Members of the Filipino Women's League get together to share cookies, recipes and rowdiness
POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Dec 8, 2010
Sugar and spice and everything nice would seem to be the order of the day at the Filipino Women's League's annual cookie exchange. Ladies come to the door laden with festively decorated baskets and boxes filled with their homemade cookie contribution, individually packaged for each participant -- some even adorned with trinkets.
Once inside, they will lunch and sing Christmas carols, discuss recipes and swap the crunchy treats so that everyone who entered with one type of cookie leaves with many kinds.
But this isn't a raised-pinkie affair.
"When the girls get together, they go berserk! But I let them go because they're sharing," says Betty Jean Camarillo, a founding member of the league from Pearl City who has hosted the cookie exchange since she started it about 27 years ago.
The way she sees it, what's a little rowdiness among friends?
"I was looking at a magazine and saw a group of ladies that had an exchange, and I thought, 'That sounds like fun,'" she recalls. "It's good for our girls who do service for other people to have some fun for themselves."
The Filipino Women's League, established in 1970, came together as a service organization. Through the years, they've addressed youth gangs, organized mentoring events and raised money for everything from Ronald McDonald House to college scholarships -- all hard work.
To put a spring in the women's step, Camarillo holds the exchange on the first Sunday of every December -- "after Thanksgiving but before the Christmas season really starts," explains Geri Aranaydo, another founding member from Pearl City and current league president.
Each year, Camarillo picks a theme. There have been rolled, cut-out, drop, bar and decorated cookies, recipes from other countries and an "anything goes" year. This year's theme is fruit.
"I try to expand their cookie knowledge," Camarillo says.
No matter what the theme, cookies must be homemade and prettily packaged six to a bag, with recipe included.
The exchange has become so popular it is discussed all year, and planners have even had to limit participants to 20. Bakers are steadfastly dedicated.
"One year, a lady baked but she never showed up -- her oven exploded! Still, she sent her cookies with a neighbor. So committed," says founding member Julia Cabatu of Pearl City, with a laugh.
The exchange isn't the league's first foray into food or cooking. Besides service, its mission is to promote Filipino culture. Cabatu, a former Hawaiian Electric Co. home economist, decided to add food to the cultural mix of dance and song.
"People started looking to us for recipes and advice," she recalls. "We did the research and learned ourselves. When I was younger, I never really knew how to cook Filipino food. I didn't know lumpia or pancit. Because of my Ilocano background, we ate mostly veggie-type dishes. But then I started cooking Filipino -- hey!"
Soon the league was publishing cookbooks. To date, there have been five. Their first endeavor in 1975 was aimed at preserving the traditional recipes their parents cooked. The latest, released last year, includes some cookie recipes.
In fact, Aranaydo has documented them all -- about 130 recipes.
With that many recipes and exchanges, one would think the league's 40-plus members are all avid bakers. That's not the case.
"Some people are so last minute, they bake the night before," Cabatu says. "Some turn out to be a disaster -- wrong shape, burned -- it's so funny."
Aranaydo takes a practical approach, often revamping her favorite recipe, a cranberry oatmeal cookie, to fit the theme.
"If the theme is nuts, I add nuts. If the theme is chocolate, heck ... I might just add chocolate," she says. "It's a very versatile recipe, so I've added things along the way. It's fun."
Cabatu admits she's not much of a cookie baker, "but at the exchange, the camaraderie adds to the holiday feeling."
Camarillo couldn't agree more. She starts off the festivities each year with a lunch she prepares for her friends.
"It's a way to thank the girls, because I enjoy being in this club," she says. "They've done so much for the community -- and for me, too. I just have fun and enjoy."
The Filipino Women's League is looking for new members. You don't have to be Filipino, just 21 years old or older with a desire to learn about the culture. Write to the league, Attention: Geri Aranaydo, P.O. Box 419, Pearl City 96782.
Recipes from the Filipino Women's League
Courtesy Geri Aranaydo
1 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup sugar or Splenda (artificial sweetener)
3/4 cup light brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1-1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cardamom
3 cups quick rolled oats, uncooked
1 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream butter and sugars until fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla; mix well.
In small bowl, combine flour, baking soda, salt and spices. Add to butter mixture; mix well. Add rolled oats, cranberries and nuts; stir until well mixed.
Drop by teaspoonful onto ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on rack. Makes 4 dozen.
Approximate nutritional information, per small cookie: 110 calories, 5 g fat, 2.5 g saturated fat, 20 mg cholesterol, 50 mg sodium, 14 g carbohydrate, 1 g fiber, 7 g sugar, 2 g protein
Courtesy Betty Jane Camarillo
1 cup flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon instant coffee
1 teaspoon vanilla
8 ounces semisweet miniature chocolate morsels
1 cup dried cherries
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.
Combine flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt.
In large bowl, beat butter and sugar on medium-high until light and fluffy. Beat in egg, coffee and vanilla; mix until smooth.
Lower speed and beat in flour mixture just until combined. Stir in semisweet chocolate and cherries.
Drop dough by heaping teaspoons 2 inches apart on cookie sheets. Bake 10 to 12 minutes until tops are just firm. Cool on cookie sheet 2 minutes then move to wire racks. Makes 3-1/2 dozen.
Approximate nutritional information, per cookie: 100 calories, 4.5 g fat, 2.5 g saturated fat, 10 mg cholesterol, 35 mg sodium, 15 g carbohydrate, 1 g fiber, 10 g sugar, 1 g protein
Courtesy Julia Cabatu
1 cup butter or margarine
1 cup sugar, minus 1 tablespoon
2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla or rum extract
2-1/2 cups flour
3/4 cup minced red and green candied cherries
1/2 cup finely chopped nuts
3/4 cup flaked coconut
Cream butter and sugar. Add milk and vanilla, beat well. Stir in flour, cherries and nuts. Form into 2 rolls, 1-1/2 inches in diameter. Roll in coconut. Wrap and chill a few hours or overnight.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Slice rolls 1/4-inch thick and place on ungreased baking sheets. Bake 12 minutes or until edges are golden brown. Makes 5 dozen.
Approximate nutritional information, per cookie: 70 calories, 4 g fat, 2.5 g saturated fat, 10 mg cholesterol, 25 mg sodium, 9 g carbohydrate, no fiber, 4 g sugar, 1 g protein
Nutritional analyses by Joannie Dobbs, Ph.D., C.N.S.
These ornament cookies are not for eating:
Courtesy Julia Cabatu
1 cup ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon ground cloves
1 tablespoon ground nutmeg
3/4 cup applesauce
2 tablespoons "craft" glue
Ground cinnamon for rolling
Combine cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg; stir in applesauce and glue. Knead 2 to 3 minutes; divide into 4 equal portions.
While working on one portion, keep remaining dough covered with plastic wrap. Dust cutting board or clean counter with cinnamon. Place piece of plastic wrap over dough and roll each portion to 1/4-inch thickness. Using cookie cutters, cut into desired shapes.
Poke hole in top of ornaments with chopstick tip or straw. Place on baking sheets and bake at 200 degrees for 2 to 4 hours, or until ornaments are dry. Decorate as you wish.
Makes about 2 dozen 2-inch ornaments.
Note: These ornaments can be air-dried. Place on a flat surface, turn them over occasionally several days until dried completely.