Saturday, October 17, 2009

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Every fall I need to bake cookies as soon as the weather cools. It has become part of how I celebrate the changing of the seasons. What is better than warming your house with sugary, chocolately smells?

I remember when they came out with tubed cookie dough and people thought it was the best. Fresh, homemade cookies without any of the work. Just heat the oven, plop on the pan, and you're good to go. I abhor this culinary rennovation because it takes away something pure and beautiful about the whole process: beating butter and sugar, adding eggs, flour, and finally the morsels. Every time I make a batch, I get flour on my shirt and sugar under my nails and end up eating enough raw dough to constitute at least a cookie or five. It's all part of the joy: refrigerator dough takes all that away.

This love goes back to childhood. My mother would allow my brothers and I to "help" when she baked cookies. Since I am the oldest, breaking eggs was my priviledge, where my brothers were confined to scooping sugar and helping Mom count how many cups of flour had been measured. Sometimes we got to help stir things, but most clearly I remember watching Mom stir in the chocolate chips and nuts, and how by that point the dough had become so thick none of us kids were strong enough to pass a spoon through it, much less mix in more ingredients. As we licked our beaters, I would think to myself that Mom must be the strongest woman in the world to peform this feat and I wondered if I would ever able to do that too.

As I got older and met other families, I soon learned this was special. Other families stocked their shelves with Oreos and Nilla Wafers, or something the Keebler Elves made. Cookies came out of packages, stacked neatly in plastic sleeves. One day, I asked Mom why we didn't have Oreos and why did she always made our cookies.
"Because," she said simply, "I have a secret ingredient: love. The Oreo people don't put love in theirs."

At the time, this answer felt like a cop-out for not getting store bought cookies. Now I know different, because I put love in my cookies too! Thoughout the entire process, I feel happy and joyful. I don't necessarily think of anyone in particular, but my energy is positive and light and maybe some of that gets transferred into the treats. And they always manage to turn out, and anyone who ever eats one always has a smile on their face. To me, that is worth all the time and effort it takes.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Thoughts on Cold Weather Running

Yesterday, I woke up to seeing our first snow had graced the ground. Normally, we do not get snow for another month, and normally the early morning October air is not below freezing. But yesterday, it was like it's nearly Thanksgiving instead of nearly Halloween, and the running group I have joined was meeting for a 9 a.m. endurance run.

Getting there was the challenge. I got bundled up in my best winter running clothes (which actually only work real well down to 20 degrees or so), and met the team at a local park. We were all anxious to get through the warm up, since when it is chilly all I want to do is to start moving. The sky was gray with wintery dawn and the wind was grazing our cheeks, yet many of the trees are still green, or barely yellow, only a few have transformed into the bright orange and red glory of fall. The trail was lightly dusted in white, which had frozen the leaves that had fallen. Rather than think about how cold I was, I tried to focus on the beauty of the moment, as soon this moment would be transformed into full fledged winter.

We planned to be out there for roughly an hour, and as we got moving, we all marveled on the glittery snow cascading off the trees and glistening in the sunlight and the sounds of the frozen leaves crunching under our feet. We wondered what it would be like to run with our eyes closed and how that might change the experience: the feeling of the air and the sounds of our feet would come alive in a brand new way. The whole experience was like being in a time-lapsed photography film clip. Time slowed down but in a good way: the hour flew by yet each step managed to last an eternity as I savored every breath.

By the end of the run, we were all commenting on how it is so much better to get out in the cold than in the high heat and humidity of summer. I'm not sure I agree 100%, but it was so invigorating that I look forward to our next fall/winter run and maybe getting out of bed the next time won't be so tough, even for a chilly Saturday morning.