Yesterday, for the second time, I spent the day at my friend Priscilla's house making cookies. The first thing you need to know is: I don't make cookies. Or anything really. I am a bad cook and a terrible baker. I don't think Priscilla knew that. But she took pity and asked me back.
The second thing you need to know is that the purpose of this "bake-a-thon" (this time with a couple of her other, more talented friends) was to make goodie boxes to send to our children away at college. And I don't do that either.
For my part, I brought the ingredients for oatmeal cookies. Now it is important to note that I didn't even bring Quaker Oats. I brought the generic Safeway brand and so the recipe on the box, it turns out, was inferior. Add to that the fact that I did not know my way around Priscilla's wonderful (and expensive!) KitchenAid mixer and it can be said with some certainly that I was a calamity. (I didn't secure the bowl into the base properly so when I turned it on, the beater and the base started taking a beating. In my haste to turn it off quickly, I turned the switch the wrong way - making the speed go faster still, creating all sorts of very noisy, scary sounding racket. I have never been so close to a heart attack. I know how well Priscilla takes care of her things and I certainly am not in a position to replace a $250.00 mixer right now! Tender mercies - no damage.)
As I mentioned earlier, I had had this play date once before, about a month ago when Priscilla did most everything and made her delicious Snicker Doodles. This time I was a more active, if not more reluctant, participant. Watching these other three women, comfortably maneuvering the kitchen was a little intimidating. I must say that Priscilla has a truly, truly spectacular kitchen. She has a tool for absolutely everything and everything has a well designed and organized place to live. Her home is of the gorgeous variety and her massive kitchen and breakfast room look out upon a beautiful and peaceful park-like yard. I found myself looking out that window a lot - taking in the tranquility and trying to apply it to the tasks at hand. With only fair results.
The first thing I noticed was that these three very charming ladies were fully capable of measuring, mixing, rolling and spooning - all while talking! I could not manage both those tasks at once. I could either talk or carefully follow recipe instructions. I watched as they measured vanilla by sight rather than teaspoon. I watched as they made expert cookie balls with a small scoop and laid them perfectly spaced - like little soldiers - on cookie trays. I watched as they "eyeballed" whether or not they were done in the oven. I watched as they used cookie cutters on sticky Rice Krispy Treats and pulled them off with the shapes clear and intact. I can't even do that with cookie dough. And, amazingly, nothing got dirty. Except for my work space - although I kept after it quickly. (I kept washing utensils and pans and bowls, only to find that they were still in use!)
Next while Priscilla has known these women for a few years, I noticed that her friends knew their way around her kitchen as if it were their own. They noticed her new, enviable refrigerator. They knew where all her supplies were. They could help me find things. I imagined that they knew each other well - but to know her kitchen so intimately? Why? Well, it turns out, they get together to do this about 5 times a year. For Back to School. For Halloween. For holiday. For Valentine's Day. And for end of school year. It is something of a tradition with them. Imagine that.
We made Peanut Butter Cookies, Peanut Butter Chocolate-Chip Cookies, Oatmeal Raisin Cookies, Oatmeal Raising Chocolate-Chip Cookies, Snicker Doodles, and Rice Krispy Treats and by my count we made about 250+ cookies that were distributed into 10 different care packages.
And then there were the care packages.
Once the cookies had cooled, Priscilla (organizational wizard, she) left the room and reentered carrying boxes of ribbons and bows and little cellophane bags and various colorful tissue paper. We sat down at the table and bagged small numbers of cookies in the bags, and chose ribbon that offered, hopefully, some autumn color (for the season) to tie them with. We selected not one but two or three ribbons or raffia to put together for each bag, adding color and texture. I watched as Jan (one of the other ladies) expertly cut and tied her packages. I know I am hopelessly creatively impaired, but seriously, how did she make such perfect knots with the right side of the ribbon always showing?
Again Priscilla disappeared for a moment only to return with a full stack of Priority Mail Flat Rate boxes. I mean who has those on hand?!?! I'll tell you who. Priscilla. AND she had a bag of packing peanuts. And she filled the bottom of each of the 10 boxes with them. Then the boxes were lined with pretty autumn colored tissue paper. Next several adorned bags of cookies were gingerly placed inside each of the boxes and topped with bubble wrap. But they were not sealed until we had been given stationery to write little notes to put inside.
This was an all-day event and I observed (like a duck out of water) for the most part what can only be called a labor of love. Generally, I don't do this kind of thing. But I was moved by this effort - an effort Priscilla and her friends didn't think twice about - hours of baking and preparing a cheerful package to send off to their kids in college. There is no doubt that the recipients are delighted by the sweet treats every time they arrive in the mail, but it's possible that it might be many years before they fully understand just how much love gets sealed up along with them. For that, the image of friends in a big kitchen making hundreds of cookies will stay with me.
As for my contribution - as I said, it was an inferior recipe. Calling for only brown sugar and no white, they taste more like health food cookies than your traditional oatmeal cookies. Add to that the fact that I let a couple of batches sit in the oven too long. Some have a slightly charcoal taste to them. So, to the kids of Priscilla, Mary, and Jan - my apologies. Your mothers let a novice into the kitchen with them. To my kids, there will be no question as to which ones I made. They may be hard to swallow but that strange, dry, burnt taste you can't quite recognize is the love.