"I went into the kitchen. I love food. The clarity of it, the direct pleasure. I love it simple, absolutely fresh and freshly cooked. At my worst, like now, when nothing makes sense to myself, I'll cook something as a way of forcing order back into chaos. As a way of re-establishing myself, at least in this one thing. It steadies my hands." --From The PowerBook by Jeanette Winterson
I made these cookies the weekend before last. It was a Friday and I left work knowing that I was going home angry. I was going home disappointed. It's been a rough couple of weeks. And though I read myriad blogs where the author bares her soul, telling the world every last bloody detail of her latest crisis, I'm not going to do that here. And it's beside the point really. Here are the two things you need to know: 1) I recently made myself vulnerable in a creative pursuit and came up short. 2) I am a little lost right now.
These things are okay. I will be okay. We will all be okay. But in those moments when you are processing it all and searching for your place in the universe, it is completely normal to not feel okay. And that is when you bake cookies.
As I packed up my bag to leave work that Friday, I decided I wanted something complicated I could sink my teeth into. Something I could control, that I could do slowly and precisely. And when I was done, I wanted to have something I could devour in the fattiest of ways. I wanted to execute perfectly and make myself sick. Which was how I wound up spending three days making homemade Samoa Girlscout cookies, which are photographed beautifully along with the recipe at Just a Taste.
Day 1: I made the cookie dough on Friday night after I finished dinner. It's a simple shortbread, but even that has many steps. There is the sifting and measuring and mixing, and then you need to make two neat balls and wrap them up in plastic. (I wrapped mine twice, not wanting the spices from the leftover Indian food to waft their way into the dough.) I drank a glass of wine and let an hour pass. I changed into my pajamas and then I rolled out the dough, thin as can be without being too thin. I used a pint glass to punch out the large circles, and a smaller cookie cutter to remove the middle. Collect the scraps to make a new ball, roll it out, punch and repeat--I moved like a machine, letting flour dust the front of my yoga pants as I leaned against the counter. When the cookies came out of the oven I decided I was tired and went to bed.
Day 2: I woke up Saturday morning and made an iced coffee. Today will be better, I said, and I sprinkled coconut onto a cookie sheet to toast. But the caramel candies took a long time to melt down and I started to lose my patience. Not that there was anywhere I needed to be or anything else I needed to be doing. Sometimes, I think, you just get tired of stirring. But they did melt, and when that happened, I painted caramel onto each cookie with a spoon--the binder, I am told, that keeps the topping from falling off--and to the rest of the caramel I added the coconut, creating a sticky clumpy mixture that burned my hands as I pressed it onto each cookie's surface. But there's no other way to do it, really. You have to pick up that mixture before it hardens and press down firmly. You have to show that cookie who is boss.
Exhausted from my efforts, my husband and I rode our bikes eight whole blocks to a place called the Spritzenhaus, where we drank beer, ate hot pretzels, and played Jenga. Later we went home and tried to melt down the chocolate, but it buckled up on us. A whole bag of chocolate chips ruined on a Saturday afternoon. (Hint: Don't use a double-boiler when drunk.)
Day 3: I woke up and could not believe those cookies were still sitting on my counter. I pulled boots over my yoga pants and put on a long coat, and then I went to the store to buy more chocolate, which I melted in the microwave thank you very much. We had a friend coming over and I wanted to force cookies on him--eat the damn things, get them out of this house. And so I held them by their crispy cookie sides and dunked their bottoms in chocolate, letting it harden for an hour before I flipped them over and drizzled more chocolate across the top.
Oh, the things we'll do to force order back into chaos, as Ms. Winterson so wonderfully puts it. (Which makes me wonder, in fact, which way she actually means it. Does she want to take an orderly situation and make it more chaotic? Or does she want to force chaos into an orderly state? Knowing Jeanette Winterson, this ambiguity was intentional.)
All I know is that when you undertake a project of this magnitude--during Girlscout cookie season, no less, when the factory-made versions are plentiful--I do believe it is a testament to how far you will go to distract yourself, calm yourself, and find yourself. And finally, hopefully, dust the flour off your yoga pants and move on.