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Posted on Sat, Dec 3, 2011 : 6 a.m.

Holiday cookies: Score some at a cookie walk or make your own

By Jim and Janice Leach

My personal analysis of holidays is that they are composed of essential and optional parts. For example, in our celebration of Christmas, the essential elements are a joyful time with family, exchanging gifts made or bought specifically for each member, and eating a special meal together.

A full-size fresh Christmas tree is optional. When we haven’t had space or had travel plans, we’ve instead decorated a Norfolk Island pine, a small live potted pine, and — this year — a whimsical vintage table-top silver tree with tiny antique bulbs.

Another essential element is cookies. It isn’t Christmas without them.

Here are two upcoming local events where you can make or otherwise score some excellent Christmas cookies. Should you miss out on these, my easiest but best Christmas cookie recipe follows.

Bake-and-take holiday treats

This is a baking workshop hosted by Preserving Traditions at the Pittsfield Grange at 3337 Saline-Ann Arbor Road in Ann Arbor. The event will be on Sunday, Dec. 11, 2011 from 2 to 5 p.m. Participants will work together to make three holiday treats: Triple Chocolate Bar Cookies, Gingersnaps, and Bourbon (or Vanilla) Balls. All ingredients will be provided, and you'll go home with a nice selection of each item. The cost of this workshop is $15 ($10 for Grange members) and you need to register here. Act quickly as the workshop will likely fill up.

18th annual Cookie Walk

This cookie sale event takes place at the First United Methodist Church at 120 S. State St. in Ann Arbor. The sale runs from 9 until 11 a.m — or until the cookies sell out, and that does happen! Prepacked or "select your own" homemade cookies will be available for purchase. Choose from an array of decorated sugar cookies, Russian tea cakes, snickerdoodles, peanut blossoms and many, many more. The proceeds from the Cookie Walk benefit local, national, and international missions.

A family tradition

My dear grandmother was a loving and generous woman (trying to pass off liver as beef was the only unkind thing I ever knew her to do) and a wonderful cook. All of my memories of visiting her home are tinted with delicious scents. She didn't cut corners or skimp on salt or fat. This cookie in no way qualifies as healthy, but, then again, that's not the attraction of cookies.

She made these cookies. Actually, everyone in our family makes these cookies. They may be the first cookie I learned to make on my own. They are easy, fast, and delicious. This is a fun recipe to prepare with children because the prep time is quick and the results are very satisfying.

Toffee Bars

1 cup margarine (2 sticks)

1 cup brown sugar

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 cups flour

6 Hershey bars

Festive sprinkles or chopped nuts (optional)

1. Beat margarine, brown sugar, egg and vanilla.

2. Add flour and mix thoroughly.

3. Spread in a 9x13-inch pan. Bake at 350 degree oven for 20 minutes.

4. Unwrap candy bars and have them ready. Now take the pan out of the oven and place candy bars on top of the hot cookie dough. Put the pan back in the oven for 60 seconds.

5. After you remove the pan from the oven, quickly spread the melty chocolate evenly over the top. I like to use the back of a spoon. (Let it cool before you attempt to lick it off).

6. If you like, sprinkle nuts or sprinkles over the chocolate.

7. Let the cookies cool slightly, and then cut into squares.

Do you have a favorite holiday cookie that you simply cannot do without?

Janice and Jim Leach tend a backyard plot in downtown Ann Arbor, where they try to grow as many vegetables and other plants as possible. For the last four years, they've published gardening tips, photos and stories at their 20 Minute Garden website.