Illustrations by Kaki Okumura
(*No Zoom calls are required)
It’s been about 4 months since my friend and I baked together.
In April I left the United States to be with my family, and she flew back to California to be with hers. But when we still lived on campus together, we would often meet up in the evenings to bake something and hang out.
“Hey what are you doing right now?”
“Thinking of baking chocolate chip cookies. Or pumpkin muffin tops. Want to join?”
“Coming over soon. Let me know if you need me to bring any ingredients!”
I’m not a huge baker, so she introduced me to her world of cookies, cupcakes, and buttery baked goods. As she taught me why you can’t overwork the flour (the gluten will overdevelop and the cake will come out gummy) and why we need to use room temperature eggs (the egg whites will whip up better), I began to grow accustomed to the scientific precision required for baking. While I’m usually the type to cook according to approximates, her lessons in gastronomic chemistry not only made me a more informed baker, but a better home cook.
We would chat and catch up on each other’s lives as we baked, and then eat and watch something on Netflix once we were done. During exam season it became our saving grace activity, a way to decompress before returning to our study schedules, and during the holiday season it became a way to share love and bring people together. She would always bake homemade cookies or banana bread for my birthday, something I looked forward to every year.
So when our lives were suddenly upturned and we found ourselves miles apart, I began to recognize the things I took for granted. While we enjoyed catching up over chat or video calls, we struggled with the time difference and didn’t quite enjoy Zoom as we enjoyed spending time in person. I confessed that I really missed being together, and that I couldn’t wait until we could bake in the same kitchen again.
It was a few weeks later when we hadn’t spoken in a bit that I got a package labelled from California, with my friend’s name on the side. To my surprise, the box was quite hefty. What is this?
I opened the box and was instantly hit with the sweet chocolatey smell of American candies and caramels. Elated, I sifted through the treats, wondering where to start and how I could thank her. I didn’t quite see it at first, but as I dug deeper I found something else hidden beneath the candies — a big jar wrapped in pink ribbon, filled with flour, sugar, and chocolate chips. A card was taped to it:
It’s her cookie recipe!
The next day I bought the required butter, eggs, and vanilla extract and decided to film myself baking them so that I could share the experience with her. Filled with my commentary, I thought about how she’d probably be shaking her head because I didn’t add the eggs one at a time, or how I skipped aerating the flour because I didn’t have a sifter handy. I was of the opinion that these things didn’t make a huge difference when baking cookies, but of course she wouldn’t let these details slide.
As I beat the eggs and stirred the batter without her, it was funny because I felt like we were still baking the cookies together. With her recipe and dry ingredients, I simply completed them by following the instructions written in her voice:
“1 tsp of vanilla, or to hell with it… a fat tbsp.”
“Then mix in… don’t overmix!”
“Let cool, or don’t!”
The cookies turned out chewy yet crispy on the edges, and the tiniest bit caramelized on the bottom — just the way I remember them.
If you enjoyed this piece, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org! I would love to hear how the role of food and cooking has changed for you as you’ve shifted to your new lifestyle 😊 Warm regards, Kaki