Raising Arizona Kids

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Sunday, February 18, 2018

Recipe for love

Alexandra Muller Arboleda (center) with her son Nicolas (9), daughter Isabel (12) and her mom, Madelon Rubens. Photo by Daniel Friedman.

Alexandra Muller Arboleda (center) with her son Nicolas (9), daughter Isabel (12) and her mom, Madelon Rubens. Photo by Daniel Friedman.

Familiar smells of warm butter mixed with sugar waft through the air. Our hands and aprons are covered in white powdery flour. Bowls and batter-covered spoons are strewn across the countertops. Worn papers with cookie recipes handed down from my mother lay amidst the tumult.

It’s holiday time and in our family that means cookies. To celebrate the spirit of giving, my children and I bake cookies for our friends and neighbors.

We begin by making the dough for shape cookies. My daughter and son vie for who gets to measure and mix. When the dough is the right texture, we hold it in our arms like a warm dough baby before we put it in the refrigerator to cool.

Next, we combine the ingredients for pecan balls. We each make dough balls to roll in powdered sugar. My daughter uses a spoon to measure an even amount each time; my son reaches in with his fingers to form various sizes. We place the pecan balls on a cookie sheet and the kids carefully slide them in the oven with big green oven mitts.

Then it’s time for the chocolate truffles. We melt the butter and chocolate, but we do it my mother’s way: We put everything in a glass bowl and rest it on top of a pot of boiling water.

There are microwaves and special pots designed for this, but the hot glass-bowl method reminds me of my mother’s simple, utilitarian way of using what you have rather than buying something new.

Baking cookies transports me to my own childhood, when I would vie with my sister and brother for stirring or licking a spoon. The cookie aroma mixed with my mother’s Chanel No. 19 perfume created that “mother” smell. She always looked so beautiful. She even dressed up for baking—nothing too fancy, but always elegant. Memories of her ebullient nature blend with the melted chocolate as we put it in the refrigerator to cool. I realize now that she might have had other things on her mind when she was baking with us: money issues, a disagreement with my father or perhaps a bittersweet memory of hopes and dreams unrealized. She never let on.

We take our dough baby out of the refrigerator to roll it out on the snow-white flour-covered countertop. I usually do the rolling, putting muscle into each stroke to get the perfect consistency. The kids jump in with cookie cutters to form snowmen, angels and other shapes. They decorate them with sprinkles and crimson candies, then transfer their creations to cookie sheets and slide them in the oven.

Finally, the chocolate is cool enough to shape. The children roll it in their hands until they form smooth balls. They coat the balls in crushed walnuts before they put them back in the refrigerator.

When everything is baked, decorated and cooled, we lay it all out on the kitchen counter to package. We fill each tin with a variety of cookies, then decide which neighbor or friend will like the one with Santa or the reindeer.

We carry our creations to each neighbor’s house, our faces grinning with joy as we think of them eating the cookies. When the door opens, we break into song. Then the best part begins: seeing the smiles on our neighbors’ faces as they receive their epicurean gifts. Sometimes they invite us in to catch up.

The cookies are more than just a delicious treat; they are a bridge to timeless friendship and the eternal gift of giving.

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Alexandra Muller Arboleda

Alexandra Muller Arboleda, of Phoenix, is a freelance writer and the mother of Isabel (12) and Nicolas (9). She has worked as a water lawyer and currently teaches at BASIS Phoenix. She blogs at

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