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Cookie Exchanges

Best party of the year

Andria
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Cookies

Bonnie Winograd's kitchen island fills up with cookies during her cookie-exchange party. (Photo: lawellphoto.com)

The most wonderful time of the year brings the most anticipated parties of the year. We’re not talking cocktails or dinners or even yards filled with “snow.” We’re talking cookies. Holiday cookies.

“If I didn’t have the cookie party, people would mutiny,” says Chris Bryan, a trial lawyer with Smyser Kaplan & Veselka, LLP. “Recently I was talking about how busy this year is going to be, and my friend said, ‘Why don’t you skip the cookie party?’” For Chris, that wasn’t an option. She’s hosted a holiday cookie exchange since her twins – who are now in college – were babies.

“I love to make Christmas cookies,” she says. “I always made them growing up with my mom. When I had babies, my friend suggested I do a cookie party.” That suggestion turned into a tradition.

“It’s beloved,” Chris says about the party.

Chris Bryan

Chris Bryan makes a batch of sugar cookies for guests at her annual cookie party. (Photo: lawellphoto.com)

At first, Chris’ cookie exchange was “a small thing with a few moms and some people from work. At some point,” she says, “I decided it didn’t have to be just moms. So I started to meld all these areas of my life together.”

Now her guest list includes moms, lawyers, clients, fellow nonprofit board members – a collection of people from all the facets of Chris’ life. “One woman recently told me, ‘It’s the power woman party of the year that I love going to,’” Chris says. “For some, it’s the one time of the year when they see each other.

“There has been some grumbling by men who want to come,” Chris says, but the guest list remains strictly women.

“I don’t think people love this party because I’m such a great hostess. They love it because they know they will see all these different people from different places that they don’t normally see, and it’s once a year.” And then there are the cookies. Months before any holiday preludes had begun, one longtime guest said, “I am counting the days to that party!”

Depending on the year, Chris typically hosts upwards of 75 friends at the party. “Some stay for the whole night, some a few minutes.” She tries to plan it on a Thursday night when her three children, away at college and boarding school, will be home. “I like to do it when people still have enough time to bake, so it’s not too close to Christmas. And the kids like for me to have it after they’re home.” Obviously.

While a tradition of her own making, Chris’ is not a cookie exchange in the purely traditional sense. Every year she serves Thai food for dinner. And she doesn’t require guests to bring cookies to trade. “I have a lot of lawyers coming, so I tell them if you don’t bake you can still come. I would not have been able to keep people coming all these years if it had been too complicated.”

For those who want to take home cookies, “I tell them to bring at least as many cookies to the party as you want to take home,” Chris says. “You need to bring a few more because people will eat them at the party.”

Chris offers a few cookie selections of her own – usually a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup cookie, rum balls and decorated sugar cookies. “I love the sugar cookies because they’re part of my tradition,” Chris says. “The recipe’s not special, but they’re always popular.” Typically, her cookies are shaped as doves and Christmas ornaments.

For the transport home, Chris provides paper plates and foil, but says, “Everyone pretty much knows to bring a container, or they’ll use the container they brought their cookies in. They know what to do. They’ve gotten smart.”

Leftovers go to the Houston Area Women’s Center the next day. “We have an embarrassment of riches,” Chris says. “Even my kids can’t eat them all.”

Brigitte Minkowitz, Bonnie Winograd, Jordana Slawin, Cari Brandt and Lisa Sheinbaum

Brigitte Minkowitz, Bonnie Winograd, Jordana Slawin, Cari Brandt and Lisa Sheinbaum (from left) look forward to sharing cookies at Bonnie's annual cookie exchange. (Photo: lawellphoto.com)

Bonnie Winograd started hosting an annual holiday-cookie exchange for the precise fact that her daughter wasn’t around to eat the leftovers. “When Nicole went to college four years ago, I was trying to keep busy,” Bonnie says. “And the idea just popped in my head that [a cookie party] would be a great way for freshman moms to commiserate.”

Like Chris’, Bonnie’s guest list evolved to include “friends who I don’t get to see so much during the year. It’s a relaxing afternoon. Afternoon because that’s the best time for moms to be able to attend,” she says. Bonnie’s party is always sandwiched between lunch and carpool pick-up.

Being a bit more traditional in her approach, Bonnie researched how to make her cookie exchange a success. “I give Martha Stewart a lot of credit,” she says. “I don’t think we had Pinterest when I started, so I found a lot of ‘how-tos’ on the Internet.”

Bonnie instructs 20 friends to bring 3 dozen cookies, all of which get displayed on her giant kitchen island. Bonnie always serves Moeller’s petit fours: “It’s a cookie exchange-slash-tea,” she says. And she makes her grandmother’s hello dolly cookies, “my all-time favorite recipe,” she says. “Meme had them for every family event, and she always had them in her freezer. I kind of continue that, and it’s like she’s still with us.”

As guests arrive with their cookies, one designated guest fills out place cards with cookie names, so that everyone knows what they’re bringing home (and eating). Then Bonnie gives everyone a personalized container. “I buy the ‘to-go’ boxes from a great website that also has fabulous labels and monogrammed tags [stationerystudio.com and www.beau-coup.com],” she says. This is serious – labels ensure there’s no confusion about whose are whose.

“My cousin tells me I have too many rules,” Bonnie says about her exchange. “Well, I’m just following Martha Stewart.”

All extra cookies get shipped the next day to Nicole at NYU. “I send them overnight, and she opens them up and screeches.” As do the families of Bonnie’s and Chris’ guests, many of whom wait for the invitations every year in anticipation of the cookies that will come home.

Bonnie sums it up for everyone – the hosts, the guests, the families: “I just love a good cookie exchange!”

  • Chris Bryan

    Chris Bryan's favorite, the one she serves every year, is her traditional sugar cookie. (Photo: lawellphoto.com)

  • sugar cookies

    Chris Bryan makes sugar cookies decorated like doves. (Photo: lawellphoto.com)

  • Bonnie Winograd

    Bonnie Winograd serves her Meme's Hello Dollies every year at her cookie exchange. (Photo: lawellphoto.com)

  • Chris Bryan
  • sugar cookies
  • Bonnie Winograd

Chris Bryan

Chris Bryan's favorite, the one she serves every year, is her traditional sugar cookie. (Photo: lawellphoto.com)

sugar cookies

Chris Bryan makes sugar cookies decorated like doves. (Photo: lawellphoto.com)

Bonnie Winograd

Bonnie Winograd serves her Meme's Hello Dollies every year at her cookie exchange. (Photo: lawellphoto.com)

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