Cookies and kooks

Do you bake? Sorry, couldn’t catch that. Oh well, I’ll just assume you said yes.

I bake. Avidly. Not because I’m particularly fond of sweets; ironically enough,the most effective way of giving up frosting is actually making a batch yourself. Once you measure out 200 grams of butter, there is no going back.

I bake because it is as close as I can get to experimental science these days. There is a protocol and parameters, there are reactions and results, there are even control batches! And turns out science is pretty good training for following a recipe; maybe that’s why Cambridge undergraduates tend to bond over the Great British Bakeoff, and not Attenborough documentaries. But I digress. I was talking about baking.

Lately I have realized my favorite part of baking actually comes after the science; once the instructions have been read and the recipe has been followed. The madness after the method if you will. Those last fifteen minutes, when even the most reliable of recipe writers bows down to the inevitable uncertainty of life, and asks you to use your discretion. ‘Bake for about 25 minutes’. ‘Bake until the centre of the cookie remains soft, but firm to the touch’. Or, my personal favorite, ‘Bake until the base of the cookies just starts to turn golden.’ About 25? How firm is firm if it is also soft? And how on earth am I supposed to see the base of the cookie while its still baking????

And yet that is what I love the most about baking. The stressful, nail biting, last fifteen minutes of madness. When I am hankered down on the kitchen floor, peering into the oven through the glass, swatting at everyone with my tea towel as I try to spot the exact moment between done and over done. Because nothing, and I repeat, nothing, is worse than a burnt cookie. Its not just that its bitter and awful, its disappointing. Here is something that had all the possibility in the world, the potential to be the very essence of edible happiness, but instead its just a mess. A waste. A burnt cookie. I mean, a burnt casserole is acceptable. It wouldn’t achieve much by being perfect anyway. A burnt cookie, however, is just plain tragic.

I must confess though, there is an ulterior motive in my obsessive cookie-watch-dogging. I don’t want to be a burnt cookie either. And in that tiny part of my soul that still bleeds lavender, and urges me to wish on eyelashes and pick up pennies for good luck, I believe that if I watch out for the cookies, someone out there will watch out for me. Someone who will take me out of this fire before my center is hard as stone. When I am firm, but still gooey in the middle.

I don’t resent being in this oven. Far from it. I was hopelessly naive a year ago; I believed in people far too much. More importantly, I believed in reciprocal relationships, a concept I now know is immortalized in print so much because it does not exist outside books anymore. A year ago, I had two job offers, one for the summer and one for the fall. I turned down the summer job, because I would leave in fall anyway and I did not want to inconvenience them. I knew how hard it was to find a job, and I wasn’t going to try and grab an unfair opportunity when I could pass it on to someone else. It felt like the only right thing to do.

Turns out, there could not have been a worse decision. I let go of one job opportunity, got completely screwed over by the other company, who literally forgot about the undergrad whose visa papers they were supposed to file. A year later, and still jobless, I have taken that truckload of optimism I had and left it on the high road. Because when everyone else is on the highway to hell, there is no point in travelling on alone.

If I had the chance, I would do things differently now, because I am different. I am harder around the edges, firm to the touch. My soul isn’t lavender anymore, I threw away my lucky pencil, I don’t sing in the shower. But I am still, just about, gooey in the middle. I still love Wilde, and tuck fallen flowers in my braid, and I still make wishes on eyelashes. And I think that’s acceptable. I think I’m just about done. I hope someone’s watching through the glass. I hope someone turns off this infernal heat. And soon. Nothing worse than a burnt cookie.


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