The good, the bad, and the chocolate
Years ago, and I am talking right out of college, I decided to bake linzer tart heart cookies for two people: My sort-of boyfriend who lived 300 miles away, and my brother who lived across the country. Sending baked goods in the mail can be tricky. You can’t really send a pie, and I once (to Big Spender subscribers of this newsletter) shipped some chocolate-cherry loaf cakes that got stuck in the mail and then sat in a mailbox for a week of 100-degree days in Austin, Texas, resulting in the subscriber opening a box of mold. (Sorry!) But a cookie with a firm base, which linzer tarts are - it’s essentially a stiff shortbread - shipped just fine. I am sure I included testaments of love with the packages. Or maybe I didn’t; I was tougher then and didn’t want to appear gushy. Now, it’s all gush all the time.
Anyone older than, I don’t know, 30, knows that relationships change. The person you pledge to love ‘til death do you part you do part from; the best friend of a decade ago you now never see. This strikes me as sort of normal. It’s not possible to stand still in a moving river. However, I am still caught off-guard, when circumstances conspire (the stalled mail, the heat wave), at how rancid some relationships can become.
I thought of this while reading about a new podcast, The Witch Trials of J.K. Rowling, created by author Megan Phelps-Roper and I think produced by friend Bari Weiss’s The Free Press. A clip:
But the story of J.K. Rowling is not just the story of one author, or one woman, or one issue. It is a microcosm of our time. It’s about the polarization of public opinion and the fracturing of public conversation. It’s about the chasm between what people say they believe and how they’re understood by others. It’s about what it means to be human—to be a social animal who feels compelled to be part of a tribe.
Emphasis mine. I think about this every day, about the chasm between grace and contempt, about people rushing into that gap as if it were getting them anyplace good. Whom does it help to kindle misunderstanding and hatred? I recalled this morning before I was out of bed that I used to wrestle with how to identify the people in Portland bashing windows and setting fires and telling me to go fuck myself - protesters? rioters? Antifa? anarchists? - and realize what you call them doesn’t matter, it’s what inspires them to hate others that matters, and how I think, now, the things that they say inspires them are a feint. They want to be part of an ecosystem where they do not feel afraid and so, afraid to extend their hand, they strike out; they build traps; they look for reasons to destroy you. It’s possible they magically believe book burning and building burning will yield things other than bitterness and ash. I think it more likely they are drawn to the chasm out of insecurity and a need for love. They don’t want to be alone, and at the risk of being cut out, sharpen their knives.
“We shape our tools, and thereafter they shape us,” Father John Culkin is quoted, in the piece “How Online Mobs Act Like Flocks Of Birds.”
But Nancy! It’s Valentine’s Day! Stop bumming us out! Okay okay, here are today’s deets: I am having a three-way tonight. One of them is 8 years old and has put in her requests, steak and pasta and playing “Battleship,” at which I am surely going to suck, and the baking of double-chocolate cookies, at which I do not suck. Here is the recipe. I am wishing you and yours love, only love xx
Double Chocolate-Chunk Cookes, adapted from Levant Bakery in NYC
1 cup cold salted butter, cut into chunks
1 cup lightly dark brown sugar
½ cup white sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips or chunks (I use a mixture; keeps the chunks fairly large)
Oven top 375 degrees. Line your baking pans with parchment. You are going to make between 8 and 12 very large cookies
Beat butter and sugars on medium-speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs, then vanilla. Add flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt on low-speed, the chocolates. You can bake off the cookies immediately or refrigerate the dough overnight.
Scoop out very large cookies, about a half-cup dough per cookie. Bake 8 - 10 minutes, then allow to cool on the pan about ten minutes before transferring with a spatula onto a surface to cool.
If you are 8 years old or any other age, you may request a scoop of ice cream on the side.
The paragraph beginning with 'Emphasis mine' is magnificent. You capture a whole host of concepts and ugly dynamics perfectly in there.
I am absolutely making these cookies!