Warmth is shaped like a cookie

In a tiny village, bad weather threatens the celebrations of a winter holiday. Daa, a baker, goes to great lengths to try to save it and in the process learns about their true meaning.

A story about sunflower seed cookies! Recipe included at the end, which has already been enjoyed by countless people from all over the world.


– Part 1 –

No one wanted to be outside today. The cold had ruptured through the last pleasant autumn days, hoar frost settling on the branches of aspens, spruces, and lindens. An overcast sky permitted no sunrays to warm the earth and an icy wind was blowing through the fields and streets of the coastal village of Vulekele.

But some people had to be. Like Daa, the son of a farmer now trying to make a living as a baker, who had run out of various ingredients at the worst time. Now his partner had made him go outside to stock up on supplies, in the harshest weather that had been bestowed on the country of Juta Daaliva in years, and the unusually sudden change in temperatures had wrought havoc on the land. Located mostly around the bay of Laina it usually enjoys a mild maritime climate. But now life was different, and the unexpected cold snap had caught people off guard and usually unprepared, traveling even just to the nearest town was difficult, or even dangerous with streets frozen and visibility poor.

On the other side, this was arguably perfect weather for the upcoming Day of Darkness, a quiet celebration just two days from now commemorating winter solstice, when light begins to vanquish the gloom of the season, with days now getting longer again. Also known as Alpuka, during it people would normally stay at home, decorate the home with dried flowers, light candles, and then gather around a fire or another source of warmth, wrapped in blankets, to drink buckwheat tea and eat cookies.

This of course meant a lot of work for a baker, especially as plenty of people seemed to think the cookies were the most important part of the day. And so it was among the busiest times of the year for him, with orders for cookies flying in even faster than the cold was now seeping into his bones. Daa was looking forward to when the stress would end and he could stay at home with his partner and together enjoy a nice fire and the conifer he had brought into his house, the traditional symbol of life persevering over dark times.

Unfortunately, in this weather even a distance of a quarter mile to the sole tiny store had become an arduous journey. The freezing air brushing his face, his fingers slowly losing all feeling, his feet stepping uneasily on the frozen dirt path, where every wrong movement could send him tumbling down to the hard ground, it all made it hard to even recognize his home village that he otherwise associated with pleasantly mild weather and sunshine throughout the year.

After passing a small buckwheat field, now covered in a thin blanket of semi-translucent white, the way was lined by linden trees, their leaves all laying on the ground, similarly covered in hoar, but they still made that reassuringly familiar crunchy sound when he stepped on them. It put a smile on his face and reminded him of simpler times, but it disappeared when he lost his footing for a moment, and awkwardly slid and swung around his arms until he managed to grab a sturdy branch hanging over the path. He breathed a sigh of relief and then promised himself to not get distracted again. His job was important. He needed more ingredients, the village and above all his partner relied on him.

Some minutes later, he had managed to move past some more houses and safely reached the store. Everywhere he looked, buildings and fences had been decorated with dried sunflowers picked earlier in the year, and the frost coating them was now giving them a singular, hauntingly beautiful appearance.

He pushed open the door and a bell announced his arrival and his eyes met the storekeeper's, which were darting around left and right, his mouth not fully forming a greeting before he reached for a tissue and blew his nose. He was a man approaching old age, maybe in his late 50s, but he still had full, black hair and his eyes marked him as being keenly alert, anxious even.

"Stressful days as well, sir?" Daa asked.

– "Please, you have no idea. Sorry to be curt today, but do you need something in particular? I still have a lot to do. Weather is said to be getting worse, so..." the storekeeper answered, not even looking at his customer, instead fixated on an old wooden clock on the wall decorated with small paintings of sunflowers. "It's getting rather late."

"I just need ... well, actually I need quite a bit, but above all sunflower seeds. Don't have a single one at the bakery anymore. And can you imagine Alpuka with no sunflower cookies, sir?"

– "You mean Juniper cookies, right? Sorry, I'm all out of sunflower seeds, too. Our own local harvest has already been used up and no truck can get to us in this weather, all of our roads connecting us to the country were first turned into mudpits by the torrent rain, and now have frozen over. We really need to get ourselves paved streets as soon as possible ..."

"How about ships?"

– "It's not economical enough for them to come here that often. Next is scheduled for the week after Alpuka."

Daa felt a sinking feeling in his stomach, but he tried to ignore it and remained silent.

– "You should try asking around, maybe the farmers nearby have some leftovers. I haven't had time to do it myself, and there's no guarantee, but that's the only thing I can think of."

"Alright. Have a warm Alpuka, sir!" Daa said, trying to hide his souring mood.

