Holly Thoen’s short seven-year-old fingers thumbed through Christina’s well-worn family recipe book. “There are so many cookie recipes I don’t know which one to pick.” She reached for the next page, slipped and the book snapped shut. She groaned and rocked on the kitchen stool. Frustrated, she leaned against the gray marble top counter and thumbed through the recipe book again.
Astrid stepped out of the miniature doorway in the kitchen bookcase next to the counter. “Now what are you up to?”
Holly sighed. “Oh Astrid. I didn’t know you were there. It’s my turn to bring cookies to school tomorrow. I’m trying to find the best recipes for the best cookies to bake. There are so many to choose from I don’t know which one is right. I wish Christina is here to help me.”
“Remember, Christina and your dad are out Christmas shopping. It’s good for Christina to be out this Christmas time, not like last time when she suffered through all that — and we don’t want to interrupt Uncle Justin and Stian’s football game. Ever since Jake’s firm moved to Milwaukee he and Stian had this rivalry every year when the Gophers and Badgers play. And then Justin has Tolof in the mix, it could be a noisy afternoon.”
Holly and Astrid scanned the kitchen door that led out to the living room. A disappointing roar from Jake and Tolof spilled into the kitchen.
Holly shook her head. “Oh, oh, Uncle Justin’s and Tolof’s team must me loosing.”
“Oh, well.” Astrid stepped closer to Holly to look over her shoulder at the book. “Where was I? Oh yes. You can’t bake cookies by yourself.”
“I forgot to tell my dad I needed cookies. I wanted to bring a good batch to school. If I don’t I will be in trouble for not completing the assignment.” Holly gave a heavy sigh as she paged through the cookie section and found where she left off. She held the book open with one hand and put her elbow on the table, her hand under her chin, with the other. “I’m in trouble.”
“Well, if you are interested I could give you a recipe for cookies I made back in Norway.”
Holly straightened. “You would give me one of your recipes? You think I could bake them myself? Aren’t you afraid I might start a fire?”
“Well, if you’re very careful we can make some cookies. I’ll keep an eye on you and you do what I tell you, we’ll be just fine.”
Holly sprang from the kitchen stool and reached for the cordless phone. “Right here,” she pointed, “is the number for the fire department. We’ll keep the phone ready just in case.” Holly placed the phone on the counter next to the cook book.
Astrid laughed. “The cookies I made were much simpler than cookies today. My mother’s cookies were favorites for me and my brothers and sisters.”
Holly snapped the book shut. Out of excitement she kicked over her stool and it made a loud bang on the floor. She reached down to pick it up. “Any cookies your mother made I’m sure are a lot better than any of the cookies in this book. Are they hard to make?”
Astrid put her hand to her lips as her eyes looked towards the ceiling as if trying to remember. “How about my mother’s Gården informasjonskapsler?”
“Your mother’s what?”
“I believe it is what Christina’s great-great grandmother called ‘farmer cookies’.”
“Are they hard to make? Will I be able to make them?”
“I did when I was your age. And you are a very smart girl. I’m sure you can handle them easily. Put me over on the table and get a paper and pencil ready for the recipe.”
Holly lifted Astrid from the kitchen bookcase, placed her on the table then ran to the first drawer she could find. She pulled open the silverware drawer so fast she almost pulled the drawer out. “Whoops,” She pushed the drawer back in without mishap. She opened the next drawer to pull out a pencil covered in bite marks then found a scrap of paper on the counter.
Holly stepped back to the stool, climbed up almost toppled it over and said, “Fire away.”
“Let’s hope there’s no fire.” Astrid raised her eyebrows and recited the recipe to Holly. “One cup of shortening, two cups of sugar, three eggs, six teaspoons baking powder, one teaspoon baking soda, one teaspoon vanilla, one teaspoon almond extract or vanilla, one cup of milk, six cups of flour. Oh, go turn the oven on to 350 degrees.”
Holly jumped off her stool. The stool teetered nearly tipping over. She turned the knob as Astrid said, bent down to see the flames ignite, then dashed back to her stool.
“These cookies will cook for about twelve minutes,” Astrid concluded.
Holly nodded. “Did the stoves in your days have temperature knobs and timers like our stoves today?”
Astrid laughed. “Our stoves were the fireplace. My father and brothers chopped wood for fuel. After the fire blazed hot me, my sisters and my mother would cook. We adjusted the heat by how much wood we used and how close we could get to the fire. It took mother many years to figure out how to cook just right. She was a gifted cook.”
“I bet your mother burned her fingers sometimes.”
“Did Christina’s mother and grandmother burn their hands on their stove? Did they cook the same way?”
“I have observed many Santa Keepers cooking through the years. It was interesting to see how kitchen appliances and gadgets changed through the years. So let’s mix these ingredients while the men-folk bring in the wood and light the fire.” Astrid chuckled.
Holly chuckled with her. “I know Christina has sugar in that can.” She pointed to a set of canisters on the counter. “But what is shortening?”
“Shortening is fat like lard, or butter, or bacon grease or reindeer fat.”
