You know how it is: some days your mind wanders into that weird thought territory of it’s time to do something you have never done before, like make ginger-snap cookies.
Well, my mind wandered there.
I let the thought drift away, content to think about life, but as it rolled around to 8 p.m. that primitive brain chip channeled the cookie monster and not only did I want cookies, I wanted to make them. From scratch. By myself.
I ignored my Baking Illustrated by the folks who publish Cook’s Illustrated. I ignored all the other reasonable cookbooks that I could consult. Why go to a reputable source when I can troll 10,000 sites? Out popped my inner SuperGoogleGirl who in no time at all ripped a short recipe from the internet and headed out to get the ingredients.
Never mind that it was the city’s first serious snowfall and that it was JUST this side of inadvisable to drive in a heavy snowfall because the car in the garage was not mine but a loner from the dealership because my car was in the shop getting its snow tires put on. But who listens to should not when the loaner car is a brand new Mercedes?
There wasn’t a lot of time: a mad dash to the lakeside supermarket got me everything but one ingredient, which meant a madder dash to another supermarket for an ingredient called molasses. There were two brands of this molasses stuff. It was five minutes to closing time. How on earth could I know which one was best?
Victim of advertising that I am, I picked the one that had well-written advertising copy on it and was more expensive. I left the store with a minute to spare.
The next morning, after walking the dogs and feeding the bird I sat for a deep mediation to mentally prepare myself to make cookies I have never made before.
I did not let my mind wander to the last time I decided to bake cookies. I made Italian almond cookies that ended up being sold at a friend’s restaurant. I also did not let my mind wander to remembering that it took a week to get powdered sugar out of my nostrils and sinuses and deep folds of my brain, and how hard it was to convince people that my frequent sniffing was not related to the snorting of anything illegal.
Meditation finished: time to get my baking utensils. Before that, however, I had to haul out and set up my telescoping ladder because the baking utensils are stored waaay up in the back of the wall-to-wall pantry cupboard. How is it that they get so dusty and need washing when I only use them once a year? I washed them.
Then came pre-prep: ingredients, a mixing bowl, spoons, measuring cups, knives, parchment paper. I read the recipe out loud to plant it in my head. The dogs tilted their heads at me and Tweety stopped preening to listen.
The recipe said to mix the butter and brown sugar until fluffy.
Now, it’s true that I bake too infrequently to have mastery of the chemical alchemy that is unique to baking, but I was pretty sure that to get something fluffy needs an egg or something with egg-like properties. This recipe did have eggs, but not at this stage of mixing. As I started the mixer, I wondered what fluffy was. I called a friend. Like meringue, she said. Peaks of fluffiness.
A few minutes more of mixing. I worried more about what, exactly, constituted fluffy. Some 36 hours later, the motor in my mixer burnt out completely and I was rambling in strange languages, exhausted. This was as fluffy as it was gonna get.
The recipe called for ginger two ways: freshly grated and crystalized, chopped. I had two packages of 500g each. The recipe did not describe chopped how: big chunks?? Medium? Teeny tiny?
I used the big cutting board beside the stove, which meant my back was to everything. There I was, chopping away, wondering exactly how small to chop the chunks, when all of a sudden I felt I was not alone in the kitchen.
I turned around, knife in hand. In front of me, looking for all the world like perfect models for Meisen porcelain figurines, from tall to short were Parker the standard poodle, Gia, the terrier mix and Tweety, the Indian red-necked parakeet.
They looked at me expectantly. I couldn’t figure out what it was that they wanted. Brainwave! I took a piece of crystalized ginger and gave it to Parker.
He took it. “Are you kidding, me?” I asked him. He chewed thoughtfully.
I gave one to Gia. She took it gently between her front teeth, walked to her pillow and ate it. “Are you serious?” I asked her.
Then I gave Tweety a small piece. He waddled back to his cage, climbed up it with the ginger in his beak, and with the dogs watching him, ate it all up.
I gave the dogs a few more pieces each, just to make sure they weren’t having me on in some sort of dogs-punk-a-human thing.
My dogs like crystalized ginger. I wondered if it was good for them. But I had work to do: turn on the oven and finish chopping.
With it all done, the last thing to do was fold it into the mixture; by hand.
I pulled out the cookie sheets and the parchment paper.
“Use teaspoons to place balls on the parchment paper, leaving 2 inches between balls.”
Ten minutes to bake.
I realized I had baking ingredient stuff on my sweater and made a mental note to never bake wearing a black cashmere again.
Four sheets of cookies on the cooling rack. And barely a dent in the mixture. I wondered if it was an army recipe. So I replaced the teaspoon with a tablespoon and pulled out tin pie plates and made bread-plate sized cookies. I continued to make ever-larger cookies. One was the size of a dinner plate.
The house smelled wonderful and when I looked at my stacks of various sized cookies I was as pleased as Nigella Lawson often is when she sees food that she’s made.
When it was all done, I had 60 cookies of varying sizes. With varying lumpy chunks of crystalized ginger in them.
Where was the cookie monster now?
I gave a small piece of cookie to Tweety. He ate it. I gave some leftover crystalized ginger to Parker and Gia.
And then I sampled a cookie and sighed. Not the taste I wanted.
Parker and Gia did not seem to mind the taste at all.
I packaged up all of the cookies and gave them away. I am still awaiting feedback.
In some alternate universe where this experiment worked, there’s a moral to the story that involves last-minute decisions, dogs that like ginger and baking.
In this universe the baking utensils back where they belong; the cookie monster out wherever it is that he goes out to and I have decided that I am not going to have cookies for a while and when I do, I am going to buy them.