My Mother, the Squirrel
Each December throughout my childhood, my grandmother, Verna Schroeder, would bake about a dozen different kinds of Christmas cookies, and she would mail a tin to my family. After its journey from St. Louis, Missouri, to Los Angeles, the tin would be unsealed and out would waft a mix of cinnamon, chocolate, almond, and lemon. Bright cornflake holly cookies sat atop moon-like almond crescents and pecan dreams. My parents happily took the rock-hard honigkuchen, while my brother Josh and I raced to eat the acorns: small nut-shaped, spritz cookies, half-dipped in chocolate. Our mother had to ration them, like a squirrel…hiding acorns…from her children?
After my grandmother grew old and then passed away, my dad took on the duty of making Schroeder Christmas cookies. Starting in 1995, he blanched the almonds, double boiled the chocolate, and zested the lemons himself. Some years I would help; this year, my two-year old nephew Kenji assisted by repetitively sticking his little finger in the sugar, licking it, and saying, “Little bit,” before putting it back into the bowl.
Family tradition somehow justifies the resultant wild excess of cookies around my parents’ house. There are always at least six or eight tins of cookies at Casa Schroeder during December. To spare my brother, me, and our spouses (adults, all) from endless cookie-eating, my mother still rations the cookies by attempting to hide the tins. At least one tin of acorns ends up in the laundry room on the dryer or on a table by the back door or in the fridge outside. (Outside!) But we always find them, Squirrel Mom. And we always eat way too many acorns.