The workshop for humor writing, human interest writing, networking and getting published

Erma Bombeck Wrighters' Workshop Banner

Baking made less easy

It starts with a simple thought, “let’s make cookies.”

Unlike the vacuum of space where no one can hear your scream, the mere mention of cookies reverberates from every surface in the household until it sparks a small stampede of toddler toes. Sometimes I think they’re just part of the required baking equipment like a spatula or measuring cups; I need only to set down the Kitchen Aid mixer on the counter and turn around to find two new attachments hopping excitedly on either side.

Accepting that this will not be the efficient task I originally imagined, we line up at the sink to remove a temporary layer of dirt from my volunteer assistants. I acknowledge that any attempts at full sanitation with be short lived, so we go through the motions mostly to encourage the concept of proper hygiene. We also have a rule regarding no touching and no coughing in or around the mixing bowl. Like Vegas, “What happens in your nose stays in your nose.”

The girls march back to their assigned step stools with hands raised in the air like surgeons ready for operation. This is an appropriate state of mind because in the spirit of fairness every task must be precisely divided between them to avoid malpractice claims and disruptive hissy fits. One holds the whisk, while the other scoops the flour. Trade off, and the other whisks the flour while the first takes a scoop. One unwraps a stick of butter, the other unwraps a stick of butter. Crack one egg, crack one egg.

I have specifically selected recipes with ingredients easily divisible by two. If your “Coco-loco Chocolate Chippo Cookie” calls for 1/3 cup of flour, it ain’t gonna happen in this kitchen, bucko!  And so it goes with tag team pouring and measuring right down to an even division of labor where one will lower and lock the mixer, and the other will turn it on. As the plumes of flour settle about the kitchen so, too, do we settle into a predictable rhythm of sharing: taking turns fishing out egg shells and wiping off the sugar-coated counter surfaces to create the sugar-coated floor surface. Let it not be argued who was able to brush away more sugar.

As we near the end of the process, the real motivation behind my eager assistants becomes clear with our two important cooking concepts: “quality control” and “taster finger.” Quality control requires that key ingredients like chocolate chips and marshmallows be carefully scrutinized for taste and freshness. This requires a random sampling of say three to 30 pieces to ensure proper consistency. The “taster finger” is a related quality check on our resulting batter to prevent fingers (which are predictably dirty at this point) from plunging outright into the bowl. No sooner is the paddle attachment removed from the mixer than eager fingers descend upon it like a swarm of hungry piranha cleaning the carcass down to the bone.

As lips and fingers are licked clean (or dirty) and I prepare to start scooping out the cookies, we proudly admire our shared creation. The grease-smeared grins that spread across their faces more than makes up for the added hassle of managing these little cookie monsters. It was all worth it in the end. And just as I’m filled with a sense of fulfillment, there comes the abrupt inevitable sneeze directly into the batter. Time to start again.

“Who wants to be the first flour scooper?”

— Robert Hoffman

Robert Hoffman delights in being a struggling writer and artist.  He’s illustrated the children’s book A Different Kind of Day and worked as staff cartoonist at the Sacramento State Hornet. When he’s not struggling creatively, he works as a code monkey specializing in educational software and works with such fancy clients as Disney and Nickelodeon. Robert lives in Rocklin, California, where he also struggles with writing short author bios.

Reflections of Erma