Baking Cookies: A Lesson in Pioneers and Inner Beauty

Well, here we go.

No, but thank you for offering.

We got our first snow this morning, y’all! And after shrieking “NO!” into my pillow for 47 minutes, throwing three shoes at the wall, explaining to my neighbor why I threw three shoes at the wall, openly wailing, explaining to my neighbor, curious about the open wailing, that we might be dealing with a ghost and definitely not my melodrama, I said to myself, “the pioneers never wailed about snow. They only wailed when the coyotes stole the butter churn.” I pulled myself up by my novelty socks, and decided to go to do human things. Like clean and go to the grocery store. And stop wailing.

For the record, it’s not the temperature or the snow that gets to me, but the seemingly interminable nature of the temperature and the snow. It’s a marathon. A cold, frigid (hopeless?) marathon. But the one thing Winter has going for it is the holidays.

You’ve got something to look forward to! You’ve got a month where you don’t care so much about the temperature growing colder and roads getting more hazardous because if you celebrate like me, you have decorations and gift-shopping and baked goods and movies about people learning the real meaning of Christmas! Hint: it’s not about presents.

SO! Welcome to Christmas at Under The Parrot Umbrella! We’re not haunted by prospective seasonal affective disorder here!

The decorations: The family tree has been plastic for a long time. I do have vague memories of going to buy a real tree, but I have many more memories of trying to remember all the things that broke with its plastic counterpart the year before. “Were the lights always broken? Did it always tilt to the side? Were we always missing branches?”

So this year, I decided to get a small four foot tree for my apartment. This is my house! We will have whimsy! Evergreen-scented whimsy!

I’m learning, thanks to all the needles on the ground after one week of having the tree, there may have been reasons to go plastic.

The gift-shopping: Yeah, like I’d tell you. Though I will mention while I was home for Thanksgiving, I caught my mother googling, “odd but wonderful Christmas gifts.” Trying to tap into Google’s whimsical side, I guess.

The baked goods: Today’s baked good is only the jolliest of cookies: gingerbread!

Unfortunately, baked goods, even jolly ones, means going outside.

Every Sunday, Spring through Fall, I walk to the grocery store, and after staring at my rolling cart, that I, only with the deepest affection, call the “I’m an old lady” cart, for 5 minutes, I decided I should probably walk today too. Exercise!

Me: Maybe I should take my car.
“I’m an old lady” cart: Get up. We’re walking to the store you lazy bag of hairballs.
Me: ….you know that hurts my feelings.
“I’m an old lady” cart: When I was your age I didn’t have feelings.

Aside #1: the walk was pretty uneventful. As a general “don’t worry about me, parents!” disclaimer, whether driving or walking, when it’s snowing, a person should always act as if other drivers’ breaks won’t work. Not in a “the world is a death trap!” way, but in a way that gives other cars a wide berth because ice is a sneaky minx and can surprise you.

Aside #2: The grocery store has been going through a revamp, and today I find this where the cheese used to be…

Grocery store: It’s ten feet to your left.
Me: Cool, thanks so much!

*Goes back to listening to “Larger than Life” by the Backstreet Boys*

For my gingerbread recipe, I went with the Pioneer Woman’s, but instead of charming houses, we’re going to make gingerbread studio apartments.

Let’s break this down into 1) making the cookie dough, 2) making the icing, 3) making the den of insecurity the apartment.


*Like “dope.” Because my dough will be dope! I am very cool.

A couple weekends ago, my parents brought me their old KitchenAid mixer and it has been itching for some air time. Well, get out your itch-cream, mixer! Let’s do this! There is nothing gross about that visual! You’re gross!

Hero shot!

Mix the dry ingredients.

Immediately realize you don’t have enough flour. Mix half the dry ingredients and pretend you’re making responsible choices about food waste!

So yes, mix half the flour (3 cups), allspice (1/4 tsp), ginger (1/4 tsp), cinnamon (1/4 tsp), nutmeg (you guessed it, 1/4 tsp), cloves (same.), and salt (1/2 tsp) in a bowl and high five yourself because this is on purpose.

Then set that bowl aside like a champ who is perfect at baking things!

Mix the wet ingredients.

Action shot!

Chefs/bakers always include the phrase “mix until fluffy.” I don’t think butter and sugar will ever produce “fluffy,” but I’ll humor you Pioneer Woman and also everyone who has cooked a thing and then wrote about it. Mix the butter and the sugar until “fluffy” or something!

Drizzle in the molasses. Then marvel at how pretty the batter is starting to look as you drizzle in the molasses. This is a required step. I call it the “marvel step.”

Add 1 egg, and then watch the consistency get a little more questionable, but presumably fine. The requirement of this step is questionable.

Mix the wet and the dry like some crazed scientist!

Mix the dry mixture into the wet in batches, and then marvel again at how pretty your batter looks. You may feel compelled to Instagram at this point. Follow your instincts! The world is waiting to hear about your roller coaster! #allthefilters #mylifeisafilter

Let it sit.

Wrap the dough in plastic wrap, and let it sit in the refrigerator for at least two hours. Then be proud of yourself for having plastic wrap! You don’t have to do some creative things with parchment paper like you thought!

Things are awesome and also great, and they will stay that way, I bet!


