A taste of home is lovely at the holidays, especially if home is an ocean away. That's why cookies have a special significance for Ruth Jakobsen Patzloff, who came to Oak Park from Denmark four years ago when she married husband Mark.
"For Christmas, I've always had this cookie thing," she says. Before the season's done, she'll have made at least seven different kinds. It's a tradition her mother started, and memories prompted her to send one of her mom's recipes to the Chicago Tribune for its annual Holiday Cookie Contest.
"My friends would laugh if they knew I'd entered. I'm not a typical cookie contest person. Not so neat. But I was thinking about how I had learned to bake, the whole atmosphere, the smell in the kitchen. My mother loved it, and it went right to the kids," she says. "She worked full time when I was a kid. I don't know how she did it. It was fun to enter on behalf of her, to say what she had given me."
Patzloff was one of 12 finalists and merited a brief mention in the article ("Sweet Expressions," Chicago Tribune, Dec. 1), but she didn't win or place. The Tribune's loss is our gain, however, since she's sharing the recipe with us.
Aside from missing her family, Patzloff is very much at home here. It's not all that different from Denmark since, she explains, "Illinois is flat and there's some water because of Lake Michigan, so I don't get desperate." The water in Denmark, though, is the ocean, never more than 40 miles from any place in the country.
Cooking here is something of an adventure for Patzloff, who often has to convert measurements and search for ingredients. Danish recipes use the metric system, although they often include "teaspoon" as an amount. But even that's different.
"Teaspoons are bigger here. Everything in America is bigger?#34;houses, cars," she notes.
Still, Patzloff has become a big fan of Oak Park. "I like the atmosphere here. I really appreciate the policy about diversity. If you don't live together, you can't work it out. We do here," she explains.
But, she adds, sounding like a native Oak Parker, "The taxes are too high."
When I arrived at Patzloff's house, she was just taking the contest cookies?#34;blondekaker, or lace cookies?#34;out of the oven. (It's actually a Norwegian recipe, since her mother grew up in Norway.) She served them up with two other varieties, brune kager, a traditional Danish Christmas cookie, and lussekatter, Swedish Lucia buns she'd baked for St. Lucia Day, and offered tea in a pretty cup and saucer.
To my observation that interviews usually are not accompanied by such a thoughtful spread, Patzloff says, "In Denmark when you have someone over, even just for coffee, you have a saucer. It belongs. That's just how it is."