Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A lesson in the cookie dough

A cookie is round but not perfect.

When I make cookies I am always trying to make each perfect, erase any blemishes, get each one so that they look as bakery perfect as possible. See, I roll out cookies sometimes five to seven times so that it might look right because the previous try had a tear, lump, crease, or just didn't look right to me. Yeah, it's a bit crazy. Or a lot crazy.

Then I realized something last week. A big something.

Start Over

Not only am I far from being perfect -- Woooah, Waiiit, I realized a looong while ago! That's not it! Move along before I get comments on THAT! I actually have a genetic kink* that makes me even more unique you could say. We've been discussing that in previous blog posts, too. My pursuit of perfectionism and my genetic condition collided in that one moment last week baking with that rolling pin. It was an a-ha moment or maybe it was just my pup Oliver running by in his holiday collar complete with a jingle bell (so cute, by the way!). Seriously now, how can I so easily erase a mild bump, a ridge in the dough? Press it away? Press it flat... What does that say about me? 

Who am I really? I have always been in the pursuit of perfection. If the cake can ook like the cookbook photo, I'm going for it. If there's no photo, I don't bother with the recipe. Am I superficial? Maybe. Maybe I need a guide to go by. In any case, the cast-aside dough made its statement. It scared me. It still does a bit. This is more than cookie dough. I like myself. I hate what these tumors have done to me -- anyone would. In all truth, this condition has actually made me even more giving, accepting, and loving of others. I will admit I am still working on letting people into my life. For some reason, that's never been easy for me. I recognize that and I am working on it.

HOT! Cookies! 
All THIS amidst the lingering aroma of spice sugar cookies! Can you believe it?  The biggest take-away lesson: Not only do the "duds" -- the cookies that come out of the oven twisted, bent and crispy! You know -- not-so-perfect ones -- they taste the best, they give the holiday season character. I mean who doesn't want an extra chocolate chip on Frosty's belly? A wild sprinkling of nonpareils on a candy cane or cut-out tree? Extra, Extra frosting on the gingerbread cupcakes... Yes, yes and Y-E-S!

It's not easy to let go at times.  Perhaps it is stress or anxiety.  I have heaps of it-- enough to fill Santa's sleigh and then some. I'm not just talking about at Christmas either. Of course, pain makes its entrances and exits when it wants to like an unwanted guest. No matter how many times you put up the DO NOT ENTER or Leave ME Alone sign the pain tears it down and tramples on in like a crazy drunk, not listening, stumbling through the body, ready to rip through whatever is in its path, unrelenting. I never know where the pain might hit but when it does, I have to brace to myself, hold onto to something sturdy. I beg for it to stop but it's no use. Luckily, a new medicine has quieted the beast of pain. I am able to enjoy afternoons again, weekends, and I even have more energy. I have been doing a lot more lately. The biggest change as I said before is the baking! It can be so enjoyable, fun, and rewarding. Even I would say meditative. 

Really, you say? Meditative?

Baking is my serenity in between the storms, the lightning leg pains, the thunderous plummet of pain as it hits out of nowhere. Baking is among few other beautiful activites that gives me solace.  Measuring, sifting, and pouring puts me in a zone, a zone that only gets interrupted by a door bell or a dog barking. It is wonderful.

I am so thankful for this. Especially this year! I haven't been able to bake like this in years.  I bought a Kitchen-Aid mixer several years ago and this year I have finally felt like it's mine. It's been christened with sugar cookie dough, spice sugar cookie dough, chocolate chip cookie dough (two batches), Nutter Butter truffle mix, Oreo truffle mix, snowball cookies... And I'm not done! I even made homemade whipped cream last Saturday! 

I was watching the Rachael Ray Show (I DVRed it from several days ago) when singer Richard Marx was her co-host. Did you catch that episode? Boy, he's funny to watch in the kitchen! He needed help dumping noodles into the strainer/colander, if that tells you anything! He also needed help grading nutmeg! I was afraid to watch! Giggle! That's not what I wanted to talked about, though! It was a previous segment on yummy latkes (basically dolled up potato pancakes).  The cookbook author and NYT columnist Melissa Clark presented the traditional Hanukkah food to the audience. She actually mentioned to my delightful surprise that cooking for her is meditative. I could SO understand  where she was coming from. This was in response to a question by Richard Marx who asked both women if they liked to cook when they get home given both jobs deal so much with food... Both women said they still love cooking. I think it has so much to do with passion. Passion for cooking.

When I had my writing job I came home and took writing courses or wrote on my own. If the passion is there, it's all you need often times. Having an outlet in life is key. For these women, cooking is an outlet. Much like baking is for me. Filling candy baking cups with rich chocolate batter is part of being in my zone. Rach's is making burgers & Melissa's is topping a beet latke (looked marvelous on TV!) with a horseradish sauce.*  To see more on the RR segment, go to: and type in latkes in the search engine.

Being in the zone is one of the greatest gifts life can give to us. For so long, the brain fog of drugs has not even allowed me to connect on certain levels -- to books, even edit friends' work, etc. My brain is slowly coming back to me. Being in the zone connected to the dough as a baker has allowed  me to realize this. What a welcomed feeling! Nearly as good as the yummy treats I'm making... NEARLY!

Before the oven

Commercials always make holiday baking look inviting, fun. The chocolate chip one pulls me in EVERY time! You know which one I'm talking about, right? As bad as a Hallmark commercial or Frosty melting... Kids love Rudolph with "his nose so bright" and I love him, too, yet it was the guy with "the corncob pipe and a button nose" who made this
little red-haired girl very sad one day. Always at Christmastime, my parents talked about how I cried and cried when I first saw Frosty the Snowman melt as part of the television special. I will never live that down! Ha! Ha! 

I love this time of year and I feel blessed I am able to enjoy it more because of the new pain medication I am taking. The pain is by no way gone but I am feeling much, much more like Leslie as anyone can tell by the amount of baked goods on my Facebook & Twitter accounts!

Merry Christmas & Happy Hannukah!  --The Healing Redhead

P.S. Race you to the cookie tray! First dibs on the "dud!" 

*I have Schwannomatosis, a form of Neurofibromatosis. Big words, I know. All you really need to know is that tumors grow on nerves causing pain. Surgery is sometimes is needed to get the pesky tumors out. More information: 

*I think it was a sauce but I'm not 100% so don't kill me. All I know is that it looked dang good ad my mouth is watering and I want to have latkes sometime this holiday but my food processor is in storage. Maybe I can borrow one from family? Wink, wink!  

©The Healing Redhead

(All photos by Yours Truly  Leslie Einhaus, other images by Microsoft clip art)