Traditions and Tahini Gingerbread Men (in collaboration with West Elm SD)

We are cookie makers and pie bakers. Stepsons and second marriages. We grew into these roles through years of calloused hands that held the hands of distracted women in the back rows of church. You can trace my family back to the 17th Century and they’ve always held the same thing close to heart: tradition for tradition’s sake, tradition to anchor themselves to some higher meaning than the myopic, the provincial. The utterly human qualities of my family that are somehow inescapable in our genome. My family is built on a tradition of never valuing what they have.

We are cookie makers and pie bakers. Bread bakers, too. I had a grandfather who drove trucks and brought home a crate of oranges that fell off a truck once. He said he liked being on the road, how it gave him an obligation to run away every week. He said he only came home to get his paychecks; he didn’t care much for his family then. My other grandfather was a farmer and described how to properly collect eggs one Christmas when I was rolling out some dough. He told me how to keep the hens from getting restless. Sometimes he played them music and sometimes he whistled to them. He said he wish he knew how to keep himself from getting restless, so he kept the radio on at night.

My uncles were called the Tanglewood Pretenders when they got it in their heads that they were descended from a lord in England. They were named so after the Baptist church on their grandfather’s farm. They told people in their town they were kings to some degree. They rode horses to help their own grandfather with his store in town and one fought in a war instead of being crowned. Now he’s married and works a desk job and the other hasn’t been seen for almost six years.

Tradition. How we all grew up in the same chain link lots as our parents before us. Tradition when the fruit salad falls out of the fridge and the turkey is a little too dry. Tradition when the cake is eaten before the meal. Tradition is when we fight over scorekeeping during card games. Tradition so engrained in us that we can never seem to escape it. And we want to escape so bad sometimes.

This will be the first time I’m going home in four years to celebrate Christmas. The first time I’ll wake up to presents again. The first time I’ll see a tree decorated with the papier-mâché angel on top. The first time in four years that I’ll appreciate the tradition for what it is, for who we are, for what it all means to come from a long line of men who put food on the table and women who wanted to run away from it all. There is comfort in that inescapable reality and I’m facing it head-on next week. I’m ready. I’m waiting.

I wish I knew how to keep myself from getting so restless.  So I’m trying to keep my home as enticing as possible. I’ve been baking cookies this week to keep busy, to keep distracted, to stay inside and not feel the need to run away. I created a hearth. I baked in that hearth. I made gingerbread cookies. Painted faces with crooked smiles from my shaky and unsure hand. I made a home this week, attempted to bring some holiday cheer while I think of all the traditions I didn’t value when I was younger.

I kept busy by making this cold bungalow in California feel like home.  I needed some help from West Elm. And while I’m still waiting for Christmas to get here, they’ve made the wait a little easier. I’m a little less restless. I’m a little more comforted by the traditions that I didn’t understand before.

Tahini Gingerbread Men (makes 36 cookies)

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups AP flour, sifted twice
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • Pinch of salt
  • Pinch of pepper
  • 6 tablespoons butter, softened 
  • 1/4 cup shortening, softened
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar, tightly packed
  • 2/3 cup molasses
  • 1/3 cup tahini
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg + 1 yolk
  • 1/4 cup candied ginger, finely chopped
  • Royal Icing (I added a little orange blossom water to mine)

Directions:

  1. Sift together flour, soda, and all spices in a large bowl and set aside
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer, fitted with a paddle attachment, mix butter, shortening, and sugar on medium-high until light and fully incorporated (will be lighter in color)
  3. Add molasses, tahini, egg and yolk, and vanilla to the butter-sugar mixture. Beat for a minute
  4. With motor running on low, gradually add dry ingredients in thirds. Allow one third to fully incorporate before adding the next. Dough should be a homogenous browned color
  5. Turn out onto a floured work station and shape into a round disc. Cut into quarters and shape into discs again. Wrap and refrigerate for half an hour
  6. While dough is chilling, make royal icing, preheat oven to 350*F, and prepare a couple baking sheets with parchment paper
  7. When dough is finished chilling, take one disc at a time from the fridge and unwrap. Roll out onto a floured work surface into a rectangle (helps with sizing and spacing) to be about 1/4". Cut into desired shape and place on parchment-lined sheets, about 1 inch apart from one another. If making gingerbread men, you may want to use a spatula. Repeat for remaining/desired dough
  8. Bake for 12 minutes or until browned and crisp around the edges. Allow to cool before decorating.