When I was in university, I spent two summers working for a camp in the middle of nowhere in Kentucky. I learned a lot those summers: how to repair a Slush Puppie machine; that it's possible to survive on mac and cheese and cereal for an entire summer; that Wint-O-Green Lifesavers, if crunched with your mouth open in a totally dark cave, will make visible green sparks. Most importantly, though, I learned the following from my boss: never get mad at someone for breaking something if they do it while they're helping you.
I, for example, broke two hand radios during my first summer working at the camp-- the first, I will always contend, was broken when it was given to me, but the other fell off my belt loop into a creek inside a cave and promptly drowned. My boss teased me mercilessly about the one I claimed arrived in my possession pre-broken, but he never complained once about the one I broke while doing my job of leading a pack of 5th-graders on a cave hike, despite the fact that those radios probably cost more than I made in a month. After I lost the second radio, I remember walking back to camp with butterflies in my stomach, afraid I was about to get in so much trouble for losing my radio, and I'll always remember walking into my boss's office, telling him I had broken it, and waiting for the inevitable scolding. But what happened instead was that my boss cracked up in the biggest belly laugh I've ever seen, came around his desk to give me a hug, and howled 'Tadpole, it's about time you did something embarrassing!' before walking me into a backroom to fetch a brand new radio. I'll never forget the relief I felt when I realised I wasn't in trouble, and I've tried to extend this mentality to other parts of my life ever since.
When I've had friends help me move, I never get mad if a box gets dropped or an item gets broken, because they are just doing the thing I asked them to help me with. When I host a party, I don't get mad about spills or messes, because those are just part of the cost of entertaining.
Eleanor, however, did not agree with this rule, or at least not as it extended to her serveware. Oh, she would use her good china for meals every Sunday after mass, but my mom's most vivid memories of it are the fact that Eleanor would yell at her every time she picked up her glass, swearing that she could hear my mom's teeth clinking against the crystal. Since then, I have held Eleanor's glasses in my own two hands, and although highly delicate, they are not made of snowflakes or gold leaf that's going to collapse at the slightest breath of wind or clink of teeth.
Because of these memories, my mom has always been reticent about using The Good China. So I grew up, like most of my friends did, with china and crystal in a box somewhere in the house, not to be used... ever.
So when Judson and I received beautiful wineglasses and plates that we adored when we got married, we always swore that we would put them to use, not hide them away in a cupboard. And put them to use we have: there isn't a friend we've served dinner to who hasn't sipped wine from our stemware or eaten off of our best plates. So far (touch wood) there have been no grave mishaps that weren't caused by Judson or me (though I recently broke a Le Creuset casserole dish and Judson once broke the lid to a drink decanter), and we love getting to use the plates that would otherwise sit in a cupboard collecting dust.
But last week when I was making these cookies and quickly realised the dough was much too soft to roll them out and cut them like I was supposed to, I immediately did the only sensible thing and grabbed a cut crystal engraved whisky glass out of the cabinet and used the base of it, dipped in flour to make pretty shapes on my cookies. Bringing this all full circle, the glass was a graduation gift from my mom, and I just know Eleanor is somewhere in heaven, rolling her eyes and planning all the ways she is going to scold my mom for raising a daughter who uses the good crystal to make floral imprints on the top of my cookie dough. To which I say: the glass came out fine in the end, all in one piece and still lovely as ever.
These cookies are delicious, but I know they are going to fly under the radar because they aren't as pretty as strawberry shortcake or as exotic as lace cookies. Instead, these cookies are a cross between shortbread and your favourite sugar cookie: crisp and crumbly around the edge, but soft and almost cakey in the middle, with a gentle buttery taste throughout that makes them a great candidate for any event where you don't know people's tastes and still want to impress with homemade cookies. They're intended to be rolled and cut with cookie cutters, but my dough was far too soft and sticky for that, so instead I scooped out heaping tablespoons, then dipped a glass with a pretty bottom into flour and pressed it into the rounded scoops of dough. If you don't have a glass with a carved bottom, any glass will do, but your cookies will suffer from looking plain. Just kidding!
3 spoons out of five. These are delicious, and the batch was eaten quickly by the friends to whom we brought them, but it's hard to get more than 3 spoonfuls worth of excited over basic sugar cookies. However, I'll definitely revisit these if I ever need a good sugar cookie recipe, because they definitely take the average cookie and raise it a few notches to the territory of pure elegance.
Sift flour, powdered sugar, and salt into a large bowl.
Cut in shortening and butter with two knives or a pastry blender until the mixture resembles coarse meal.
Drizzle egg and vanilla over dry mixture, mix well and shape into a ball.
Cover bowl tightly with foil and chill 1-2 hours or up to overnight.
When ready to cook, preheat oven to 204C/400F.
Removing only half of the dough from the fridge at a time, scoop heaping spoonfuls of dough onto an ungreased cookie sheet.
Using a drinking glass dipped in flour, press the bottom of the glass into each spoonful of dough, pressing until dough is 1/8 inch thick.
Bake until golden brown around the edges, about 6-8 minutes.
Yields 24-30 cookies.
1 ¼ c flour
2/3 c powdered sugar
¼ tsp salt
1/3 c Stork or shortening
¼ c butter, room temperature
½ egg, beaten lightly
1 tsp vanilla