Tricounty News

The lost cookie and other adventures in baking

We lost a cookie today. This wouldn't be such a big deal; we lose things at our house all the time - things much bigger and more important than cookies. But this particular loss was significant.

That is because before we lost the cookie, I baked it. From scratch.

This made today different from the rest of the days of the year, and made me very popular on the home front. ("Mom's making cookies! Mom's making cookies!")

I don't often bake cookies. Let's just say that if today was a cookie day, the rest of the days - all 364 of them - are non-cookie days. Even right before the Holiday season, when everyone else has platterfuls of homemade red- and green-sprinkled confections, my house is cookie-less.

This is because I was born cookie-compromised. You could say that I am cookie-conflicted - and it's all because of one tiny, yet critical, deficiency: I am unable to follow a recipe.

I love a good set of directions - when I am driving. But in the kitchen, some sort of creativity gene takes over and inhibits me from following the rules. Before you can say, "add eggs, one at a time," I'm off on a tangent that involves unlisted ingredients and undictated stirring protocol.

A recipe might call for one cup of chocolate chips, but I get to wondering: what would an additional half-cup of mint chips taste like? Or, what if I poured in a couple tablespoons of coffee liqueur? Or, wouldn't things taste better if I replaced the cup of vegetable oil with melted butter, or substituted heavy cream for milk?

When you are stirring together a pot of chili, or are filling a Dutch oven with a roast and veggies, you can toss in a little of this and a little of that without wreaking havoc on your overall dinner. If you are out of Italian seasoning, you can probably add oregano and basil, and things will still taste okay.

Cookies aren't like that. You have to measure. You can't substitute ingredients. It's like a science project; one wrong move and your Bunsen burner ignites unexpectedly and your beaker is history. Kaboom! I was never good at science.

The recipe in question - my cookie recipe - was handed down through generations and came to me through somebody's grandma. It originally made delicious sugar cookies (undoubtedly still does).

I couldn't leave it at that. The first time I stirred the ingredients together, I took the liberty of adding the zest and juice from a lemon. Small change, but still, I was messing around with a lot of history. Lucky for me, this little experiment worked out. (Many of my cookie concoctions haven't been so first-rate, which goes a long way to explaining why I only make cookies once a year.)

My lemon cookies have become my signature, mostly because they are the only kind I ever make. They are light and flaky, sweet and tart. My kids love 'em. When I make them each year, I can't help but tweak the recipe. It started with the addition of the lemon. Along the way, I swapped out some of the bleached flour for whole wheat. This year, I was whipping the butter and sugar together when one word came to mind: honey. I bet honey and lemon sugar cookies would be the bomb - except not of the Bunsen burner variety.

Trouble is, I didn't have any honey on hand. So, I went with the addition of orange peel instead; they were like little flecks of sunshine hidden in my cookies. I figured honey would have to wait until next year.

The orange peel was a hit. The cookies disappeared into our mouths. There was just one left when we realized that our oldest son - who wasn't home - hadn't gotten even one bite. We decided to save the final lemony-orangey goodness for him. It was so tempting, that cookie, sitting there on the plate.

All alone. Practically crying out, "Eat me!"

When my son arrived home, we realized the horrible truth. The tempting plate was empty. We'd lost the last cookie.

Oh, the two little brothers screamed innocence and gazed at me with guiltless eyes. The youngest even pretended to look under the radiator in search of the cookie, but I knew the truth. If I'd had the desire, I bet I would have smelled lemon - and a half a cookie apiece - on their breaths.

The cookie-less son was upset. What could I do? What could I say? My cookies are irresistible.

Finally, the youngest son spoke. He's the daring one. "Maybe you could make some more cookies tomorrow."

I thought about telling him that I only bake once per year. I thought about giving them a lecture on the evils of stealing food from your brother. I thought about telling them that cookies don't grow on trees. Then I thought about honey, and how if I picked some up, I could get creative with my cookies in a whole new way.

So I just shrugged at them all, like I was doing them a favor ... "Maybe," I said. "Maybe I'll make cookies tomorrow."

Jill Pertler is a syndicated columnist and award-winning freelance writer working with graphic designer Nikki Willgohs to provide writing and design and other marketing services to businesses and individuals. You can check out their Web site at http://marketing-by-design.home.mchsi.com/ or e-mail Jill at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .