Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Cookie Elf Lite ...

Most years, I bake a ridiculous number of cookies. Single batches of some, but double and even triple batches of others. And a wide variety, twelve, sometimes fourteen, kinds of cookies. I pack them in my freezer like blocks in Tetris. And then, a few days before Christmas, I package them up in cellophane bundles and tie them with ribbons and pile everyone's stashes in the packaging of the year and make my rounds, spreading cookie cheer far and wide.

But I am a firm believer that your emotions go into your food. Not to the extreme, like in Laura Esquivel's "Water for Chocolate," but if you've ever tried to cook while you're upset, you know what I'm talking about. Things just don't turn out right.

Spending time in the kitchen can be therapeutic for me on a mildly bad day. But I have to be in the right frame of mind to mount my annual cookie production. And this year, that frame of mind was nowhere to be found.

But I knew I wanted to make oatmeal raisin cookies for my friend Bill. Bill Kurtis. Which I mention not to name drop but because he's part of the picture I'm painting here with words. Bill's had a year of loss, too. I like to think that cookies help, in some small way.

Those of a certain age (like, say, mine) who grew up in Chicago probably know Bill from his days anchoring the Channel 2 news with Walter Jacobson. Everyone watched Bill and Walter. Frankly, I don't know why the other stations even bothered to produce newscasts.

Those who didn't grow up in Chicago may know Bill as from his many series on PBS and cable, such as "The New Explorers" or "American Justice" or "Cold Case Files" and others. Bill is a busy, busy man.

He also provides the voiceover for Will Ferrell's "Anchorman."

But lately, you probably know Bill from his AT&T spots. Though I suspect he's grown rather weary of folks offering him a cherry lime rickey and a hard-boiled egg.

My point is, that's who I'm talking about: the patriarchal, handsome man with the sonorous voice who's decidedly playful, especially when it comes to sending up his own image.

I try to bake for Bill on at least an annual basis. I used to take an assortment of cookies to the office, but he'd always riffle through all the packages until he came to the oatmeal raisin cookies and hoard those for himself.

So, over time, I just started making a whole recipe of oatmeal raisin cookies for him and giving treats to other staffers separately.

This year, I used a box with a lift-off lid to house his cookies. It was covered in some antique-looking, maritime-y, navigationally, cartographer-y paper. I can't explain it. (Obviously.)

And around it was tied a wide, navy-blue ribbon (which was really bias tape) into a floofy bow.

I bought that box for him because it reminded me of the emblem of one of his shows.

I handed it to him and he said, "It's like a 'New Explorers' box!"

I knew he'd get it!

Donna, his better half, as they say, was in the office with him. The three of us chatted while Bill pulled the ribbon to open his box.

He moved the tissue paper aside to reveal the cellophane and then pulled on the ribbon that I used to tie it closed.

Donna peered into the box. "That's a lot of cookies," she said.

"There's a false bottom," I replied. "There's tissue paper underneath."

"I see that," she said. "But that's still a lot of cookies."

Bill took one and took a bite, then handed it to Donna. They passed it back and forth, taking bites, talking about it, asking what what in it, until it was gone, all the while while asking me if I'm going to go into business.

"If I ever do," I said, "I'm hitting up both of you for testimonials."

How fun would it be to shoot a cookie commercial with Bill?

Donna had work to do and left Bill and I alone. He offered a cookie to me. I declined. And we sat in two of his comfy chairs and chatted. I adore Bill. He's just delightful.

And I love how excited he gets over cookies. That's why I bake. Because it's such a simple thing but it makes people inordinately happy.

I took a little bag of treats for Rebecca, a member of his staff. She's always so adorably appreciative. One year, she told me that she bought a cake stand that she was using to display my cookies, a cookie stage. I love that, that she has such reverence for what I bake that she bought a specific serving piece. It made me feel very honored.

And Brian received a little stash, too, to take home for he and his wife to enjoy. Brian is my recording god, and he and his wife are new parents, so the baby received a baby gift, and mom and dad received treats.

Done with my cookie elf duties there, I headed to Doreen's complex. She lives in a very nice part of town and I park there often. I always share with her because she's helpful and accommodating throughout the year but also because she is my biggest cheerleader. In cookies as well as life. If I ever open a bakery, she'll be a big part of the reason why.

And I also trotted off to the Tribune to hand off a stash to my pal Joe. We had been trading e-mails on Facebook the night before about his varied taste in music. I asked if he made mix CDs. He said he'd hook me up. I asked if I could bake for him in return. He replied that he would never turn down homemade baked goods. So, we exchanged tunes and treats. I popped in one of the CDs on my way home. Good stuff!

So it hasn't been a typical cookie year. Many of those who normally receive them will not this time around.

But hopefully, my baking batteries will be fully recharged next year after this hiatus, and the cookie factory will return to its optimum output.

It is snowing outside now. Perfect, beautiful snow. Which puts me, of course, in the mood to bake.

Perhaps, this year, the cookie elf in me will head out for a second run, perhaps on New Year's Eve.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

WOW!!! How do you know Bill Kurtis???

10:21 AM  
Blogger Beth said...

I met Bill back in the '90s when I worked for the Chicago Tribune. I interviewed him for a story and we got along well. It's impossible to not get along with Bill, I think. But he keeps me around for my oatmeal cookies. : o ) Seriously, though, he's been good to me over the years.

10:28 AM  
Blogger Doreen said...

My pom pom's are always at your disposal ... :)

1:41 PM  

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