Holly wrinkled her nose. “Bacon grease? Reindeer fat? Ewww.”
Astrid shrugged. “We used whatever we had.”
“I don’t think we have any bacon grease or lard.” Holly walked to the refrigerator. “Christina has butter. She held up a stick of butter. “Is one stick of butter the same as one cup?”
“I don’t know. What does it say on the butter wrapper?”
Holly groaned. “Fractions. I’m not very good with fractions yet.”
“Oh dear. Well, let’s try one stick.”
Holly reached up to a cupboard and found a metal bowl. She unwrapped the butter and dropped it into the bowl with a plop. “It’s very hard.” She poked at the butter with her finger and then stuck her finger in her mouth. “I don’t think this will mix up very well.”
“Oh dear, that will never work.”
“I can put hot water on the butter to melt it.”
Astrid pointed to one end of kitchen “No, that won’t work. Try setting the bowl on the radiator by the window. Maybe that will melt it.”
“Okay.” Holly carefully picked up the bowl and carried it to the radiator. She touched the radiator and pulled her hand back quickly. “It’s very hot. How long before it melts?”
“I don’t know. Just put the bowl on the radiator while we get the rest of the ingredients ready.”
“Okay.” She placed the mettle bowl on the radiator with a clank and dashed back to the table. Holly checked her list. “We need two cups of sugar.” At the cupboard, she stepped up on a stool and took out a large coffee cup. She stood on tiptoes to grasp the sugar canister with her fingertips. As he pulled it closer it tipped over and sugar spilled on the cupboard. “Oops,” she gasped and quickly set the canister upright.
Astrid put her finger to her lips. “Oh dear. I may have to call upstairs for Gunda and Berthina to come down and help us clean up when we finish here.”
“But won’t Nils be mad if we take them away from toy making?” Holly asked as she brushed at the spilled sugar spreading the mess further.
“Yes, but what is worse – Nils’ anger, or Christina’s anger at the mess?”
“I don’t want Christina to be mad so she won’t marry us. Do you think she will be mad at me?”
Astrid laughed. “No, of course not, Christina is completely in love with you and your father. I don’t think anything will stop her from marrying you two.”
Holly smiled. “I can’t wait for her to be my new mom. I loved my real mom but I love Christina too.” She grew serious. “Is it okay to love a new mom since the old one died?”
Astrid smiled. “Of course. You have a big heart Holly with lots of love in it. Don’t you worry about that.”
Holly smiled. “I do love Christina. Okay, back to the cookie making.” She stood on the stool to reach into the sugar canister to fill the coffee cup with sugar. “Oh, I need two of these.” She walked back to the dish cupboard and pulled out a second coffee cup and filled it. “Only a little sugar got spilled.” She brushed off the cupboard and onto the floor. “We need six cups of flour. I’ll get more cups.” She dashed to the dish cupboard and found six different coffee mugs and carried them to the table as each porcelain mug clanked with each other.
“Careful not to drop them, dear.”
“I’m being very careful,” Holly ran back to the counter, stepped up on the stool and reach out to pull the canister marked flour over to the edge. She stepped off the stool and pulled the canister with her. It wobbled as she took a step toward the table. “It’s only a little heavy,” she panted but got it to a chair next to the table. Holly opened the lid and reached in six times to fill each of the coffee mugs. She wiped the spilled flour on her pants.
Astrid tsked, shook her head and smiled.
“Whew, this cooking is a lot of work, isn’t it?” Holly wiped hair away from her brow and got some of the flour smudged on her face and shirt.
Astrid nodded. “Oh yes. As I recall, cooking was always a lot of work. In my day we had to milk the goat, make our own butter, gather grain and grind our own flour. It was very hard.”
Holly rested for a minute. “Does Nicholas stop to eat cookies put out by children when he visits their homes on Christmas Eve?”
“Heavens no. We don’t want Nicholas to get any fatter than he already is.”
Holly giggled. “Why do children put cookies and milk out for Nicholas? How many years have they been doing that?”
“The tradition of leaving a plate of cookies and a glass of milk for Santa started with the parents. It was a final gesture for the children to get ready for bed. Children wake up and see the cookies gone with only crumbs left and assume Santa was there. But, parents ate the cookies and drank the milk to make their children believe Santa stopped by and graciously took the offerings. Often when Nicholas arrives the cookies are already eaten and the milk drank. He finds that amusing, but he has told me several times that the sight of those crumbs makes him long for my farmer cookies.
“Well, we can give him some of these when they’re baked.” Holly closed the lid on the flour and made her way to the refrigerator to pull out a carton of eggs. “We need three eggs.” She set the eggs on another chair, so she could reach them without difficulties and opened the carton. “I’ve never cracked an egg before. Dad always did it for me.”
“It’s not too difficult. You hold it in one hand and rap it once or twice on the edge of the counter until the egg cracks. Then you pull the two halves apart and let the egg out.”
“Like this?” Holly reached for an egg and wrapped it hard against the edge of the counter. The shell smashed to bits and egg yolk and white ran down the side of the cupboard.
“Oh my. That smash was a little too hard. You better get a towel dear to wipe up some of this mess before it runs all over the floor.”
