Baking soothes my soul. Preparing nourishing and happy food for my family makes me feel like I’m filling them up with love. It’s been this way for me since I first started cooking for my then boyfriend, now husband, and myself way back in 1993. Over the past 21 years, I think my baking and cooking have improved as I’ve grown and matured. One thing that hasn’t varied is my belief in using whole foods. Foods I can pronounce. Foods my Greek grandparents can recognize. No fillers. No franken-foods. Just the real deal. While my standards for selecting real foods have remained the same, my choices of ingredients haven’t.
About 7 years ago, I moved from organic white flour, to organic whole wheat flour and then to spelt, then teff and oat and to my latest version of baking — grain free. My flours aren’t the only thing I’ve changed; I’ve left the unrefined unbleached cane sugar at the store and moved towards using local honeys and maple syrups as my sweeteners. My baking has changed because I’ve changed. I guess you could say we’re a work in progress.
My daughter is 11 now and she remembers my decadent white floured chocolate chip cookies. She spent countless hours in the kitchen with me baking and she has an appreciation for home baked cookies and a good meal. Every time I’ve altered my recipe, she asks for the original. The original, which she hasn’t had in at least 4 years, if not more. I used to feel badly about this; that I was depriving her of my love if I didn’t make the honest to goodness real cookie from her baby days. We do that as parents, don’t you think? We question if we’re good enough and we wonder if we’re not in so many of our attempts to do good. I’m my own worst critic when it comes to this, this grading of the quality of my mothering. When you grow up with a mentally unstable mother and are a survivor of childhood abuse, you check your reality a lot more frequently than others do. At least that’s what I’ve come to believe. Simple things like changing a recipe risks becoming, “Am I a good enough mother if I change my daughter’s favorite cookie? Will she still know that I love her?” Simple things. Big questions. Thankfully, as my cookie recipe has been refined, I too have evolved and I’ve come to know that — yes, I am. I am a good mother. Flours and sugars don’t measure good mothering. I do. My behavior, my intention, my honesty and presence do. My willingness to be real and whole and true make me a good mother.
So much of what we do is about balance anyway, isn’t it? Life, like the cookie, has so many variations and recipes. You can follow it word for word or change it on a whim. How much sweetener to add? How little salt is enough salt? Most of the time it’s completely subjective. It depends upon your personal tastes — are you a savory or a sweet guy? Or maybe a combination of both? Maybe you’re a middle path kind of person. I’m definitely not a middle road kind of girl. I’m all or nothing. It’s either sweet or it’s not. It’s salty or leave it out. And the chocolate? Let’s not forget about the most important ingredient. The chocolate. I have always been a believer that you could never have too many chocolate chips in a cookie.
My nine-year-old son believes differently and I’ve had to appreciate that his relationship with chocolate is different than mine. With this painful surrender, I’ll often arrange the batter in such a way that a few cookies are made without any chocolate chips at all. Or maybe just 2 chips. Two isn’t overpowering. Two is a little zip without a pow. Two feels right to him. To me, even more importantly than how much chocolate, is the type of chocolate you choose. It has to be good or forget it. Don’t even bother making the cookies if you’re using bad chocolate. My secret is to use an assortment of dark, semisweet and milk. Sometimes I’ll add M&Ms which is pretty funny actually, because if you look at the ingredient list on a package of M&Ms, I guarantee you, it’s not all whole foods. And yet I love them so. Their bright happy colors which change with the seasons make my heart sing with joy.
So there you have it. Maybe I am more of a middle of the roader than I thought. I use almond flour and local sweeteners but I don’t skimp on my chocolate and I have a love affair with M&Ms. Maybe it isn’t really about getting it right or wrong. Maybe it’s just being honest with yourself and going with what you like on that particular day. Being brave enough to add a dash of cinnamon if it moves you. Trusting yourself that you are good enough with or without that pinch of salt. I like to bake cookies that make my family happy. I think that makes me a good mom because it makes me feel like a good mom. This, for me, is real. This I know. This I can measure. Maybe what it boils down to the most, is that food made with love makes you feel loved, regardless of the ingredients. Maybe so.
I ate the first batch so my cookies were M&M-less… 😉