What started out as a well-intentioned, good-natured gesture for some of my show sponsors, turned into a long strange trip to get there that makes this a cautionary tale that’s best filed under, “don’t do as I say, and certainly don’t do as I do.”
It began simply enough. It was the holidays of 2006, and I wanted to say thank you to the sponsors of my radio show, “The Handyman Hotline.” But how? I’m not a man of wealth and means. I can’t just order up a crystal “this”, a silver “that”, or anything monogrammed for that matter (mainly because, as usual, I’ve waited too long to address this situation). So, if I can’t buy them something of value, where does that leave me? I could re-gift them something I already have. After the chronically out of tune guitar and the set of golf clubs with a design flaw in them, there’s really nothing I want to part with. All that’s left is to make them something. Aha! We’re getting warmer. Two ways to go in this direction: bake them some sweet little something or break out the construction paper and paste. After enjoying a trip down memory lane with me and a tasty little bottle of paste, it was time to figure out what to bake. Brownies!…no…Fudge! Fudge in the shape of tools! Oh joy, the great ideas were flying now.
A stop at a cooking supply store in Hyannis, and I found an endless array of cookie cutters to choose from. There they were all in a row. The hammer, screwdriver, pliers, wrench, and saw all lined up waiting for me. This was getting too easy. In fact, why not make it even easier. After all, how much could fudge be? I’ll just order a bunch of the stuff, cut up the shapes and be done with it. Ever try buying fudge in bulk? After some rudimentary math factoring in the number of clients times the five tools each would get in a lovely little gift box, I figured I’d need close to fifty pounds of fudge! I’d be in the several hundred dollar neighborhood, or as I like to call it, Hyannisport. Back to the kitchen. I’ll just go online to get a nice, simple fudge recipe from epicurious.com. An hour of, what I found to be, mind-numbing searches that seemed to all come up empty finally gave me the answer I so desperately longed for…cookies! I’ll bake them cookies. Sugar cookies to be exact. Sugar cookies that can be bought in a tube on a shelf at a supermarket to be even more precise.
Armed with tube after tube of cookie dough and two brand new cookie sheets I bought just for the occasion, I was ready to begin my work. Well, almost ready to begin my work. I needed to let the dough warm up first so it would be easier to work with after all. I should take time out here to explain a couple of things: 1) Yes, I know that cookie dough is easier to work with when cold…now. 2) I haven’t done this sort of thing since I was eight. Even then my level of involvement was limited to licking the beaters. Now let’s get back to the action in the kitchen where things are really starting to heat up. At least my temper was about to. In the absence of a rolling pin (to quote my wife, “I don’t bake.”), a nice large sized can of pineapple juice does well. What doesn’t do well is room temperature dough that proceeds to stick to anything it touches. The wax paper, the rolling-pineapple-can-pin, the baker’s fingers, the baker’s arms, the baker’s clothes, the baker’s goatee, etc. OK…time out. I needed to take a step back, take a deep breath and pour myself a nice cold pint of Cape Cod Beer. Now that I’ve managed to wrangle the dough onto the cookie sheet, here comes the fun part. Cutting out the shapes for the cookies. It would have been fun, of course, if the dough hadn’t stuck to the cutters. More wrangling, and I’ve got my first batch of highly personalized sugar cookies thanks to my finger print impressions all over them. Off they go into the oven and in mere minutes, they’ll each be a sweet little “thank you” to my sponsors of yummy sugary goodness. Feeling confident, I flip on the TV. At the three-minute mark, the kitchen fills with a warm delicious aroma. Oh, the Brady Bunch is on. (It’s the one where Thurston Howell III plays Mike’s boss and loses to Bobby in a game of pool, who wins a truckload of chewing gum.) At the six-minute mark, the smell takes on a stronger, toastier quality about it. “We’re good. We’re still good.” I reassure myself. At the eight-minute mark, the acrid odor tells even my novice nose that we’ve gone past the point of no return. It’s a classic slow motion moment where I can’t get to the oven fast enough. I cover the entire length of the kitchen in two strides. I rip open the oven door, and look to see that it’s not all bad. I’ve only partially burned the edges. It’s a minor culinary miracle, Huzzah! The cookies have taken on new and much less recognizable shapes. They seemed to have oozed and blended into one another. One could easily have given up at this point. A lesser man would have crumbled like a …a…anyway, I would not be denied! I’ve come too far, I’ve purchased far too much dough to say no. I simply re-cut the amoeba-like cookie blobs, and all was saved! I, in fact, had come up with a new way of baking cookies. I’d roll out the next batch (which was chilling in the fridge), bake it, THEN cut out the shapes. All that was left was the taste test. I went with the pliers to sample for they were the most impressive and complex cookie on the sheet. It felt a tad firm to the touch, and one bite confirmed my worst fears. The cookie shattered in my hands. There, amongst the shards of broken cookie and incisor, lie my hopes for a thoughtful, meaningful gift to my sponsors. What was I to do now? Send everyone a two dollar scratch card and say, “Thanks! Hope you’re not a problem gambler!”
I began to pick up the pieces of cookies and dreams when my wife walked into kitchen. Here she was to pick up my spirits. Convince me that I can go on, that I will bake again. Her burst of laughter told me otherwise. “What made you think you could bake?” she asked between giggles. I mumbled something about a heart felt thank you…sugary goodness…the Brady Bunch. Cori scanned the scene of disaster throughout the kitchen. “This is why I don’t bake.” Apparently this is why I don’t bake, either. I still wasn’t going to let this get me down, however. “Back to the drawing board!” I cried. “I will live to bake again!”
That’s for a later time down the road. For now, it’s time for a well placed call to a local bake shop, and order me up some pies! Nothing says thank you for sponsoring the Handyman Hotline like apple pie!
UPDATE-Six years have passed and I have not attempted to bake again. I know better. I leave it to a far better baker (my sister-in-law Kathy) and I just write the check.