Happy Wednesday everyone!
Life update: I’m now a writer at the MSU Exponent. I’m so excited to write my first article; I’ll be writing in the culture section so keep an eye out. I’m also submitting a story in a writing contest through the English department, so, once again, wish me luck!
Okay, so on to the meat of this post. I wrote a creative writing piece for my Advanced Composition class. I really like the class because we’re writing a little bit of a variety of different writing forms. We already wrote a rhetorical analysis, then this creative writing piece, and now we’re moving on to a literature review – which is more research based. The writing I’ll share with you in a minute was inspired by food and – as you’ll see – by my grandmother. You’ll also get another recipe – one of my best. I invite you to try it out!
Fall in Love Cookies
I love food.
I cook often.
The best time to cook is about five o’clock in the evening or ten in the morning. There’s this window in my kitchen and if I open the blinds all the way—shove them all the way up—the beautiful mid-morning and evening light filters in so gently. The morning light is better than the evening; it’s softer. The rays themselves actually walk through the window instead of just the lit up sky handing the light in like a middleman. When the light is in there with me the sizzle of the skillet has more character. The chop of the paring knife is happier. And the food is better.
The image is akin to some sort of old world painting: something created at the beginning of the realism era, when everything was still imbued with spirit. The rays catch bits of dust as they filter through the air. Steam and smoke dancing in the light. One lone chef standing at the stove, hands in the dough, a basket of fruit on the table, one batch of fresh cookies on the counter, all done in dusky oils to emphasize the supernatural, the angelic light from that window.
Paintings like this give off a sense of peace: graceful movement caught in a millisecond, a held in breath, held in forever. As if anything could happen in the next second, the second we don’t get to see. As if anyone could walk in from the outside of the frame and embrace this chef—and probably steal a cookie.
My grandpa always begins his “fall in love” story with pie. He describes Nana as this spectacular, beautiful chef who caught his heart with a slice of cherry. And always quotes his friends, “She’s beautiful and she can cook too.” He was the luckiest man alive.
I always begin my “fall in love” story with cookies: those same cookies sitting on the counter in the painting. A whole pie pan given as a birthday present to capture a man’s heart. He always quotes his friends, “Don’t ever let her go.”
It might have been my grandmother who instilled in me the elegance of cooking. Everything she makes is delicious; everything she makes is beautiful. There’s a consistency even when each and every dish is different. She’s the consistently spectacular chef and she taught me—without even saying so—that all things homemade are beautiful and all things can be made better.
I have a prejudice against store-bought already prepared-foods as well as the cakes-from-a-box fiascos. I appreciate the move, but, like a greeting card, it took no time to produce: like a poster surrounded by original Picassos.
A piece of art is a project: a project one does not always begin willingly, but simply because there is a desire from the soul.
My grandmother is no saintly, only-and-all-homemade goddess, but she knows the beauty of food. She grew up in the elegance of food. And when she initiates a project she jumps in with full force, with method, and with intuition. She’s a practiced professional and her pieces are famous.
There isn’t a single friend of mine who hasn’t heard tell of her all day spaghetti sauce, her straight-from-heaven pecan pie, or her righteous Thanksgiving feast. And yet, she still finds problems in her own design. Like a painter observing his perfect piece, she apologizes for lapses that only she sees.
All things can be made better. Painting is never over. (Read: cooking is never over).
I have a box of favorite recipes. I can improvise a dish like no other. “What do I have in the refrigerator?” is a challenge I’m all too comfortable with. There are opportune moments for both talents. When I’ve reached out to my last tether, when I can’t talk to anyone, or think about anything, I turn to my recipes. I could cook a batch of Fall in Love Cookies with my eyes closed. And end the day happily.
Even when there’s dough everywhere, when I’ve used all my dishes and the sink is piled high, when I’m a mess and I have oven burns up my arm, I end the day happily. (One peaceful breath held in forever).
It wakes me up when I need energy; it cheers me up when I’m down; it relaxes me when I need to breathe.
And I don’t know why.
There’s system in cooking—methods which allow for creativity. A cook can take a prompting from a recipe then choose to turn in a completely different direction. It’s an art form. It’s a painting, even if it’s a dirty, soggy, sloppy joe. Even if your pan of brownies turns into soupy goop. It’s all food.
Improvisation is allowed. When the fridge only has eggs, an old jalapeno, and jelly, there’s still an opportunity for a spectacular breakfast burrito. You just have to imagine it. Some of the most scrambled together dishes have become my go-to favorites.
Recipes are the Salvador Dalís. Improvisations are the Adolph Gottliebs.
My grandparents’ “fall in love” story paints an image in my head, slightly different than that of the dark oil painting from my own kitchen. I could easily replace myself with Nana in that image and it would be synonymous, but it wouldn’t tell her story. As similar as we are, our paintings are different. Her painting is brighter, still quiet, probably acrylics rather than oils. It’s faster, more precise. It’s the happy, quick, confident aura of the fifties.
But’s she’s still cooking; it’s still peaceful, but in the bustle of a full and happy kitchen, rather than an empty one. It’s the kitchen of a family, not a kitchen just for two—a kitchen just for me.
There’s always food. There’s always love.
Which brings me to the Fall in Love Cookies. These cookies have been an ongoing process for the past three or four years. They began as a standard chocolate chip recipe – and they began pretty well (can’t go wrong with the recipe on the back of a bag of chocolate chips). Then, as I grew more courageous with my own culinary endeavors, I experimented with different processes, orders, additions, reductions. Over the years, I developed multiple pathways for the recipe depending on what I’m feeling and/or what I have in the pantry. Each pathway is a sort of recipe: a few processes permanently implanted in my medulla oblongata.
Get the ingredients out: some flour (wheat or white), some baking soda, cinnamon, salt, butter, vanilla, brown and white sugars, two eggs, chocolate chips, Heath bar chips, butterscotch chips—really any kind of chip. This recipe is easier and faster with a hand mixer or one of those fabulous standing mixers, but if the only tool is a wooden spoon and abundant time, mix everything with two bare hands. Just stick your hands right in the dough, I’m not kidding. It’s better that way, it just takes longer (because of the added, necessary rinsings and washings). Grab a bowl, add the flour (about 2.5 cups), add a little Tablespoon of water, then the teaspoon of baking soda and salt, put some cinnamon in there. Stir that up with a fork, then leave it be. At some point, the oven should have been preheated somewhere close to 325 degrees Fahrenheit; I like to go with a safe 327.
Then comes the fun part. Soften the butter, throw it in a new bowl (a bigger one) along with 1/3 cup white sugar and 2/3 cup plus some extra brown sugar. The extra brown sugar is important, but delicate; I usually throw in the 2/3 then guess on about half the same scoop. Too much will turn this into a disaster. Add in a teaspoon of vanilla extract and two eggs (one whole egg, one yolk). Then jump right in. Seriously, just throw both hands in there and mix it all up. At this stage, it’s nice to have a friend within yelling distance who can scrape off excess dough from your fingers. (The next second, someone steps into frame and embraces the chef). Once the hands are covered in delicious goop, it’s hard to rinse them by yourself. When that’s all mixed up, don’t forget the old bowl of flour and friends. Throw that in too.
Every standard recipe for chocolate chip cookies will give a measurement for chocolate chips, but here’s the biggest secret of them all: never measure. Just throw the whole bag in, then throw another in if you want to. Honestly, there is no problem with an over-abundance of chips. I throw in a bag of Heath bar crumbles as well and then if I have anything else on hand (dark chocolate chips, white chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, blueberries), throw that in too. Craisins are always a good choice.
But whatever happens, own it. (And always try the first cookie).