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11.13.2015


Procrastibaker Cookies
TABITHA BLANKENBILLER



Part 5 in a series where Tabitha Blankenbiller writes about and creates a legit literary recipe based on moments of universal agony or joy in a writer’s life. Humble pie, anyone? [Read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.]


I marvel at the concept of writing full-time. Although in the last few years I’ve leapt over hurdles to defining myself as a writer (When the Uber driver asks what I do, I now tell him I’m a writer without hesitation or apology.), I have not made a transition into a life that is day-job free. I work full-time in a corporate capacity. I am assigned a cubicle. I manipulate spreadsheets and PowerPoint slides. I’m really handy with the Adobe Illustrator pen tool. It’s not an awful job, and it’s not a bad company. But it is eight hours of my weekdays behind a desk that is not dedicated to my own, personal work. And it’s not teaching, which, despite the numerous pitfalls I understand and sympathize with, at least recognizes summer as something outside of just another quarter.

Writing time is time I have to carve with a chisel and an unrepentant heart. Things like relationships and yoga get the swift axe. I push all errands and stops-off to get home as soon as I can. Though preserving these swaths of time is only a fragment of the challenge. Keeping it sacred for its intention a second war, a psychological terror project waged in the shadows. After work, head is full of running inner dialogue in a parent-toddler tug-of-war:

ME: But I wanna watch Empire!

ME: You can watch Empire after you’ve written your 180 words.

ME: But then I’m going to miss all the live-Tweeting!

ME: You’re not even supposed to be ON Twitter right now.

ME: The whole point of the Golden Age of Television is live-Tweeting!

ME: GO WRITE. It will literally take you twenty minutes if you shut up and do it.

ME: Can’t I just stay up later?

ME: YOU ARE A DISGRACE TO YOUR CRAFT AND A DISHONOR TO YOUR FAMILY!!!!!!

It’s not that I don’t enjoy writing. The process feels cathartic and worthwhile. I love a fresh new document. I love hitting Save and Close on something now complete.

It seems like I’d be spending as much time doing it as possible. A win-win scenario, if you will.

But then I have a weekend like I did Sundays back, when I’d dodged plans and had no commitments. The laundry was done. The fridge was stocked. The house was (kind of) clean. My beloved Seattle Sounders were on a bye week. I had a day that could be spent ceaselessly writing, without interruption.

“I think I’m going to make cookies,” I said.

Not just one batch of cookies. Nah, with the miracle that is the Kitchen-Aid Stand Mixer, a single batch of cookies would only take half an hour. I propped my Kindle up in the kitchen with tabs open for cranberry-oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, Linzer cookies, banana bread, pumpkin bars, and a humungous vat of gumbo (because we needed to eat dinner, too).

There is a quiet in baking that’s tough to replicate in anything else. Time churns at an exponential speed while you’re measuring, mixing, and switching sheets and pans out of the oven at the demand of the microwave timer. I slip into a kind of meditation where “what is triple three-quarters of a teaspoon” is all that exists in the universe. When the world is whittled down to its narrowest lens, there is no room for anything else. All of the questions that felt inescapable all week (Will anybody care about these characters? Is this boring? Am I flushing another year of my life away on a project that won’t go anywhere?) are lost in one singular concern: What is next?

Eggs.

Vanilla.

Oven.

Switch.

The same few steps over and over, the ingredients or technique tweaked slightly, yielding more possibilities than you can try in a lifetime. All the junk I keep stocked in the pantry—the flour, four kinds of sugar, mad scientist vials of extract—stirred to life. From inedible bags on the counter to divine Instagrammed bites. Seeing nothing become something wonderful in a single afternoon is good for the nerves. It reminds you of what’s possible.

When the light has expired and the gumbo is thick, there are mountains of baked goods waiting on the table. Everything turned out the way it was supposed to. The banana bread stayed moist, the cranberry-oatmeal-chocolate mounds are my favorite new cookie. I didn’t get lost or distracted; I surrendered to the process. The time and the work. The equation that I ceaselessly doubt, the one that never falters.

The next morning I pack all the goodies up in Ziploc bags for freezers and friends. I double-check my novel math. Three hundred forty three days. At pace for 61,740 more words.

Another weekday arrives, with the commute and the hours in the not-writing-desk and the old gumbo leftovers for lunch and the drive back, and a new dinner and new dishes and a few hours to breathe. It’s so easy to get lost in every other thing. I could clean the bathroom or watch all the Netflix I deserve.

Such little time. So much work.

I bring a cookie and a cup of tea into my own office. I start another line.

PROCRASTIBAKER COOKIES

Ingredients:
•2/3 cup butter
•2/3 cup brown sugar, packed
•2 large eggs
•1 ½ cups old-fashioned oats (No millennial oats allowed.)
•1 ½ cups flour
•1 tsp baking soda
•1 tsp vanilla
•1 cup dried cranberries (You know what’s better than dried cranberries, though? Dried cherries. Use those if you can.)
•1 cup chocolate chips, or your favorite dark chocolate bar cut into small chunks. OR, in my case, leftover Hershey’s bars from all the summer s’mores I never made

Directions:
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In a small mixing bowl, combine the oats, flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside while you deal with more pressing matters.

Use a Kitchen-Aid mixer to beat butter and sugar until fluffy. If you don’t have such a mixer, you can use a spoon, and it will be much better for your arms. Either the surprisingly difficult manual labor or the hypnotic spin of the Kitchen-Aid batter paddle will lull you into a magical state where you are not thinking of all the cool Brooklyn-based journals you’ve yet to land a story in. How do they have room for all those cool-kid journals in Brookyn, anyway? How big and literary is that neighborhood? Is it just one giant, abandoned library?

Add the eggs, just until they’re incorporated into the butter/sugar cloud. Add vanilla until it’s just stirred in. Add the flour mixture in several additions, allowing the mixture to fully incorporate into the batter before adding more. You won’t be able to check and see all the Twitter calls for submissions you’re not responding to because your hands are full of bowls, and the only thing that matters in this moment is making sure you don’t overmix. It’s okay. Less cool stuff is happening than you’d think.

Form into 1” round balls, and place on a greased cookie sheet about 2 inches apart from each other. Bake for 9-12 minutes, depending on how hot your oven runs. You’ll want to keep watch the whole time and definitely not go off and check if anyone’s visited your website today.

Cool on wire racks. Use as a bribe to get yourself to finish whatever it is you’re needlessly putting off today.


(Adapted from a recipe from Ocean Spray—I know, who knew corporate-mandated recipes were actually good?)




TABITHA BLANKENBILLER is a Pacific University MFA graduate currently living in Portland, Oregon. Her essays have appeared in a number of journals, including The Rumpus, Barrelhouse, Hobart, Passages North, and Brevity. She also reviews books for Bustle and writes an ongoing series of Food Network fan fiction for The Mondegreen. For more of her work, visit tabithablankenbiller.com, and for a pithy good time, follow her on Twitter at @tabithablanken.


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