I have been baking for as many years as I can remember.
I suppose it started with shooting those tiny, intricate-looking butter cookies out of that long, plastic cookie gun during Christmas time with my mom. Covered in flour and impatiently waiting for her to tell me it was time to press the green and red sprinkles into the ones shaped like Christmas trees—I think that’s when it all started, or something like that at least.
The other day I made a terrible batch of oatmeal raisin cookies. I mean really, really terrible. I had had a crappy day. To be honest, I don’t even really remember what it was that was bothering me, but it was ten o’clock at night, and I decided that I needed to bake a batch of cookies right then and there. So I did. It wasn’t one of those times that I baked a ton of cookies so I could sit down in the kitchen, eat the whole tray and sulk over my crummy day—let’s face it we’ve all had those times. But this was different, I wanted to bake the cookies to take my mind off the day I’d had. I pulled up a recipe that had rave reviews from Google, pulled all of the ingredients from their respective cabinets, and went to work.
Unlike when I usually bake, the kitchen was immaculately clean the entire time. I made sure not to get a puff of flour, a drop of vanilla, or an eggshell on the countertop. I put everything away as soon as I was finished using it and methodically scraped down the sides of the Kitchen Aid mixing bowl after every addition. My head was clearly somewhere else. But that was the point; I needed to do something—anything—to occupy myself. I needed to feel some sense of control over something and that night, it was the oatmeal raisin cookies.
I dumped the brown and white sugars into the bowl and beat them together with four sticks of butter, the eggs, and vanilla. I carefully measured out the dry ingredients, mixed them together, and spooned them slowly into the Kitchen Aid being sure not to allow any puffs of powder to escape. I hand stirred in the oats and raisins to ensure they wouldn’t be ground up by the mixer and followed the entire recipe incredibly meticulously. I popped the cookies in the oven—I even set a timer, which I never actually do, and pulled out a magazine to read in the meantime. In five minutes the house smelt like fresh baked oatmeal raisin cookies. I took them out of the oven, set them on the stovetop to cool, and left them there for the full five minutes that the recipe suggested. The cookies were awful. They fell apart the instant they were lifted from the cookie sheet and tasted like face planting at the beach— a sand, salty mouthful.
It turned out that in my frenzy to occupy my brain, I accidentally doubled the butter. The salted butter, and you guessed it... the recipe called for unsalted butter. And not only that, but I added in the additional salt as well since I hadn’t realized that the box of butter I reached for was salted. So essentially, it was double the salt and double the butter. I can’t really explain how truly terrible these cookies were. They were painfully, crumbly, dry but still as greasy as a paper bag of french fries from McDonalds. They were heavy, dense, and under baked. Eating them resembled something more along the lines of eating the very bottom of an old box of crushed up cereal-- helplessly trying to cram a fist full of crumbs into your mouth before they hit the floor. Let’s just say I dumped the entire tray into the garbage and went to bed surrendering myself to the realization that,“today just wasn’t my day.”
The next day I went back into the kitchen, rinsed out the stainless steel mixing bowl, and started over. I made a huge mess. There was flour all over the countertops, granules of sugar all over the floor, and pieces of eggshells clogging the sink. Every ingredient was left out on the counter until the cookies were in the oven and there was no methodic scraping of the bowl.
It’s messy; It’s finicky, fussy, and a pain in the ass. Your measurements have to be pretty precise in order for the end result to come out exactly the way you want it. Too much flour makes your cookies really dense but too little makes them paper thin and greasy. Too much salt will throw off the whole recipe and your cookies will taste well, terrible. Too much baking soda makes them taste bitter but not enough and they won’t actually form into a cookie. Accidentally doubling the eggs will give you gummy, cake-like cookies. Adding too much sugar makes the cookies brittle but not adding enough gives them a weird texture. Too many chocolate chips will lead to crunchy, over baked cookies.
Go figure—adding too much sugar, too many chocolate chips, too much indulgence, causes your cookies to break and snap in half. Adding too much butter, too much filler, too much crap, creates a disaster. Too much of a good thing is never good, much like in life.
The moral here is that life is messy. The more you try to plan out and control every little detail of your life, try to keep the mess at bay, the less likely you are to achieve what you want. Some things are meant to be messy, and unfortunately, life is one of them. There is no perfect path to victory, and life is undoubtedly going to throw you curve balls. In real life there is no spinning again to see if you happen to land on the right career path. There is no undo button, no backspace, and there are absolutely no opportunities to throw out a brand new "life" (or batch of cookies... work with me here) and start over.
Live authentically. Live chaotically. Try not to be so uptight, controlling, and obsessive. Make a mess because that is what life is all about. Making a beautiful, mess.
The second batch of cookies were delicious.
Is it easier to go out to the store and buy a box of Betty Crocker cake mix and a can of chocolate frosting? Is it easier to run out to the bakery, and pick up those dozen cookies you’re craving? Of course it is, and it always will be the easier way out. But the tediousness, the effort, the love, and hard work you put into making that seamless little batch of cookies—that’s what makes it all worth it in the end. The work you put into the recipe is what makes life as perfectly sweet as it is.
PS—In case you’re feeling particularly inspired (or hungry,) the recipe I used can be found here