Aldren A. Watson is an author and artist. Among other accomplishments, he has published 175 books. In addition to illustrating many books for other authors, he collaborated with my mother, author Nancy Dingman Watson, as the illustrator for the list of distinguished children's books they created together. He also wrote and illustrated several children's books himself. And he is the author and illustrator of a group of adult non-fiction titles that are still in print, many years after their publication. Now 94 years old, he is looking forward to the publication of his 176th title. David R. Godine, Publisher (http://www.godine.com/) will be bringing out WATERFRONT NEW YORK: Images From the 1920s and 30s in the fall of 2012.
My father has always been adept in the kitchen. He can produce a good meal as well as the next cook---and does. During my growing-up years, he was always the breakfast chef. He called our orders into the cupboard where the short-order chef reigned---"Harry! Adam and Eve on a raft!" He then whipped up the order at the stove---two poached eggs on toast. And lastly, he served it to the designated recipient with a flourish---"Your breakfast, Miss!"
But I remember him most often as an aide and abettor to cooks. He designed and built the cabinetwork in our kitchen, with customized areas for cookbooks; spices; implements. He installed the marble slab that my mother wanted for candy and bread making. Was a tool broken? Or did you crave a yet-to-be-invented implement? He would mend or create it.
At this time of year I think especially of the unique cookie cutters that my father---always the inspired food collaborator---made for my mother's holiday baking. My brother Peter and I helped to bake and ice the cookies. (Or at least I thought we were helping.)
Peter and I watched as my father decorated wooden sugar buckets. My mother then filled the buckets with the homemade cookies (though hopefuly not with the ones Peter and I had licked) and they were distributed as gifts. It was a true creative collaboration between my mother and father, whether the medium was books or food.
These memories are inspiring me to do some holiday baking of my own. I get out my recipe box, the one my father made for me years and years ago, and retrieve the recipe that we always baked for Christmas tree cookies.
RICH ROLL COOKIES (from an old edition of The Joy of Cooking)
Cream 1 cup butter, 2/3 cup sugar. Beat in 1 egg. Combine and add 2 1/2 cups flour, 1/2 tsp salt, 1 tsp vanilla. Chill dough at least 3 to 4 hours before rolling. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Roll and cut out [this makes a tender dough---keep chilled, handle quickly]. Bake for about 8 to 10 minutes or until slightly colored. Icing: mix confectioner's sugar with milk and a little vanilla, then separate into small batches and color with food coloring. [Our modern flours are more refined than they were 50 or 100 years ago, when this recipe was first concocted. You may need to increase the amount of flour slightly to make a workable dough.]
Next I get out my own cookie cutters. My father made a set for me over the years, just as he did for the rest of his children---a new cutter each Christmas. I'll mix up my dough. Roll it out. Cut and bake the cookies. And ice them using my worn-out and thoroughly washed Winsor & Newton series 7 watercolor brushes. The perfect melding of art and food.