When all else fails, bake cookies.
That was my mom's mantra when I was growing up. It was a useful strategy in a house with two children and no television ... my father's edict based on his belief that broadcast media were intrinsically evil, in spite of his employment on Madison Avenue. Or perhaps because of it.
On rainy days when my brother and I had exhausted the amusement potential of blocks and records and board games, we resorted to bickering.
Sometimes she punted by sending us to the neighbors, who had televisions and more relaxed standards for child-rearing. Sometimes she stayed home, no doubt savoring the silence. Sometimes she went with us, to sit over coffee and cigarettes with the other moms, until the combined forces of too many children in too-small a space resulted in the inevitable and we were all back at square one.
Sometimes she baked cookies. Opening a bottle of vanilla extract is all it takes to trigger the memory of the school bus yellow bag of Nestle's Semi-Sweet Morsels. Preheating the oven ("Why Mom?"). Kneeling on wooden chairs at the red and white oilcloth of the kitchen table. Plopping bars of Imperial margarine into the green Pyrex mixing bowl (hearing the trumpet voluntary as an imaginary crown appears on my head).
Greasing the cookie sheets by rubbing traces of margarine from the inside of the golden foil wrapper. Carefully measuring tablespoon after tablespoon of brown sugar and white sugar, six of each. Sniffing the vanilla bottle, never daring to taste it. Cracking egg shells on the edge of the bowl, wrinkling my nose at the slimy cold wetness of the egg whites. Sifting flour and baking soda and salt together ("Why Mom?"). Sneaking chocolate chips out of the bag. Spooning lumps of dough onto the cookie sheets. Licking the beaters.
Bliss. What better way to divert attention, ensure peace and quiet? Buttery warm crumbs of sweetness and liquid chocolate. Icy cold milk. It never failed.
So why reinvent the wheel? When my own two daughters exhausted the amusement potential of Barbie dolls and cassette tapes and board games and television, they inevitably resorted to bickering and I to cookies. I must confess that I skipped a step or two. Too impatient to measure out sugar in tablespoons I quickly converted quantities into cup measure, the sooner to get to the end product. For product, not process, was what I was about. And the eggs? All that salmonella lurking in wait, prohibiting the licking of beaters? No fear. I used Second Nature Better'n Eggs, duly pasteurized and patently safe for raw consumption. For what was the point if not to lick the bowl? And indeed, why even bother with all the fuss of greasing pans and preheating ovens, scooping dough and juggling hot pans? Let 'em eat cookie dough! It never failed.
It was a point of pride with me, being the mom who let everyone eat cookie dough. I was a hero in my own hometown, a legend in my own time. I never counted the cost, the calories, the cholesterol. Who cared? The kids were happy, I was happy. Bliss.
And now they've grown up, become teenagers. No wait, one is 21 now. How did that happen? Angst reigns. Like all parents, I goof, make mistakes, screw up royally. And then owning up to my mistakes, apologize when it is called for, which is more often than I care to admit.
"Why can't you get it right the first time, Mom?"
Why not indeed? We, as parents, never actually set out to infuriate our children, though they believe otherwise. Recently I read Robert Farrar Capon's book Kingdom, Grace, Judgment in which he said, "When I crippled my children emotionally (or when my parents crippled me) it was not done out of meanness or spite, it was done out of love: genuine, deeply felt, endlessly pondered human love -- flawed, alas, by a self-regard so profound that none of us ever noticed it." And I could relate.
Which is why my mantra is: When all else fails, make cookie dough. Because the inevitable inevitably happens. So when all is not well in the small world called home, cookie dough is the signal to one and all that forgiveness is humbly sought. And my daughters know that to accept the cookie dough is to offer a gift: to forgive yet again.
Chocolate Chip Cookies, the DJ Montague version
(makes 6-8 dozen)
2 8-ounce tubs Land O Lakes butter with canola oil
1 pound box Domino light brown sugar
3/4 cup white sugar
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 cup Better'n Eggs, scant
4-5 cups unbleached white flour
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp kosher salt
24 ounces Nestle semisweet chocolate morsels (none other)
Cream butter, sugars and vanilla, then beat in eggs
Mix in baking soda, salt, and 2 cups flour
Fold in, 2 more cups of flour, then slowly add enough
flour to keep the dough from being sticky
Fold in chocolate chips and scoop onto a greased cookie sheet
Bake at 350 for 7-8 minutes in a convection oven or
10-11 minutes at 360 in a regular oven, until edges are brown
Leave on sheet for 5 minutes, then put on a cooling rack
Perfect for tea parties or with a glass of ice cold milk