The Annual Cookie Party

My mom laid out my cookie options in front of me. On the right plate, I had what she called a “cowboy cookie,” a brown sugar cookie made with cinnamon, chocolate chips, and oats. On the left plate, I had a chunky, chocolate chip cookie, sprinkled with peppermint bits and oreo chunks throughout it, and dough made with oreo cream filling. I tried each one, chewing slowly and thoroughly. The Cowboy Cookie was the favored competitor, but the oreo peppermint cookie surprised and delighted me with its rich, but never overwhelming, sweetness. So, the oreo peppermint it was; the cookie would be my mom’s entry for the 2021 annual Christmas cookie competition, a party my mom and her best friend, Susan, have been hosting in our small hometown in Florida ever since I was little. Their holiday party mantra is that Christmas cookies, and consequently holiday cheer, are not meant to be enjoyed alone; the cookie party gives longtime friends the opportunity to share festive goodies and familial traditions with one another during a season where people often need it most.

Each December, several days before Christmas, my mom and Susan would host around thirty of their friends at our house. Every person was expected to bring a platter of cookies, with each entry being tailored to one of the two categories: taste or appearance. During the party, guests would meander about the different platters to taste and judge each cookie. Then, once their heart felt pulled to both a certain flavor and design, they would cast their votes for the superior cookies. Each guest would also come prepared with many tupperware containers to bring their favorites back with them. Winners in the past have been gifted new cooking gadgets, such as Christmas tree-shaped charcuterie boards or fake snow-dusted appetizer platters, but the real prize for many came from knowing that it would be their cookie that party-goers would be racing to box up and take home to their families; their cookies would be the star providing some fleeting Christmas cheer.  

The 2021 competitors were fierce. People had been saving recipes on Pinterest since last December, and perfecting their recipes for weeks. The taste category was ruled by nostalgic, but also wild flavors. Standouts from this pool were apple cinnamon-oat cookies, sea salt caramel pretzel, and lemon drop snowfall cookies. The real stars of the show, however, were the decorative category contestants for this year. One guest, Annie, created Ted Lasso-themed shortbread cookies. She had packaged each of them into their iconic pink boxes from the show, and had soccer balls and trophies to surround her platter of pink boxes. She then dressed as Ted Lasso and blew her whistle when people would try her cookies. Another guest had decorated her cookies so that they looked like candied apples. A third guest created beautifully glazed snowflake-shaped cookies and had built an entire display for her cookies, so that it looked as if they were sitting in a winter wonderland. Despite the dedicated competition, it was Ted Lasso who took the cake. 

The cookie party is my favorite winter event. The same, close group of friends continuously come together, year after year, to share some holiday cheer over delicious, festive cookies. My mom and Susan work hard to ensure they can provide a positive space for this sharing, as they know how many other people also cherish this event. They already have plans to pass the tradition of hosting onto myself and Susan’s daughter so that we can continue to spread and cultivate this type of Christmas spirit in years to come. I look forward to when my time comes to play a part in helping create such a cheerful environment for some of the people I love most, all through some Christmas cookies.

Cover Photo Courtesy of NY Times


Tackling Tailgating

The iPhone sent out a piercing blare at 6:30 am, ringing in unison with other students’ alarms across Boston College’s campus. It was the third football game day of the school year, and tailgating started in an hour and a half. Emily Finn, a senior at Boston College, rolled out of her bed and into her maroon and gold gear to watch her team play Louiseville. Saturday’s forecast: 90% chance of rain and 50 degree weather. Still, Finn was determined to play her part and set up a successful tailgate. Rain or shine. 

