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Cooking With Myra: Time of year for giving

Dec. 21, 2010 at 6:21 a.m.

Gingerbread People

By Myra Starkey

Gingerbread People3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

3/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar

3/4 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. table salt

1 Tbsp. ground cinnamon

1 Tbsp. ground ginger

½ tsp. ground cloves

12 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into 12 pieces

¾ cup molasses

2 Tbsp. milk

In a food processor, process flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger and cloves until combined. This should take 10 seconds. Scatter butter pieces over flour mixture and process until mixture resembles very fine meal, 15 seconds. With machine running, gradually add molasses and milk. Process until dough is moistened evenly. Scrape dough onto work surface and divide in half. Working with one portion of dough at a time, roll dough to 1/4-inch thickness between two large sheets of parchment. Stack on baking sheet until firm (15-20 minutes). Dough can be refrigerated for 2 hours or overnight.

Adjust oven racks to lower middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment. Remove dough from refrigerator and place on work surface. Peel off top of parchment and place on counter. Cut dough into 5 inch gingerbread cookies. Transfer cookies to baking sheet with a wide metal spatula. Space 3/4-inch apart. Repeat with remaining dough, until baking sheet is full. Set scraps aside.

Bake cookies until set in center about 8 to 10 minutes. Rotate pans from back to front halfway through baking. Do not overbake. Cool cookies on sheets and then remove with a wide spatula. Gather scraps and repeat rolling between parchment paper until dough is used.

For a crisper cookie, bake at 325 degrees for 15-20 minutes. Allow to cool before icing.

Royal icing1/3 cup egg whites (about 3 large eggs)

2 tsp. fresh lemon juice (divided)

Pinch of salt

1 box of powdered sugar (16 ounces)

Beat mixture in a large bowl with a whisk-shaped beater. Beat together egg whites, 1/2 tsp. of the lemon juice and salt until frothy. Increase speed to medium and beat for 30 seconds. Gradually beat in powdered sugar about 1/2 cup at a time. Make sure mixtures is smooth and continue to add remaining 11/2

Pipe icing on cookies and allow to dry.

By Myra Starkey

We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.

- Thornton Wilder

A friend recently told me about a new book I should read titled, "When God Winks At You" by Squire Russell.

I bought a copy and started it the same day. The premise is that God is intertwined in our lives and causes specific things to happen. Only occasionally are our eyes opened, so that we can see what is happening by God's hand behind the scenes. Those "coincidences" are called Godwinks.

My sister in Houston, Susie, donated a kidney last week to John. I drove up to stay with her and offered to do whatever she needed. Susie is remodeling her house, so the day of her hospital admission, we were packing up one of the bedrooms and closets to be stored in a storage unit. Susie was scurrying around the house throwing all kinds of drawer contents into boxes, while I tried to fold clothes and carefully place them. She finally scolded me that we were running out of time and to just throw everything into boxes and label which room it came from. I tell you this in order to set the stage for the type of chaos she currently has in her life. The builders were hammering outside and tearing into the walls, while we frantically stayed just ahead of the pick ax. After several hours of packing, we checked her into the hospital.

Susie seemed relatively calm as we traveled down tiled hallways toward her living quarters for the next several days. The hospital attendant insisted she ride in a wheelchair; perhaps making the mistake of thinking she was the kidney recipient rather than the donor. Our motley crew included Susie, my dad, Maria (her friend) and the family of John the recipient. There seemed to be a sense of hope as we gathered inside her room. All the necessary introductions were made and the tears began to flow. John would be arriving at the hospital the following day to receive the gift that would allow him to get off dialysis and feel normal again.

A nurse came to the room around 5 a.m. the next morning, and I rubbed my eyes sleepily knowing it was time to take Susie to surgery. My parents were staying at her house several miles away, so I made the necessary call and attempted to explain to them where we were located in the hospital. I sat down in the surgical waiting area, next to the other families who hoped the day would turn out OK, yet we probably all felt the nagging fear of "what if." While I sat there calmly knitting and praying, my elderly parents were roaming the tile floors of the very huge Methodist Hospital bewildered and lost. My father finally relented and asked a lady walking down the hall for directions. He explained that his daughter was donating a kidney, and he was looking for the surgery waiting area, but was unsure of which one. The lady looked at him and asked, "Are you Susan Mitchem's father?" Godwink No. 1. Amazed, my dad sputtered, "What did you say?" and she explained that she was the transplant coordinator on her way to the same place. Could this be a mere coincidence? Hundreds of people were roaming through the hospital at 10 in the morning, so what would be the chance of someone even knowing Susie?

