Cookies and Cocoa - Conjuring Holiday Memories
It’s that time of the year. We’ve finally made it to the holidays – a time of good cheer, of making memories, of kindness and Christmas songs. It’s a time of taking stock of the year past and being thankful and for time-honored traditions, like puzzling and baking. I’m looking back at a year of puzzling with gratitude to Puzzle Warehouse for giving me an opportunity to share some thoughts and, most importantly, puzzles with you all.
A few months ago, when puzzle artist extraordinaire Aimee Stewart shared images of her new Buffalo Games releases, a particular puzzle captivated me – a beautiful 1,000-piece puzzle entitled Cookies and Cocoa that evoked strong memories of the holidays for me, especially treasured memories of baking cookies with my mom and grandmom. We like to make a number of different types of cookies, but our favorite is to make spritz cookies with an old-fashioned cookie press that my mom inherited from her grandmother. If you’re not familiar with a cookie press, it’s a metal tube into which you can load cookie dough. On the lower end you place a small metal plate to shape the dough, and on the other side is a crank so you can push the dough through the press. If the dough is the right consistency, then each cookie comes out in a neat pattern. You can add sprinkles or colored sugar and, voila – perfect cookies. Every year that I can remember, we make these special cookies, and it’s an opportunity to spend time together, share memories of years past, and make our own new memories together in the process.
I’m looking forward this year to making the same cookies with my mom that we always make, though the occasion will be bittersweet as we’ve just recently lost my beloved grandparents (my mom’s parents), who passed away shortly before Thanksgiving. My grandmom Lois, who was a joyous and beloved member our family, was our greatest baking cheerleader, and in years past we would often assemble at her house and bake with her. Even when she wasn’t quite up to racing around the cookies, she loved having us there to share in the tradition of cookie-baking and talk and laugh as we would bake.
As saddened as we are that she and my grandfather are no longer with us, I’ve found that this transitional time for our family has reminded me how important it is to spend time with family and remember the sweet times we’ve spent together. And, in line with that same sentiment, in the same way that cookie baking has been a time-honored family tradition, my mom and I have also started an informal tradition of completing at least one puzzle together around the holidays (we have this one queued up to complete together).
Considering how many puzzles there are to choose from, especially from Puzzle Warehouse’s truly mind-boggling selection, as I’m browsing the pages of puzzles I often think about how the images from various certain puzzles are associated with sense memories, or with recollections of places visited, books read, and so on. That’s why this puzzle and its spirited holiday image struck me as so appropriate for this time of the year. The colors, the cookies, the textures, and the warmth of the image take me right back.
On to the puzzle itself – let me tell you, I was so excited to receive this puzzle in the mail from Puzzle Warehouse. Just the sight of it and its busy collage brought a smile to my face. Over the years, I have found Buffalo Games to be a stalwart, reliable budget-friendly brand. If they don’t quite have the heft and sturdiness of a Ravensburger, they are inexpensive and typically feature well-printed images and above-average piece quality, with gray paper backings and usually minimal or no bent pieces. That means you can collect and piece together a higher number of their puzzles, which considering Buffalo Games is one of the most prolific brands for Aimee Stewart puzzles means more bang for your buck.
Considering the wide array of colors and textures in this puzzle (Aimee is a master of artful collages), I felt it would be a major help to complete a fairly detailed sort from the start. A few particularly vibrant piles popped out to me while I was working on my sorting, so I put together this blue ceramic teapot, bright yellow-green candle, and knitted mittens first.
After that, I put my first assembled sections into place and added in any pieces that I sorted out which featured text. Throughout the puzzle image, there are a number of sections with text on them – each featuring cookie recipes, some printed and some handwritten. It’s a lovely, evocative touch and makes me think of the worn spritz cookie recipe that we work from every Christmas.
It felt very easy and natural to make substantial progress with this puzzle. I would classify it as being fairly easy in terms of difficulty, and as the puzzle went along and I worked my way through my various piles of sorted pieces, it was satisfying to see how the overall image came together in stages.
It was fun to pull out different colors and textures of cookies. Here you can see I pulled out any of the white-and-brown pinwheel pieces, and started queueing up other blue and green cookies in the margins of my puzzle board. Placing those cookies into their respective spots continued the satisfying feeling of completing the puzzle.
I mean, how great is this plate of cookies?! Makes me almost want to eat the cardboard pieces.
Next to be completed was this corner of star cookies and pinwheels.
Then this plate of assorted cookies.
…And these gingerbread cookies – another favorite of my family’s, though they definitely take a lot more work!
As I was sorting, I had a feeling that the marshmallows on the hot cocoa would be the most difficult section of the puzzle, and even though it’s a fairly small section in the puzzle it turned out I was right. I sorted the last few pieces by piece shape in order to finish the final section.
Voila! Upon concluding the mug of cocoa, Cookies and Cocoa was done and ready to admire. As I was putting together this puzzle, I was thinking of so many years spent with my mom and grandmom on our cookie-baking pursuits, which made it a memorable and special puzzle to complete. It’s really a perfect holiday image, and the print quality of the image was so incredible that, as I hinted at above, I could almost taste the picture.
In addition to this one, Puzzle Warehouse has a host of other lovely cookie-themed puzzles. For those Jewish puzzlers who celebrate Hanukkah, this stunning 1,000-piece Hanukkah Cookies puzzle from Cobble Hill looks like a fun challenge.
On a more summery note, if you’re dreaming ahead to warmer weather Cobble Hill also has this 1,000-piece Tropical Cookies puzzle with its fanciful flip flops and flamingos.
Whichever almost-edible assemblage you choose, my hope is that your puzzle selection is one that you can enjoy – either alone or with family – while recalling good holidays past and making new memories. In both joyous and difficult times, I’ve been grateful for my family – and my second puzzling family – for providing support and love. May the holiday season bring you the same in abundance. Happy holidays, and happy puzzling – to one and all.
Sorry for the loss of your grandparents. The first Christmas without beloved family members can be a mix of happy and sad. Let yourself feel all the feels and share your special memories with others; it will keep them with you in your heart.
Loved it, Richard. I'm glad you cherish some great memories with your grandparents. Enjoy the holiday both baking and puzzling!
This puzzle is so delightful! I have it in my to-do pile, but was feeling a little intimidated because it is so busy. Sounds like a good sort is the answer!