A common “exchange” at Christmas is a cookie exchange, where everyone involved makes a big batch of cookies. The exchangers then get together to trade cookies, so at the end, each person comes away with an assortment of cookies they didn’t have to take the time to bake.

There are two problems with this — too often the various bakers have different skill levels, so the person who spends a lot of time and effort on their cookies can come home with cookies they couldn’t eat themselves and certainly wouldn’t serve to guests. The second problem is that many people are on prescribed diets to limit sugar intake, which takes away the fun of such an exchange.

A different sort exchange I recently heard of is a book exchange, where each person buys their favorite book and includes a note as to why they liked it so much. This would actually work better as a group gift idea for one person, so that person would end up with a whole slew of books as well as a great insight into each of her friends, but it still works nicely for an exchange with a group of book lovers, where each person gets one new book. As nice as that sounds, though, it’s not all that special. I frequently do book exhanges — it’s called “going to the library.”

Another idea is a plant exchange. The woman I work with and her daughters exchanged plants for Christmas — each of the women set up plants for all the others. After the exchange, each ended up with four new house plants. So very clever!

In an oblique way, I am a participant in this exchange. I didn’t end up with any plants (whew!) but I get to enjoy seeing the plants grow up.

I’ve never had any luck with house plants so I shied away from them. Oddly, I have done well with a couple of plants I’ve been gifted with since I moved to this house, and as long as the plants stay small enough to sit in front of my south-facing kitchen window, they do fine. Elsewhere in my house, it’s too dark or too cold or no space for them. But at that window? Perfect! In fact, one plant grew so large I had my own private plant exchange, the big plant for a little one.

But that’s just to explain the “whew” a couple of paragraphs ago and is not really part of today’s story.

One of the plants that was gifted in the group plant exchange was an amaryllis. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one in real life, so I have enjoyed seeing the flowers bloom. Not only are they spectacularly pretty, but they brightened the dreary winter days we’d been having. Too bad they don’t grow outside in Colorado. I’d certainly love to see a whole garden filled with such gems! Still, being able to see even one amaryllis plant in bloom is a joy.


Pat Bertram is the author of intriguing fiction and insightful works of grief.

Adventures in Baking

I’ve wanted an embossed rolling pin for years, ever since I first saw them advertised, but it seemed silly to get a utensil that would sit unused in a storage unit. Now I have a kitchen and reasons to make cookies (ah, those ubiquitous pot lucks!), so I ordered the rolling pin from the original makers in Poland since I didn’t want a cheap knock-off, and wouldn’t you know, the recipe that came with the rolling pin is in grams rather than cups.

I wasn’t worried since I have the internet to help me make the conversions. So no problem, right?


According the conversion charts, one cup is equal to 201.6 grams (or maybe 198.6, depending on the website).

And yet, according to those same sites, 200 grams of butter converts to 14.109585 tablespoons or approximately 7/8 of a cup.

150 grams of sugar converts to 3/4 of a cup. But wait! The recipe calls for powered sugar, which converts to 1.3 cups.

400 grams of flour is 3 1/4 cups, but not always. If you scoop a cup of flour, sometimes that cup is 120 grams and sometimes its as much as 180, depending not just on the type of flour, but on whether it’s sifted, how much it’s sifted, and how full you filled the cup. The preferred way of measuring flour in a cup to get a consistent number of grams is to use a small scoop or spoon, shake the flour into the cup and then level off with a knife. This should yield 150 grams of all-purpose flour. Now I’m really confused about how much flour I need to measure. 2 2/3 cups?

As far as I know, an egg is an egg, and even though there are various sizes of eggs, apparently it makes no difference when it comes to cookies. At least I hope not. And a pinch of salt seems to be a pinch of salt in any measuring system.

The recipe calls for baking the cookies at 200 degrees. I presume that’s Celsius, since that temperature seems way to low to do anything but boil water (here at an elevation of 3,898 feet, water boils not at 212 degrees Fahrenheit but at 204.5 degrees.) 200 degrees Celcius converts to 392 degrees Fahrenheit. Is that even a possible oven temperature?

As if this weren’t bad enough, the recipe needs to be altered for high-altitude cooking, which means I need to decrease the butter by 2 to 4 tablespoons, decrease sugar by an unspecified amount, maybe add a tablespoon or two of liquid, increase flour by 1 to 2 tablespoons, increase baking time by 1 to 3 minutes, or perhaps decrease baking time by 1 to 2 minutes. Or maybe just increase the oven temperature by up to 25 degrees.

You think I’m making this up? Nope. Not even a smidgen (a smidgen equals .18 grams) of hyperbole.

But where does it leave me?

Looking for a good bakery!


Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.