1. Mix Wet Ingredients
Cream together butter and sugar. Add eggs one at a time. Don’t forget a splash of vanilla extract—you don’t need a teaspoon, just use the cap. Try not to cry into the batter or the cookies will be too salty.
2. Mix Dry Ingredients
Flour, baking soda, salt. Add cinnamon or ginger if you’re feeling spicy. You should use a measuring cup for the flour. The others you can eyeball by pouring them into your hand. Feel the white dust slide off of your palm. The powder almost sticks to your skin, until it suddenly all sloughs off at once. That’s called the knickpoint—the moment of tension before everything changes.
3. Fold in the Extra Bits
Chocolate chips. Nuts. Pieces of dried fruit. You can add (almost) anything to these cookies and people will still eat them and say they are delicious. They’re fat, sugar, and flour—how could you screw it up? By overmixing. Don’t stir in the extra stuff—fold. Roll the dough over itself. Once, twice. That’s enough. It’s easy to get carried away. Too easy. Fold the dough so the cookies don’t end up too tough. Tough as in tacky, sticky, or globby. Not tough as in, “these cookies won’t cry when they find out their stepsister was killed in a tragic excavator accident.”
Cookies shouldn’t be tough. Maybe people shouldn’t be, either.
4. Bake Them Until They Smell Done
The temperature and baking device don’t matter. The cookies don’t care. Your stepsister, Aeriel, was a purist—350 degrees on a stainless-steel sheet. That was the only way for her. You? Just use whatever won’t melt in the oven. Cast iron. Glass. Stone.
Her cookies were always perfect, uniform in shape, texture, and consistency. Yours always come out like a sampler pack: underdone, overdone, crispy, crunchy, chewy. But both batches of cookies would disappear by the end of the Fourth of July barbecue. Your families don’t care, either.
5. Share with Everyone
Cookies bring people together. They make you feel good even when you’re sad, at least while you’re eating them. Baking them is pretty much the only thing you had in common with Aeriel. Think about her every time you make a new batch. Think about the recipe handed down to her by her father, which she always followed step-by-step. Imagine her precisely slicing off a mound of excess baking soda from a teaspoon with the back of a butter knife, while you just dump it from your hand. Fold in the extra bits. You try not to think about how she and her friend died, but you can’t help it.
She was twenty-two. Her friend, a person you never met, was about the same age. Their excavator joyride ended when it rolled over the edge of a ravine. The pilot jumped from the cage on top, but they were both trapped inside when it began to roll. The man with the keys unlocked the equipment for them that night, despite the dangers, not that he expected they would never return.
6. Make Another Batch
Every time you make cookies, she’s there. Even though your mom split up with her dad, she died as your stepsister. She’ll always be your stepsister. Imagine what it feels like. Being folded over in a cage as it tumbles down a gorge.
Make sure at least one tray from every batch comes out perfect like Aeriel’s would have been. Keep going. Don’t overmix. No matter how they turn out, they are going to be exactly what you need.
Jess Flarity is a graduate of the Stonecoast MFA program and a PhD candidate in literature at the University of New Hampshire. A former editor-in-chief of the Stonecoast Review, he has a debut novel forthcoming from a publisher in New York. This is his first work of published creative nonfiction, and he will be donating his author’s proceeds to a charity in Aeriel’s memory.
STORY IMAGE CREDIT: Flickr Creative Commons/Edward Kimber