Holly ran to the paper towel dispenser and pulled out a long strip of towels. She ran back to the spilled egg and tried to wipe it up. “It’s very slimy and slippery, isn’t it?” she said as she smeared egg down the cupboard and across the floor.
“Yes, it’s rather slippery.”
Holly picked up the egg-filled towels and carried them to the garbage can spilling more of the eggy mess across the floor. “I hope Christina won’t be too mad.”
Astrid gasped but did not reply.
“I better check to see if the butter got melted,” Holly ran to the metal bowl sitting on the radiator and grabbed it. “Ouch, that’s hot,” she dropped the bowl and stuck her fingers in front of her face to blow on them. The bowl tipped over sideways and melted butter ran down the radiator and across the floor. “Oh, oh.” Holly took a step closer to right the bowl. She stepped in some of the melted butter and slid across the floor to land in a heap next to the wall.
“Oh Holly. Are you all right? Did you hurt yourself?”
Holly stood up slowly and rubbed her butt. “No. It didn’t hurt too much. The bowl was only a little hot.” She blew on her fingers.
“Holly, I’m having second thoughts about baking cookies tonight.” Astrid scanned the kitchen at the spilled sugar, flour, butter and egg.
Holly voice began to quiver. “But I have to bring cookies to school. My teacher told me it was my turn.”
“But Holly, this may be a bigger project than you and I can handle on our own.” Again, Astrid looked around the room at the mess Holly had created. “I am worried that you might get hurt. You could get burned by the oven. What would we do then?”
She paused. “Maybe we can ask Justin, Tolof and Stian to help us clean up.”
Astrid opened her mouth, but before she could speak another disappointing roar came from Justin. “I guess those two won’t want to help. And we know we can’t pry Stian away from the television when any of his games are on.”
Holly sighed and struggled to hold back tears as she looked around the room at the mess. Christina would be mad about the mess in the kitchen. If they asked the other villagers to help clean Nils would be mad because they weren’t making gifts.
She hiccupped as she tried to keep from crying. Holly didn’t want Astrid to think she was a baby. She heard a strangled gasp from her right shoulder. Justin, Christina’s brother, stood in the kitchen doorway. His expression told Holly she was in trouble.
Justin focused on Holly. “Ahh, what happened in here?”
“I’m sorry, Justin. I forgot to tell daddy I have to bring cookies to school tomorrow. I was trying to make some cookies from Astrid’s old recipe. But the butter was hard, so I was melting it on the radiator, but the bowl was hot, and I burned my fingers and some sugar and flour got spilled and I smashed the egg too hard and it was slimy and then I slipped on the butter and I landed on my bottom,” Holly said all in one long string of words as she waited for him to explode.
Justin made a strangled sound in his throat and coughed a few times before he burst out laughing. “Oh Holly, did you hurt yourself?” Justin got his laughter under control. He put his arm around her shoulders. “You look like a little snow angel with all that flour and sugar on your face.”
Tolof strolled in to the kitchen floor. “What happened here? How did Kel and Uda make such a mess?”
Holly peered down to Tolof. “No, it’s just me and Astrid.”
Tolof laughed. “Holy smokes, I think this is a record mess in this house. Kel and Uda would be proud.”
“Tolof, that’s not funny,” Justin said to his teenage villager companion.
“But it is,” Tolof said with a laugh. His expression changed immediately when he was Holly’s tearful face. “But then there was that Kel and Uda fiasco in 1862 when –.”
Justin interrupted Tolof and spoke to Holly. “Are you okay?”
“It only hurts a little.” She rubbed her backside. “What am I going to do? Christina is going to be mad from the mess. Daddy is going to be mad because Christina is mad. Nils is going to be mad if I ask the villagers to help us clean up. My teacher is going to be mad because I have no cookies.” She looked at him and took a deep breath as she tried not to cry.
Justin took her arm and led her over to the only chair that wasn’t covered with flour or sugar and sat her down.
Tolof approached Holly while he tracked the flour-covered floor. “Oh no, you’re right. The fiasco of 1937 was worse.”
Justin knelt down. “Here is what we will do.” His knee close to a broken egg and looked straight into Holly’s eyes. “First, we’ll clean up this mess before Christina and your dad get home. We won’t ask the villagers to help so Nils won’t be mad. Second, you and I will get into my car and drive over to the grocery store and buy some store-bought cookies for you to take to school. Third, I’ll sit back in the living room and lose my bet with Stian. How does that sound?”
Holly looked at him for several minutes and considered his words. “I think it sounds like I’ll like having an Uncle Justin,” she said with a big smile. “But I’ll be careful not to make any bets with Stian about football.”
He smiled back. “And I will like have a niece named Holly. And Stian and Nils and Tolof and all the villagers will be glad to have you around, too.”
Holly gave Justin a floury hug.
“Absolutely,” Tolof said.
“You’re one of the family,” Astrid said.
Stian shouted into the kitchen. “Justin. Get in here, the Badgers just fumbled.”
Justin gowned. “Let’s get those cookies.”