Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver

Fucl<ing Cookies

Yesterday I decided, since it was my day off, that I wasn’t already busy enough and needed to make Christmas cookies.

Save some money, I thought. Make homemade Christmas presents. I could give cookies to my students, cookies to my friends, cookies for church, and have leftover cookies for Mike and Nick.

So, I bought flour, sugar, brown sugar, butter, vanilla, chocolate chips - because who doesn’t want chocolate chip cookies? I even bought baking soda because I didn’t know the state of my baking soda. And maybe I needed another bag of chocolate chips. When I got home, I realized I already had two open bags of mini chips, one open bag of regular chips. Crap! I also had an intact bag of Lily’s chocolate chips. Mmmm, Lily’s.

I want to tell you right here that I don’t advertise even though it seems like I do. This is just me, loving the things that I love. You know, like Oprah, and Omnicon. Just kidding. I don’t know anything about Omnicon.

I set straight to work. I washed my hands then lined up my ingredients on the counter so I’d have half a chance to end up with only one open container of anything. I ran a load of dishes, shifted the ingredients to clean the counters, washed my hands again, and put on an audiobook, Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver. I love anything that Kingsolver writes. I was good to go. I briefly considered listening to Christmas music, so I added a Christmas CD to the player for later. It could take six discs. That should be more than enough kitchen entertainment. Right?

As soon as the dishes got going, Mike came into the kitchen to make himself a sandwich.

“Who are those for?” he asked.

I could tell he wanted his portion of cookies.

“I’m going to make cookies for my students. If I buy something for them, it would get expensive fast.

“How many students do you have?”

“I don’t really know. I’m not sure if I’m giving a package to every kid or just to the ones I work with this week.”

I went back and forth in my mind, trying to figure it out as Mike made his sandwich and wandered out of the kitchen. I could have as many as two kids an hour for the next three days of work before Christmas break began. Plus, there were kids who would be working with other tutors but would want cookies too. I needed to consider that some of them weren’t going to show up. I’d already heard from one kid that he was going to Hawaii for vacation.

Hawaii. Shoot! Where was I going over the break? Nowhere.

Then I remembered that a bunch of other kids came twice a week and I’d never bothered to figure out who those kids were. So, I had no idea what real numbers I was working with for them. It could be fifteen kids. It could be eighty. Fuck.

I estimated that I’d have about twenty kids and that I could bring a container of loose cookies for kids who I didn’t work with that week. I should be okay.

I had to back up the the CD to hear what I’d missed while I was thinking. It was a hazard, thinking and listening to a book at the same time. I doubled the ingredients and got both of my mixing bowls in on the action by adding one batch to each one. My only problem was that I usually creamed the sugar and butter together before adding all the flour and since I’d added almost all the ingredients to the bowl that wasn’t in the mixer mixing, I had to stop the whole process, scrape the blade, and switch bowls to get all the goo and part of the flour mixed in the second bowl.

I stopped the CD so I could think. How much of the partial flour had I added to the second bowl? Was it one cup or one and a quarter?

And had I added that last quarter cup of flour to the first bowl?

Had I added vanilla to the second?

I shook a cup of flour into the bowl that was mixing. When the blade hit it, flour poofed out of the bowl and coated the front of my shirt, the counter, and the left side of my espresso machine. Crap. I stood there and let it mix while I tried to wipe flour off of surfaces and organize my next steps.

I washed my hands again. I have something against the kitchen sponge. I replace it as often as I can, but it still smells and I have to wash my hands after I use it. When that was mostly cleaned up, I switched bowls in the mixer to blend in the chocolate chips. Did I still need to add flour to the second bowl?

Wait? Which one was the second bowl?

Finally, I sorted it all out as well as I could and set the CD player to proceed. I spooned dough out onto foil-lined baking sheets.

Why did I use the foil? So what if my baking sheets got dirty? Was I collapsing the environment with excessive one-time use of resources?

I backed up the CD to hear what I’d missed.

And then I realized that if I wasn’t sure about the flour in one bowl and the vanilla in the other, I should do test cookies.

So, I scraped up all the cookies I’d dropped so far except one blob from each bowl.

Then, I turned on the oven. I’d read that it helped to conserve energy if I eliminated the preheating time when I used the oven. Okay, but how long would the test cookies have to bake? How many times would I let heat out as I checked them before they were done? How much energy did that waste? I set the timer for twelve minutes, figuring that it would preheat in about three minutes and I could check them a minute before they’d really be done.

I backed up the CD.

Then, I had nothing to do for twelve minutes. Dishes were running. Ingredients sat lined up on the counter, ready for another batch. Two test cookies consumed as much energy as two dozen because I couldn’t keep track of my ingredients.

The earth was going to hell in a handbasket.

Mike brought his lunch dishes back into the kitchen just as those two cookies came out of the oven. What timing.

“Will you be a taste-tester?”

“If I have to,” he said, grinning.