This is where things do not stay awesome and great. The original list of shapes for the intended gingerbread studio apartment:

  • 2 6″x4″ rectangles
  • 1 5″x4″ rectangle
  • 1 human woman shape- no cookie cutter can encapsulate your leggings as pants and ever-present patterned scarf, so we’re going to draw this sucker out.
  • A collection of shapes that represent your Ikea furniture collection

…annnd TIMEOUT! This is the part of the story where the Pioneer woman, if she were making the gingerbread studio apartment, would say, “oh! What perfect apartment shapes! This plan went really well! High five, self!”

I quickly learned that my dough could have done with a quick layer of flour on top, and my apartment shapes should have been made of parchment paper. Because, you see, after laying them out, I quickly discovered the two had come together as one. As Jeff Goldbloom fused with the fly in the movie The Fly, my gingerbread dough fused with the stencils, and destroyed any plans of gingerbread accuracy. It quickly became a hopeless endeavor as the dough quickly lost all structural integrity.

But you know what, it’s like the pioneers say: when life gives you poorly shaped gingerbread, you should eat that gingerbread. Food waste is reckless. Now let’s figure out how to get the butter churn back from those pesky coyotes.

I just went for it.


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and bake your men/women/shapes/feelings for 10 to 15 minutes.

Icing (When things continue to not be awesome and great)

To be more specific, it is royal icing.

Why? Is it because it’s more of a figure head with no real power? Is it because Americans are obsessed with its family? Is it because when it speaks it uses words like “here ye!” and “good heavens!” and “could we be any fancier?” and “To the stables!” Could be. No way to know.

Unrelated question, what are things that royal people say?

Um, Pioneer woman. Your whole recipe calls for cups or tablespoons of ingredients. Why all of the sudden call for two pounds of powdered sugar? AND I need to sift it?! I just got a mixer! I don’t have a kitchen scale AND a sifter. This isn’t a Williams Sonoma! Or if you’re another twenty-something-try-hard, this isn’t a Super Target!

Because I’m very tricky, I have the idea to 1) weigh myself and a measuring cup on my bathroom scale (which I moved out of the bathroom for these purposes), 2) loudly sing “Beautiful” by Christina Aguilera (“I am beautifully, no matter what my scale saaaaaays…”), and 3) keep adding sugar to the measuring cup until I hit two pounds. Problem solving! Arguably unnecessary problem solving!

It became an issue when I 1) weighed myself, 2) filled up my measuring cup, 3) went back to weigh myself, and 4) weighed less than the first time. This is not how weight works, team!

Plan B: I took one of my five pound weights in one hand and guess-timated two pounds of sugar in the other. More problem-solving! Great and good!

Beat the powdered sugar (I still can’t help you with how much sugar this actually is), whole milk (1/3 cup), and egg whites (2!) until thick.

….it’s not becoming thick. It’s basically refusing.

I kept adding sugar thinking that would help. Did not.

I mixed it for a long time thinking that would help. Did not.

Why is baking the very very worst?!

Transfer to a piping bag anyway because I already started this blog post, and we’re going to finish it! If you don’t have a piping bag, me neither! Cool kids unite! I usually snip a small corner off a Ziploc bag, and it basically does the job.

Anyway, I really doubt the pioneers had piping bags. They had their butter churn and their dreams and a pair of sensible shoes.


Sometimes I make really good choices. Other times I buy this notebook.

For unicorn-notebook reasons (I already spent money on things and want to stop spending money on things), I couldn’t justify buying gum drops and twizzlers as stand-ins for piles of coats that don’t make it to the coat closet and unfinished sewing projects, both staples in my apartment. That’s ok! My gingerbread resembles unhealthy bowel movements! There are no rules where we’ve gone!

So after some 1) dough disasters opportunities, 2) unicorn-notebook choices, and 3) creative decorating, let’s see the final creation:

Here we see Meredith perusing her bookshelf deciding between reading an Eleanor Roosevelt biography and rereading Harry Potter. Ultimately, as you can see here, she decides to finish the latest episode of Westworld.

After digging through her closet, Meredith decides which pair of pants to wear to work tomorrow. She is trying to make more of an effort in her work wardrobe because at 28, she thinks that leggings are no longer an appropriate first choice. Second choice is fine.

Meredith watches a sunrise, pondering her place in the universe. Is it a problem that her days feel small, when she, in fact, is small? Aren’t we all small when compared to the expanse of time and space? And then Meredith uses the bathroom.

All in all, I’m pretty sure this is a treasure! I’ve seen modern art! These cookies count!

And speaking of, the cookies themselves are delicious, and if this isn’t a metaphor about what’s on the inside counting, or being open-minded, or something you’d hear in an episode of Glee, I’m calling all my old art professors and asking for a refund.

Hours since I started this blog post, it’s still snowing. And if I were a betting woman, I would say it’s probably going to snow again before Spring gets here. It’s moments like this that I try to remember what famed pioneer Jedidiah Johnson always said: “Stop complaining. Now, I’m going to go fight a bear. Hand me my wooden leg.”

At least I can check “my apartment smells like love” off the Getting-ready-for-Christmas checklist. That’s something.

2 thoughts on “Baking Cookies: A Lesson in Pioneers and Inner Beauty

  1. Tears in my eyes! How do you make baking such an adventure??
    Also, wish I was with you to help sort through your sewing projects and make clothes from gingerbread Meredith.

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