My parents finally arrived, and we continued to wait. The name of each patient finishing surgery was called and their family would leave the room to hear the verdict. Finally, the doctor came out and summoned our family. We were told that all was well with Susie. "Thank God," I whispered to myself. Her surgeon explained that Susie would go to the recovery room for about an hour and then go to her room. I could tell my dad was troubled, and I knew he had arrived at the hospital much later than he planned, but when I questioned him why he seemed melancholy, he explained that he had loaded Susie's hospital luggage in his car the night before. His intent was to bring it to her room after surgery. During the night, someone had broken into his truck parked in Susie's driveway and stolen her two bags along with a couple of his tools and GPS device. One window had been bashed in, and the truck was a mess. It had taken him extra time to clean everything up and tape up the window. My mom was upset that Susie's robes, pajamas and books had all been stolen. The pragmatist in me figured that everything could be replaced. I had removed her watch and new iPhone from the bags the night before, not wanting to be responsible for keeping up with them in the hospital, so I knew her bags contained mostly clothes. I mentioned to mom and dad that I would get her new pajamas and a robe the next day and not to worry. They seemed relieved, but we decided to withhold the information about the theft until Susie asked why I was insisting she wear the new pajamas.

Susie was in a lot of pain and therefore receiving large amounts of drugs. We sat with her in the room, and chatted with friends as they stopped by to check on her. She drifted in and out of sleep murmuring and grimacing when she tried to move. Later in the day, Sharon, John's wife, stopped by to check on Susie. Her husband had just gone to surgery. We gathered around Susie's bed and talked about how important the gift of a kidney was to her family. With tears in her eyes, she said that for the rest of her life she would be thankful to Susie. We stopped to pray for John and the outcome of his new kidney. Sharon squeezed my hand, and I was once again reminded how precious good health is. I take life for granted, but in a darkened hospital room full of hushed whispers everything could change in a second. Sharon was physically and emotionally exhausted from the events over the last few days. While her husband was unconscious in surgery, yet she felt she should stop by and once again express her gratitude to Susie.

We began to settle in for the night. My cell phone buzzed. I answered it to hear Stacy, Susie's neighbor. Stacy wondered if I knew why Susie's suitcases were out in her driveway. She said she had passed by the house an hour before and nothing was there, and then she looked out her window and saw them. The tops were opened with the pajamas spilling out. The sprinkler had come on and everything was wet. Godwink No. 2. I explained the theft of the luggage, and apparently the thieves had decided to return the suitcases and her books. I guess they needed a GPS to get around Houston, so they kept that and the tools, but all else was returned. Stacy washed everything and repacked and I dispatched Dad to pick up the luggage.

My sister is doing fine. She will be taking it easy for a while, allowing her body to heal from the procedure. And, of course, a person only needs one healthy kidney, so there is no adjustment time for the fact that she is one organ lighter. I was walking through the Methodist Hospital lobby and admiring the gigantic Christmas tree, when I paused to listen to an older gentleman playing Christmas music on the piano. To my right was a child in a wheelchair happily clapping his hands, while his mother sang Jingle Bells. An elderly couple sat on one of the many couches holding hands. A young mother was in a wheelchair being pushed along by her husband. She was holding her infant who donned a Santa hat. All around me was the spirit of Christmas, and I was in the middle of the joy that happens despite one's circumstance. I have no doubt that God was watching over all of us. I exited the doors into the crisp winter air, sipping on a hot coffee and thinking, "If I could only remember where I parked."

At this special time of year, I like to bake gingerbread people. I am reprinting my favorite recipe in hopes that you will make some to share. Merry Christmas.

Myra Starkey lives in Victoria. Write her in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901, or e-mail myra@vicad.com.

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