A couple months ago, I promised some posts on what it’s like to be a Canadian living in the United States. There are many stories to share, but this one seems appropriate to the season. And it was one of my first introductions into the differences between our two cultures.
Twelve years ago, we moved from Montreal to Minnesota. It’s not hard to imagine there would be some adjustments. Our neighbors were incredibly nice, and since we moved into our house in the fall, they invited me to a brunch and Christmas cookie exchange in early December.
I was feeling really confident about this event. I’m a good baker, and I was sure that my delicious cookies could win the hearts and minds of my fellow Minnesotans. I decided on Raspberry Cream Cheese cookies, a Christmas favorite in my house growing up. They are rich and tender, with tangy raspberry jam nestled inside a soft snow-white cream cheese cookie and finished with a light dusting of powdered sugar. I was 8 months pregnant, with a 20-month old child underfoot, but I set to baking. And I proudly carried my cookies (divided into half-dozen individual portions as instructed) down the freezing-cold Minnesota winter street to the house down the way.
As we entered the house, smelling of egg-and-ham bake and coffee, everyone put their offerings on the dining room table. And I immediately saw where I had gone seriously wrong.
Everyone else came with their cookies laid out carefully on Christmas-themed paper plates, covered with festively-themed ziploc bags. My cookies were in plain ziploc bags — with no paper plate. They just flopped around, smearing their powdered sugar onto the plastic so the cookies seemed hidden by a snowstorm.
But aside from presentation, the stunning difference was in the style of cookie. My soft and luscious cookies paled in physical comparison to their contributions — cookies created to look like reindeer, snowmen, Santa Claus. They were not so much baked, as constructed. Constructed from purchased cookies and decorations, like an elementary-school art project.
The taste? Not so great. But boy, did they look festive. I knew at once all the neighbor’s kids, when presented with the array of cookies from today’s exchange, would snatch up the fancy Christmas-themed ones and leave mine for the stragglers.
And it was then that I learned a key difference between my previous experiences and my new environment — here, presentation style is VERY important. Dare I say even more important than substance on occasion.
This love of presentation carries over to all manner of holidays and holiday traditions, including decorating your house, making holiday-appropriate treats and goodies, and even dressing yourself for the holiday occasion (occasions may be Halloween, Valentine’s Day, 4th of July, etc. — there are culturally-agreed-upon foods, decor and attire for all of them).
And a smattering of candy balls or glitter makes up for a multitude of flaws.
I’ve adapted over the years, and even have a small collection of festive decor and recipes. But I still love my plain old cookies, and in fact just made a batch this evening. I’ll be bringing them to a friend’s Christmas event tomorrow 🙂
Raspberry Cream Cheese Cookies
- 1 cup butter
- 1 package (250g) cream cheese
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 cup raspberry jam
- powdered sugar
Cream butter and cheese together. And sugar and beat until light. Combine flour and baking powder; stir into creamed mixture, blending well. Press into a ball, wrap and chill overnight (or for a few hours).
Roll out dough 1/8 inch thick on floured surface (it will need to warm up a bit before you can do this). Cut with a 2-3 inch round cookie cutter. Place 1/2 teaspoon of jam in the center of each cookie; fold in half.
Place on lightly greased baking sheet. Bake in a 375 degree F oven for 15 minutes, or until set but not browned. Cool and dust with powdered sugar. Makes about 4 dozen cookies.