Islander is legendary for hosting simple and fun holiday gatherings
If a holiday dinner party sounds too daunting, consider a holiday cookie exchange instead — a festive get-together where guests bring a few dozen cookies to share with others and leave with a few dozen baked by others to enjoy at home.
Sound easy? It is, and worth every small bit of effort, said Alicia Cahill, owner of popular downtown Galveston shop The Kitchen Chick. Cahill hosted a Christmas cookie exchange for more than 10 years for girlfriends and their kids.
“One time, we had a husband show up,” Cahill said. “But for the most part, it was just the girls and lots of kids.”
In her tidy and well-equipped kitchen, Cahill scoops her family’s signature oatmeal-pecan-dark-chocolate-chip drop cookies off a cooling rack and drops them onto a platter. Her dining room table is decked with vintage Christmas decorations, including a ceramic light-up Christmas tree she found in an antique store.
“My version of the cookie exchange was pretty laid-back,” she said.
That version features a fortified punch for the grownups and cider for the kids, a few snacks for nibbling and a table ready for laying out platters of cookies to be exchanged, she said.
Perusing online, a number of checklists pop up for the uninitiated — rules for throwing a cookie exchange, including asking guests to let the host know what they’re bringing and a promise to share recipes. Cahill required neither at her cookie exchanges, though many guests who cared to share recipes brought printed-out copies for everyone else and others shared later, upon request.
“We required only three things,” she said.
Guests were asked to bring enough cookies for everyone invited to leave with a sampling. For a party of 20, that would mean, say, baking five dozen cookies so everyone could leave with three dozen.
Guests also were asked to bring cute to-go plates, platters or sacks for taking cookies home.
And guests were asked to bring a dozen decorated cookies in a custom container for the white elephant exchange, the party’s main event. Each guest drew a number that matched one of the containers and could opt to keep the number they drew or steal something they wanted from someone else.
“It got pretty competitive,” Cahill said, remembering in particular an exchange one year in which a guest brought a Miley Cyrus “Wrecking Ball”-themed cookie that everyone wanted.
“People would even steal from kids,” Cahill said, laughing.
It was all an excuse to get together over the holidays and motivation to get the Christmas decorations out, she said. Non-bakers could bring bakery or supermarket cookies if they liked, no pressure. Some bakers pulled out all the stops and made elaborately decorated cookies. Others brought cookie bars and some, like Cahill, just baked the go-to cookie, the family’s fallback.
“I’ve literally baked thousands of these,” Cahill said. “They’re always in my pantry. We joke that they’re good for breakfast because they have oatmeal in them.”
Cahill invited “lots and lots” of guests to her holiday cookie exchanges — the more guests, the more variety of cookies.
“Even if someone wasn’t really in the mood to come to the party, their families would make them come to bring home a big stash of cookies,” she said.
A less-skilled party-giver might even take the cookie exchange to a new level: a post-cookie exchange get-together with friends where the samples taken home are laid out anew on festive holiday platters and served with punch.
Just think of it as recycling.
Cahill Family Cookies
Yields: 5 dozen
2 sticks butter, softened
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
½ cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
¾ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups uncooked regular oats
1 (10-ounce) package Ghirardelli 60 percent Cacao Bittersweet Chocolate Chips
1¼ cup coarsely chopped pecans
Preheat oven to 350 F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper or Silpats.
Beat butter and sugars at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy. Add eggs and vanilla, beating well.
Combine flour, baking soda and salt in a bowl, whisking to combine. Add to butter mixture until well combined. Gently stir in oats, chocolate chips and pecans.
Drop by rounded tablespoon, 2 inches apart onto prepared baking sheets and bake for 10 to 13 minutes or until brown around edges. Cool slightly on baking sheets, then transfer cookies to wire racks to cool completely.
1 (750-millileter) bottle Champagne, chilled
3 cups cranberry-apple juice, chilled
¼ cup frozen white grape juice concentrate, thawed
¼ cup orange liqueur
Fresh cranberries, optional
Stir together all ingredients in a 2-quart pitcher. Float fresh cranberries on top, if desired. Serve in Champagne flutes.
Note: For a non-alcoholic version, substitute ginger ale for Champagne.