(From my “A2W Aging to Wisdom” series, explorations of the joyful ways to go through life. This column was published Dec. 23, 2014 in the Daily American www.dailyamerican.com)
At about the age of four Kristy Greenwood’s grandmother Rosie welcomed her into the kitchen and began teaching her a special language of love through the art of cooking from scratch. Kristy was allowed to help cook many things sweet and savory but homemade cookies quickly became Kristy’s thing. She loved giving away her “edible hugs” as she now likes to call them, just about as much as she loved creating them. When she was 13 she was comfortable with her alliterative nickname Cookie Kristy.
By the time she was 40 Kristy had adjusted to being called something radically different: breast cancer survivor. Today, nearly 9 years after her cancer diagnosis, she is also known as the owner of Victory Love + Cookies in Denver, Colorado. Her edible hugs, once available only to a select group, are sold nationally and have won Kristy impressive food awards. Food and Wine magazine rated her chocolate chip cookies as thee best in the nation in 2013, her popular, uber chocolaty “Booty Bars” were featured in a segment of the series “Unique Sweets” on the Cooking Channel, and Conde’ Nast Traveler spotlighted her and the cookies for “13 Destination Bakeries.”
You could easily blame it on the yummy butter, but Kristy’s business success has as much to do with the unusual combination of ingredients she uses — like apricot with pistachio or lavender and blueberry — as it does with her positive outlook. She got the cancer diagnosis over the phone. Immediately after she put the receiver down she cranked up the music and danced to Gretchen Wilson’s “Here for the Party.” The poignant lyric “I’m here for the party, just try and throw me out” boosted her spirit in that moment and throughout the long ordeal.
Kristy’s success also has to do with the way she communicates her passion and story with other words that matter. Whether nicknames or self-identifiers, Kristy understands that names help frame the way we are seen by others, and how we see ourselves. A name can influence which cookie we choose or even the horse we pick in hopes it will win the Kentucky Derby. The name of her business carries extra special significance because Victory is how Kristy declares her health and life journey; the words Love + Cookies stand for the special formula Kristy used to regain her spirit and body during and after her treatments.
Restored to full vitality, in 2012 Kristy blended her passion for cookies made with butter with her breast cancer wisdom in a labor of love she aptly named Mission Mine. Part of her personal crusade includes speaking to breast cancer patients and groups like RelayForLife.org. Like her cookie business, Mission Mine also grew out of a side effect of her breast cancer treatment.
“I had four months of chemo and five weeks of radiation,” Kristy said in a recent phone interview from The Denver Bread Company, the bakery where she bakes and sells her cookies. To deal with being bald — a label especially hard for her to wrap her head around because she always enjoyed having long, lush hair — Kristy had to learn how to put on a headscarf. She quickly used the same creativity she brought to her cookie recipes to styling the scarves in different ways.
“People were always stopping me and asking me about my headscarves,” she said. It didn’t take long for her to realize that many women needed to know the step-by-step. A few months into her treatment she got the idea to make a video that she could give away.
“Putting on a scarf when you are bald is different than wearing it when you have hair because when you are bald the scarf just falls off,” Kristy explained. Supportive friends filmed the instruction process that began long after her initial hair loss and hair had grown back. To make the video true to her process, Kristy decided she needed to shave off her new, long locks — again — and start from the beginning.
Kevin Stoneman edited the videos into six short installments and it was Kevin who suggested she post them all to YouTube. The result: Kristy’s instruction makes tying a headscarf about as easy as baking a cookie and that’s probably the reason they have been viewed nearly 170,000 times. To simplify the process even further, Kristy offered headscarf kits, complete with all the items and instruction necessary, including several of her cookies. The scarf kits have made for a precious gift to someone newly diagnosed with breast cancer or to women dealing with the loss of their hair for other reasons.
Getting through any serious health crisis like breast cancer takes sustained loving support from family and friends. Creativity and cookies helped Kristy get through her process with greater ease. When not much tastes good because of the side effects of medicine and therapies, a simple cookie can be as magical a blessing as the love from the person that hands it to you, whether you eat it then or later. Combine that loving support with a pretty piece of fabric wrapped elegantly around a bald head and wahlah — a new sense of healing, warmth and perhaps even an outing with friends.
What’s your mission? Today mine is to send off a batch of cookies to my daughter along with my poem “Cookies With Butter.” To read the poem go to: www.gisellemassi.com/columns/cookies-with-butter
See www.vlcookies.com for Kristy’s cookies. There you will also find the link for Mission Mine where you can view all of the headscarf videos and inquire about her headscarf kits.
Grandma Rosie’s Oat and Pecan cookie recipe:
Butter, unsalted 1 cup; Brown sugar, 1 1/4 cups; Sugar 1/2 cup; Salt 3/4 tsp.; Cinnamon 1/4 tsp.; Allspice, pinch; Ginger 1/4 tsp.; Clove, 1/8 tsp.
Eggs, 2; Vanilla, 1/2 tsp.
King Arthur flour, 2 cups; Baking soda, 1 tsp.; Oats, 2 1/2 cups; Sundried cherries, 1/2 cup; Dried apricots, 1/3 cup; Pecans, toasted chopped super fine 3/4 cup; Coconut, dried shredded 3/4 cup
Mixing: I like to flavor my butter intensely rather than adding spices to the flour so please cream together the butter, both sugars, salt, and spices. This process should take at least a couple of minutes at high speed in a standing mixer (assuming that the butter is room temperature; if not it could take longer).
Combine the eggs and vanilla and add to the butter/sugar mixture. Completely combine these two — this should take three minutes or more. Finally, add the dry ingredients (flour, oats, baking soda) — mix just until combined, maybe a minute. Now finish with all of the dried fruit and coconut, mix well.
Scrape the entire mixture into a large stainless steel bowl or a plastic storage container and leave OVERNIGHT in the refrigerator. (Do not bake the cookies sooner than overnight; the dough needs to absorb the extra liquid of the eggs and vanilla before baking.)
You can bake these cookies in batches, over the next few days, as desired.
Scoop into large tablespoons and bake at 375 for approximately 12 min. They should not be overly brown.
Final step, enjoy with someone you love. — Kristy Greenwood www.vlcookies.com
Giselle M. Massi copyright December 2014