SWEETS FOR THE SWEETS
As I disengage steel beater from the electric mixer and begin to lift it to my mouth in order to get a taste of the raw cookie dough, a voice from my past comes back to haunt me. The voice is mine. I recall telling my own children many times not to eat raw cookie dough, lest they get salmonella poisoning. Back then I dared not tell them that was one of my favorite things to do whenever my grandmother made homemade cookies or candy: I always licked the spoon and sometimes even took my fingers and scraped the bowl clean, licking my fingers until they, too, were clean. She would chuckle, & with that angelic smile of hers, say with a twinkle in her eyes, that we were making, “Sweets for the Sweets”, meaning that we were making sweet treats for sweet people to enjoy.
It has been quite some time since I have worn my domestic goddess crown. OK, so maybe I didn’t have a crown. And I was not exactly a goddess, either. Nor was I a domestic engineer. However, I have long had a domestic streak, though, harkening way back to high school. I’ve always felt great satisfaction in serving others. Sometimes I try to hide that though, behind my business persona, or tough girl facade. How well I also remember how crestfallen I was back at a class party in German class when the dark headed, blue eyed boy with dimples who was my high school crush took a bite of a homemade cookie I had brought in & commented that I was going to make a great Grandma one day. Not exactly what I was going for – didn’t someone say that the way to a man’s heart was through his stomach? Apparently that does not fit 16 year old hormonal boys, I have since learned. Well, unless you are their Mom, or their Grandma. Not so much if you want to be their girl friend. Funny, but years later, when I realized that boys wanted more than culinary skills, we ran into each other. Apparently I was a little more palatable to him, in my tight Calvin Klein jeans, button down shirt, & high heels. We exchanged some memories, & yes swapped some sweet kisses, too, & though he was as cute as ever, I realized that high school crushes belong back in high school. Some things just aren’t meant to be, with or without homemade cookies or the latest fashions.
Nonetheless, I did take many of my own cues from my beloved grandmother, who made the best homemade divinity with pecans from her own tree in the back yard. It was the kind that melted in your mouth & the absolute best that anyone on Planet Earth has ever tasted. Every holiday season I delighted in helping her make this & other tasty treats. When I grew up & had a house of my own, I made 12 dozen cookies every single year, & took festively wrapped plates of them to 11 of my neighbors, always keeping a plate for my family. Date nut cookies, Snickerdoodles, & of course, sugar cookies shaped like Santa, reindeer, stars, & bells, always made my list, along with whatever cookie happened to capture my fancy from Southern Living’s Holiday issue that year.
My daughter somehow inherited a love of baking. Not from me – although I do not mind it, I am more about the entertaining aspect of the meal than the baking part. When she was little, it would take an hour or more to clean up all of the flour strewn across the butcher block countertops, the icing smeared on the sink, walnut pieces scattered across the vinyl floor, & the overall mess that accompanies letting a child do most of the mixing all by herself. But many fond memories were made, & pack rat that I am, I still have those plastic Christmas cookie cutters – somewhere.
Sometimes we would make homemade cookies for no particular reason. But as time went on, and my job got busier, the kids got engaged in a variety of extracurricular activities, & the opportunities to make homemade cookies other than at the holidays became fewer & farther between. They would beg me to buy the slice and bake variety of cookies at the grocery store. A particular favorite of theirs were the Nestlé Toll House turtle cookies. They had caramel in them, and came in a package where all the kids had to do was break them apart and pop them into the oven. This was fantastic on those days when I was tied up with clients and they needed a quick snack after school. One day my daughter came home and said that her science teacher would give anyone who brought food in that week some extra credit. Now, my daughter was a straight ‘A’ student, and didn’t need the extra points, but she really liked this teacher, and she really wanted to bake him some homemade cookies. Unfortunately, my schedule would not permit me to supervise her, so I suggested she make some of those slice and bake cookies. She did so, and came back saying that he really loved them. Of course, I thought he was just being nice, until I was up at the school doing some volunteer work and this particular teacher went on and on about how much he enjoyed those cookies! I could tell by his comments that he sort of thought that they were homemade, & I just did not have the heart to correct him, though it was never our intention to pretend we had made them from scratch. But he really loved – I mean REALLY LOVED – those cookies!! So whenever she needed to take cookies for her class party or project, those are the ones that she took. I’m certain she must’ve taken that particular science teacher a batch of those cookies at least once a month for the rest of the year.
For a while real estate was really booming and I would work 14 to 16 hour days. So whenever I had to take something to a family who was dealing with a death or illness, I would take a chocolate pie from Gibson’s, instead of something home baked. In more recent times, I have become known as the one who brings the key lime pie from Publix. Hey, they make one far better than I could ever do, with a lot less mess and a lot less time! Gone were the days of homemade cookies.
