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a consequence of cookies

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It’s April.

And though we are given wary looks from those who have lived in Montana longer, we nonetheless throw our heads back and howl our joy to the skies that winter is over and spring has begun.

(we purposely ignore patches of ground with several inches of snow stubbornly refusing to melt)

It’s April.

Which means tulips and daffodils and frosted cookies…

As a baker, there are two seasons for which I have written myself a permission slip to enjoy frosted cookies: spring & winter holidays. This is an entirely made up and true rule for me, something I’ve adhered to for longer than I can remember.

Growing up, without fail, the frosted cookie of choice was thumbprints, shortbread-like round cookies with a depression filled with tinted frosting (never jam or chocolate or something exotic like nutella). They came with and without black walnuts, since the family was equally divided in our preferences. There were two sources for these brightly colored indulgences: my mother and a local bakery called Trefzgers. My mother’s recipe came directly from the 1st edition red Betty Crocker cookbook, which called for Crisco and a frosting made of confectioner’s sugar, milk or water, vanilla, and questionable amounts of food dye. Trefzgers’ thumbprints were twice the size, made with lard, filled with frosting that was more like an imitation buttercream, available in pastel colors.

I still remember the holiday I announced I was vegetarian and no longer eating trans fats. The vegetarian concept was hardest on my father, but the trans fat choice created a rift in my relationship with my mother that still has not repaired.

Here’s the thing. I’m a great baker, but there are two recipes that gloriously fail at every attempt: thumbprints and caramel corn… my mother’s specialties.

I'm fairly certain my announcement on that fateful day in family history was the tipping point. I’d created a life as a teaching artist, decided to have dogs instead of children, I brought my own coffee to drink when I visited, voted differently than my parents in every election, gotten a tattoo, and I was divorced.

Thumbprints were the only thing keeping our small family together.

To my mother’s credit, she tried to make them with butter, but ultimately we switched to frosted cookies that I made and decorated with royal icing. She’d watch, drink her Folger’s coffee with Coffeemate, and we’d talk about things like the dogs or the weather or what the neighbors were up to…

I see thumbprints in bakeries, and they’re much fancier than the ones I loved for so long. They are rolled in toasted coconut or made with buckwheat flour, nut flours, or chocolate dough and filled with ganache or sea salt caramel…

None captures the stream of memories like the ones my mother made.

And so here we are in April, and at our favorite local bakery, Wild Crumb, my eyes scan across the over-filled case of ridiculously beautiful indulgences. I notice the thumbprints and I smile with recognition, respect, and love as I choose the frosted cookie in the shape of a flower.

And I make a mental note to send my mom a hand written card, in celebration of spring.

always in motion,


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  • Couldn’t you give us your mom’s recipe? Pleaaasssseee? My hens have agreed to donate their eggs. I have three edition of Betty’s Cookbook’s but not the one with the pictures. Wah.

    Cris on
  • Your writing always makes me feel like we are sitting in the kitchen having a heart to heart over (I usually bring my own organic -fair trade – if I have the chance, Sumatra dark roast) , over freshly brewed coffee. Thank you for these lovely and touching conversations! xoxx

    Sue McDonald on
  • I make thumbprints much like those with my mother-in-law’s recipe. Lots of steps for grandkids
    Mark the dough, roll the dough in balls, roll in egg white, roll in nuts, bake a bit, take our and make a thumb print, coo, then frost in red and green. ( using paste food color to make them dark. Must have both
    Love to hear others stories, Don’t get me started on other family recipes

    Kathy on
  • Thank you for a glorious trip back in time,filled with sweet memories and love:)

    Ardyth Shapiro on

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