RANCHO SANTA FE — With their Range Rovers parked in front, their Gucci purses piled on counters and their husbands left at home, about 30 of Cathi Marinello’s closest friends gathered for this year’s cookie and candy exchange at her home Sunday in The Crosby. Every guest was greeted with a hug from Marinello and warm smiles from the rest of the ladies.
“It’s a really good way to get together for the holidays and just get caught up with just the girls,” said Marinello, who has been hosting holiday cookie exchanges for more than 10 years.
Each year, the women bake four-dozen cookies or candies for tasting and display. The participants then divide the batches among themselves to take home at the end of the party.
But beyond the sugary social exterior was a stiff competition.
Each year, the ladies vote for the best cookie, best candy and best presentation.
“I think everybody puts stress on themselves to make one of the best cookies,” said Marinello.
This year’s entries included Brazilian truffles, red velvet crinkle cookies, and “gluten-free almond/quinoa coconut cookies.”
Some of the cookie rookies told tales of baking numerous test batches before perfecting their submissions, while veterans of the competition said that they have learned to rely on simple recipes for baking such large quantities.
Jill Veracco, Marinello’s daughter-in-law, told how she learned the hard way about being overly ambitious with her cookie entries.
The very first year she participated, she made Rice Krispies gingerbread men dipped in chocolate and decorated each of them by hand.
“When I got to the fifth batch, I was like, ‘Why did I do this?’” said Veracco.
This year, she opted for pizelle cookies that were easy to mass-produce. Even so, she was careful to jazz them up with a chocolate drizzle and sprinkles.
“I can’t be the one with the crappy homemade cookies,” Veracco laughed.
But once the cookies were arranged just so, the baking stresses appeared to melt away as the ladies chitchatted and tasted everyone’s treats.
Together, they marveled over the Christmas decorations, gossiped about so-and-so’s divorce settlement and snapped photos together. They sipped martinis made with chocolate and cake flavored vodka, and the champagne for the mimosas ran out long before the coffee was even touched.
“It’s just such a tight-knit community, there’s just so much love,” said Lisa Sullivan about the residents of The Crosby’s luxury homes. Sullivan is affectionately nicknamed “The Mayor of the Crosby.”
“You can call anyone at 4 a.m. for Jell-o, and they’ll say, ‘What flavor and do you want me to bring it over?’” said Sullivan.
The award for best cookies went to Celeste Hilling’s dark chocolate yuletide bars. Lynne Wheeler’s fourth generation English Toffee won best candy and Darci Alvarez’s reindeer chocolate chip cookies won best presentation.