Well, that is until this evening. I no longer make batches of cookies for all of my neighbors, because since my divorce I barely know the people who live around me in this new neighborhood. There are some super nice people here, but they are busy raising their families and not particularly interested in forging friendships with single women. I’m not sure how some of these ladies would feel if I showed up and handed their husbands a plate of freshly baked cookies. I say that only half tongue-in-cheek, ha ha. Being divorced puts you into a different category, no matter how virtuous you may be. My kids are grown up, & though my son is home for the holidays, neither of us eats that many sweets. Well, I do, but I am trying to cut down, at least when I am at home.
While I have never been one to pass off store-bought food as homemade, despite the cookie debacle from the seventh grade of my daughter’s middle school years, the thought of those slice and bake cookies was especially appealing today as I was debating what type of cookies to make for a cookie exchange I am attending tomorrow. But my integrity is of utmost importance to me, so I asked someone for suggestions as to a very quick and easy cookie that I could make instead. Snickerdoodles are especially easy, but bring back memories I don’t really want to get into at this point. I was referred to a webpage that had a chocolate chip cookie recipe on it. This recipe is supposedly fail safe. It even has a video showing you the precise steps to take in the making of said cookies.
At first I started to make the cookies with my phone in hand, but decided I didn’t want to risk ruining the phone, so I emailed the recipe to my tablet instead. I like to think that I am progressive enough to keep up with the latest technology, but truthfully, I was missing the old fashioned written recipes as I watched with dismay the video for a second time, acknowledging that my batter did not look like the one in that demonstration. “It is just chocolate chip cookies, I’ve made them many times in my life. They have never intimidated me before now. I mean, how hard can they possibly be? And what is so special about this particular recipe, anyway?” All of these thoughts and more crossed my mind as I proceeded to make the cookies.
Finally, I had two pans with two sets of cookies on them. The first set actually looks similar to the ones in the video. But somehow, the second set looks entirely different. Perhaps it is the difference between the two pans? Or the fact that I ran off and got occupied with another activity and left the second set in the oven longer? Regardless, I was thankful that they were going into two separate tins. Until I realized that neither of the tins which I had purchased would hold a dozen cookies. Fortunately, I had another tin in the pantry. So one of my dozen cookies is divided between two tins, with the other dozen being in a separate tin.
Longing for the good old days, when we had no videos to show us whether or not we were messing up on our cookie baking, it hit me what an effect that modern technology has had on our lives. With the advent of Pinterest and other such websites, we feel that the packaging has to be better than the actual product. Everything from weddings to birthdays to baby announcements to memorials is compared to our friends’ and neighbors’ similar items via social media & other sites. I’m most thankful that no such thing existed when I took my imperfect cookies on holiday paper plates or in cheap plastic containers from Wal-Mart to my former neighbors’ houses. I’m not sure I could have handled the stress of trying to make the packaging picture perfect whilst working all of those hours, shopping for & cooking family meals, & attending ball games & dance recitals. How do these younger women keep from having nervous breakdowns?
I did partake of a bite of that raw cookie dough tonight, thankful that my kids could not see me do so, as I am sure they would remind me of the many times I deprived them of such a pleasure. I quickly cleaned up a few flakes of flour & wished, for just a moment, that I had a huge mess to cleanup instead, as that would mean that I had little hands helping me with the baking. But alas, that was not the case.
Tomorrow I will arrive at the cookie swap with my cute little tins filled with my imperfect and inconsistent cookies. They will not be in packaging which is decorated to win a Pinterest contest. But at least they are homemade. And I relish the smell of freshly baked cookies wafting now through my home. I set aside the 13th cookie in the Baker’s dozen for my son when he comes home later this evening. My only indulgence was a swipe at the cookie dough itself.
Yes, I think that one day I will indeed make a great Grandma, as I’m sure I will have more patience the second time around for the gigantic messes that can happen when you let little kids make cookies. No, I am not a domestic goddess at this time of my life. Not even close. But I am enjoying a little slice of domesticity for a change, & I am thankful for dear friends to swap homemade, if imperfect, cookies with tomorrow. Perhaps one day I will get married again, & have someone to cook dinner for, or bake cookies for, but if not, perhaps I will one day have grandkids with which to enjoy those things. Perhaps.
But if not, I shall be content to reminisce about days gone by – stirring divinity with my grandmother, cleaning up messy counters with my little girl, delivering plates of cookies sealed with well wishes to neighbors, & slice & bake cookies quickly fashioned for a young science teacher. The only thing that really matters in those memories was the smiles, laughter, & joy that accompanied the process. No matter how easy or how difficult the task of making those cookies was, the feelings of joy that accompanied making others feel loved & appreciated was worth every second. On second thought, maybe it is time I took out my old cookie recipes – the well worn handwritten ones, & the ones clipped from magazines, & start baking again. And if time does not permit, there’s always chocolate or key lime pies to be bought. As my grandmother used to say, “Sweets for the sweets.” Why yes, I think I shall …
– Lou Lehman Sams
SWEETS FOR THE SWEETS