"You as well. And sorry for not being able to help you."

– Part 2 –

Daa left the store and somehow felt the cold and the wind being even more merciless now. Shivering, he went over to a farms he knew was growing sunflowers. But he had no luck there, and the inhabitants so unusually busy that he couldn't even be offered a cup of herbal tea. He felt the pit in his stomach getting deeper, and almost unwillingly decided to try the only other sunflower farm in the neighborhood.

It was a bit out of the way, but ten minutes later he stood in front of tall juniper trees surrounding the farm. These trees were not really native to the continent, and in fact are usually found on the other side of the world, but no one could remember when or how they had been brought here. They were remarkable enough that each farm owner, currently a young woman with family spread all over the world, had come to be simply called "Juniper" as well.

While he knocked, he wondered if this was the reason why the storekeeper had called sunflower cookies "Juniper cookies". He wasn't the only one. Many in his bakery would ask for them, at first he had been confused, but eventually Daa had realized what they wanted. But he wasn't sure if it was right to ask her that now, maybe it would embarrass her. Or maybe she was entirely unrelated to it.

Soon after Daa's knocking she opened the door and looked at him with worried eyes. He was shivering even more now, hands pale and breath shallow.

"Dear goodness, please come in! You need to warm up. I can make you some lotus root tea, I got some from my grandmother who lives in the tropics far away some time ago."

– "Sure" Daa managed to get out and stepped into the kitchen, where a fire was crackling in an old stove.

She put on a kettle, waited for it to boil and then they settled down with two mugs of tea.

"My grandmother said this tea helps your throat and breathing, especially in this colder climate. It's always so nice to get sent food, don't you agree?" she said.

– "Of course. In fact, that reminds me, if you have any sunflower seeds left for me? No one seems to have any... and" He didn't finish his sentence when he noticed her looking away sadly.

"I'm so sorry, I sent my last bag away to my grandmother last morning to show my gratitude. If I had known that you..." she said, looking at the bouquet of dried sunflowers on the chest of drawers near the door. Other fresh and dried leaves and berries were complimenting the display that had been made for Alpuka.

– "No, don't be sorry. It's my own fault for not planning sufficiently. Thank you for your time." Daa replied.

"Wait, there must be a way. Maybe my brother is still down at the harbor, as he needs to make a last trip to the capital today. I'm worried about him going out in this weather and when it's already dark out, but he insisted on it. If you can find him, he could maybe take you with him, I'm sure they have everything you could ever want in the city."

Daa hesitated for a moment. The idea seemed daunting, but he was desperate.

"Alright, I'll ask him. I can't let Alpuka be ruined for everyone here due to a stupid mistake on my own."

She just smiled at him weakly and led him to the door.

"Thank you for the tea, by the way. I really do feel much better now."

– "Of course. You're welcome. And good luck!"

– Part 3 –

When the door closed behind him, he could feel the cold wind envelop him again, but it felt different. His determination had overpowered the sense of hopelessness that had overcome him earlier, and he felt a burning desire to set things right.

Then he remembered he couldn't run anywhere today and reluctantly walked to the coast, slowly and carefully. After a while, anxiety began to creep up in him again, with worries about missing the boat entirely, but these were put to rest when he saw a sturdy man about his age untying a rope connecting a small ship to the sole pier of the village harbor.

He felt bad not saying goodbye to his partner, but then he saw that the man had a carrier pigeon with him. Against his better judgment he ran towards the ship, inevitably slipped on the ground, swayed dangerously from side to side before he came to rest at the post the ship had been tied to.

Panting, he exclaimed: "Sir! Please take me with you to Laina. I ..." he had to interrupt himself here to catch his breath.

Juniper's brother laughed and raised a palm into the air as a form of greeting. Daa did the same and their palms met in the for a moment. – "Pleased to meet you. I'm Leetape, and you are?" he said.

"I'm Daa. You know, the baker. I was looking around for sunflower seeds but the entire village seems to be out of them. I met your sister earlier and she said you are the only one going out tonight."

– "Ah, I might have heard of you, not sure. Sorry, I'm usually busy on the sea, fishing or making supply trips to towns, so I don't get to meet people very much. But I know Juniper would never send me any bad people so, sure, if you want a winter adventure, come aboard!"

"Could you please first send a message with your pigeon to my farm, so I don't come back to complaints about having worried my partner sick with leaving just like that?"

"Of course, what's the name of your farm?"

– "Miidu."

"Oh, I know that one." He scribbled some lines on a tiny paper, put it into a similarly tiny pouch on the back of the bird that already contained one, and then let the pigeon fly.

