by Olivia Greyson, from THE COOKIE CUTTER SHOP MYSTERIES, by Virginia Lowell.
Have you ever noticed that certain foods bring back memories of certain people? Especially during the Holidays… Although I have to admit the connection also works the other way around: remembering a person can make me hungry for a particular food. With me, it’s cookies. So here I am at two a.m., in my own little kitchen, baking white-chocolate chip cookies for Christmas day with my family—and thinking about my dad. He adored white-chocolate chip cookies, could eat them by the handful, and he never gained an ounce. That part still rankles, I’m ashamed to admit, even though Dad died over fifteen years ago. Luckily, cookies take me to my cozy place, so mostly I’m remembering the happy times with my father.
My father was an ornithologist. Birds fascinated him to the point of obsession and beyond. He wrote bird books that read like novels. I kid you not. The birds spoke actual dialogue. When Dad wasn’t imagining the birds gossiping over a suet cake, he was chatting with them as if they were next-door neighbors. (This might explain why I talk to cookie cutters, though I try to do so only in the privacy of my own kitchen.)
One Christmas Day, when I was about ten, Dad and I watched some robins squabbling over the few remaining red berries hanging on a small tree. I announced that I did not like robins. They were, I said, crabby and selfish. Plus they didn’t have really pretty, bright colors, like cardinals and blue jays.
My dad was quiet for a while—long enough to consume three whole cookies, as I recall. “I rather like those orange bellies,” Dad said finally. I knew there was more coming, but it wasn’t until two cookies later that he added, “Honey, it isn’t easy being a robin. Imagine yourself inside their feathers. It’s winter, there isn’t much fruit to eat, and you’ll have to stay outside all night. You wouldn’t have a nice warm bed to crawl into or hot food on the table the next morning. You and your brother still quarrel over the last cookie on the plate, even after you’ve both had a full meal. Those robins only seem selfish to you, but they are actually cold and hungry. They need lots of food to help them survive the cold nights.”
I got the point, although I didn’t admit it, and I never forgot the story. Forever after, I’ve associated white-chocolate chip cookies with my father and his unique way of understanding birds… and people. And I’ll bet my new silicone-coated rolling pin that when I bring these cookies to Christmas dinner with my family, we will find ourselves telling stories about Dad.
Do you have a holiday food favorite that immediately takes you back in time to a person or place?
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COOKIES AND SCREAM, the fifth book in the series, will be released July 1, 2014. Meanwhile, visit Virginia Lowell at www.virginialowell.com