     She hailed an uber and booked it to Bruegger’s Bagels, where she had an array of 48 bagels and six different types of cream cheese waiting for her, already toasted and pre-sliced. She had ordered them two weeks in advance. Her other roommates were racing to a nearby Dunkin’ to collect several boxes of coffee, Finn’s next door neighbors were bringing mimosas and banana bread, her dad was bringing hot dogs and peppers to grill, and her friends’ parents were bringing everything in between: brownies, fruit salad, bloody mary’s, donuts, and burgers. Finn arrived at the tailgate as her roommate neared with her Honda CRV (the lucky car for the day), promptly unfolded the BC painted folding table, and laid out the bagels next to the parking spot. She helped herself to a hot cinnamon-raisin bagel with honey-walnut cream cheese as she waited for the others to arrive. She exhaled a long breath. The bagels had made it to the tailgate. 

     Tailgating is an activity many college students, alum, and general sports fans are familiar with. It’s a social gathering where friends and fans alike can share a casual meal with one another, typically served out of the back of cars in parking lots near the main sporting events—usually, a football game. This process lasts several hours, which is partially a product of the amount of effort put into preparing the food for the tailgate. Tailgating helps bring people together who are part of a community, and the food plays a large role in cultivating this inclusive environment. 

     For Finn, she was willing to put in extra effort because she has grown up going to Boston sporting games, where parents, friends of friends, and even strangers have been hospitable to her at the tailgates. “Everybody is so generous—people really are willing to provide for anybody cheering for their team,” said Finn. She said these experiences, in combination with her school’s pride, are why she wants to go the extra mile for her tailgates. “I love the Boston College spirit and everybody gathering at school together for the same purpose,” said Finn. Bringing food, even if it was only bagels from a nearby noshery, is important to her because it is her way of showing this spirit.

     “Just like on holidays, it feels good to take care to prepare something special for a special occasion,” Finn said. And the same goes for tailgating, “especially for families who spend so much money on having a tailgating spot and traveling regardless of how far the game is,” said Finn. She compared bringing her Bruegger’s Bagels to bringing a dessert to a holiday party. “It feels good to do this because game day is a special day,” said Finn. That Saturday, Finn got to watch Boston College’s football team beat Louisville, all on a full stomach of her favorite tailgating food—hotdogs. 

Cover photo courtesy of Carson Locker


Crawfish on the Newspaper

I spread the black and white pages of The Ocala Star Banner and The Miami Herald across two picnic tables, always double or triple layering them on top of one another. Most prints were from the current week, but some had been collecting in a drawer in the kitchen since February; it was now May. I placed candles and baskets on the paper to hold the place of the feast that would soon be laid on top of it—though highly unlikely that a strong gust of wind would wipe the table clear of the papers during the toasty, central Florida summer. I queued country music on the speaker and set out solo cups for sweet tea along one of the benches. Now the tables were ready for the crawfish boil. 

     Crawfish boils, while predominantly known for being a Lousianna classic after the Acadians (now Cajuns) arrived from Canada in the 1700s and ate crawfish out of necessity, have their hold across most of the southern states. The tiny crawfish, which look nearly like a cross between a lobster and a shrimp, are often accompanied by baby potatoes, corn on the cob, and Andouille sausage; the Floridians can’t help but often add Gulf shrimp to the mix as well. These ingredients are tossed in seasoning, traditionally Cajun seasoning, and then left to boil. When done, what’s left is a mass amount of fresh seafood and hearty vegetables with a slight kick to it, and all for the sharing. The steaming food gets rushed onto the picnic tables and into the waiting arms of the daily newspapers, as grabbing hands try to claim the most fresh crawfish or shrimp. 

     Crawfish boils are more than just a meal, as people often wouldn’t make one just for themselves. The boils are a community event. Every other high school graduation party consisted of one, and even birthday parties or anniversaries centered around a giant boil. Last Christmas, instead of having a traditional Christmas meal, my grandmother—whose family is all from Louisiana—insisted on having a crawfish boil. So, after opening gifts around the Christmas tree, my cousins and I got to chopping away the bags of potatoes and shucking dozens of cobs of corn. 

     The process to create this meal is not tedious. The food is not gourmet. The seafood is not exotic. However, boils have maintained their popularity because of the experience that comes with them. It takes many hands to feed as many people as the meals are able to; it takes even more effort to shell the crawfish and shrimp with each bite that is taken. People are brought together throughout the entire process of the boils, from collecting the daily paper to prepping the food all the way to spreading the meal across linked picnic tables. 

