Every now and then I become quite disillusioned with my cooking abilities. It may be the single failed attempt at a recipe I know and trust or just several days of lackluster results that might bring this feeling of culinary mediocrity. Whatever the cause, sometimes it bothers me much more than it should-- not because I am as silly as this would seem, equating my self-worth with the ability to make a really good chocolate chip cookie, but because cooking is often the therapy I crave at the end of a long and tiring day or week. There is nothing so cleansing and invigorating than creating something lovely from simple, fresh ingredients.
Never the less, I have recently had a chip on my shoulder in the domain which we call the kitchen. This 'chip' is about the size of my thumbnail and is made of pure chocolate. That is correct, I speak of the chocolate chip. Be it milk, dark or semi-sweet-- this little morsel of decadence has, of late caused me a great deal of grief. Why, you ask? For some strange reason, I have had a serious problem with making chocolate chip cookies. I have tried many recipes and I always get the same results-- in short, not the results I want. This past weekend I recovered from the "depths of despair" only to hold my head high as I marched out to Target with a vengeance to buy a brand new Family-Size bag of Tollhouse Chocolate Chips in order to conquer my recent fear not once, but many times if necessary. But upon returning home, I found myself not quite ready for the trenches. Instead of facing my bright red Kitchen-Aid with gusto, I sought to lick my wounds at the proverbial workbench of one of the greatest cooks I have ever known,
Marie Josephine Templeton.
"Nannie" as she was always known to me, taught my mother, her daughter, countless things about cooking and baking and in turn passed on her gifts to me. She was a diligent woman. She cooked for many years in a kitchen that most would deem inferior in size and yet she served our family many things that tasted far better than any thing served from the 10 Foot Maple island of a Southern Living Idea Home. A treasure trove of warmth and wisdom accompanied these dishes as she brought them to the table with a sweet smile and gentle hands. It is these hands that inspire me most in the kitchen. When I think back over my childhood and my years being her grandaughter, it is her hands that stand out to me. Standing on a chair next to her, as she made my favorite Oatmeal Cookies and carefully set them in the cookie jar, I learned that you don't rush perfection and that cooking and baking should relax you, not stress you out. I try to remember these things in my kitchen today as I cook for my own dear husband. Although from time to time, my ability to control the outcome takes over and Cindy McNasty is suddenly wearing the apron.. and not that little girl in a pink corduroy dress who knows that "cooking is fun."
This weekend I did something I have never done before. I made a very special Apple Pie. Not just any apple pie, but a pie that has only been made my two other women that I know of, my mother and my grandmother. I was, I admit a little stressed out at various parts of the process... and for those of you who want me to cut to the chase, the pie was not what I would call perfect.. but it was good. The filling was warm and fragrant and sweet and the crust was delicate and flaky-- which moved me to nostalgia over the pies of the two women who have bolstered my cooking abilities so.
I must admit, I constantly compare everything that comes out of my poorly calibrated Seminary apartment oven (which has a mind of its' own and jumps 50 degrees in either direction during any cooking process.) to that of my mother's and Nannie's. But it was in the rolling out, baking and tasting of this pie that I found some culinary justice in the world. It really was not bad for a first attempt! Regardless of the outcome though, I was vividly reminded of why I love cooking and baking. Because sometimes, everything comes together the way you plan. Sometimes when you don't even know what the plan is, you end up with a delicious surprise. And some times, you are gently reminded by the feel of fresh, cool pie crust underneath your fingertips that when you cook for the ones you love, the outcome does not matter as much as the joy you receive from serving them from your heart and hands. I will be trying the chocolate chip cookies again. Very soon. Not because of my Hubris alone, but because I just cannot imagine that it will be easy for little Lucy Stuckey to sign up for a dozen Apple Pies instead of a dozen Chocolate Chip cookies for the elementary school bake sale.