– "Thanks!" Daa said, before trying to jump onto the small ship, although with the strong wind the waves made it still sway so much he had to be caught by Leetape to not fall over board again.

"Don't go visiting the fish, they won't show you the way to Laina" Leetape said, chuckling.

– "Uhh, thanks again" Daa muttered in return, head held low in embarrassment.

It took some time for Leetape to do the preparations for the start of the engine, but eventually they both squeezed themselves into the tiny wheelhouse of the ship and Leetape took the position behind the wheel, slowly moving the maneuvering handle to the starting position. As the engine got louder he moved it to full speed ahead, and then briefly turned to his passenger.

– Part 4 –

"So what was it you needed from the town? Sunflower seeds? To make Juniper cookies?"

– "Oh yeah, You know, I never understood why people call sunflower seed cookies Juniper cookies. And I lived here my entire life."

Leetape was looking at the sea again, laughing knowingly, as he seemed to enjoy doing.

– "Wait, am I the only one who doesn't know? My parents never told me, and my partner also never explained it to me."

"Juniper didn't tell you, and you were too shy to ask I assume?" he said with a grin, not taking his eyes off the stormy waters in front of him. They seemed to only get worse as they approached the center of the bay.

"As a matter of fact, my sister might actually be linked to the name these cookies have. But probably not in the way you think." he continued.

"In times immemorial, longer ago than any records can show, there was no Alpuka. None at all. After the autumn festivals, people just worked throughout the winter, enduring the cold and darkness every day only thanks to the knowledge that one day spring will return. But it was of course hard."

Daa listened intently.

"Legend goes that one summer a young woman from very far away, the cold regions on the other side of the world, arrived here after her long journey across the planet and settled down. She had brought some seeds with her, and planted them near her new home, alongside other native plants, such as sunflowers. How different our crops and berries and flowers were compared to her old homeland is something she found fascinating and she would talk at length about them. But her favorite topic were trees, especially the ones she had planted, and ..."

– "Sorry, what does that have to do with cookies?"

"Haha, I'm still getting to that part. Just wait." He took a deep breath, still observing the sea, firmly holding onto the steering wheel.

"These trees I mentioned, they are probably the ancestors of the trees you saw today at Juniper's farm. The first junipers in this land, and likely the entire continent. And like with the Juniper you met today, those remarkable trees made people eventually call the farm owner then Juniper as well."

– "I had no idea it might go back that far. That's amazing."

"Yes. And well, according to the legend she really enjoyed our sunflower festival and its foods, but regretted that once the warm months were over and there were no new fresh vegetables to fry or make a salad with, people barely used any of the sunflower seeds she had come to like so much. And at the same time, she felt bad for people just sustaining themselves on the same buckwheat gruel, pickles and cheese every day."

– "Wait, so she was the first one to make sunflower cookies?"

"Exactly. But she had no animals on her farm, so for eggs and butter she had to ask around. Unfortunately, it was at the start of winter and no one had any left to spare. Just like it is the case with you and sunflower seeds today."

– "Never thought I would in some way relive history like that, that's nice."

"You never know what life throws at you, so try to be prepared and stronger than anything that might come in your direction! Like you, she was full of determination to make things work regardless, and so she traveled, taking her sunflower seeds with her, to warmer regions of the land where winter had not set in yet. This was before modern engines, so it took her some days, if not weeks."

– "And then she returned with the ingredients she acquired?"

"No, there was no way to keep them fresh for that long, or even transport enough of them properly across the land. Instead, when people were kind enough to share their expensive foods with a visiting stranger, she made them cookies on the spot, and out of gratitude shared them with everyone she met."

– "How did it go?"

"People couldn't get enough of them. Biting into the sunflower seeds in a freshly baked cookie, it was as if the warm time of the sunflower festival had returned, and in a particularly nice and sweet way, too. As they say, warmth is shaped like a cookie! Soon, people deliberately asked Juniper for more and then met up with friends to eat the cookies in front of a warm fire. They also began to decorate their rooms and light candles to help push back against the gloom and darkness of winter even more, and so we had the first Alpuna."

Daa smiled. He too had many pleasant memories of biting into sunflower cookies on Alpuna. It was a nice link between winter and the warmer seasons. You really didn't feel as lost in that dark time with them. There was something still nagging in the back of his mind, but he tried to ignore it.

"Juniper quickly realized she couldn't keep up with the demand, so she just told everyone who was interested the recipe. It helped of course that it was such a simple one – buckwheat flour, honey, or well, any sweetener, butter, eggs, salt and sunflower seeds, mixed together into a liquid dough, and baked at moderate heat until crispy – it was easy to try that at home and then share it with everyone around you."

