Gabrielle and her best friend Emily are downstairs right now making chocolate chip cookies. As I sit upstairs listening to the pots rattle and the cupboards close, I wonder if there is anything better when you’re a teen. I mean, yes, I guess there are a lot of things. But having the kitchen to yourself to make a sweet snack makes for a lovely rainy afternoon.
Some of my earliest kitchen memories come from helping my mom add (too much) vanilla and watch her beat the eggs so we could make a batch. I always used to marvel how shiny and delectable the chips became even before they were baked, like they’d somehow been awakened.
The best part was parking myself on the kitchen floor to watch them bake. It may well be that I was a simple child, but I sat there for the duration of the 15 minutes it took for them to puff and spread. It always seemed like a bit of magic. Not as impressive as Shrinky Dinks, perhaps, but hell, you can’t eat Shrinky Dinks.
Halfway through, the aroma would start to seep out of the oven and fill the kitchen. How to describe that scent? As comforting as laundry, as addictive as popcorn, as promising as the last day of school. It was almost like you could chomp on the air and be halfway satisfied.
When I graduated to teenagerdom, I was allowed to make cookies on my own. I would open our spotted copy of The Joy of Cooking, park the red ribbon marker in the gutter of the pages and get to work. Most of that work involved eating a whole lot of cookie dough. These were the days before salmonella or, at least, widespread public knowledge of it, so it was game on for Kaprowy. For nearly every ball of dough I rolled for the pan, one landed in my mouth.
In university, I steered mostly clear of the family kitchen, in most part because I’d discovered fast food, restaurants and cafeterias. At school, my best friend Kristin and I feasted on a chocolate chip cookie snack several times a week. No matter how much studying we had to do or how tight our funds might be, there was always enough time and money for these little wonders. They were wrapped in Saran, two at a time, and always sat near the cash register at all the cafeterias.
University of Winnipeg, planted in a neighborhood suffering from serious urban decay, didn’t have the most uplifting atmosphere in 1995, was badly in need of the remodeling that came in the early 2000s. So Kristin and I were somewhat parched for inspiration. But we found it when we would hunch over our table on the fourth floor of Centennial Hall and munch away, our eyes bloodshot from the bright lights and the, for reasons unknown, searingly yellow table and chairs that looked like they’d been cut straight out of the 1960s.
Graduate school and my nascent career were virtually chocolate chip cookie-less as I discovered other foods and treats (Sushi! Injera! Paneer! Bubble tea!) that seemed worthy of exploration. But I came back home to them after I moved to Kentucky.
I remember the afternoon specifically. It was a snow day, a pretty good one, and Gabrielle was about 10 or 11. The snow coverage was such that you could still drive pretty easily, but there was enough to make a reasonably-sized snowman. I woke her up early so we could go sledding together down the hill behind our house and get good and shivery. Then we invited a few of her friends over so they could traipse around the neighborhood unaccompanied and find a good spot to toboggan.
I remember feeling so complete, that my whole job was to make Gabrielle’s day as cozy and memorable as I could. So I pulled out the mixer and started making cookies. The girls were still outside as the cookie scent made its slow rise out of the oven. I alone was there to experience it and it smelled like childhood, yes, but motherhood too. When the girls came inside, I was just pulling them out of the oven and they cooed with their red cheeks, pulled off their dripping ski pants and hats and jackets and mitts as fast as they could to get to their snack.
Ever since, chocolate chip cookies are my number one choice for my birthday dessert. I eat as many as I want and I enjoy every bite, which is exactly what I plan on doing in a few minutes. Because the best thing about chocolate chip cookies? You don’t need a special event or a reason to celebrate. Just a quiet afternoon and a humming oven.