I am not a social creature by nature, but this time of year always makes me feel a little nostalgic about the holiday parties of my childhood.
Dealing with the crowds and noise was a vastly different affair as a kid than it is for an adult. Apart from the requisite, perfume-reeking “OH MY YOU HAVE GROWN” greetings from older female relatives, one could glide around through the throngs of oblivious (and usually tipsy) adults like ground squirrels scuttling across the loam of some primeval forest. Providing one was careful enough to avoid the gaze of That One Great Aunt, you could raid the hors d’oeuvres table with impunity and seek out whatever adventure could be found within garish confines of the hosts’ midcentury-modern-meets-mid-Seventies abode.
Both sides of my family threw holiday bashes, though I preferred the ones organized by my father’s people because my slightly younger cousin Jason would be there to alleviate the boredom. Otherwise, there weren’t many kids close to my age bracket at these events, leaving me in a restless limbo between the teenager and toddler sets where I had to amuse myself for five hours.
(My first exposure to Dungeons and Dragons came from one of the aforementioned teens. He was a distant relative whose name I’ve long since forgotten who spent the entire evening sketching an elaborate map on graph paper while I irritated him with an endless series of questions about what he was doing.)
There are several semi-lucid fragments I can recall about these parties — the haze of cigarette smoke, the murmur of political discussion peppered with occasional outbursts, the drone of discount holiday music albums purchased from Zayre’s or Stuarts — but none are as emblematic of those times as “stained glass cookies” were.
The confections were a specialty of my mother’s Aunt Dottie and the showpiece of her dessert display spread. They were a circular fudge-like mess containing a cross-section of colored mini-marshmallows — hence the “stained glass” thing — and I couldn’t begin to estimate how many of the things I tucked away over the course of my childhood.
My recollection of them remained even after the parties stopped being an annual thing, but I could never figure out exactly what they were or how they were made. My friends had never heard of them, or assumed I was talking about the sugar cookie constructs with a clear pane of sugar in the center. I had to assume it was a WASP white trash thing that propagated through that culture’s culinary grapevine while passing over more ecumenical means of transmission.
Eventually I did find an answer, and immediately wished I hadn’t.
The cookies were a no-bake affair, akin to a pancreas-killing sushi roll. Take some chocolate chips and a big gob of butter, melt them into an industrial grade form of fudge, lob in some colored mini-marshmallows, then dump it out on some waxed paper and wrap the mass into a cylindrical log to be refrigerated until it hardens enough for slicing. Thanks to the advent of the microwave, the entire process can be completed in under fifteen minutes with minimal skill involved.
In other words, it’s exactly the type of thing my mother’s family would consider high class eating.
There’s a part of me that feels compelled to make a batch of stained glass cookies for old time’s sake. It is currently engaged in a heated battle with the part of me that wishes to avoid an induced diabetic coma.