Always with an eye toward the company of others

Warning: You may crave freshly baked cookies after these warm thoughts from Lisa.

Above all other fancy and sophisticated desserts, the homemade chocolate chip cookie reigns supreme in my culinary world. For the longest time, I thought my husband was using a precious family recipe, carefully guarded and passed down from generation to generation, when he made them. It’s true that the recipe was and is used by several generations in his family. It is also true that the original source of the recipe was the back of the iconic yellow Toll House bag.

Although this discovery may have chipped away at some of the magic behind the cookie, it’s one of the many factors that got me baking. If it was simply the recipe on the back of the chocolate chips package—no secret ingredients or magic wand waving behind the scenes—then, I thought, perhaps even an oven-phobe like me could participate in the currency of love that is baking.

What I mean is that one doesn’t, under normal circumstances, bake a pecan pie or a seven-layer cake or a whole batch of chocolate chip cookies just to serve them at a table set for one. We bake to surprise our friends or comfort our loved ones, but always with an eye toward the company of others.

Although the two of us have graduated to more challenging recipes since that first fateful batch of chocolate chip cookies, they’ve become a sort of recurring theme in our relationship. We’ve made them when we’re stressed. We’ve made them when we’re celebrating. When in doubt, in this household, at least, we make chocolate chip cookies. — Lisa

Prompted

Last week's dispatch asked, What is one of your favorite memories of being cold?

Angelica wrote:

This time last year I was in India for a wedding. I did not expect India to be as cold as it was then - I have photos of myself wrapped in scarves and my warmest ski jacket, mimicking shivering and chattering teeth on a rooftop in Jaipur. To be fair, I also have photos of my traveling partner and significant other in a light fleece, for comparison. Anyway, we spent every morning in Jaipur on this rooftop, drinking warm chai, reading the newspaper, and getting to know each other and a number of locals better. On our third day, a small crowd had overtaken our rooftop. Kids of all ages, and young and old alike were gathered on all the nearby rooftops, balconies, around windows. We learned that it was the first day of Jaipur's Kite Festival, and kites were everywhere--flying, stuck in trees, fallen to the ground.

Later that day, a friend we had made showed us how to fly the kites, and explained that the kites symbolized freedom. We quickly realized that these kites were very different from ones we had flown here, and my turn was fairly disastrous. What I remember best though, was how happy everyone was flying these kites--shouting across rooftops to get a kite back, laughing at tangled kites in the sky. Our friend had purchased 250 kites for the occasion and had already lost a large percentage by early afternoon. The ephemeral lifespan of the kites didn't matter at all; it was the pure joy of freedom and flying in the bright, chilly day.

Erin wrote:

Every New Years holiday, my close friends and I head up to their cabin just outside of Leavenworth, WA. The scenery is always stunning and never gets old. It's the type of place I will tell my kids about. This year marked the 8th year of our great little tradition. Outside the cabin, on the back porch facing the snow covered mountains, there is a two-butt swing. I have the most fond memories of sitting out on that porch, rocking in the swing ever so gently. Often times the temperatures are in the teens or twenties, so I bundle up, grab a thick blanket and a little something to sip on—whether it be coffee, mulled wine, or whiskey, it always helps take the edge off of the cold. I've even sat out there for several hours in 10° weather and had the most wonderful conversation with my best friend.

João wrote:

Going to to my grandparents' little village in the country and sitting with the elders around a smothered hardwood billet fire, listening to their magnificent tales!

Sasha wrote:

I couldn't pick, so here's two:

Some of my favorite memories of being cold center, as do many others, I imagine, around the holidays. Specifically, I have vivid memories of biting air in Boulder, CO, December 2010. Walking from coffeeshop to coffeeshop as I hammered out college applications (essays and various other tidbits), the chilly air woke me up from the warm glow of indoors and the glowing, hard winter sky stimulated my desire to wander. I'd go a few blocks in the wrong direction on purpose, treasuring the time away from the computer screen, and using the time alone to reflect far more effectively than when the Internet and chatting with my friends was just a few clicks away. I did my best brainstorming on those walks, and have been replicating them to this day when I'm stuck on the particularly tricky parts of my work.

The coldest I've been was the first snowstorm of 2012 in the Sierra Nevadas. My friends and I, accustomed to backpacking in balmy Southern California, had confidently left one of our tents behind, preferring the vast expanse of stars and the glory of the Orionids meteor shower. Giant, drifting snowflakes woke us around three in the morning. For two hours, we lay beneath a small tarp, unable to get out for fear of bringing snow into the warm cocoons of our sleeping bags. Eventually, all seven of us piled into the tiny, three-person tent, and hiked out the next morning in the breathtaking, still-drifting snow, but those few hours trapped and awake were magical. We didn't - couldn't - sleep, so the primary form of entertainment was talking and laughing and singing together. Our friends were distilled into a warm presence at our backs, a voice in the darkness and cold, a reminder that, in a few hours, the sun would come up.

Dennis wrote:

Sharing the year's best stories with my friends at a Christmas market with lots of mulled wine on a snowy day :)

Marius wrote:

My favorite memory from being cold must be a trip I had with some friend to Hardangervidda, North-Europes biggest mountain plateau (about 1000 meters above sea level). The temperature varied between -10 and -15°C (5-14 °F) the whole time. We had decided that some of us were sleeping in tents, some in a snow cave, and some in an igloo we built. Me and my wife ended up in in the igloo, and I've never been colder in my life. We were lying as close as possible to keep warm, but the wind was strong and blew right through the igloo.

