Monday, March 17, 2014

Baking Cookies as Life Lessons

Here we are, back to routine of school after a week's vacation. We didn't go anywhere exotic but we did have a productive and relaxing time at home. I set myself a personal goal to attain and it taught me a lot. My goal was to bake a different type of cookie each day I was away from school. This doesn't sound like a hard task, but knowing a bit more about me might help you appreciate the significance of this job.


I don't cook. When my husband and I first discussed the division of household chores before we were married, I knew immediately that cooking would not be one of my main duties. James is a great cook and does a wonderful job feeding the family, but occasionally I'll feel guilty or some external factor will prompt me to give my rusty culinary skills some practice. When I was much younger, for some bizarre reason, I volunteered to be a part of a Christmas Cookie Exchange at the very first permanent placement school where I taught. The night before, I placed some pre-made Pilsbury cookie dough into the oven to bake, but disaster struck - I burnt the cookies and all the stores were closed. There was no time for a do-over, so the next day, I shamefully brought my scorched-black hockey pucks, clumsily wrapped in tin foil, to bring as my contribution to the cookie exchange. My embarrassment was compounded when, in exchange for my burnt offerings, I received gorgeous creations, wrapped lovingly in coloured cellophane and ribbons. My husband's friends witnessed the debacle at our apartment and as a present, one of them bought me a cookie recipe book. It didn't get a lot of use.

The Cavalcade of Cookies

I ask my students to try challenging tasks in school so I thought to myself, why not challenge myself by baking? I didn't want a defeatist attitude (e.g. "I'm no good at baking") to seep into other areas (e.g. "I can't teach math"). My family had been given a "pre-mixed" cookie kit but I lost the instructions for the precise amount of wet ingredients to add to the kit, so I had to dump the terrible results (on Sunday, March 9). Anything had to be better than that, right? Here are the cookies I baked each day.

Monday, March 10, 2014 = Spritz Cookies

Tuesday, March 11, 2014 = Orange Ice Box Cookies

Wednesday, March 12, 2014 = Lemon Lime Twists

Thursday, March 13, 2014 = Chocolate Chip Cookies

Friday, March 14, 2014 = Oatmeal Apple Cinnamon Cookies

Reflections and Life Lessons Learned

I think I learned a little something new each day after my great cookie experiment. These lessons can be applied to teaching as well as life in general.

On Monday, I burnt a large portion of the cookies. I fit pans on the top and bottom racks of the oven and used the maximum amount of time recommended in the recipe book. The pan on the bottom rack was too close to the heating elements and, to be honest, I wasn't watching the oven closely enough to notice. (One of my biggest problems with cooking is that I get distracted and don't monitor the progress as well as I should. Fear of getting burned is another issue, but I digress.)

Lesson Learned?

  • Pay attention
  • It's easier to add time; you can't subtract time you've already used (so use time wisely)
  • Don't try to cram it all in at once
On Tuesday, I made a type of "ice box cookie" that has to be made and refrigerated overnight before cooking. I tried to learn from my past mistakes and hung out in the kitchen while the cookies were baking. My husband offered to assist me and although I was determined to do this on my own, I allowed him to mix the food colouring in for the outer coating. Tuesday was a very busy day with lots of appointments and assignments and this small assistance helped me a lot. 

Lesson Learned?
  • Learn from your past errors
  • Accept help when you need it
On Wednesday, the photo in the cookbook and the instructions insisted that the dough be rolled into 25 cm long ropes and then twisted together for 12.5 cm long cookies before baking. Try as I might, I just could not get my dough ropes to stay together. They kept crumbling! My son and daughter came to help and in the end, we just decided to forego the twisted rope and make simple, single-strand ropes instead. The Lemon Lime Twist cookies turned out to be the most popular type of cookie I made that entire week. I thought it might be a bit plain, but my husband explained that the first bite seemed unremarkable, but that the more you chewed, the more time it allowed for the subtle flavours of the lemon and lime to come through.

Lesson Learned?
  • Things don't always have to go as originally planned
  • What may seem ordinary can be extraordinary with time
On Thursday, I decided to change the original list of recipes to use when my friend brought me a chocolate chip recipe. Remembering my lesson from Monday, I chose to use the earliest time cited in the recipe to use for determining when to take them out of the oven. To my chagrin, some still burned! I took a leap of faith and chose to chop the baking time in half, and the rest of the cookies were fine. By this time, my house was filled to the brim with cookies. My children aren't huge cookie fans, so I packed a variety of cookies and brought them to the church Marriage Preparation class that my husband and I were scheduled to lead that night. During the break, I saw someone peeking under the cookie bottoms. I hurried over to awkwardly explain and apologize, but this was unnecessary. The man told me that he absolutely LOVED burnt cookies and was actively searching for these specimens so he could enjoy them. He said that when he was a child, his grandmother used to have to over-cook cookies on purpose and set them aside for him and his brother.

Lesson Learned?
  • Trust your instinct - even the experts can be wrong sometimes
  • One person's failure may be another person's success
On Friday, I attempted the most elaborate recipe yet. Because this one took so much preparation, I really didn't want to burn these cookies. The cookbook said I would get three dozen cookies but after everything was said and done, I had six dozen cookies! I even had to leave the cookies in for a little bit longer because the "rule of thumb" that I had been following with regards to using the minimum cooking time didn't exactly apply to this type of cookie.

Lesson Learned?
  • Sometimes you get more than you expect
  • What works for one (or many) might not work for all
I had so many cookies in my house that I had to stop baking. Family and friends received the fruits of my labour and my staff members will also feast during recess. I learned a lot from the experience - it won't turn me into the next Julia Child, but it was good to creep out of my comfort zone for such a delicious experiment.

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