Friday, December 7, 2012

Our eclectic yearly cookie swap

I inherited the guest list for the yearly cookie swap from my friend Lisa.
One November evening four years ago, she invited me to a get-together at her house. “It’s a group that meets monthly to have dinner or watch a movie or do some kind of activity,” she said. “It’s mostly mothers of kids in Nate’s class at the Montessori Preschool, but you can come too if you want.”

I did go to Lisa’s that evening. I forget what the theme that month was, but there were about twenty women in attendance; I already knew some of them and enjoyed meeting the rest. In fact, I had such a good time that I rather rashly offered to host the same group the following month for something I’d long wanted to try: a holiday cookie swap, in which each guest brings a few dozen cookies to exchange, and each participant leaves with a cookie assortment that she can serve at other gatherings or give as gifts over the upcoming weeks of festivities.

In what I hope was a coincidence unrelated to my presence at the event, the group’s monthly habit started to fall apart right around then. I was invited to a couple more events in the months that followed, but for the most part the routine seemed to peter out at that point.

Nonetheless, I’d had fun at the cookie exchange and wanted to host one again the following year. By the third year, I realized that if the original group was no longer meeting regularly, I wasn’t really tied to that specific list of people and could invite whoever I wanted, but I was actually fond of that particular group. I had lots of good friends who weren’t part of it, but I could see them at other events throughout the year.

So once again, last night, it was a cookie exchange primarily for my inherited guest list, though over the years I’ve expanded it a little bit, mostly to include new acquaintances in town, because it’s such a good opportunity for them to meet other mothers of grade school aged children.
Now it’s a yearly ritual on a weeknight in early December. We go through bottles of seltzer or wine (a couple of guests always rib me about how small my wine glasses are, and every year I promise to try to upgrade my collection by the next December); we eat cheese and crackers and dips and vegetables and my friend Emily’s addictive cream cheese chutney spread; I indulge in my love of making decadent desserts – eggnog cheesecake and chocolate mousse pie, this year – and  everyone arrives with cookies, which we array on the dining room table.

My husband Rick always jokes that we need to ramp it up, make it more competitive. He claims not to like the fact that we simply take the number of cookies allotted to each guest; he thinks it should be more like the NFL draft, with rankings and deal-making and competitive bidding. But we haven’t reached that point yet. It’s just fun to see what everyone brought. Last night there were red velvet cookies, pumpkin chocolate chip cookies, maple pecan cookies, toffee, biscotti, peppermint bark. The variety goes on and on, but no one takes it too seriously. It’s really just a chance to get together, and leaving with a bundle of cookies is a bonus (with the added benefit that no one’s spouse or children are ever sorry to see them head out the door when cookie exchange night arrives).

Last night, I realized that inheriting a guest list rather than making one up yourself can actually be an advantage. Though we are all local, there are some guests whom I go a whole year without seeing in between cookie exchanges, which is much longer than I go without seeing closer friends. Besides, there’s something about this list that reminds me of the cookie exchange itself. With their children’s preschool days long behind them, even Lisa’s original group of guests doesn’t all see each other that much anymore. We’re a somewhat random collection of people clustered together for this one evening like varied cookies on a plate. And just like the cookies we’re all left with every year, it’s a wonderful assortment, perfect for the holiday season.

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