I wanted cookies this weekend. Chocolate chip cookies. And not just any. The GOOD chocolate chip cookies. Homemade. The ones we made in the old house, when we were our old selves.
On a dog-eared sheet of white paper, my mother had a recipe that purported to be a $250 Neiman Marcus cookie recipe. It is, of course, an urban legend, but it’s that old sheet of paper, translucent in places from splotches of melted butter that I remembered, that held the recipe for THE ONLY chocolate chip cookies on earth worthy of that name. On a weekend or vacation day, she’d ask: “Wanna bake some cookies?” and I’d start right away to gather the ingredients. In the early days I stood on a chair next to her as she measured, and later on my own two feet measuring myself, and later still, she’d just hand me the sheet of paper and I’d go to it alone while she ironed or cooked or disappeared upstairs.
I can see the cookies as I sit here, spread cooling on a dismantled paper grocery sack; my mother would cut down the side of one and around the rectangular bottom and lay it out on the top of her Hitchcock kitchen table, a crazy mix of high class and down home. She had an enormous plastic bowl (with a yellow lid) that was the only one with the size needed to accommodate the enormous amount of cookie dough that this recipe yielded. She never cut it in half. Always made the full batch. It was going to take the full morning or afternoon, no two ways about it. It assured homemade cookies in our sack lunches for weeks to come.
I knew, before even beginning a cursory search of my my pantry, that I had no bowl that size. I’d have to halve it, and I made a mental note to search the Crate and Barrel website later. I melted the butter and added the packed brown sugar with a PLOP! and a mess. This process had already been a sprint through my memory garden, but as I looked at the puddles of melted butter dotting my counter, I laughed to myself and sent my mother a quick Facebook picture of the war zone. On good days, you see, my mother would survey the wreckage of a given project and proclaim to either my brother or I: “You are my Best Messmaker!” The alliteration rolling between her lately straightened teeth, held out to us by a smile as she cleaned whatever it was we’d mussed. This day, I cleaned the mess myself, and, with a pang, wished she didn’t live so blasted far away.
With a wooden spoon and elbow grease, I folded in the rest of the ingredients, and laughed again at the fact that adding the rolled oats at the end of the process had not gotten any easier with the addition of years or arm strength. “Scrape and roll, Jennifer” she’d say, correcting carefully as I learned how to ‘fold’ ingredients into a recipe. Here I was scraping and rolling on my own, in my own house, for the benefit of my own small but certified family. All aboard the homesick train.
As sheet after sheet came out of the oven, the smell filled my apartment and I lined a paper bag with cooling cookies. Between my childhood and this adult that I’ve become, there was only one notable difference in my relationship to these cookies, and that is my ability to exercise self-control enough to allow the molten chocolate to cool JUST A BIT, JUST ENOUGH, before sampling the fruits of my labor. I took my first bite with no little worry that they wouldn’t be as I remembered, or that I’d found the wrong recipe. But as my teeth sank through the still soft center, my taste buds cried out in sweet recognition and I was gratified to find that they were one and the same. I’d satisfied a craving and recovered some memories. In the shining sun, with a book and a cookie, I sat for a moment and was just, plainly, content.