- Brandi Bradley
The joy of baking day
Current mode: Grading
It's the end of the semester which means I must buckle down and finish grading all my students' final papers. This task is difficult because all I can think about how it that it’s almost baking day.
Baking day is one of the holidays we celebrate at my house. It's always the Sunday after I upload end-of-semester grades. This year, Behr expressed his frustration with Baking Day explaining that “There’s never anything for us!”
I guess he’s still learning that to give is to receive.
Baking day is the day I set aside to bake multiple batches of a variety of cookies. Once they've cooled, I package them and mail them to my dearest in lieu of holiday gifts.
Readers may have caught on to this, but I show my love through food. And every year, I ask myself if I should keep doing it. Not because I am tired of it. I love spending the whole day in my kitchen with an audiobook creaming sugar into butter and adding vanilla. No, I always ask myself, “What if people don’t actually like my cookies? What if they are just being nice?”
It’s my insecurity rolling in.
I have been raised in the American South, where I have been conditioned to think that whenever someone compliments me it’s because they are “just being nice.” In my youth, I found myself in social situations where one or both of my parents would call out “Hey, girl, hey! We should get together!” to someone’s face, and then as soon as their back has turned to say, “Can you believe that jerk!” As a result, every year before Baking Day I ask myself if I should force my friends to receive cookies that very well might get passed on to another relative or neighbor just to get them out of the house, like the proverbial fruitcake.
This is where Hubs tells me that I’m crazy.
We have the same back and forth almost every year, so sensitivity to my feelings is over.
“Everyone loves these cookies. They demand to know when Baking Day is so they can look forward to these cookies.”
And I must admit that my friends have relayed some ridiculous reactions to these cookies.
My gurl L. from back home told me she doesn’t share the cookies with her husband because the box arrived with her name on it, therefore it was legally hers. She hides them somewhere in her house when the box arrives in the mail and nibbles on them in secret. The next year I sent the cookie box to “The L. Family,” because I wanted to be inclusive to everyone in her house. As a result, I got a strongly worded Instagram Message to never, ever do that again.
I used to make my Pop his own batch of chocolate chip cookies every year: a gallon-sized Ziplock bag of 24 cookies all for him. When people asked him if he liked them he used to tell them, “They ain’t no count. I’ll just eat them all myself so you don’t have to,” and then wheel away on his Rascal scooter, with a cookie clenched between his teeth and the Ziplock bag under his arm.
My gurl Jen is another cookie hider, swooping them from her mailbox to her law office where she can nibble on fudge between divorce cases. She watched one of her toddlers feeding a peanut butter cookie to the dog, and she ripped the cookie and the box from the child’s hand and said, “You don’t feed these to the dog! These are special!”
Slone and her crew share, but – the competitors they are – agreed that first to the box wins first dibs to the cookie of their choice, which means her teen daughter eagle-eyes the mail truck so she can get in on the chocolate chip before the rest.
I can’t stop my friends from being greedy sonsofbitches.
Others have told me funny stories about laying in bed and polishing off the peanut butters or licking the fudge from its wax paper packaging. Some take the cookies to family events making their parents part of the annual tradition. They ask, “Have the Brandi Cookies arrived?”
Last week, Slone sent me an image that she found of her kids when they were in grade school standing together in her kitchen eating from the cookie box.
So fine, I now accept that people are not “just being nice”. But who wouldn’t love an annual box of goodies? Isn’t that the whole marketing strategy of Harry and David and Hickory Farms boxes?
I started baking to get through a tough breakup. Back when I was in my 20s and living alone, I found myself facing another holiday season without my then-boyfriend. We’d broken up months ago, but I was lonely and sad and needed something to do with my time other than fixate on what had gone wrong. I was with Slone one night after work in a CVS buying God-Knows-What and I ended up flipping through a copy of Martha Stewart Living Holiday Cookie special issue reading about how the base of basically every cookie dough recipe is sugar, butter, vanilla, and flour. I bought the magazine and read every recipe. The whole next day at work, all I could think about was how I needed to go to Kroger and buy butter.
That’s how I spent that late fall and winter, baking cookies after work. Slone owned a Kitchenaid Mixer, so I crept across the backyard that separated our dwellings back then and stole her mixer while she was still at the office. She was furious until she came to my house and witnessed what was happening.
My entire rental house – every flat surface – was covered in cookies. I didn’t have cooling racks, so I cooled them on stacks of magazines. I learned that if I used wax paper instead of Pam, I could slide the whole batch onto a surface and reuse the baking sheet before it cooled.
I made thumbprints with strawberry jelly, peanut butter and jelly bars, chocolate chip cookies, oatmeal raisin… the classics.
Slone took a cookie and a magazine from the pile then settled into my loveseat and forgot why she was mad at me in the first place.
While she sampled, I would tell her things like, “They’re overbaked.”, “They’re too dry.”, “I forgot the vanilla.” and then start again.
And from her position laying on my couch with a copy of In Style magazine and a tumbler of milk she would watch me trash a whole batch for their lack of uniformity. She would tell me not to stop until I was satisfied and then before she left for the evening, bag up a few for the road.
That fixation helped me soldier through what was a difficult time for me. Because I could focus my energy on a task instead of ruminating, I saw my home as a place of joy and creation instead of the location of a sad breakup.
I couldn’t possibly eat all the cookies – even the few I decided were satisfactory – so I would take them to my office and leave them in the breakroom. For Christmas that year, I packaged up cookies and mailed them to my friends. A tradition was born.
Baking Day actually begins with Shopping Day the day before when I head to Kroger for flour, vanilla, peanut butter, chocolate chips, and condensed milk.
I make four things:
All the recipes are from The Joy of Cooking or the back of the chocolate chip cookie package. The Smore’s Fudge is my own recipe. And while I am most proud of this culinary concoction, the fan favorites are the Snickerdoodles and the Chocolate Chip cookies.
And then after the baking, which truly does take all day, it’s the boxing and the mailing. I save all the reasonably-sized Amazon boxes and packing material throughout the year. I throw the cookies into Ziplock bags and then pack them gently into boxes. I then label them and add a ridiculous amount of packing tape.
Hauling this many boxes to the post office is always a challenge. None of the boxes are the same size and it’s too many for one person to carry, but I’ve done it. I’ve slid a stack of laundry baskets through the line, or reusable shopping bags. One day I will be that woman at the post office with a hand trolly, and maybe this year will be that year now that we have a Costco membership.
But Behr is right, there are not that many cookies left over. Anyone in my house will get their hand slapped if they try to slip into the kitchen and steal one – the biggest cookie thief is Hubs. They might, if they are lucky, get a sampling of the fudge and a few snickerdoodles. And while I always assure him that we have our own baking traditions coming up, I guess there is a sense of the unfair when they watch their mom spend an entire day making something that smells amazing -- seriously, my house smells like a Bath and Body Works candle -- only to see it shipped off to others without even the benefit of seeing the recipients’ faces when they open the box. And I remind him again that I make cookies all the time: holidays, birthdays, even random days when we’ve had a tough week. And Behr also bakes, which means he can make his own culinary concoctions. But again, life is rarely fair in the eyes of a kid who is not literally eating the cookie that just came fresh from the oven.
What are the holiday traditions that you do because they bring you joy – not the ones you do because you feel like you have to? Share with me @brandibradleysboots or @bebebradley.
Also, I will be posting Baking Day photos this weekend in my Insta-stories. Be sure to check out my process this Sunday at @brandibradleysboots.