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Cookies open the door for shy baker

Cookies open the door for shy baker
Karen McGriff welcomes Lube Works customers each Saturday with a taste treat, from Cowboy Cookies to Irish Car Bomb Cake. This time of year, holiday favorites make an appearance, including Pecan Jewels and Spritz, which are firm family favorites for the McGriffs.

Holiday baking is a tradition in many families at this time of year, and homes fill with the wonderful aroma of all manner of sweet treats to enjoy.

Karen McGriff’s home is no different, except she bakes throughout the year, as customers of La Vernia’s Lube Works can attest!

Her husband Larry, manages Lube Works. Karen started working Saturdays there in May 2013, initially as an unpaid cashier. To combat her shyness when meeting customers, she decided to make cookies.

“I like to bake,” she said. “I like to feed people.”

She offered cookies and she baked for the employees for their birthdays; as time went on, people requested her recipes. Often, people stop by on Saturdays, whether they need a service or not, just to sample the cookies. Firm favorites with customers and the staff, she said, are the Neiman Marcus recipe for Lemon Bars, and Cowboy Cookies (see the recipe).

Karen and Larry live in San Antonio, but they’re not originally from the area.

They met while serving in Germany in the U.S. Air Force, married in Colorado, and have lived in San Antonio for 25 years.

“My grandparents were immigrants,” Karen said. “Mom’s family all came from Finland; Dad’s from Germany. They believe in feeding people. Anyone, everyone. Don’t feel well? Eat something. Celebration? Bake something. Funeral? Take home-cooked food. Everything revolves around food and family, and if enough family isn’t around, friends become family.”

Holiday memories are plentiful.

“Growing up, we always had Christmas Tree Bread for Christmas morning breakfast,” Karen said. She continues to make it each year, “because something is just missing without it.”

Their son, Mike, grew up helping with the Christmas decorations. They put up their Christmas stockings ...boots the day after Thanksgiving, and would order pizza and open the boxes and boxes of decorations. She collects two things, she said recipes and Christmas ornaments!

“Oh, wait. Do books count as a collection?” she asked. “I’m not good with libraries, as they want the books back! Once I’ve read something, it is mine, and I will likely read it again, more than once.”

She does return books to libraries, she said, but “I don’t like it.”

Mike, now married, is still a vital part of the family Christmas with his wife, Sandra.

“Sandra comes over one day in December and we bake cookies,” Karen said. Each family member chooses three favorites and that’s what they make, for a total of 12 treats.

“This can be candy, cookie, Yule log, bread, cake, or coffeecake,” Karen said. “There are favorites that I know will be chosen every year, and I try to add in at least one never-before-tried-recipe.”

Pecan Jewels are a family favorite, “a total pain to make, but worth every minute.” Other favorites are Swirled Holiday Snowballs, Spritz, Rum Balls, and Date Nut Balls, as well as Coconut Apricot Cookies.

Here are a few for you to enjoy!

Cowboy Cookies

1-1/4 cup butter, softened

1 cup sugar

1 cup brown sugar

3 large eggs

1 Tbsp vanilla

2 cups whole wheat flour (King Arthur Flour)

1 cup flour

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1-1/2 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp salt

3 cups chocolate chips or a mixture of your favorite baking chips (1 cup semi-sweet, 1 cup milk chocolate, 1 cup white chocolate works well)

3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats

2 cups sweetened coconut

1-1/2 cups pecans, toasted

In large bowl, cream butter and both sugars until smooth. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, then add the vanilla. In separate bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Add the flour mixture into the creamed mixture just until blended. Stir in the chips, oats, coconut, and nuts. Drop 1/4 cup of dough onto greased or parchment-lined cookie sheets 3 inches apart. Press the balls of dough to about 1/2 inch thick. Bake at 350 degrees for 12-15 minutes, or until set with lightly browned edges. Remove from the oven and transfer to a cooling rack.

Makes about 2-1/2 dozen large (1/4 cup) cookies, or 7-1/2 dozen (tablespoon scoop) size.

Butterscotch chips overwhelm the flavor of the other chips.

Christmas Tree Bread

2 pkgs yeast

1/2 cup warm water

3/4 cup scalded milk

1/4 cup shortening

1/2 cup sugar

2 tsp salt

2 tsp cardamom

4-3/4 cup flour

2 beaten eggs

Combine yeast and water; set aside. Combine milk, Crisco, sugar, salt, and cardamom, cool to lukewarm. Add 2 cups flour. Beat smooth. Add yeast mixture and eggs. Mix well. Add enough flour to form dough. Knead 6-8 minutes. Let rise until double. Punch down. Let rest.

Use half the dough for each bread. Make 17 balls, 5-4-3-2-1, and two for the trunk. Let rise 1 hour on cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes. Bread will be golden brown. Brush with melted butter after taking from oven.

Allow to cool, and then decorate.


2 Tbsp butter

1 cup powdered sugar

2 tsp milk

1/2 tsp vanilla

Combine, add more milk if thinner consistency desired. Drizzle on cooled bread. Add maraschino cherries cut in half for ornaments.

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