Those Special Gingerbread Cookies

Author: Rick Dunetz
December 24, 2014

Rick Dunetz
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Rick Dunetz

Executive Director at The Side-Out Foundation
Rick Dunetz is the founder and executive director of The Side-Out foundation. His passion for volleyball and his role as a coach led him to create the Foundation in honor of his mother, Gloria, who lived with breast cancer for six years.

Rick has coached volleyball in his local community for 15 years. Currently, he is the head coach of the Oakton girls freshman volleyball team and assistant coach for the girls varsity volleyball team in Vienna, Virginia.
Rick Dunetz
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When I think of the holidays I think of 2 things:

CBS Christmas Specials

and Christmas at the Boyer’s House.

This story is about neither of these things but rather the cookie that made these things even more special.

 

When I was a young kid, my family would drive out to the home of our good friends the Boyer’s for the holidays. Pat and Hank Boyer were the best friends of my parents and they lived in a charming old home on a horse farm where my father trained horses for equestrian. I loved going there. When you walked in the front door you found yourself in a small foyer with a staircase that seemly went on forever to the upstairs. The house was full of interesting sounds.  Every step you took in that house made a loud creak and you could hear Mr. Boyer whistling old big band tunes no matter where you were. During the holidays the best room in the house was the room exiting the foyer to the left.  A great room if you will. This room had incredibly high ceilings and the furnishings were of course antiques from a time that was reminiscent of the past.  In the back of the room, centered perfectly, was a giant Christmas tree that was classically decorated with ribbons and white lights and it had a cool old electric train circling below it.  It was always a welcome sight.  My brothers and I always loved Christmas at the Boyer’s.  And it wasn’t just because we got presents.

 

Those Gingerbread Cookies

Every time we left the Boyer’s home we would exit from the same foyer that we walked in and to the left of the door there was always a basket filled with plastic bags full of gingerbread men.  Each bag had a different set of characters designed to look like each person in my family.  I mean these things were piped to perfection.  We would walk out  of that amazing home with our very own bag of gingerbread cookies every single year.

The Boyer’s daughter Loretta made these cookies for us and they were the greatest part of the holiday visit.  At the time she was doing something in the area of baking or catering though I can not really remember.  Whatever way she was doing in the area of the culinary arts, well, it didn’t matter because those cookies were amazing!

Now, every person has a different idea of the taste and consistency of the gingerbread cookie.  Some prefer them like ginger snaps, crisp and crunchy and others like them soft and more bread-like.  What made Loretta’s gingerbread so incredible, was that they had a thin layer of crispness and a soft bready middle.  These cookies were perfection and I looked forward to them every holiday season.

 

And then my Cookies Crumbled…

My Graduation

Graduation is supposed to be a happy time and I guess for me it was.  Escaping high school should have been the best day in my entire life, but I  it wasn’t as blissful as I would have expected.  The Boyer’s came to my post graduation party and Loretta had whipped up 40 or so custom gingerbread “Rick’s” each one with a different outfit on.  I was freaking out!  This was the greatest gift I could have received on such a special day.  But there was a catch.  This was the last batch of gingerbread cookies Loretta would ever make for me.  (Yes, I have a beard in that picture and I was only 18.)

 

Passing on the Tradition

LorettaSeveral years later my wife Akiyo and I were shopping for X-mas gifts and realized that it was not fiscally feasible for us to spend so much money on a seemingly endless population of family, friends, and friends children.  Akiyo had started her own tradition of baking her amazing triple chip cookies and giving them out to her good friends.  It seemed like a good idea at the time but I didn’t have a cookie I could contribute.  So I called Loretta.  Loretta was super surprised to hear from me but she was willing to pass on her recipe.  I jotted the instructions down on a crappy piece of yellow legal paper which I still have today in our recipe book.  Truth be known, no one could ever understand the chicken scratch I wrote down that day so the recipe will be safe forever.

Today my wife and I bake close to 1000 cookies and deliver them to over 60 different families all over the place.  If I grow tired of baking (it will be a long while don’t worry), I will pass the tradition on to someone who will share these cookies with their friends and families.

 

Back Aching Baking

Baking gingerbread is a HUGE challenge.  It takes days to make the dough, roll the dough, cut the dough into shapes, decorate the shapes, and bake.  Each batch makes about 75 cookies and I can only bake 2 sheets of cookies at a time.  The main shapes bake are Fat Cats, Men, Moons, and Trees.  I wanted to add Star Wars shapes but I was not sure they would turn out.  Once the cookies are cool, I box them up and stick them in the fridge for 24 hours.  My wife and I then pack all the gingerbread cookies up in bubble wrap and box them up for delivery.  This year we mailed 26 boxes and we give away about 40 or so directly to friends and family that live close by.  It is really tiring and back breaking work, but it is totally worth it in the end.

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There are Lessons in that Dough

There are 3 things that I think about when I bake every year.  Little lessons that I take with me.

  1. Gingerbread dough is resilient.  No matter how long it is in the fridge, no matter how much flour you dump on it, it keeps its consistency; it keeps its identity.  Have a strong will and be true to yourself.  It seems like a stretch but I truly believe in this.
  2. Giving is Greater then Getting.  I feel great joy when I see a child, a player, a friend, or a family member  bite into one of my gingerbread cookies.  The feeling is far greater then any gift I could receive.
  3. Make Tradition your Mission. This is one of many traditions Akiyo and I share.  Tradition creates killer long lasting memories, but mostly it is something we can share with our friends and family.

 

Dedication

patI dedicate this post to the Boyer family.  Patricia Boyer, mother of Madeline and Loretta and my mother’s best friend, suddenly past away a few weeks ago.  There is not much that I can say that will temper their grief, but I hope sharing this story will let them know that the memories I keep from those wonderful Christmas’s will forever be locked in my mind.

Rest in Peace Mrs. Boyer, I will miss you.

From all of us here at Side-Out!

Have a Wonderful Holiday Season

 

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