Love and Loss Entwined: A Holiday Cookie Twist
Grief Recipe Stories : Eleanor Haley/
By Joni Sensel
Joni is the author of more than a dozen books—including several for teens—and writes frequently on grief and spirituality topics for Medium. She enjoyed three-and-a-half glorious years with Tony before his unexpected death in 2017.
One of the traits I most adored about my partner, Tony, was his unusual combination of tenderness and toughness. He was physically big and had worked his way through a powerful career, but also developed an emotional sensitivity he wasn’t afraid to reveal.
We discovered each other in our 50s, after life trials had burnished us both. I thought of him not only as a soulmate but as my polar bear—giant and fierce in appearance but a furry teddy at heart.
The holiday cookies we baked ritually in our too-few years together captured that contrast. They were a sentimental nod to his late Sicilian dad, who had provided the recipe and performed much of the cooking during Tony’s childhood.
Mixing up these anise-flavored cookies became our only unvarying holiday tradition. We made gigantic triple batches to mail to his adult kids, using his prized eighteen-quart spaghetti saucepan—another memento of his dad.
Baking is one of my few specialties, so when I saw the stained recipe card in Tony’s handwriting, I raised my eyebrows at one ingredient: Crisco shortening? Really? An entire pound? Not that holiday cookies are ever meant to be healthy, but… yikes. Could we use butter instead and maybe make them taste better?
Altering Dad’s recipe was not an option, and after eating these cookies, I didn’t question it again. I’m not typically a huge fan of anise flavor, but I had to admit these cookies are addictive. Like Tony, they’re a perfect combination of firm but tender, savory, and sweet.
Since Tony’s unexpected death two-and-a-half years ago, I make much smaller batches every year now myself. They’re a touchstone to him in a difficult holiday season.
Tony always mixed the dough by squishing the ingredients in his bear-paw hands… so I do, too.
Their twist shape gives me comfort, reflecting for me our sense that we were two halves of a whole. And the season’s spirituality and promise of rebirth give me hope that, someday and somehow, we can be twined together again.
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12 Comments on "Love and Loss Entwined: A Holiday Cookie Twist"Click here to leave a Comment
sara February 10, 2020 at 2:42 am
I made this pastry and my kids really liked it. To make it puffy, you can add a little baking powder. Thanks for this tutorial.
Julie Kronenburg January 3, 2020 at 1:14 pm
We lost our mother Gloria on 11/25/19 to brain cancer. She was our main source of abundant amount of Christmas cookies every year. We looked forward to our ice cream pails full of cookies on Christmas Day. This year myself, 2 sisters, a sister in-law, my daughter and 3 nieces all got together for a whole day to make 18 of my mom’s (and ours) favorite cookie recipes. It brought tons of laughs and tears but we had a real fun time! We have decided to make this a yearly tradition for us from now on. We hope we make mom proud!!
Kelly Chavez December 22, 2019 at 12:09 am
I lost my husband last year and one of our traditions as making and decorating sugar cookies with our kids. We just decorated this year’s cookies tonight and was reminded of my artist husband getting our tweezers to precisely place the sprinkles in perfect spot… while i slathered frosting on as many cookies as I could to get the job done. There are a few perfectly decorated ones in his honor tonight.
Lily December 19, 2019 at 5:21 pm
I just lost “my Mike” on October 22, he loved decorating Christmas sugar cookies. I would make the dough; roll it out and cut out the cookies using my favorite cutters. Mike used thick icing in vibrant colors; using all the sprinkles and various colored sugar crystals.
Cooking has always been my “go-to” place; in honor and memory of “my Mike” I’ll do him proud and make a double batch.
Merry Christmas and thank you! ??