     The spirit of the crawfish boil has infiltrated other parts of the states, with even boil restaurants experiencing success in Boston. My roommate, Fizah, and I recently ventured to the Bootleg Special, a modern and trendy restaurant where the entire menu is focused on creating a custom boil mix. Each table has a little metal bucket with stilts at the end of it, and while much more posh than the southern boils, the meals nonetheless still bring people together. While they might not be making headlines, crawfish will continue to sit on the front page of the paper.

Cover photo courtesy of BostonMagazine


My Danish Hygge

We laid on the floor, the five of us, all resting on each other as if we were playing a grown-up version of Twister. Maks laid his head on my stomach, Astrid on his, mine on Frederikke, and Frederikke and Rune both on Astrid. We were in a perfect position to hear the satisfied movements of each others’ stomachs, full with the sweet Danish pastries from Anderson’s bakery down the road. I had a lukewarm fastelavnsboller, the Danish version of a cream puff, which had cooled in Astrid’s front wooden basket during her bike ride back from the bakery. 

     Mine had a perfect, circular coating of milk chocolate glaze around the top with a singular pink dot of frosting the size of a ladybug directly in the middle. When I bit into the soft, thin dough, the mildly sweet vanilla custard spilled out of the middle, collecting in the corners of my mouth. Rune snuck me a bite of his kanelsnegle, which is similar to a cinnamon roll. He unwound the long, skinny piece of dough from its circular formation; some of the cinnamon sugar butter gathered on his fingertips. I offered him some of my now custard-less fastelavnsboller in response. 

     Our perfect Twister formation was broken as Frederikke wiggled out and Maks pulled a blanket over the remaining four of us. The water was finished in the kettle for our lemon ginger tea. My mind was quiet, but in a good way. My body was warm, despite it being freezing outside. My stomach was full. It was hygge time. 

     Denmark has consistently been ranked as one of the happiest countries in the world for years, according to the World Happiness Report. It’s not the weather, where most of the fall and winter days are short, cold, and rainy. A part of it could be the location, but it ranks higher than many of its neighboring countries on the happiness scale.

     It’s the hygge. 

     Hygge is the Danish term for coziness, comfort, or the feeling a person gets when sitting by a fire on a cold night with a loved one while sipping on a cup of mint tea. To the Danes, hygge is a way of life–they have rules of hygge. 

     Candles, books, cards, blankets, and food make up the hygge environment. Each friend and family group conducts hygge time in their own way, and when I was living with my twelve Danish house mates, hygge time was always complete when we had the traditional Danish buns, cheese, and rhubarb jam. 

       Hygge sometimes required preparation. Frederikke and I would wander into the kitchen together at night—once everybody else was asleep and the kitchen was quiet—to prepare the dough for the buns. They required no fancy ingredients, just bread flour, whole wheat flour, yeast, and water. We would always stir the damp mixture longer than needed as we would get carried away telling stories and gossiping. Then we would put it away in the fridge until the morning. 

     The dough rose with the sun. Frederikke and I would wake before the others. She would form the dough into balls on our baking sheets while I pulled out the plates and retrieved the milky comté cheese and jar of beloved rhubarb jam. Once the subtle aroma of the buns reached the end of the hall, the hygge time had commenced. 

     The Danish pastries and buns were delicious on their own but made perfect because of the environment. The thought of them now evokes more fond memories of the people and emotions experienced while eating them than of the taste itself. Danish hygge is finding contentment in the coziness. It’s being satisfied with the food, content with the loved ones around, and grateful for the calmness that covers a hygge environment like a knit blanket. 

     For some of my roommates, their favorite hygge time was marked by knitting or baking. Mine was with them, all cozied together in our beautiful, disorganized way. And sometimes with a hot bun. 

Cover photo courtesy of planmygetaway