Monday, November 28, 2005

SHF/IMBB: Cookie Swap

cookies, originally uploaded by emily loke.

Normalcy and what constitutes it may be extremely subjective, but when I was little, I was a self-proclaimed expert on Normal. Normal, I believed, was simply everything I wasn’t. I don’t mean that in a smug way – not meeting my standards of Normal wasn’t exactly an instant boost of self-esteem. To make matters worse, all my friends were blissfully Normal. They looked Normal (Chinese), had Normal family units (both parents and even a sibling or two), and were Normal in school (straight A’s). Being Normal may not have been something they prided themselves on, but I was too busy being envious to notice.

I did everything I could think of to fit in with the rest of the island: I picked up the local patois and spoke it with gusto, straightened my curly hair by means of caustic chemical treatments, and failed to mention that I only saw my dad on weekends. These and other measures I took to achieve normalcy were not only pathetic, they plain didn’t work: I wasn’t fooling anyone.

Though I certainly didn’t see any silver linings back then, some good did come out this uncomfortable phase of my life: it was during this period that I discovered baking.

While it may be news to some that I wasn’t actually born with a spatula in hand, readers from Singapore can probably sympathize. Given the sweltering tropical climate of the island and the fact that most kitchens (mine included) are of the open air variety, it’s understandable that baking isn’t as common of a practice in Singapore as it is in North America. Add to that equation a mother who was, more often than not, away from home on business trips and it becomes perfectly clear why I was such a late bloomer in the baking department: the opportunity just never presented itself.

When it finally did, however, I was ready for it. I watched my mother like a hawk as she made the cookie dough, hovering around her elbows like some short, nosy apparition. Though the whole process was very exciting, time slowed to a crawl when my mother leaned over to show me how to shape the dough. I remember everything about that moment in great detail – the heat of the kitchen, the squish of the cookie dough between my fingers, and how lucky and loved I felt at that moment to have my mother make time to bake with me. That instant, frozen forever in my memory looks to me like a scene right out of a Norman Rockwell drawing. How ironic that such an atypical activity for my mother and I was what made me feel, for the first time in some way, Normal.

The ending to this story is, as all good endings are, a happy one. While I still don’t meet my old standards of Normal, my standards have since changed. I’ve learnt to celebrate rather than hide my unique features, have realized that my loving two-person family unit makes much more sense than a dysfunctional three-person one, and have enrolled in design school where – guess what? – I’m finally racking up some A’s. As for the baking, it goes without saying that it’s a regular activity now, though I’ll never take its humble, Normal beginning for granted.

disappearing act, originally uploaded by emily loke.

These Skor cookies are a spin on a chocolate-chip cookie recipe. They may look Normal, but don’t be deceived – their crisp sugar cookie looks hide huge chunks of chocolate and toffee that give the cookies a nice chewy texture in some spots. Part childhood nostalgia, part grown-up indulgence (because only adults should be allowed near this much sugar), these cookies are a nice blend of Normal and Different – something I think everyone can definitely appreciate.

Normal Different Skor Sugar Cookies

1 cup sugar
¾ cup butter
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups flour
1 ½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp baking soda
pinch of salt
8 Skor candy bars, crushed up (don’t substitute with Skor bites – they don’t have as good of a chocolate-to-toffee ratio!)

1. Cream the butter and sugar in a bowl.
2. Add your egg and vanilla and mix till smooth.
3. Sift in flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt, and mix on low till blended completely.
4. Toss in your Skor chunks and mix them in by hand.
5. Drop dough by the tablespoon onto a greased cookie sheet (Silpats are preferable because baked-on toffee can be a pain to remove) and bake in a 350 degree oven for 15 minutes.
6. Cool for a couple of minutes before eating – molten toffee is not your friend, no matter what you’d like to believe. Enjoy.

Monday, November 07, 2005

At Least I Have No Greys

I’m sad to report that this isn’t the end of the most recent long, unexplained absence – I’m only midway through the process of being collected enough to write semi-regularly again. The good news is that my preoccupation this time originates not from some personal calamity or crisis, but from a perfectly mundane occurrence – moving.

Though generally considered a rather humdrum event, moving is (so I’ve been told) the third most stressful experience that one can go through. I only mention this conversationally, but first and second are death and divorce. In my case, this stress was multiplied by two: in the past two weeks, I’ve had to not only pack and move my apartment but my brother’s as well.

Death and divorce? Take your best shot.

Maybe I shouldn’t complain – after all, I’ve had my share of silver linings through the setbacks. I managed to snag the last-four-in-the-country dining chairs I wanted, finally have the chocolate brown bedroom I’ve always dreamed of, and had the Arco lamp I ordered come in three weeks before schedule. Finally, more motivation to put some effort into getting all our things unpacked!

That reminds me – the second my kitchen is set up, I’ll finally be able to participate in the kitchen meme I’ve been tagged for…provided my internet guy comes soon and reestablishes my access to the real world, that is. Till that happens, don’t give up on me just yet – I’ll be back in the kitchen in no time at all.