I am not afraid of salmonella. I spent my childhood cadging cake batter, licking bowls, stealing nubs of cookie dough. Never did I get sick. Keep me away from two-day old leftovers in the fridge. Those give me gas. But not the sweet stuff, raw.
My parents moved a lot and fought a lot, and I got new brothers and sisters a lot, but our kitchens became one kitchen through the magic of making the same recipes in them. My mother baked her own bread, cookies, cakes, and pies. She scoffed at children who had to eat cookies store-bought. Why would anyone even bother? They taste like old shoes. I had to admit that she had a point. Her soft, melting, wafting cookies were technically in the same category as mass-market boxes of dry wafers studded with preservatives. But.
They were not made with me at my mother’s elbow, my little sister up on a stool beside me, all of us sporting matching corny calico aprons. They were not made on top of floury counters, vanilla next to the yellow bowl, containing the endless conundrum of heavenly smell and godawful taste. They were not rolled out while my mother’s bosom rose and fell, her arms strong but also soft and fragrant. I didn’t get to eat them before they made it to the oven. They didn’t come from the easily granted request: “Let’s make cookies!” or from a whim on mom’s end.
My mother’s cookies were varying sizes and shapes. They baked on homely, old and scratched cookie sheets. They alchemized in different ovens. They never lasted more than a day because we ate them all until they were gone—for dessert, breakfast, furtively, for snack, when it was cookie o’clock, when bells rang and I opened my lunch box.
“My mother never made me cookies from scratch,” said mom. “My Greek grandmother made me koulouriakis, though. Butter cookies rolled and shaped into S’s and C’s. Brushed with egg, pressed into plates of sesame seeds.”
I think it skips a generation. I love to bake but I do it relatively rarely. Given that I grew up in a house where cookie batches were either in the oven, in the cookie jar, or forming into a ball of dough in the yellow bowl. I currently won’t bake with my kids, because they will not keep their hands out of the bowl, and yet will not keep their fingers out of their noses. Repeat.
I am by nature a solitary baker, although I grew up with the most nurturing and inclusive baker mother. I know it is a betrayal of all that is wholly maternal, but there you have it. I read recently that it was okay to accept that about myself, to not start out with the bowl and the ingredients and then slowly lose my patience as small beautiful children swipe and spill and elbow. I am a mother who does not like to bake with my kids. I am a mother who would like to enjoy it. Somewhere in between those two canyon walls is a pathway. Maybe it will come with age. They might get better at hygiene, self-control, stealth. I might chill about boogers, impenetrably dirty fingernails, raucous limbs. I might be able to mail-order an extension for my short fuse. In the meantime, oatmeal chocolate chip cookies from Trader Joe’s are not half bad.
My mother never baked, my grandmother did, and I try, although the helpers fry me every time. This is beautiful and I love it. My 26 minute memoir is in trying to find 26 minutes, someday. And please, never chill on the boogers.
26 minutes well spent!