A few weeks ago, I promised by three sections of undergraduate history students an incentive to do well on their mid-term. The section who got the highest scores would receive a special treat: home-made cookies baked by me. So, I spent the evening making brownies and sugar cookies. At first, I felt like this did not count as part of the urban homesteading project that Johnny and I have been embarked on. After all baking cookies seems a far cry from, say, making soap or pickling vegetables. However, as I whisked free-range eggs to frothiness and folded organic flour into my batter, I realized that the basic impetus behind these endeavors is the same. The goal is to create wholesome, good-for-you food free from the many steps that remove us, as consumers, from the raw materials that produce the goods we purchase.
Back to the cookies. I decided I would make brownies and sugar drop cookies, to please both kinds of sweet palates. If you’ve ever made cookies from scratch before, you might know the satisfaction that comes from taking raw ingredients, most inedible in their present state, and combining them into something delicious. Sometimes, things don’t work out as planned, and you end up with a hot mess. This evening, however, everything went perfectly. Maybe it was because I decided to take my time. I listened to the brownie recipe, which told me to wait for the chocolate and butter to cool before folding it into the other ingredients. I readjusted my oven temperature to make sure it was at 350, and I did all the whisking and mixing by hand.
As I finished rolling the little dough balls for the sugar cookies, I noticed that I had effortlessly created almost identically-sized dough balls. They lined the rack perfectly and looked just as they would have at a bakery. As I gloated over my achievements, I realized that it took me years to learn that skill. I distinctly remember being taught by my grandmother how to get the same amount of mixture every time. It’s a process easier shown than explained, which involves using the index and middle finger as your measuring instruments. You make sure to apply the same pressure and work the mixture up the side of the bowl. Works like a charm, but it does take repetition.
My grandmother’s trick reminded me that so much of that we know about how to take care of our bodies, is learned behavior that becomes subconscious almost through repetition. It’s our task in this endeavor, as I see it, is to tune into our behavioral patterns and remember that even the most seemingly unremarkable endeavors, such as making cookies or rolling identically-shaped dough balls, help reinforce our connection to the traditions of our past that this urban homesteading movement is all about. And damn, does it make for a sweet delight.
Here’s what I made:
On the left are brownies that follow the very simple Joy of Cooking recipe that dates back from 1931. It’s been around that long, folks, because it’s pretty dang tasty. I’m excited to tell my students about the historical connection. 🙂 On the right are rosemary sugar drop cookies. Again, I used the ole’ faithful Joy of Cooking and decided to add rosemary from our herb garden to the mixture. They came out crunchy and not too sweet. The rosemary gave them that interesting savoriness that, as chefs would say, boosted the “flavor profile.”