My earliest memory of working on our holiday cookie tins was probably from around 1996. I was three years out of law school and ecstatic to be working on anything that didn't involve sitting at a desk in a closed office for 12 or 14 hours straight.
After three years and two different jobs at high-end, high-stress law firms (first in New York and then later Palo Alto), I had begun to think that something about the equation of me + law practice wasn't making me particularly happy. That year I returned to Austin to take a break, regroup, and think about my next move.
In those days, our production bakery was still at the Red River and 32nd Street location, sandwiched between our retail shop and Wells Fargo in that strip center just north of St. David's. I remember pushing speed racks heavily laden with tray upon tray of freshly baked Christmas cookies up the steep concrete ramp from the bakery into the adjoining retail space.
There, we would reallocate 6 or 8 dining tables in one corner of the shop for the purpose of lining up the cookie trays. With icing bags and bowls of nuts and other garnishes, we'd finish the various decorations, before covering the racks to let the cookies dry overnight. The next day, we would carefully pack the finished cookies into tins, which then would be run out to the sales counters of our many stores as fast as we could get them there (though rarely fast enough to keep up with the demand).
I remember the aroma of the freshly baked cookies filling the room at the Red River shop, and sampling so many of these bite sized delights that it's a wonder I didn't make myself sick. But I also remember the way it made me feel to have my hands back on something real - something artful, soulful and delicious.
Our approach was a rather haphazard one. Five or six of us would show up each morning. After several hot cups of Anderson's house blend, we would throw ourselves into assembling as many tins as we could, for as many hours as we could manage to stand on our feet. The tasks were repetitive, the jokes were cringe-worthy (and progressively more off-color as the days wore on), but the feeling of working really hard at something that made a lot of folks happy alongside a team of cool people pulling in the same direction was invaluable.
I guess it just didn't feel like work. I wasn't trying to keep myself from staring out the window, or wondering hour many more billable hours I would need to log that day before I could reasonably go home. I was completely immersed in the task at hand.
These days we still produce our wonderful cookie tins each year at the holidays, though we're a good bit more organized. Our amazing pastry manager Karen actually estimated the total number of tins we would need to produce this year, and mapped out the entire production run on a spread sheet back in November. And the jokes (which continue to be of somewhat questionable taste) are still in full effect - mostly supplied by our lead cookie decorator, the inestimable Annie L.G. And the aromas of vanilla, butter and sugar still waft to the rafters as the cookies come out of the oven.
And though I'm mostly called upon for other tasks that are not quite as much fun, I did sneak in and scoop cookie dough for the better part of at least one morning last week, reminding myself of why we do this stuff.
Right now, we have a big stack of tins at the shop ready for you to pick up, but I'd get over here soon. They have a tendency to disappear from our shelves as we get deeper into the last week before Christmas. Happy holidays to all and hoping we see you in the shop this week.