Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2007

County woman cooks up coteries country-wide

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Naomi Brookner⁄The Gazette
Robin Olson of Goshen is the spokeswoman for Reynolds Parchment Paper. She is an expert on throwing cookie exchanges and poses in her home where she hosts the parties.
She’s the ‘‘Queen of Cookie Exchanges” and now she commands camera crews as she cruises cross-country creating cookie swaps — cornucopiae of confections concocted by cookie-craving crowds at Christmas.

‘‘I’m just a Mom that’s being put on television,” said Robin Olson, 48, of Goshen. ‘‘My kids are excited, this is the first time they’ve paid this much attention to what I’m doing.”

Olson started a personal Web site in 1997 that is the first site to pop up on Google ever since the search engine started receiving searches for ‘‘cookie exchanges” — girl-only gatherings where guests gift six dozen delicious cookies and depart with six dozen more. The Food Network flaunted her fun in 1999, and now Olson is tapped as the spokeswoman for Reynolds Parchment Paper.

The stint has just set her on a 16-day sojourn through seven cities, where she will impart her cookie-exchange wisdom on others this holiday season.

At simulated swaps, she’s teaching talk show audiences and newspaper readers to create the cookie coteries that catapulted her to this month’s cover of Country Woman magazine.

‘‘I promoted them years ago, without knowing that they were going to become so popular,” said Olson, who has three children, ages 24, 22, and 15. ‘‘Without having to go look for a minimum-wage job, I get to go from my house to flying around the country being on television.”

Olson’s private parties caught the eye of Reynolds Consumer Products — the maker of Reynolds Wrap — as an opportunity to push parchment paper, which Olson has promoted, unpaid, for years on her personal Web site. She calls the paper the professional cookie-bakers’ secret.

Parchment paper prevents cookie-bottoms from browning and causes cookies to be cohesive in color on both sides, she said. The reusable Reynolds reduces calories — no greasing the pans with butter — and cleaning.

She first picked up tricks of the trade in 1980, when her future mother-in-law conscripted her for an annual baking bonanza. They crafted Christmas cookies for three straight nights — 6 p.m. to 2 a.m.

‘‘I looked forward to it, but it was hard,” Olson recalled last week. ‘‘But the outcome was thousands of cookies.”

Nine years into the tradition, she gabbed to a girlfriend about the cooking marathons and her friend said: ‘‘Oh, that sounds like fun! Why don’t we make cookies together!”

Olson looked for books of other recipes the pair could try and came across the Wellesley Cookie Exchange, more an overview than how-to.

She has hosted swaps ever since, refining the rules as she goes. Guests gobble up goodies, gather up cookies, gab with new girlfriends and engage in giggle-inducing games.

She starts planning in October for the gathering of 15-30 of her friends and neighbors. This year, those guests will be decorating her house and bringing cookies for a party that will be filmed and televised in the Washington-Baltimore area.

It will be the grand finale to a tour that started Sunday in Minneapolis.

‘‘Normally, I make all the food, I make all the hors d’oeuvres, and I love doing it!” Olson said.

But this year she will be gone during the time period she usually spends decorating and baking.

After the whirlwind tour ends Dec. 10, she plans to rest, sample cookies made by her 22-year-old daughter, Stephanie, and enjoy the holidays.

Robin’s rules fora cookie exchange:

Invite at least eight-12 friends. More guests means more variety!

Send invitations one month in advance: list rules.

Ask guests to bring six dozen cookies, preferably homemade.

Ask guests who RSVP ‘‘yes” the type of cookie they plan to bring.

Remind guests to bring a large container to bring cookies home.

Keep disposable trays on hand for those who forget.

Organize cookies buffet-style on a festive table.

Have guests introduce themselves and tell a story about their recipe.

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