Most bloggers post their yummy cookie recipes before Christmas, because that’s when everyone is getting ready for Santa’s visit. But I’ve intentionally saved mine for this week for a specific reason, and it has everything to do with my family’s unusual relationship with Santa Claus. So I will get to the cookie recipe, but I beg your indulgence because the family connection is, well, compelling, don’t you think?
And yes, you read that right. My family knows Santa personally, and he’s more like the rest of us than you may have imagined.
When I was a little girl, I was fortunate to live near enough my maternal great-grandparents that I visited them regularly in our small town. When I was a teenager, my visits remained frequent, as their house was within easy walking distance of the high school and I could visit during senior free time. I think it’s possible that my Grandma J actually invented the “grandma pizza,” as that was a regular lunch treat she made for my school day visits.
On occasion, I would also catch the lingering aroma of Grandpa J’s homemade cake donuts, and that was a sure giveaway that Santa had been to their house that morning. Apparently, cake donuts were Santa’s favorite, and he made a point to stop and sit a spell whenever he pulled his 18-wheeler into the parking lot of the grocery store across the street from my relatives’ humble home. You didn’t think a sleigh was his only mode of transport, did you? Santa also has a motorcycle, and he sometimes rolled into town on that, especially in the summer.
Santa visited my great-grandpa quite often, and my one regret is that I always arrived at their home just moments after Santa had left. My timing was terrible, but Grandpa told me the stories, and I remember them all as if I had met Santa myself.
The history of the friendship
It’s hard to say exactly how or when this personal friendship between my great grandpa and Santa began, but it could go back a few generations. Grandpa’s people came from Norway, which is basically a stone’s throw from the North Pole, and because Santa is multilingual, he and Grandpa J usually conversed in Norwegian. Their discussions didn’t focus on Christmas unless it was on the calendar that month, but those visits were rare because Santa was so busy. The rest of the year, Santa’s life is quite different and, well, normal, so they talked about ordinary things like the weather and family and how things were going up at Santa’s place, which is much more than just a toy shop.
Santa has more going on than toys
There is a small working farm at the North Pole, so Santa stays busy keeping things in order there, but with plenty of help. There are farm hands to tend the livestock and the crops, and Santa always had children staying with him, too. It was never clear to me whether they were his own kids or perhaps adopted or even fostered— and it doesn’t really matter because Santa loves all children the same. I most remember the stories about the two teenage boys and the girl, and how they spent a lot of time outdoors, especially around Buttermilk Lake (which isn’t actually filled with buttermilk, despite its name) and reporting to Santa the chaotic incidents perpetrated by two particular animals.
The monkey and the billy goat
My great-grandpa relayed many stories of Santa’s life at the North Pole, but the most memorable ones were about a billy goat, which doesn’t initially seem unusual on the grounds of a working farm. But this was a rambunctious billy goat who was less part of the farm and more part of the family. He minded his own business for the most part, but regularly found himself the target of pranks by a mischievous monkey. The monkey was a real terror, and he’d often use a long wheat straw to tickle the billy goat’s ear as he napped. Sometimes he’d annoy the goat so badly that a chase would ensue around the outside of the house. Santa’s wife (her name is Mary Christmas, in case you’re wondering) would be interrupted from her work in the kitchen as the pair whipped past the window again and again, until finally she only saw one figure. That darn monkey was so clever, he’d jump up and land on the billy goat’s back, just riding along as the billy goat basically chased himself. It must have been a sight!
And lest anyone assume that the relationship between Santa and Mary Christmas is misogynistic, I can assure that it isn’t. Mary Christmas was not just washing dishes or making supper in those stories; she is a very resourceful woman who also helps on the farm, especially planting and tending the garden. She does a lot of canning and pickling to ensure that the family and farm hands have ample supplies throughout the year. Some of Santa’s visits to my great-grandpa were the result of him being in town to purchase canning supplies and other things that Mary Christmas had put on his “honey-do” list.
The night everyone talks about
So what about all the magical effort that goes into delivering presents on Christmas Eve? Well, it’s not a big deal for Santa because he’s been doing it so long and he also has his own logistics team. He doesn’t depend on airlines or commercial freight carriers; he handles the details himself and gets the job done well every time. As for the ability to visit all the world’s children in a single night, there is a very simple explanation. Time stands still at the North Pole and most of the travel happens at very high altitude so everything goes faster than it does down here at ground level. You know how it is when you’re in an airplane, moving at approximately 550 mph, but not feeling plastered against your seat? Same principle.
