Friday, March 06, 2015

Snickerdoodle Math

I found this in my office.
    Life is very entertaining when you are me, the artsy-fartsyiest of the arsty-fartsy, living with my husband, who is the most engineery engineer that ever engineered. Our little misadventures never cease to amuse me.

     This particular misadventure started because Sam wanted to make Snickerdoodles after school. I was totally agreeable until John came home sick and feverish. I was busy helping him feel better, but Sam was not sympathetic. When I received his little love note, I realized that I would need to foist cookie-making duty onto Tom, or suffer dire consequences. (Can't go in his room? Quelle horreur!)

     Before I start my story, there are a few things you have to understand about our household first. Around here, Tom is (sometimes, but not always, affectionately) referred to as Captain Literal. He needs *very* specific instructions and the words "wing it" are not in his vocabulary.

For example, how does someone live 40 years, with the ability to immediately notice three microscopic bread crumbs in an otherwise spotless kitchen, and not know that there are two types of boxed macaroni and cheese.? It's practically a law of the universe. The tall rectangular box is the cheap kind with cheese powder and the short, squarish box is the "deluxe" kind with cheese sludge.  I hadn't realized that Tom did not have this seemingly basic understanding of the world. Or that asking him to pick up a box of mac and cheese for the boys would turn into a 20 minute ordeal where I needed to explain to him that yes, this is a law of boxed macaroni. No, he was not going to encounter any variation in packaging, thereby nullifying said law. Yes, the box I wanted was blue. Bright blue ribbon blue. No, I wasn't sure there wouldn't be another bright blue brand. No, I didn't actually care what brand he picked up. Yes, he could just get the cheapest brand. No, he was not going to do this wrong and for Christ's sake just go to the macaroni aisle and pick up anything that resembles macaroni and I would be happy with it.

So asking Tom to make cookies was not like asking a normal person to make cookies.

I knew this as I handed Tom the boxed cookie mix, wished him good luck, and went to tuck John into bed.

From John's bedroom, I could hear the conversation in the kitchen. The oven was preheated. The cookie pan was removed from the drawer. A bowl was retrieved. The directions were read.

"3/4 stick melted butter..." Sam reads.

At which point, my husband, the engineer, had a moment.

Was that the measurement prior to the melting process or before? Sam explained that when he baked with me, I always measured and then melted. Tom sounded skeptical and tried to reason out what any losses in butter might be, while he spouted off a lot of terms about heat coefficients and boundary layer differentials, or whatever other engineery terms might apply to butter as it turns from a solid to a liquid. I studied English because I don't care. In my little happy world, when you follow the directions on the cookie box, and put the butter in the microwave, it melts, by magic (incidentally, the microwave also works by magic). When you add whatever butter is left, it makes cookies.  I do not like physics and the way it's supposed to explain all the mysteries of the universe. If it involves a math problem, I don't want to know. I like magic. Magic is not a waste of time. If I was making the cookies, they'd be done by now.

Inside my head, my inner English major is thinking "Oh, just shut up and melt the freaking butter already."

I hear the refrigerator door open and close. Tom reads the butter label. It's salted butter. The recipe didn't say to use unsalted butter. Is unsalted butter even okay to use? He starts to panic.

"Is unsalted butter okay?" he calls to me, a note of hysteria rising in his voice.

"Yes, it's fine" I call back. I don't know the difference between salted and unsalted butter (besides the salt, obviously), and to be perfectly frank, I usually just grab the butter box with the cutest cow on it. I'm sure there's some rule about when to use which kind, but that's not how I roll. I like little surprises every day. Huh. We were supposed to use the salted butter but the unsalted kind didn't kill us... Hooray!

Then I hear him mumbling to Sam. "3/4 of a stick? 3/4 of a stick... What the heck? This butter is measured in tablespoons.  How should I know how to measure 3/4 of a stick? I mean, we're not just going to guess! It might ruin the recipe!"

Meanwhile, I am sitting in the dark of John's bedroom, listening to this, just shaking my head and stifling my giggle fit into a spare pillow. I love to see how the other half live. Since Griffin, our dog, loves to eat brightly colored plastic, and he's kitchen counter height, he's mowed through two sets of my measuring cups already. Since the ones I've rescued from him are still mangled and covered with tooth marks, I eyeball everything. Haven't poisoned anyone yet, either.

Things in the kitchen are going speedily downhill. Tom has sent Sam in search of paper and is showing Sam how to convert tablespoons into fractions.

I can't take it anymore. I have to see the show live, so I make my way into the kitchen.

Tom thrusts the cookie pan at me. "What the hell do I do with this? It says to grease it! What does that even mean?" His panic is evident.

Well, I know what it's supposed to mean. But I don't keep Crisco in the house. The butter hasn't fared so well in the conversion process. Pam doesn't work and makes my pans sticky. So, rebel that I am, I just pour olive oil straight onto the pan, slide it around a little, and then push the rest in the corners with a paper towel. I'm pretty sure true gourmands would be horrified--the whole coking olive oil at high temperatures thing--but I don't tell Tom that I'm improvising because I didn't want to kill him.

"Look Mom! The mix says it makes 30 cookies!" Sam squeals, shoving the box in my face. "How do they know that? We're all going to get 7 cookies but 2 will be left over. Can I have the other 2 cookies? Can I Mom? Can I?"

Again with the damn numbers! In my magical cookie-making world, once you've guestimated your 3/4 stick butter, poured the melted remains haphazardly ad inaccurately into the mix, eaten a small handful of raw cookie dough, and chased Griffin out of the kitchen twice for turning over the mixing bowl with his nose, the number of cookies the mix actually makes is the exciting surprise finale.

So I say to Sam, "Well honey, we might not get exactly 30."

To which he replies, "Mo-om (with an eye-roll -- he's almost 9 after all). We are getting 30 cookies. The box says so. Right here. So we know. "

Welcome to my world with Captain Literal Junior.

As it turned out, the mix made 29 Snickerdoodles. And they were delicious. I'm pretty sure I ate more than 7 (Age and treachery and all that... :-P).

I may not be an elf living in a tree, but I do know my way around a cookie. And I know a little about magic. They haven't started listening to me yet, but someday I hope my family understands that the magic in any experience is just having it and then waiting for it to surprise you.


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