The sugar cookie dough is rolled out and ready to be cut into shapes. Using a pastry cloth and a cloth-covered rolling pin helps reduce sticking.
The sugar cookie dough is rolled out and ready to be cut into shapes. Using a pastry cloth and a cloth-covered rolling pin helps reduce sticking.

I'm preparing for Thanksgiving, but by the time this is read, I'll be getting ready for Christmas.

My sister-in-law, Janice, who lives in southern Iowa, did an amazing job of organizing for the Thanksgiving meal she and my brother, Dean, are hosting. She encouraged participation in the celebration and meals that extend over three days for out-of-town guests.

On her Facebook invitation, she created a list of needed items for the Thanksgiving meal and breakfasts, lunches and snacks, leaving blanks by the needed items.

I signed up for one of the four pie spaces, then listed dried apples and pumpkin seeds as snacks. Because I know my Grandma Terra Voxland's sugar cookies are popular with kids and adults, I am also planning for a batch, using my fall-themed cookie cutters.

But in a few weeks, I'll be mixing up another batch, and taking out my more numerous collection of Santas, Christmas trees, snowmen and reindeer cookie cutters. Sprinkling the shapes with colored sugar and sprinkles and adding candy eyes is a grandkids' favorite. They like eating them too.

My grandma made these cookies all year long using a round cutter with curvy bumps on the edges and sprinkling them with white sugar. The one ingredient that's key is real butter. No substitutes allowed!

Her recipe is one I've been using for decades, unlike my constant trying out new recipes for mealtime. Lately, my husband might be challenged by my experiments, but he is always full of compliments.

I am determined to cook my way through the last of the fall vegetable harvest and frozen packages of meat getting freezer burned.

I was reading some tips of one cookbook author at the end of her book. She said, be sure to read the whole recipe through at least once before starting.

Well now, that's really good advice!

I was making onion pickles up at the cabin and wondered why I ran out of brine after filling only half the jars. Back home, I decided to make another batch and found the problem. One was supposed to add two cups of water to the malt vinegar and salt mixture — but the “water” ingredient was buried in the text.

As I've prepared multiple parts for a meal, sometimes I find the noodles or rice is long ready while I am still chopping and adding ingredients to a stir-fry. Or I discover there's another 15 minutes of simmering left for a chili mixture, when I had calculated I'd be done. It would have helped to read through the entire recipe first.

Another suggestion was getting all the ingredients out before starting to cook. And honestly, food prep follows much more smoothly with all the ingredients waiting.

If one needs a last minute trip to the grocery store, it's better to do it before starting to cook.

We have a five-hour drive ahead of us before the Thanksgiving meal. I look forward to seeing nephews and their families from Texas, three of my siblings, and spending two nights in scenic southeastern Iowa. We have a room at the Cobblestone Inn in Bloomfield.

Honestly, not all of Iowa is flat with endless vistas of farmland. Where my brother, Dean, lives, there's rolling hills, streams and quaint villages to visit. I'm not sure I will be Black Friday shopping in Ottumwa, but I look forward to whatever adventures we find. I hope to include a few stops at shopping places I've been before. At one Dutch country store near Bloomfield, I'll pick up a two-year's supply of colored sugars for cookie decorating, that they buy in bulk and package in small plastic containers.

I discovered there were no red sprinkles left when I started baking my batch of cookies. I had forgotten Valentine's Day had depleted my supply.

Hopefully, I will also find the Amish store that's tucked into a rural spot between Bloomfield and Centerville. I usually select some new knives or kitchen utensils there.

I will miss not having my sister-in-law, Debbie, there. She hosted last year's Thanksgiving meal in Minnesota, but died unexpectedly in April.

Thoughts of Debbie come to me when a task includes something useful she gave me. This will be especially true when I take out my Christmas decorations and rediscover numerous items she gave me as hostess gifts.

Soon it will be my turn to host the holiday crowd, when I'll mix up another batch of Grandma Voxland's sugar cookies and my grandkids give them their own decorating flair.

In keeping with the theme of using up frozen items from my freezer (cranberries) and bags of produce in my fridge (beets), I am trying out two new recipes I found in the Radish Magazine —jalapeno cranberry sauce over cream cheese that's eaten with crackers and a beet with fresh pineapple salad. 

I already made a batch of the cranberry sauce, so I know it's yummy. I imagine the roasted beet salad won't be everyone's favorite, but I want to keep up my reputation for creating weird foods.

Grandma Voxland’s Butter Cookies

Sift the following ingredients together in a large bowl:

3 cups flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons cream of tartar

1 scant teaspoon baking soda (scant=slightly less than)

Using a pastry blender (believe me, this is the only way), work in one cup of softened, but not melted, butter (no substitutes or quit right now!) Treat this like a batch of pastry, working in butter until it looks like coarse “meal” (not powdered, but no big lumps of butter left).

In another smaller bowl

Beat 2 large eggs until foamy.

Add 1 cup sugar and 1 teaspoon real vanilla.

Beat until the eggs, sugar and vanilla are completely mixed together. Make a “well” in the other bowl of ingredients, pour liquid mixture into the well.  With a large spoon gradually mix together. It will form a very stiff mixture. You may need to complete mixing with your clean hands, but take care to mix only until liquid is absorbed, but all flour mixture is incorporated. Over mixing will make cookies less tender, just as it would in making pastry.  Pat batter together and place in a clean, sealed container.  Refrigerate until firm. I mix mine up the day before I bake.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Taking about one-quarter of dough, gently shape into a thick patty, like you would for pastry. Roll out on a floured pastry cloth, using a covered rolling pin.  Gradually roll into a circle, with rolling motions from the center outward, occasionally turning dough, making sure it's not sticking. Roll until dough is 1/8-inch thick.

Dip cookie cutters in flour; cut dough into shapes, lifting dough with the cutter, place on an ungreased heavy-weight shiny metal cookie sheet.  Sprinkle with sugar.  For holiday cookies, sprinkle lightly with white sugar first, then add colored sprinkles and sugars.

Bake for approximately 8 to 10 minutes, or until edges just begin to brown.  Remove from oven, let cookies sit on sheet for a minute, then, lift off sheet with metal turner, place on wire cooling racks.  Cool. 

Scrape excess sugar off baking sheet before baking another batch. Store in covered containers, in layers divided by wax paper. Freezing them in the container keeps them fresh until needed.