The other 364
During the rest of the year, and especially after Christmas, Santa lives a lot like the rest of us— keeping his business and home in order, taking care of his family and workers and catching up with old friends, like my late great-grandfather. Because time stands still at the North Pole, though, Santa doesn’t age at the same rate as the rest of us. Keeping fit is an ongoing effort and Santa knows that children love to prepare cookies for him, so he never complains about the sugary treats he finds while delivering gifts. But he also eats other foods, and he appreciates finding cheese and crackers, sandwiches, a veggie tray or even a little nip of whiskey (the reindeer are the ones driving, after all). Santa is good with all of that, so don’t stress yourself next Christmas to get the cookies ready. And if you feel like putting out cake donuts, well, he’d be pleased as punch (especially if they’re rolled in cinnamon sugar).
About these cookies
As much as I love the idea of Christmas cookies, I rarely make them and I don’t get too excited about the sugary toppings and decorations. I was always the weird kid who chose homemade oatmeal raisin over iced with sprinkles. This is the kind of cookie I would make for a last minute, mid-year visit from Santa. Without weeks to plan, I’d go to the pantry and clear out every this-and-that ingredient I could find—oats, puffed rice cereal, nuts, dried cherries, coconut flakes and dark chocolate— and turn them into a cookie that satisfies with all its contrasting textures.
I made a batch of these “clear out the pantry” cookies recently, and I’m happy to share how it went!
The cookie dough itself is akin to a chocolate chip cookie dough, but with a swap-in of some whole wheat flour for extra flavor and nutrition. I used a combination of brown and cane sugars, wholesome egg, creamy butter and real vanilla extract. The dough begins as most, by creaming together the butter and sugars, then blending in the egg and vanilla.
I mixed in the old fashioned oats first, because I can beat them vigorously without worry of gluten development. Next, the whole wheat flour mixed with the baking soda, salt and cream of tartar. Then, the rest of the flour, mixing just enough to work it into the creamed mixture.
When you’re mixing any cookie dough, you want to avoid stirring too much after you add the flour, or the dough may get tough rather than soft. So for the mix-ins, I began with the really firm ones— chocolate chips, dried cherries and chopped pecans— and I used a hard spatula to essentially “press” them through the dough. Finally, I did the same with the toasted coconut and crispy brown rice cereal.
I used a small cookie scoop to divvy out the dough, pressing a really full scoop against the inside of the bowl to ensure that every cookie is full and round, and spacing them two inches apart onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. If you don’t have a scoop, use a teaspoon to measure out the dough into pecan size mounds. Try to avoid rolling the dough with your hands, as the warmth will change the nature of the cookie.
Into the preheated oven for 10 minutes, and these cookies emerge perfectly soft, with crispy edges and all that lovely texture. The pantry is a bit lighter after making these, and if Santa should happen to stop in for coffee (or sweet tea, or whiskey) on his way to pick up supplies, I’ll be ready!
Clear Out the Pantry Cookies
These cookies have crispy edges, chewy dried fruit, crunchy nuts and flaky coconut. In other words, ALL the texture I crave!
- 2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, slightly softened from refrigerator
- 1/2 cup light brown sugar
- 1/3 cup granulated cane sugar
- 1 large egg
- 1 tsp. real vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup old fashioned oats
- 3/4 cup white whole wheat flour
- 3/4 tsp. salt
- 1/2 tsp. baking soda
- 1/2 tsp. cream of tartar
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 6 oz. semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips
- 1/2 cup candied (or plain) pecans, broken into small pieces
- 1/2 cup crispy rice cereal, lightly toasted
- 1/2 cup dried cranberries, cherries or raisins
- 1/2 cup sweetened coconut flakes, lightly toasted
- Preheat oven to 350 F, with rack in center position. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
- Using the paddle attachment of a stand mixer, or the double blades of an electric handheld mixer, beat butter until creamed and airy. Add cane sugar, a few tablespoons at a time, until fluffy. Add brown sugar the same way.
- Add egg and vanilla to bowl and beat until mixture is smooth.
- Add oats and mix until evenly blended. In a small bowl, combine whole wheat flour with the salt, soda and cream of tartar. Add this flour mixture to the creamed butter mixture and beat only long enough to incorporate the dry ingredients. Next, add the all-purpose flour to the bowl and mix just to incorporate. Avoid overmixing so that your cookies will remain soft.
- Remove bowl from stand mixer. All remaining ingredients should be folded in by hand to avoid overheating. An easy way to incorporate the add-ins is to use a firm spatula or wooden spoon to try to “press” them down through the dough, beginning with the firmer ingredients (chips, dried fruit and pecans) and ending with the delicate ones (coconut and rice cereal).
- Place by rounded teaspoonfuls (or use a small size dough scoop), 2 inches apart on the parchment-lined sheets.
- Bake 9 to 11 minutes (depending on oven), until dough is set and edges are lightly golden brown.
- Cool on sheet a couple of minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.