Tuesday, May 8, 2012

FRIENDSHIP & CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES



This post is neither about saints nor does it contain an original recipe. It’s about my friend Blonnie Bunn Wyche, who died last Wednesday, and chocolate chip cookies.

I became friends with Blonnie in 2006 when we drove together to a spring writer’s retreat. When my schedule allowed, I joined her critique group. I looked forward to our every other week meetings where we went over each other’s work and shared ideas across the table in Blonnie’s office. “MAH-ree-AH,” she’d eventually say about my work, “It looks good. What’s next?”

Halfway through, we’d break for Blonnie’s strong coffee and something sweet. We’d take turns bringing in the treats and swapping recipes. We’d also swap stories about our lives outside the writer’s circle. And laugh. Blonnie would tell funny stories about her teaching days or her childhood. The laughter would really get going once she started complaining about the squirrels and humans who stole the pecans in her yard before she got around to collecting them herself. “Why don’t you pick them up more often?” I once asked.

Blonnie’s answer to that question and many others was, “MAH-ree-AH, I’ve got to write.”

And write she did. Writing was her priority and her amount was copious. So much so that she was routinely passing out 60 pages or so for us to critique. It got to be too much for me as my writing time was limited and I ended up spending a big part of it critiquing instead of writing. So I sent her an email asking if we could make a critique group rule limiting the manuscript pages to 30 at a time. She answered, “I love you, but your time issues are not my concern.”

I answered, “I love you, but I quit the group.”

We didn’t speak to each other for over a year.

Then one day a group member called to tell me that Blonnie was in the hospital. I sent Blonnie a card and healing prayers. When she returned home, she called me, and we arranged a time for me to visit her. She made a fresh pot of her strong coffee and I brought the sweet treats. Apologies were said, hugs were given, visits, calls and emails resumed.

She’d email me on rainy days with a promise that the sun would soon shine again. I’d email her with interesting bird sightings. A hummingbird’s visit to the butterfly bush outside my office window always prompted an immediate phone call.

Yet the friendship never fully recovered because we never said or wrote the word “love” to each other again. We had ruined it by corrupting its meaning.

“I love you, but . . .” is a dangerous expression because it means, I love you but I don’t care about you. Or I don’t really love you; I’m just saying that to soften the blow of my criticism.

I’m working on not using that expression at all. Sometimes I slip when I’m joking around, as in, “Stuart, I love you like a husband, but football is just not that important.”

Speech patterns can be hard to break. But if I don’t try to delete that particular expression, one day, I’ll find myself saying to someone, “I love you, but . . . . . . .” and it won’t be a joke and it’ll hurt.

Instead I’ll use the writer’s critique sandwich beyond the writing’s circle – praise, suggestion for improvement, praise. The praise will always be genuine and expressions of love and friendship will stand alone.

Blonnie, thanks for the coffee, laughs and advice; I promise there’ll always be something next; and I love you.

O God, whose mercies cannot be numbered: Accept our prayers on behalf of your servant Blonnie, and grant her an entrance into the land of light and joy, in the fellowship of your saints; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Now if you need more than words to express your friendship, make homemade chocolate chip cookies. But, and here’s the important thing, you’ve got to use the perfect chocolate chip recipe -- Original Nestle Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookies. Only then will your expression of friendship be truly genuine.

Okay, I’m exaggerating (slightly) and basing this theory on two episodes from the first season of Friends. The first in which Phoebe tells Rachel that Paolo made a pass at her and Rachel has to believe her because the cookies are just that delicious. The other is when Monica spends two days trying to recreate the recipe until Phoebe says the recipe came from her French great grandmother named, Nestley Toulouse. Monica says, “You mean Nestle Toll House?!”

Oh yeah. And the recipe is indeed found on the package of Nestle Toll House Semi- Sweet Chocolate Morsels:


Original Nestle Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookies

2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
¾ cups granulated sugar
¾ cups packed brown sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2 cups Nestle Toll House Semi-Sweet Chocolate Morsels
1 cup chopped nuts

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Combine flour, baking soda and salt in a small bowl. Beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar and vanilla extract in large mixer bowl until creamy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Gradually beat in flour mixture. Stir in morsels and nuts. Drop by rounded tablespoon onto ungreased baking sheets.

Bake for 9 or 11 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes; remove to wire rack to cool completely.

Makes about 5 dozen cookies.

Unless you have to contend with nut allergies, don’t skip the nuts. They add that extra bit of protein for complete satiation. My preference is walnuts, but pecans are excellent, too.

Use real butter. It makes crispier cookies. Use margarine only if you will use the cookies to assemble ice cream sandwiches. Margarine makes the soft and easy to bite through to the ice cream.

Use light instead of dark brown sugar. It provides a deep contrast in color between the dough and the chocolate chips which is appealing to the eye.

When pouring the vanilla into the teaspoon, do it over the bowl of batter, and carefully “spill” a tiny extra amount into the bowl.

Remember that baking time varies depending on your oven.

These perfect cookies are great for parties, road trips, presents, cookie swaps, with coffee and your peeps or milk and your kids. They freeze well and taste great frozen. I try to always have some on hand for my family, but they keep disappearing.

8 comments:

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks for reminding all of us for our need to reconcile relationships whenever possible.

Rebecca Petruck said...

I love you. No buts. (Well, maybe one but. I think it's been a long time since I've had any of your cookies. :(

Maria Nolletti Ross said...

Carol, Thanks for sailing with me through the storm.

Maria Nolletti Ross said...

Rebecca, I love you, too! You think Christmas was really all that long ago? How 'bout you bake a batch with that Irish Butter you are always raving about so we can do a taste test. :)

Ann Eisenstein said...

Maria, I have not had the pleasure of sampling your cookies. But I think I smell them baking in the oven! Thank you for writing this excellent piece about the truest bond of friendship and love - the connection that endures through good and bad. The relationship that stays through time, distance, and separation. The one that accepts, forgives, and loves.

Maria Nolletti Ross said...

Ann, thank you so much! Looking forward to seeing you on FB as soon as I hit that "confirm request" button.

Jean said...

Beautiful memories beautifully written.

Jean Hall

Maria Nolletti Ross said...

Wow. Thank you, Jean.