Tuesday, Dec 18 2012 12:01 AM

'Cookie Weekend' blends baking, caring and laughing

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In a scene reminiscent of a Norman Rockwell painting, five women gather once a year at the home of Sue Falkenhagen in Bear Valley Springs. Close to 3000 cookies are baked in the homes double ovens, over the course of a single weekend. Left to right are Lauran Pelissier, Susan Lugash, Kimmie Doorly, Sue Falkenhagen and Terry Lloyd pose, displaying the fruits of their labor. Photos by Nick Smirnoff

Little did three roommates at the University of California, Santa Barbara, realize a spur of the moment decision to join Cookie Weekend in Tehachapi would become an annual holiday tradition, that would live in their hearts forever.

A simple invitation proved to be the beginning of a tradition. In 1997, Sue Falkenhagen invited her daughter Kim and her roommates to the family log home in Bear Valley Springs, to join in a weekend of cooking baking with frieds Terri Lloyd and Susan Lugash. Sue resides in Calabasas and is a mother, grandmother and CEO of a company in the L.A. area. Lloyd and Lugash are also mothers and grandmothers residing in Arizona and the San Fernando Valley, respectively.

"This is where we come to relieve the stress of everyday life," said Falkenhagen of her Bear Valley home. "It has always been my haven for peace and serenity."

Kim Falkenhagen Doorly, a chiropractor and Sue's daughter and two of her best friends, Lauran Pelissier, an event planner in the L.A. area and Donna Hileman of Chicago, a flight attendant for United Airlines, have come to participate in Cookie Weekend since their college days. Hileman was not in attendance this year, as she is the mother of a brand-new baby and the trip from Illinois to California was not possible.

When the second generation first joined the cookie team back in 1997, they admit they were not of much help. Being college students, they slept late and sometimes ate more cookies than they baked, leaving the work to the first generation.

Maturity brought about a change in attitude, as the girls began to look at the project in a more realistic manner and determined the three older women were working hard, while they lounged about, without a care. Today, everyone has a task, with Pelissier sometimes cracking the proverbial whip.

"She keeps us all on task and focused," said Lloyd.

As the tradition has continued, everyone packed their comfies and slippers, bids farewell to family and travels to Tehachapi to bake cookies in early December.

This year, on Dec. 8, personalized aprons, cookie tins, mixers, ingredients and sufficient wine and Lemon drop margaritas kept the stories and laughter flowing for the weekend. Nuts were chopped, sugar and flour were measured, cookie dough was mixed, pans prepared, ovens set at 325º, timers dinged, cookies frosted and more than 3000 cookies were made ready for packaging.

As the weekend progressed, there were fireside chats, long walks in the crisp Tehachapi air and tummies filled with hearty fare and, of course, a few cookies, because as we all know, cookies unsuitable for the cookie tins must be dealt with in a responsible manner.

"Admittedly tensions can run high on occasion, with so many cookies, timing, bakers, etc. but at the end of the day we are all sisters," said Pelissier. "It's a special time for all of us to come together and we cherish the time we are here."

Sunday morning cookies were assembled on a 15-foot solid oak table, sprinkled with a light dusting of sugar and packed in festive tins. The cookies were now ready to make their final journey to relatives, clients and friends -- some as far awat as Hawaii. Admittedly, some make it to the baker's cupboards and of course there were cookies designated to be left for Santa and enjoyed during Hanukkah, after the candles were lit.

Throughout the year the women make trips to Tehachapi to can apples and berries, pick veggies and spend time with family and friends. Yet the fondest memories are those created on Cookie Weekend, when six women gather together, molded by shared experiences and nurtured by one another. It's a rare recipe that makes not only wonderful cookies, but bakes up true friendships and continues to grow from generation to generation.

It has been 15 years since three college students joined Cookie Weekend and 14-month-old Hanna Doorly, daughter of Kim Doorly, began her apprenticeship this year.

The sense of family, friendship and love is overwhelming as one observes the process and it's apparent the unwritten rules of Cookie Weekend are baking, living and loving.

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