“I need to make sure I added enough flour in one and the vanilla in the other.”

The grin dropped off his face.



Just then, Nick walked into the kitchen. Timing.

“Want to help taste-test?” I asked him.

“Oh yeah,” he said with a glint in his eye.

I have a theory about the olfactory timing of these two men. Humans have evolved to love the smell of food that is cooked to a point that it is safe for us to eat. It’s similar to the connection between beauty and good genes. Scientists have discovered that the perception of beauty is related to symmetry and conformity which is a result of genes that are free of aberrations. Beautiful people were the ones that were more likely to survive and procreate. As for anything delicious, anyone who didn’t get proper smell genes ate raw food, got parasites, died, and left no spawn to pass on their tasteless genes to.

Both cookies passed muster, but we all agreed that one of them really did need a little more flour, maybe that quarter cup. Which bowl was that? I poked at the dough in both bowls with my spoon. Hard to tell. I added a quarter cup to one bowl, hoping it was the right one. The mixer popped more flour across the counter. Shoot.

I poked the backup button on the CD player then went back to spooning out perfectly proportioned globs of cookie dough. I grabbed a second spoon from the drawer so I could scrape the goo off one spoon with the other.

A clump of cookie dough fell onto the floor. Damn! If I left it, I’d step in it and track it all over the kitchen. If I picked it up, I’d have to wash my hands one more time.

I used a paper towel to wipe it up and washed my hands. One more paper towel for the landfill. If there weren’t so many rodents in the forest around my house, I’d have been able to put it into a compost bin. We had bears, squirrels, rats, voles, mice, shrews, and raccoons. Mike was adamant about not having a compost bin after some animal chewed right through plastic to get through the last one we had.

Suddenly, I was in a groove. I alternated two pans of cookies so the oven was never empty. As one pan baked, I stacked and packed the other cookies. I loaded big Ziplocs with cookies for each of the friends I was too cheap to buy presents for. I labeled them and put them into the freezer, yelling a warning to Mike and Nick not to eat them. I don’t know if they heard me. Then, I began to load snack bags with funky wrapped candy I’d gotten from Uwajimaya earlier in the week and added a cookie to each one. I thought it would be cool for the kids to get candy with the Japanese characters on the wrapping instead of English. Environmentally, I felt bad about the little bits of extra plastic for each piece of candy, but it was for a bunch of kids and I wanted it to feel sanitary.

Some of the cookies were slightly too big to fit. And would the outside of the candy wrappers get too greasy from the cookie to be nice to open? Or was it going to be yucky? Plus, there was that plastic packaging question again. The environment. I voted for less packaging and figured the kids wouldn’t mind if a piece of wrapped candy sat in a bag next to a homemade chocolate chip cookie. I scraped a few edges off cookies to make them fit into the snack bags.

Mike appeared again. Time for tea.

“Are you just putting one cookie in those bags? It looks kind of chintzy.”

“What?” I said a little bit too loudly. “I thought it looked cheerful with all the candy in there.”

“One cookie? Seriously?”


Then, I got behind in loading my baking trays with more cookie dough as I opened all the snack bags and added another cookie to each one. The oven was going to bake empty for a while. Damn! What about the environment?

Mike got out the ingredients to make dinner. Fish and potatoes. Suddenly, the counters were jammed with stuff and I didn’t want to have to share my kitchen. I’d been in a groove. It was hard to stay in a groove when I was tired and had to dance around someone else in my small kitchen. I popped the pause button on my audio book.

I went back to wrestling with each snack bag to get it closed. Two cookies were almost always too big to zip closed. A cookie fell onto the floor.

“Fuck!” I muttered.

I picked it up, threw it away and washed my hands again. The floor was still a little gritty under my shoes.

“You should put those into the bigger Ziplocs,” Mike added. I know he was trying to be helpful. He put the fish and potatoes into the oven, leaving a rack free. Lovely. My chocolate chip cookies were going to smell of fish. I glared at him.

“But then they’ll need three cookies to look like there’s anything in there. And I have to have enough cookies for Rachael, Lily, and Penny. Plus, I volunteered to bring cookies to church next Sunday.”

I didn’t say anything about the environmental impact of throwing out twenty greasy and crumbly but unused snack bags so I could put everything into bigger, thicker plastic bags.

“Three cookies sounds good,” Mike said.

“But that’s a whole -nother batch of cookies. I’m going to be baking all day.”

“You’re going to be baking all day.”

And Mike left the kitchen. He popped the play button to turn on my story.

Fuck the cookies. I jammed the second cookie into each of those narrow snack bags, breaking off any edges that got in my way. Each of my students was getting a snack bag filled with two broken cookies that smelled of fish along with greasy pieces of unidentifiable wrapped candy because all the lettering was in Japanese. Two cookies. Not three.

Just then, Christmas music came on.

Fuck those fucking cookies.

Thank you for listening, jules