Better than store-bought

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What makes a Christmas gift special? Is it special because you hoped for it? Is it special because it surprised you? Is it special because it reflects the giver’s love and thoughtfulness? Is it more special because it was handmade and not store-bought?

We got a couple special Christmas gifts in the barn earlier this month.

Both Sunlight and Galadriel, two of Monika’s favorite cows, delivered beautiful heifer calves. Both calves were very much hoped for. Sunlight’s calf last year was born with the wrong parts — drat! Galadriel’s 2022 calf was a beautiful heifer, but something was wrong with her, and, sadly, she died shortly after birth. So, getting two healthy heifer calves this winter was one of the best gifts ever.

We also got a clutch of baby chicks. This was definitely a surprise gift. One of Daphne’s 4-H hens had been sitting on a nest in the bales and Daphne had been checking on her daily. Several weeks passed with no chicks, so I figured it had been too cold and they weren’t going to hatch. Then, one night Daphne came running in and announced that there was a chick. We moved the hen, her chick, and the rest of the nest to a stock tank in the barn. Six more eggs hatched, and now we’ve got baby chicks to distract us from our chores. They’re even cuter when they’re out of season. 

Just like our new calves and chicks might top any store-bought gift, here are a few other special Christmas gifts that come from the heart and not from a store.

One of the gifts I try to give my family each year is a collection of photographs. I take hundreds of pictures each year with my phone’s camera. For many years, those photos only existed on my phone or, after transferring, on my computer. About the only time any of those photos were ever printed was when one of the kids needed pictures for a student-of-the-week board at school.

A couple years ago, I made one of those trendy photo books with a selection of the year’s best photos. It was a lovely book, but it took forever to compile. The following year, I simply ordered 4- by 6-inch prints of all the best photos and purchased a nice photo album to keep them in. It was much easier, much faster, and much less expensive than a photo book. The best part of gifting photos is watching the kids sit together on the couch, looking through the photos, laughing and commenting on all the moments they never knew I captured in pixels.

Another special gift is a handwritten note. Nothing says, “I was thinking of you,” more than a handwritten note or letter. Plus, you’re sharing the gift of your penmanship. Glen’s mom writes a short letter to each grandchild each year. I love watching the kids decipher her cursive writing. They might not appreciate it now, but someday they will be thankful to have a collection of those handwritten words. Following her example, I wrote short notes to each of our kids this year, too. My half-cursive, half-print penmanship isn’t nearly as beautiful, but it is uniquely mine.

I have a little print hanging in my house that says, “Cookies are made of butter and love.” For me, making my family’s most-requested holiday treats is a gift of love. And my heart is filled, in return, when I see faces light up upon presentation of the cookie tray. Several years ago, I was gifted my grandmother’s cookie press and her recipe for spritzes. Every time I bake them, the aroma awakens the best childhood memories. I often make a special batch of spritz cookies just for my dad, too. 

The most special Christmas gift of all, though, is time together. Whether it’s doing chores together, looking through photos together, baking together, or some other family tradition, I hope you enjoy time together with your loved ones this Christmas.

Grandma Jeanie’s spritz cookies

1 pound butter, softened

2 cups sugar

4 egg yolks

2 tablespoons heavy cream

1 teaspoon almond extract

5 cups flour

In a large mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar for 7 minutes. Add egg yolks, cream, and extract; then mix for another 5 minutes. Gently fold in flour with spatula. 

Let dough rest for 15 minutes while preheating oven. Heat oven to 400 degrees. If coloring spritzes, divide dough and flatten each section into a disc; then add a couple drops of food coloring and gently knead dough to mix color in.

Put dough in cookie press. Using a quick stroke of the trigger, turn gun slightly and lift, depositing cookies on baking sheet. Clean, aluminum baking sheets work best. Do not use parchment paper and do not grease pans. If you have trouble with cookies sticking to the pan, chill pans in freezer before pressing cookies; this also keeps bottoms from browning too much. If decorating spritzes with colored sugar, sprinkle on before baking.

Bake for 6-7 minutes or until edges of cookies are light gold, but not brown. Watch the first pan of cookies carefully; every oven bakes differently. Different spritz shapes bake differently, as well.

Let cookies cool slightly, but not completely, before removing from pan with sturdy metal spatula.

Makes 8 dozen cookies.

Sadie Frericks and her husband, Glen, milk 100 cows near Melrose, Minnesota. They have three children: Dan, Monika, and Daphne. Sadie also writes a blog at www.dairygoodlife.com. She can be reached at sadiefrericks@gmail.com.

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