The Cookies I Haven't Made
In my head, I'm giving cookies to everyone. All the time. Every day.
When our babysitter recently had her first baby, oh, I wanted to drop what I was doing and bring her cookies. Something sweet and fresh, maybe with lemon. When my neighbor's brother passed away unexpectedly, I wanted to make her some cookies, too. Chocolate chip would have served well — a generic, unfailing crowd pleaser. (What if she has allergies? Asking ruins the surprise.) When a dear friend moved out of state, I wanted to send her cookies. Probably those crazy pecan butterscotch ones we used to make together from that Texas cookbook.
Pictured above: Cardamom Vanilla Shortbread with Raspberry Lemon Curd
(I even went so far as to getting her address, but then I plumb forgot, only to remember later. Too late to respectably send them; it's just too embarrassing. Damn.)
And let's not even discuss the parade of birthdays that have come and gone, and all of the people I wanted to bake and send and drop off and share with and didn't. It's just too heartbreaking.
But in my head, I've baked the most delicious, nonperishable, easy-to-transport cookies ever for all of these people. Most of these loved ones don't live within walking or drop-off distance. That's another thing tripping me up: trying to find packaging materials, the right box, the right amount of tissue paper to plastic wrap ratio, and then securing it all with packaging tape. (Where is that anyway? Is that with the Christmas stuff in the basement?) And then standing in that line at the post office? I have every intention of doing this; it's something I've done in the past. It just hasn't happened yet.
I have made two batches of a trial cookie for someone who's helped me out lately — a yoga teacher — but I haven't nailed the recipe just yet after two attempts, so she hasn't received them yet. Some of them were gobbled up; some of them went stale. I think my father-in-law may have snatched some. There's always a flurry of flour and butter and sugar around these parts, yet I can't bring myself to make another imperfect batch. The failure doesn't bother me at all, because I’m all about the learning; it's the loss of time. After two attempts, I'm getting impatient with myself. (Sheesh, who do I think I am? How many people nail it on the first try?) I know she would love them regardless — it’s the thought that counts. I can't seem to get that through my head, despite the fact that yoga teaches me that it's about the journey, not the end result.
Here's the problem. Baking tends to be a yes/no, pass/fail situation. A recipe either works the way you want it to, with the end result you envisioned, or it doesn't. I know I'm the only one zeroing in on the extreme close-up on texture, taste, and durability of a cookie some one, two, three days later — if they even last that long. Somehow, that's not a consolation. I don't want something inchoate, whimsied, half-assed. I want something composed, complete, nearly perfect, for just a moment, because the rest of the world just isn’t. Something delicious I can create and over which I have admittedly ephemeral control, yet which offers infinitely reproducible results — a recipe.
Almost every day, I spend a fair amount of time baking things, on purpose, for others to purchase. Yet I can't seem to find the time to do these random taking-care-of-people gestures to let them know I'm thinking of them — which, ironically, is the impetus that drives me to the kitchen, day after day. I try not to get exasperated with myself, but I'm starting to wonder if there's some larger challenge here, other than not having enough time. A beloved creative friend of mine said to me the other day that you have to behave as though time were not a factor, that it’s a non-issue, in order to accomplish whatever creative thing you’ve got going on. This resonates. I know how projects can happily absorb you. Right now, though, I’m feeling like it’s a battle between living up to the impulses of my heart — the love and gratitude that can only be expressed in food form — versus the very real factors of 9 p.m. fatigue and 6 a.m. wakeups.
I know no one is asking for this. I know no one necessarily expects it. And that's entirely the point. And so I went back to the jar of Biscoff, and came up with this. I promptly dispatched a Mason jar full of them to my yoga teacher, who made such immediate work of them that her husband never saw them. Oh, but he heard all about them. Looks like I have more cookies to make.