Everyone knows by now that I don’t have a Tee Vee. Worse than that particular crime against Americanism, I’m not very good at following pop culture. Sure, the teenagers walk by my house every day wearing pajama pants, hoodies, and Uggs. I observe, I briefly ask “why?” and then I reframe my thoughts back to my work, the blog, Moxie, and French language fluency. I don’t shop a lot any more, either, so I don’t get catalogs in the mail. But I’m not completely oblivious and I follow a few cultural and socio-economic trends via Facebook and Twitter. I do know it is “Holiday Cookie Swap” season.
This week, writer Drew Magary issued his “Hater’s Guide To The Williams-Sonoma Catalog.” You can read it here. (There’s lots of bad language, you have been warned.) I read it and I laughed. I laughed a lot and I wondered if I could ever write anything quite as clever without all the BLEEPs. But mostly what caught my eye was his mention of gluten-free vanilla sugar cookie mix and the “Holiday Cookie Swap.”
You see, a few weeks ago, Mathilde Murdoch invited me to a “Holiday Cookie Swap.” Tildee has invited me to every single one of her cookies swaps and I’ve declined each of her five invitations. Last year, I had just moved and could barely find a cookie sheet. The years before? Who knows. I looked at the list of invitees copied on Tildee’s e-mail this year and I couldn’t refuse because I missed my friends from New Hampshire.
Cherie Ripperton, Slim, Jenna Mae, and Jackie Phillips had all RSVP’d “yes.” Other friends I’ve never blogged about were going too, and there was a delightful promise of “light appetizers.” Best of all? It was going to be at Lee-Annie Leonie’s new Portsmouth “in-town” condo, the story of which is a happy one all by itself. So I pulled out my baking stones and responded to the note with a quick “I’ll be there with Ginger Snaps.”
My cookies were ready and carefully sealed into a vintage cookie tin. I was really looking forward to going until I read the “Hater’s Guide.”
Had I allowed what Magary calls the “doily mill” of Williams-Sonoma, Crate & Barrel, Martha Stewart, and other media message makers to influence me with their shiny granite countertops, Le Creuset cooking dishes, and perfectly shaped sugar concoctions? Was I just another American consumer in search of another kitchen tool to complete myself?
Let it never be so.
It being the holiday season, I took the day off from work and decided to spend it visiting some of my favorite places on the Seacoast, my residence for almost twenty years. On my way to the Rye Beach Post Office to mail some holiday cards, I stopped at the Rye branch of my bank. I pulled into the parking lot and shut off my old Jeep. What was that smell? I had just had the Jeep’s oil changed. I popped the hood and did a cursory glance around the engine and assured myself it was just my imagination. As I slammed the hood back down, a woman of seventy or so pulled up in a giant Audi, a model I had never seen before, and looked curiously at me. She asked “is everything ok?”
“Oh! Yes, thank you!” I said. “You know how old cars are. They’re always smoking and stinking.”
She gave me a perfunctory smile and then quickly darted into the bank. Obviously, she did not know how old cars were and “smoking” and “stinking” were two adjectives she had never applied to her motoring adventures. I’d better watch myself with the down-home Maine stuff.
I mailed my letters and headed back to Portsmouth.
I had some time to fill before the cookie swap so I parked the stinking smoker on a side street beyond the meters and walked to the Portsmouth Athenaeum.
It’s a private membership library, but it’s open to the public on certain days. Yesterday afternoon was one of them. I have a pleasant memory of spending an afternoon there, sitting in an old Windsor chair and reading, and I had hoped I could find a quiet place to write a few Christmas cards. I climbed the stairs to the third floor.
I walked in on a group of men and women seated around a large oak table eating lunch. There was a moment of awkwardness and I questioned if it was my old nubby cloche hat or my L.L. Bean boots. Then a woman stood up and walked towards me, asking “may I help you?”
“I would like to do some reading.”
She said something about a missing volunteer and that portions of the library were not available today.
I had been moving towards a large oak table in a reading room and as I crossed a certain invisible line, a man from the lunch group said “Muffie, I’ll handle this. You eat your lunch.”
Tan corduroys, a blue blazer, and a screaming green holiday tie like a stake of holly through his Scrooge-like heart were all I could see of this stern gentleman who explained there was no room at the inn for me today. The last time I had visited must have been a fluke and in the midst of my interloper’s confusion, my mind started playing the scene from Romy & Michele’s High School Reunion, where Michele applies for a job at the Versace boutique on Rodeo Drive and is told “we won’t be requiring any staff at this time.”
Green Holiday Tie may have been offering me a stool in the corner, but all I could hear was “please leave.”
I held up my hand and said “No, no, I understand completely. I’ll leave and go to the public library. Thank you.”
Well, it was an awkward moment to be sure and the discs in my spine must have decompressed at least three inches.
I spent the rest of the afternoon in a carrel at the Portsmouth Public Library, writing out cards and going over my “to do” list. It couldn’t have been nicer and it was peacefully quiet.
Snow had started falling while I was inside the library. I left my packages in the car, got my cookies, and headed over to Lee Annie’s. The residential neighborhoods around the library twinkled in winter snow-globe perfection. Although my heart was heavy with the afternoon’s rejection and I felt kind of dumpy from sitting around the public library all afternoon, I put on a happy face and climbed the stairs to the cookie swap.
What can I say? Lee Annie’s new home is beautiful and it was cozy and warm. There were lots of hugs and I couldn’t help but wipe a little tear from the corner of my eye to hear all my friends tell me they missed seeing me every day. There were broiled prosciutto-wrapped asparagus spears and there were plates of crudité, crackers, and things to dip them in. Dr. Dee, who I think is secretly writing the ultimate guide to cooking with Jimmy Dean sausage, brought a crock pot full of her latest creation. Good eating!
There was a quiche and Tildee made a thoughtfully composed pizza.
There was no competition in the kitchen, just laughter, friendship, and tasty treats. And let’s not forget Bernard Saint’s salami and horseradish cream cheese appetizer squares.
The cookies? They were a lovely end to what was simply a good time with good friends. Cherie Ripperton claimed her sugar-dusted coconut shortbread cookies weren’t her best work, but once again, she underestimated herself. And I must say, Slim made some chocolate-dipped chocolate chip cookie dough balls sprinkled with sea salt which were downright delicious. Ever concerned about food quality and cleanliness, she reminded everyone twice or thrice that she made the cookie dough without any eggs. There was no Holiday Cookie Swap Salmonella this year. Thanks, Slim!
I made it back to Maine around 10:00 p.m. It was snowing lightly and as I rounded the corner to my house I smiled because Mr. Deehan had turned on my Christmas lights for me. I admired my old imperfect block of a house with the red electric candles in the windows and was glad to be home, filled with stories and cookies.
Sure, old “Green Holiday Tie” at the private library set me back a few paces, but then I remembered something corny and important. My heart wasn’t Scrooge-pierced with a stake of holly through it. My heart was full of the affection of many wonderful friends and sometimes, that’s enough.