Cooking up family traditions

November 25, 2019 Carlos Arreola

Every year, holiday cookie exchanges and potluck tables overflow with sugar cookies, gingerbread men, thumbprint cookies, and snickerdoodles. Some families celebrate the holidays by having turkey for Christmas dinner, and others make red chile enchiladas and tamales. The commonality between the sweets, drinks, and food is that they all bring people together. Holidays are a time when we can eat for hours on end and find comfort in the traditions we practice every year.

Making Christmas cookies with family and friends is a fun way to get in the holiday spirit while creating delicious desserts and desirable gifts for coworkers, neighbors, and teachers. Even the kids can get into the act if given age-appropriate tasks.

One expert in both creating cookies and divvying up the duties is Michelle Perry, an educator, mother, and cook who makes sure that holiday traditions are celebrated. Michelle started a hobby of baking delicious, moist, and colorful sour cream sugar cookies as a child and has carried on the tradition of making the cookies with her friends and family every year, a few days before Christmas. She also shares her cooking talents through her own Alta Vida Cooking Studio. The studio that started out as a hobby has become a small business and an opportunity to help others hone their cooking skills in a professional environment.

When asked what inspired her to start Alta Vida Cooking Studio, Michelle said, “I was an educator for a long time. I loved to teach. I also knew that I loved to cook, and so the cooking studio kind of married both. Cooking is a way for me to show that I care and that I love my family.”

To share her tradition of making sour cream sugar cookies and for an early kick-off to the holidays, Michelle hosted a cooking party through Alta Vida with a few of her close friends. Each person had a duty station, which included assembly of dry ingredients, assembly of wet ingredients, dough mixing, dough cutting, and oven duty.

When making job assignments at your cookie-making party, consider the ages of the children helping in the kitchen. They can be assistants to adults at a station or perhaps handle one of their own.

It Every year, holiday cookie exchanges and potluck tables overflow with sugar cookies, gingerbread men, thumbprint cookies, and snickerdoodles. Some families celebrate the holidays by having turkey for Christmas dinner, and others make red chile enchiladas and tamales. The commonality between the sweets, drinks, and food is that they all bring people together. Holidays are a time when we can eat for hours on end and find comfort in the traditions we practice every year. Family Fun Cooking up family traditions Written and photography by Hannah Perry November – December 2019 Neighbors 29 can even be educational as measuring and cutting become meaningful math lessons, while understanding the recipe is a test of reading comprehension. Of course, the favorite job when making sugar cookies is decorating (right after eating them in popularity), so be sure to provide a variety of holiday-hued sprinkles and sugars to go on top (see the story on page 22 for tips on making your own flavored sugars).

The glaze on the cookies is a simple mixture of powdered sugar, milk, and food coloring, topped with sprinkles. Michelle stresses to keep the wet ingredients separate from the dry ingredients until you are ready to mix them together. It is also important to slowly incorporate the dry ingredients with the wet and then, after you form the dough, let it sit in the refrigerator for no less than 30 minutes. These cookies are easy to overbake, Michelle warns, so bake them for no more than eight minutes.

This sour cream sugar cookie recipe came from Michelle’s mother. “My mom is the one that started the tradition of doing Christmas cookies,” Michelle said. “I started making the recipe myself before my kids were even born and had my husband help make and decorate them for the first time. By the time my kids came around, I carried on the tradition of making them every Christmas. My kids are the ones who really looked forward to making them every year, and I was happy that I could make a tradition in my family that they loved. My kids helped me package up the cookies and they gave them to their friends and teachers before the holiday, and we would lay the cookies out by the fireplace for Santa Claus to find, of course.”

Michelle began sharing cooking traditions and techniques at the Alta Vida Cooking Studio, based out of her home in Alamogordo. Michelle still uses her spacious kitchen and lovely outdoor space for private parties, but her hobby soon evolved into a business and became more formalized. She now has a restaurant space at the Alamogordo branch of New Mexico State University. Michelle offers courses through the college once a semester where groups learn how to make a full-course dinner. Groups are assigned to stations and learn how to assemble the meal and get to enjoy it afterwards.

Anyone can sign up for Michelle’s class, which takes place once a semester. Classes are $30 per person or $50 per couple. To register for a class, call 575-439-3842 or sign up online at nmsua.edu/continuing-ed/ commed/ and click “Register for Community Education Classes” at the bottom of the screen. Descriptions of the cooking classes and other classes that the Continuing Education program offers through NMSU can also be found on this page.

For private parties at Michelle’s house, groups are recommended to be anywhere from 8 – 10 people, and kids are always welcome to come or even have a party themselves. Private party prices range from $35 – $40 a person, depending on what is being cooked and the theme, such as Mexican, Italian, homestyle, or Middle Eastern cuisine. The group will use the home kitchen to cook and learn, and then enjoy the meal in an enclosed garden area complete with a long wooden table that seats 10 and twinkly lights hanging overhead. To find out more about her classes, email mperry@nmsu.edu or call/ text 575-936-1964.

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