Baking around the holidays is one of the great pleasures in life. Since my little girl is old enough now to help in the kitchen, baking has new meaning. It's messier. It's less exact. The results may not be as picture-perfect, but man is it fun.

My daughter loves to be a chef in the kitchen, and she always wants to share her culinary gifts with Santa. Last year, she asked him what kind of treat he'd like. He said, with Santa-like clarity: "Chocolate Chip Cookies." Done. On Christmas Eve we measured sugar, spilled flour, counted chocolate chips (and ate a few as we went). Santa ate every last morsel, and the carrot we left for Rudolf was half-eaten, too.

This year, she's so much older, so much wiser in the kitchen (she's four). She told me the other night while baking cookies to make sure our butter was soft. She warned me against overmixing the batter. And mother, don't forget to clean as you go.

She was very prepared for her time with Santa this year. She had her list all written out, but the first thing she asked him: "What kind of treat would you like?" With the same Santa-like clarity he said "I'd like crackers and extra-sharp cheddar cheese." Crackers and cheese. Yum. We'll still do our baking and leave him a few cookies, but Santa's getting an upgrade this year. Who knew Santa likes a cheese plate?