I always seem to count my blessings more consciously this time of year — with Thanksgiving just around the corner we are surrounded by reminders to be thankful. This may seem like a silly thing to be thankful for, but I would list sweet treats among my blessings! Seriously think about it… when you indulge in a cookie, a slice of cake, or a piece of candy, how often are you truly grateful for that treat? Do you find yourself obsessing over the calories, or popping it into your mouth without a second thought, or maybe sneaking it in before the kids notice you have it? How often do you truly relish in the luxury of having dessert? When you consider the realities of food insecurity, both near and far, you realize that sweet treats are undoubtedly a luxury.
Truth be told, one of my favorite parts about the holiday season is baking special treats with our family. One of my fondest memories as a child is the times I spent baking cookies with my grandma and my mom. My grandma always had cookies at her house when we were growing up — usually fluffy chocolate chip cookies or peanut butter cookies with the chocolate star in the middle. During the holidays we bake up a storm!! This time of year we always mix up a big batch of my great-grandmother’s sugar cookie recipe which is an extra special treat. Between the mixing, rolling, cutting, baking, frosting, and decorating it is a day-long ordeal, but it is always filled with smiles, laughs, and lots of taste-testing!
I’m looking forward to sharing this tradition with my own daughter as she grows up, but I’d like to take it one step further to instill an extra layer of gratefulness in a generation that largely seems to feel entitled to many things. Instead of just baking so we can indulge and treat our loved ones, we’ll be baking to bless others with the luxury of dessert. Our family has always gifted plates of goodies to our extended family, friends, and neighbors as a way to spread holiday cheer, but this year I have sought out a few other ways to “bake a difference”. 😉
Next time you’re baking with your kids consider making an extra batch (or more!) to donate to the Free Lunch Program (FLP) of Iowa City. FLP is a local non-profit organization that provides free noon meals six days a week to those in need. Volunteers prepare and serve the food, too, so it’s a great place to seek out volunteer opportunities for your family! Perhaps you can bring along some homemade baked goods on a day that you arrange to volunteer so you can see all the smiles that you create by sharing your special treats. To donate to the FLP please email Jama at [email protected] to arrange a time to drop off your baked goods.
Another fun way to volunteer by baking is with the Birthday Cakes 4 Free organization; they utilize volunteer bakers to provide birthday cakes to financially and socially disadvantaged children and seniors. The process to sign up as a volunteer baker is really simple: just contact the local Birthday Cakes 4 Free via email or phone (Johnson County and Linn County both have local chapters). You’ll complete a simple form to be added to their email list. Then you will begin getting emails when a cake is requested (including the basic info like date, type, theme). You choose if/when you want to volunteer to donate a cake. When you volunteer to complete an order, it is up to you to work with the family that will receive the cake to arrange for delivery. There’s no need to be a professional baker either–this is a great family project for kids that enjoy baking!
You can also register as a Sugar Angel through Icing Smiles, a national nonprofit organization that provides custom celebration cakes and other treats to families impacted by the critical illness of a child. Or if you are unable to identify a local organization that can accept homemade treats, you can host a bake sale and accept donations for the charity of your choice in exchange for your goodies.
I’m ready to break out my apron and spread the love. How about you?? ‘Tis the season to bake a difference!