He stopped and motioned towards the sky, which was now periodically lighting up. "Wow, we have a thunderstorm coming up. Fortunately it's still far away, we should be able to remain clear of it until we reach Laina in a few hours."

Turning towards his passenger for a moment, he asked: "You've never been to such a large town before, have you? It's simply marvellous. Full of energy, construction, work, all alongside a beautiful river and hundreds of meticulously cared for gardens with people philosophizing, teaching and making music."

Daa could only listen quietly, but his widened eyes told Leetape everything he needed.

"Well, anyway" he continued "The recipe was shared widely and so the tradition of Alpuna spread in the region, but it wasn't limited to it for long. Juniper made a lot of cookies for home before leaving, but on her journey back she ended up stopping at several other villages, and she always made sure to give out more of her cookies to people there, and so the tradition of a simple celebration of the end of the darkening days of the year established itself all over the land."

In the distance, another flash of lightning could be seen.

"By the time she arrived at her home, she only had few left. But people there had already heard of her actions and even a single cookie would have been enough to convince them to share the meager amount of butter and eggs they had produced over the past weeks with her, so she could make more."

He sighed. "My sister, the Juniper of our times, would definitely have wanted to share cookies or at least her sunflower seeds with you. But the world is a different one now, our villages have grown and specialized themselves so much that we have rely on trade to get enough of everything for everyone, especially during holidays, which is usually working out very well for us, but on days like these in particular I wish we could provide for everything we need on our own."

– Part 5 –

– "There's one thing I don't understand. Why did my parents never tell me about this?"

"Your parents, or maybe your grandparents seem to have had a falling out with the Juniper farm at some point. Maybe it was because Juniper's mother took issue with selling the cookies, whereas your family supported you in your endeavor to become a successful baker. But it also meant that Alpuna had gone from a time of communal sharing to a more commercial thing. No offense to you of course, bakeries are generally a very good thing to have because not having to bake yourself saves so much time and effort, but there's always a downside to everything, you know?"

Daa had never thought about it like that, and never even considered that his dream, opening a bakery in the village, could have any negative effects on village, too. It hurt to realize that, but then he thought he should be grateful that he was able to find out like this. And break the cycle.

"No offense taken. I hope I will be able to mend things between our families."

– "Don't worry. Consider them mended already. You've been a great listener, I couldn't ask for a better passenger. I consider myself lucky I don't have to make this journey alone."

Leetape was a very skilled captain and steered his boat safely through the rough waters with the worryingly high waves. After a journey that might have taken three to four hours, they saw the lights of Laina's harbor approaching. Dozens of piers, cranes and ships so huge Daa couldn't have dreamed them up could be seen.

He was anxious to leave and explore the town and finally get his hands at what he had come here for, but Leetape held him back.

"Be aware that this isn't actually the town proper yet. It's the main harbor which is located a fair distance outside it. Thankfully our ship is small enough we can enter the town and use one of its river harbors. These aren't meant for private boats, but we are technically there as a cargo ship today, so it should be fine."

The drive into Laina, with its magnificent, illuminated skyscrapers, bridges, and many ancient constructions. And the streets and gardens were all glowing with lights, too! It barely even looked like winter here.

The entire evening the two spent just strollithatng around, Leetape taking him to various places, first to an evening market where he could get wonderful sunflower seeds for a special friends' price after he explained his situation, then to various gardens where flowers, grass and trees were so perfectly ordered, all sitting in rows or even making up complex shapes. And there were so many colors, despite it being winter, it felt like another world entirely. At night they found a nice, affordable inn to sleep at, and Daa had the most relaxing sleep he had had in weeks, if not months.

But in the morning after breakfast they heard the storm had only gotten worse. The waves were now too high for the ship to safely cross the bay back to the village. And a carrier pigeon message alerted them to the fact that the water near its coast had frozen over entirely.

Daa was still lamenting over this to Leetape when they both were approached by a man in a curious leather uniform, with a helmet that had a very odd pair of glasses melded to it.

"Excuse me" he began, "my name is Kupea. I couldn't help but overhear you seem to have a problem getting home. I'm going in the same general direction as you want to and so could maybe be of help."

– "But how? What kind of ship could withstand those waves?" Daa asked.

"An airship, for example. The weather is much calmer further away from the open sea, and in the air you also don't have to about wave heights!"

– "An airship needs some specific landing post, though, doesn't it?"

The pilot closed his eyes and smirked. "Well, in that case it's good what I have is actually a plane that can land on ice, right?"

Daa couldn't believe his ears. When he had first heard of planes, it was hard to imagine them as more than fantasy, working with magic. And here he was offered a ride in one of them? Just thinking about it...

