Some people go shopping, I get baking. Immediately after Thanksgiving I lay in a supply of pastry flour, candied citron, pecans, walnuts, almonds, cranberries, oatmeal, raisins,cookies.jpg oranges and spices — oh, and butter and eggs. And then I retrieve my vanilla-stained copy of the Sunset Magazine from four years ago — the one with a few dozen award-winning Christmas cookie recipes. This is my template. I have embellished each recipe over the years, adding twice the amount of spices, plus coriander and white pepper, to the Pfeffernusse recipe. Stepping up the amount of grated orange peel, and substituted almonds for coconut in the cranberry-orange recipe. You get the idea.

Then – for two weekends – I bake. Pretty much all day long. Intensive baking that gets me high on the persistent perfume of spices, citrus and brown sugar. Thirty dozen cookies. (Pictured here are, from the top, oatmeal, pfeffernusse, double chocolate, cranberry-orange and, hidden underneath, anise sugar cookies.)

Then I wrap and send the cookies out to my special friends, to my mom and her cronies at the La Mesa Y, old friends on the East Coast. I bring cookies to colleagues who have made my work easier, and my days happier – and then it’s done.
This will sound corny, but this annual baking binge is hugely satisfying. And so are the looks on the faces of my friends biting into these – yes, let it be said – delicious cookies. It’s not brain science, but it is very much in the spirit of the season.