‚ÄôTis the season for holiday baking, and there are few people busier than Janet Trzecinski of Port Washington.
Trzecinski, who is secretary to Port Washington High School Principal Eric Burke, started baking cookies Saturday and will continue making a variety of treats until Christmas.
She starts baking at 4 a.m. and will gladly stay in the kitchen all day if she doesn‚Äôt have other commitments.
The vast majority of the cookies she gives away as gifts or for fundraisers.
‚ÄúI use them as gifts and as thank-yous to the nice people in my life,‚ÄĚ Trzecinski said. ‚ÄúThere‚Äôs a lot of love in them.‚ÄĚ
She also has customers who request trays of her cookies for family gatherings and holiday parties.
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs hard for me to sell them because I don‚Äôt know what to charge,‚ÄĚ Trzecinski said.
She buys holiday plates and trays after Christmas for her cookies, and people often return them to be filled again.
Trzecinski is also known for her carrot cake, which is chock full of carrots, pecans, pineapple and coconut. She makes hundreds of them for fundraisers, including for the Port High vocal music program, Thomas Jefferson Middle School Holiday Marketplace and the Food Pantry in Port. That is one of her secret recipes.
Despite making hundreds of carrot cakes in batches that yield four 9-by-7-inch cakes, Trzecinski said she hasn‚Äôt had a piece of her famous cake in years.
‚ÄúI don‚Äôt make them for me. I make them for others. It‚Äôs how I give back,‚ÄĚ she said.
Vocal music teacher Dennis Gephart said Trzecinski came to him with the idea of selling carrot cakes to raise money for the vocal jazz group Limited Edition‚Äôs trip to New York for an international a cappella competition.
‚ÄúShe said she wanted to do something to help us. All you have to do is say Janet‚Äôs carrot cake, and it sells,‚ÄĚ Gephart said. ‚ÄúShe‚Äôs awesome, and the cake is awesome. She‚Äôs always the one who steps up. She just does it and doesn‚Äôt expect anything in return.‚ÄĚ
For her family‚Äôs Christmas, it‚Äôs not carrot cake but a yule log cake that Trzecinski makes, decorating it with meringue mushrooms and fresh greens.
Each year, Trzecinski vows to organize her cookie recipes so her favorite holiday treats are in one binder. So far, she has three recipes in the binder, but maybe this year more will be added.
Instead, she opens a closet filled with cookbooks and recipes clipped from newspapers and magazines to find her favorite recipes.
She makes two double batches of 11 must-have cookies ‚ÄĒ ones she or her family or friends would miss if they aren‚Äôt on the tray ‚ÄĒ and usually tries two or three new ones.
The standards include Danish sugar cookies, chocolate and vanilla Sachertortes, spritz, chocolate-dipped creams, chocolate mint, peanut blossoms, frosted pecan cuplets, chocolate caramel delights, Scottish reels and pecan fingers.
She buys pecans in bulk from a pecan farm in Georgia.
‚ÄúOn Facebook, I posted that I baked all weekend and lost eight pounds ‚ÄĒ eight pounds of pecans,‚ÄĚ Trzecinski said.
Last year, she bought a baker‚Äôs rack for her garage, where she stores baked cookies to keep them cold. After all the cookies are baked, she adds finishing touches, such as frostings and glazes.
‚ÄúAs long as they‚Äôre kept cold, I don‚Äôt have to freeze them,‚ÄĚ she said.
Trzecinski learned to cook and bake from her mother and barely remembers not cooking, figuring she was about 8 or 9 when she started.
‚ÄúI was always doing things in the kitchen,‚ÄĚ she said. ‚ÄúI can always remember cooking stuff. If you love to eat, you might as well learn to cook. It‚Äôs my hobby. It‚Äôs what I do for recreation.‚ÄĚ
In addition to her mother‚Äôs guidance, Trzecinski picked up cooking tips on her previous jobs, by reading cookbooks and by trial and error. The only classes she took were in cake decorating and candy making.
Trzecinski was a baker for the former Boder‚Äôs Restaurant in Mequon for four years. She then moved to southern California, where she was a cook for a T.G.I. Friday‚Äôs restaurant. After her daughter Michelle was born, she stayed home and turned cooking into her hobby.
‚ÄúI don‚Äôt cook much in summer. It starts in the fall with carrot cake, then it‚Äôs Christmas cookies, then it‚Äôs soups and trying new recipes,‚ÄĚ Trzecinski said.
She makes large quantities of whatever she cooks, whether its cakes, soups or cookies. She often organizes chili or soup dinners to raise money for co-workers who have medical problems and provides the appetizers for artists‚Äô receptions at Gallery 224.
Her 89-year-old mother Marge Adams lives across the street and Trzecinski likes to makes meals for the two of them.
‚ÄúI call it meals on heels,‚ÄĚ she said.
When her husband Michael died two years ago, Trzecinski said, cooking helped her deal with her grief.
Chocolate mints were his favorite cookie, so it‚Äôs bittersweet when she makes them.
A few of Trzecinski‚Äôs cookie recipes can be found on the recipe page in this week's Good Living section.