Today, author Zetta Elliott shares a recipe and warm baking memories. I really could smell the chocolate chips in the air while reading about all the cookies she makes! I don’t think it matters how many hours we spend in the kitchen or in walking to a bakery. I think making the effort to give something we find special with others is a tangible way of sharing the love.
Zetta does a lot of sharing on her blog, Fledgling. She’s the author of the award winning Bird (illustrated by Shadra Strickland), Stranger in the Family, YA novel Wish After Midnight and her soon to be released second YA novel, Ship of Souls. Set in New York City, Ship of Souls features a cast of three African-American teens: D, a math whiz; Hakeem, a Muslim basketball star; and Nyla, a beautiful military brat. This unique blend of speculative fiction and history explores the quest for belonging, the power of friendship, and the value of loyalty. And, she bakes cookies!
There aren’t a lot of great cooks in my family, but there are some serious bakers. I definitely inherited the family sweet tooth, but I lack the commitment it takes to spend hours in the kitchen. I don’t bake bread and I don’t own a rolling pin. I’ve never made a pie, and I owe most of my cake consumption to Billy’s Bakery and Entenmann’s. But when Christmas rolls around, I roll up my sleeves and clear out my oven (which I use for storage most of the year). I put on my Ella Fitzgerald and Nat King Cole Christmas CD and make dozens and dozens of chocolate chip cookies. Now, I’m honest about my process—the cookies are made with love but they are also made from a mix (Betty Crocker, to be exact). I blend a stick of butter with an egg, then I tear open the packet and let Betty do her thing. So far I haven’t had any complaints from recipients and it’s not uncommon for my irresistible gift of a dozen cookies to disappear in one day (or one sitting!).
This Christmas—armed with a brand new nonstick cookie tray—I may branch out and try Betty’s peanut butter cookie mix. When I was a child, my mother used to take me and my sister to visit her favorite aunt, Eunice. Aunt Eunice, like my grandmother (her eldest sister) was a fabulous baker and she always had a plate of peanut butter cookies waiting for us. I remember being fascinated by the criss-cross mark on top of each cookie and marveling at my aunt’s explanation that it was made with a mere fork! In the fifth grade I bought a recipe book from the school catalog that showed me how to make different cookies for each month of the year. I was a curious cook throughout my teen years, but by the time I reached my 20s the thrill was gone. The kitchen is the most under-utilized room in my apartment, and my gas bill is only $15 a month—until December rolls around. Then, for a few days, I practically live in the kitchen. My inner baker emerges and I bake and freeze, bake and freeze, until I’ve got enough cookies to share with my friends, coworkers, and neighbors.
My tradition of baking gifts for the holidays can be attributed to my aversion to shopping and my concern for the environment. I get to give something homemade that leaves a small carbon footprint, and I also get to recycle the innumerable takeout containers that I’ve accumulated over the course of the year. I guess I could try making cookies from scratch, but chances are I wouldn’t have half the ingredients or the equipment I needed. Keeping it simple keeps the cookies flowing and keeps me in the Christmas spirit. Baking twenty dozen cookies also cures me of my need to “sample the goods” and so by Christmas eve I’m content to settle down with just a cup of egg nog as I watch Scrooge for the twentieth time.