Monday, December 14, 2009

It Takes (More Than) a Village

For some people, the holiday season officially begins with the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. Others mark its kickoff with the first sparkling of Christmas lights around town...or perhaps with the first holiday rager. A rule of thumb used by one of my friends in DC is that the holidays are officially in effect the day that coffee shops first offer eggnog lattes...which seems fair. Well, for me, it's when I see that evite in my inbox, announcing the annual Morgan Cookie Party.

Thrown by my friends Matt and Sam Morgan every December (for the past 10 years!), this cookie decorating extravaganza encourages some good 'ole fashion cut throat competition where participants vie for the coveted title of "Best Cookie" (one performance class for kids and another for adults). And this Christmas party ain't no free for all. Nope--either follow the rules or get the f out...cause Santa's watchin'. The way it works is:

  • Pre-party: Sam bakes batches upon batches of cookies (both sugar and gingerbread) in all shapes and sizes. They also prepare 10+ colors of icing and purchase a ridiculous amount of of sprinkles and other shiny cookie toppings that would out-sparkle even the most dedicated candy ravers.

  • Guests arrive any time on the day of the party to join the hosts for eggnog, wine, and other festive libations to enhance one's creativity juice flow. Prior to go time, some cookie artists aid one another in brainstorming design concepts while others keep their edible brainchildren under wraps. I have a feeling that certain participants plan designs in advance...kind of like those pumpkin carvers who look up Jack-o-lantern creations online and then recreate them. You know the type.

  • To pump up the competitors, Matt and Sam display photos of the winning cookies from the past 10 years. See my favorite above (entitled "Bacon 'n Eggs"). Some previous winners such as "Acoustic Guitar" and "Snow Globe" remain frozen in the Morgan's fridge all year and are brought back to life for one day as inspiration.

  • At 4pm, and not a minute before, Matt jingles Santa's proverbial bell and people are free to begin building their masterpiece. At this time, the crowd moves from the bar area to the dining room table which now resembles a kindergarten art class. Anxious/intoxicated cookie artists crowd around bowls of colorful icing, cups full of glimmering sprinkles and a selection of shaping tools (no outside materials or implements permitted)...and the madness begins.

  • For the next 3 hours, cookie artists use their paper plates as paint palates, mixing icing colors and experimenting with its consistency. The child participants struggle not to devour their masterpiece while the adults attempt to control their language despite the fact that they've been pounding eggnog for multiple hours and just accidentally drizzled green icing over Santa's perfectly shaped white beard. Some competitors finish their cookies in 15 minutes while others painstakingly perfect each and every square inch. And my strategy? Complete and enter as many jaw dropping cookies as possible to increase my chances for victory.

  • At 7pm Matt again jingles the proverbial bell and all artists must stop dead in their tracks. The cookies are placed on the drying rack for display and the judging promptly begins. First up is the kids' class. Next up is the moment we've all been waiting for: the adult cookie competition which follows the age-old selection method known as "write your vote on a piece of paper and drop it in a hat. Cookie with the most votes wins."

I had a good feeling about this year. My new approach, wherein I had submitted six cookies all within one theme (the Smurfs!), seemed like a sure-fire strategy. Not only had I created a dashing Papa Smurf, a spot-on generic smurf and gorgeous Smurfette complete with brown sprinkle eye lashes, but I had also crafted a smurf mushroom house and the smurf sign that you see in the beginning of the cartoon. It was an edible smurf village. How could I lose?

Well, what I hadn't accounted for was the dark horse entry: a 3D gingerbread stripper dancing around a candy cane pole in a G-string that exposed her delicate heart tattoo, let alone a few other head turning entries. In the end, I went home with an "honorable mention"....and a refreshed faith in humanity. God bless us, every one.

My entry from a few years back: Castrobread Boy (received 3rd place)

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