.
We planned to make the beautiful star-shaped cookie that caught my eye on the cover of a food magazine. We all got together in the kitchen on a Saturday afternoon and followed the recipe through to the end, with one child in charge of stirring, another of cutting the dough and another of decorating the cookies with silver balls and colored sugar.
Except the batter didn’t have the right consistency and was impossible to deploy. What did we do wrong? We started all over again. And again, the paste did not work. By this point I was screaming and throwing things and the kids had lost interest and scattered. What a disaster!
When the following month’s food magazine arrived, it contained an important editor’s note – “Correction: A recipe for a star cookie included in the December issue omitted a key ingredient…”
The clincher: I recently asked my kids (all adults now) what they remembered about that afternoon. No one could remember anything. Nothing. But they all said they had fond memories of us baking Christmas cookies together when they were younger.
Of course, holidays conjure up all kinds of memories. There is a melancholic atmosphere at Sweets by Mrs. C, a year-round Christmas-themed ice cream and candy store in Monongahela that Kristy Locklin describes in her monthly PGHEats column. She says the store looks like something straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting. The nostalgic decorations and scents are reminiscent of old-time vacations from a time that not all of us have experienced but can certainly appreciate.
The holidays are a time of nostalgia for many of us, and according to scientists, it’s a good thing for us. It can improve our mood and possibly our mental health – “It doesn’t cement us in the past, but actually increases our spirit and vitality,” according to a 2015 UK study explained in an article by Scientific American. The research, conducted on American, British and Chinese participants, found that nostalgia enhanced self-continuity by increasing feelings of social connection. “Sentimental memories often include loved ones, which can remind us of a social network that stretches across people – and across time,” the article notes.
I have never been able to duplicate the cut almond cookies my grandmother used to make. I tried, but I just don’t get the same look or aroma. Maybe what I really miss is his cozy kitchen and his warm embrace. The way the tiles creaked under our feet as we moved from table to oven. How the cookies seemed to melt in our mouths right out of the oven. Comforting thoughts. Nostalgia.
I wish you good memories and good health.
Virginia Linn can be reached at [email protected]