Anola Stowick remembers the joy she felt as a child baking alongside her mother and grandmother, learning how to make quick breads, cornbread, stovetop fudge and lard-based pie crusts.
"I learned how to make a good pie crust from my grandmother, and the trick to that was ice cold water and don't overwork it," she says.
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The Arlington Heights woman feels that same joy as she bakes with her own grandchildren.
"Every surface in my kitchen from Thanksgiving until Christmas is covered with confectioner's sugar," Anola said. She said Madison "Maddie," 10, and Alexandra "Allie," 7, have joined her in the kitchen ever since they could crawl up to the counter.
"I think it's a fun activity we could do," she says. "I'm not one to get on the floor and play with dolls. (Baking) is something I enjoy doing and I thought they would enjoy doing it.
"They love homemade cookies. As soon as they walk into my house, they know where the cookie jar is and they always go for the cookies."
For her shortbread cookies, Anola uses a pastry brush to coat the cookies with melted white chocolate and lets the girls add sprinkles or colored sugars. Together they also make toasted coconut cookies, Russian tea cakes and multiple batches of spritz cookies "because everyone in the world loves those."
But those holiday cookies don't sit around the house waiting for the girls to gobble them up. Anola gives many away to family and friends.
"Despite the sugar, the girls at the dentist office will get a basket of cookies," she said. "The only place I don't take them is my cardiologist."
And, it would not be the holidays for Anola if she didn't make gingerbread houses, which she now enjoys watching Maddie and Allie decorate. Anola said she offers ideas but lets the girls take the lead.
"(Allie) drew her own blueprint of her gingerbread house and put the candy on there," Anola adds with a laugh.
Anola says, at one time, she would bake the gingerbread walls and assemble houses with her co-workers who, appropriately enough, worked at a local real estate agency.
"Because I was cutting out the patterns, if someone wanted something special I could do it," she said. "One woman wanted to do a church, and I had a pattern for that. Nancy did Noah's Ark one year. Her husband is a veterinarian."
Anola doesn't limit baking only during the holidays and loves to whip up treats, like whispy meringues and a rich raspberry brownie tart.
"I can't draw a straight line but I can do cake decorating. I can make gingerbread houses. I can make cookies," she says. "If you present them nicely, it's creative."
Anola does dabble, somewhat, in the savory side of the kitchen. Admitting she leaves much of the daily cooking to her husband, Anola focuses on appetizers for parties, like the annual gathering of friends that they've hosted for 40 years.
One of her favorite holiday party bites features cream cheese -- her favorite ingredient -- mixed with dried Italian dressing mix and piped into hulled out cucumber pieces or small tomatoes. She also makes pinwheels using a mixture of cream cheese, minced scallions and shrimp.
"If you put cream cheese on a shingle, I will eat it," she says.
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