A minute passed before the initial shock had worn off.

"Hello?" Leetape waved a hand in front of Daa's face. "Are you still there?"

– "Oh, yes, of course. Let's go, and save Alpuna!" Daa replied, trying to sound confident.

– Part 6 –

They took a river taxi to the main harbor at the bay, which had been closed down due to the storm for the first time in at least decades. But there was a lengthy patch of grass near it, and out of a large building with a semi-circular roof Kupea towed a three-seated biplane with a a propeller that seemed huge to Daa.

He climbed into the machine, still in disbelief, and placed his huge bag of sunflower seeds and some beautiful flowers he got from a store dedicated to flowers on his lap. It was incredible how many stores this place had, and how specialized they could be.

After a short check of the plane and its functionality Kupea started the plane and Daa was pressed into his seat as the world around him became angled, requiring him to suppress the urge to scream. Soon they had pierced the cloud cover and were in a horizontal position again. It was regrettable that the ground wasn't visible through it, but Daa just tried to keep his composure thinking about how well everything went in the end.

Soon they were over the village, but there was no way to land. The ice was too thin and there were no suitable fields to land on.

But that doesn't mean it was over. Daa and Leetape were given parachutes and then the pilot waved goodbye.

With a holiday greeting they jumped off and after some unintentional pirouettes in the air and some screaming they landed more or less safely in the juniper trees, now finding themselves in a mess of ropes and fabric. After freeing themselves, they climbed down and Daa invited Juniper herself as well as her brother to spend the holiday at the bakery.

Together they braved the storm that had become a blizzard one more time, and it felt very different from when Daa had done it alone. He was deep in thought over what Leetape had told him when they arrived at the bakery, where he saw a long line and people walking away happily with a box of cookies. He had no idea what was going on until his partner emerged, hugged him and said it had been possible to substitute the sunflower seeds with ground hazelnuts gifted by the store owner and Juniper. The new cookies were being sold as "winter dust cookies" and evidently very popular.

Daa was overjoyed to hear this, but he still had one thing to do. He went into the bakery and then emerged a minute or two later with a large poster that had some words hastily written on it:

Free Juniper cookies for
everyone contributing

People immediately crowded around it and so he found himself with the perfect opportunity to voice his thoughts:

"People, I have come to a realization. Alpuna isn't really about the cookies, or the decorations. Even if those are nice and mean a lot to us, it's not due to them that we vanquish the darkness. It is by sticking together, doing things together, sharing what we can to help out those in need. Warmth may be cookie-shaped, but just like having another person there helps the most when you're cold, it is only with sharing cookies that you can truly feel their warmth, and feel any darkness leave your heart and mind."

Many then brought more buckwheat flour, butter, eggs and sugar to help with baking and later said that this collaborative effort had made the cookies taste better than ever. After the crowd had left, Daa was presented with the last surprise of the day. The pilot was standing in the doorway.

"I'm sorry, can I stay with you for a few days? I will need time to repair my plane after this botched emergency landing on your field..."

And so five people celebrated Alpuna in the bakery, enjoying each other's company and narrating stories from their life and their future plans deep into the night. Winter gloom stood no chance this year.

Recipe for Juniper cookies:


• 100 g molten and slightly cooled butter
• buckwheat flour (amount can vary, see below)
• sugar/honey (to taste, any amount possible)
• salt
• two eggs
• sunflower seeds


• Stove
• Oven
• Bowl or pot for mixing
• Pot or similar for butter melting
• Spoon for mixing
• Baking sheet or flat baking pan
• Baking paper


1. Melt butter on stove, and then let it cool down a bit.

2. Add buckwheat flour to the butter, mix well.
The original and most common variant of Juniper cookies requires just about enough buckwheat flour to make a just barely liquid dough that can be scooped up with a spoon and then poured on a baking sheet in the desired size. However, more flour can be added to make for “breadier” cookies, which work well as travel or breakfast food.

3. Add in sugar.
Typically, about as much sugar as flour is mixed in, but the amount can be reduced or sugar left out entirely if desired.

4. Add in a generous pinch of salt.

5. Mix in eggs.

6. Add sunflower seeds, as many as the dough can hold.
They are meant to be the primary ingredient, so the amount needs to be over 100 g.

7. Use a spoon to take small portions of the dough and transfer to a baking sheet or flat baking pan lined with baking paper. Leave enough space between each individual cookie, as they will get wider in the oven.

8. Bake at 180 °C/350 °F until the edges are browning.

Recipe for Winter dust cookies:

To make Winter dust cookies, simply replace the sunflower seeds with ground hazelnuts.