When the morning came we learnt that all our outerwear had frozen completely. Imagine your jacket dipped in cement and dry-hanged. Then, when it's completely stiff and unmovable, you are supposed to dress up in it. We managed to get them on, and eagerly went on to see the others and hear how their night had been. They hadn't slept much either. One of my friends had gotten a new sleeping-bag for the trip, but when he lay down in the evening the zipper broke. To make sure he kept warm during the night, his tent-companions duck-taped him into his sleeping-bag. I guess it wasn't easy when he had to pee in the middle of the night.

The best thing about the trip though, happened after we had eaten breakfast and packed everything together. We were all still freezing cold, and started skiing towards the railway station. Then, when we arrived at our destination, the sun emerged, warming everyone. All the freezing was suddenly forgotten. We were sitting in t-shirts, drinking hot cocoa and just talking about how long before we would do this again. Because we will do it again. Sometime.

I just had to include some images since the cold made everything look beautiful.

Amanda wrote:

I grew up in Pennsylvania, and most winters we had enough snow for a few excellent sledding days. We lived at the top of hill, and my kid brother Jason and I would bundle up and drag out the sled and saucers for a day of high-speed frozen fun. We stayed out there in the cold, zooming down the hill and trudging back up. When we couldn't take it any longer, we came in to get warm clothes and hot chocolate while our play clothes dried by the wood stove. There were many times I would come in with swollen welts on my skin where the snow had snuck into my sleeve or up my pant leg, and it would itch like mad, but it was completely worth it.

Grant wrote:

Skiing in Beaver Creek Colorado with my family. It was at least -10 degrees and we could barely feel our limbs, let alone our extremities. As painful as it was (and it was brutal), it was us against nature, people against neural perceptions, and that was an incredibly thrilling experience. Life doesn't have to be an exercise in pain avoidance. Iron sharpens iron.

Ashley wrote:

Being raised by outdoorsy parents, I have many memories from my childhood that revolve around exploring nature in the cold, but a period of about five minutes has been seared into my mind for the last twenty years. My father and I love to fish, especially for crappie in late February, early March. One day as we were fishing it began to sleet and my father draped his coat around me for extra warmth as we prepared to travel across the lake. I remember watching tiny icicles form on my Dad's beard and I realized he was facing an ice cold wind without his coat, just to ensure my comfort. Like I said, it only took us a few minutes to reach the bank, but during that trip my Father taught me the definition of selfless love. I'm sure every parent would do the same for their child, but from that moment on my Dad became a superhero, a status he still holds.

Noel wrote:

I'm face-down in the snow. I'm floating but vaguely immobilized, caught in small, fluffy quicksand underneath my nose. My tongue involuntarily flicks out, carving a tiny steamy cave into the pack. This is inordinately pleasant to me. Skis are still bound to my boots, my hands are encased in gloves bound to poles, but my tongue is free to dart into the cold and report back in distilled bursts of sensation. I'm 8 years old, on a ski slope in Norway, and my dad shouts from a hundred yards down-slope to make sure I'm ok.

Don wrote:

Being cold is one of my favorite things. It seems odd to say, but walking out the door and getting blasted with chilled air does a few majestic things for me. I feel alive as soon as I feel frigid. The senses are forced to wake up and send my body messages. "Fingers here! It feels like its cold outside!" "Feet here! The ground is cold too." "Nose here! I'm about to start running. Can you catch me" "Ears here, we aren't covered again and we don't like it." "Tongue here, the air doesn't have a taste, but I can feel how cold it is as you breathe."

When outside in the cold I feel alive because I feel my body. In the heat it is too easy to "forget" about your ears, nose, and toes. But the cold makes you realize what you have. What to be thankful for. What to cover up more. Which leads me to my favorite memory. Crawling into my sleeping bag after setting up the tent. There is feet of snow surrounding me, mountains all before me, and relief of hot tea as I seek shelter from the temperature that makes me feel alive. As I start to warm up slowly I once again get to focus on feeling alive.

Adam wrote:

When I was 15, my family took a trip to Alaska. An absolutely beautiful trip, replete with memories. One memory that rises above the rest was a glacier cruise we took just off of Prince William Sound. Standing on the bow of the boat, with the crisp, fresh air in our faces, we came upon Surprise Glacier, a miles-long sheet of slowly moving ice that would crack and drop giant splinters of ice the size of sky scrapers into the water below every few minutes. The waves would make the boat bob up-and-down. At one point, the crew scooped up some smaller pieces of glacier ice from the water, rinsed it, and used it to serve drinks. Such a cold experience, but one I will never forget.

Mona wrote:

I have no favorite memories of being cold. I avoid being cold at all costs and will sacrifice fashion to wear 3 layers of clothing to ensure I'm not cold. Cold = bad :-)

Brad wrote:

I hate being cold more than most people in the world. That said, sometimes it’s unavoidable and sometimes great things happen while it’s cold.

I started dating my wife in February of 2005. Our story is a modern one of meeting online through a mutual friend, then pursuing an intense attraction purely through computer screens and cell phones. Until February of 2005, that is, when I flew to visit her at the University of Texas in Austin. We met for the first time, face to face, at a bus stop on campus. I still get chills thinking of that moment and the pure elation it could not quite contain.

After that first trip, we flew back and forth constantly, at least once per month, she to San Diego and I again back to Austin. The following February, after she had moved away from Austin, on our one year anniversary, we made a special trip back to Austin together. We relived the heady days together at local restaurants, parks and with friends. On our last day in town, when it was a positively wretched 27°F outside, not including a significant wind chill from strong gusts, I led her back to our bus stop.

Reddened, chapped, pained and deliriously happy, I knelt down on one knee in front of the bus stop and opened a ring box containing a simple ring with an emerald—her birth stone. We made a promise that day that we have kept and strengthened ever since. She wore the ring for more than four years, until I gave her a sparklier one in a much warmer climate.

Uncommon reads

How Digital Tech Will Change Our Lives in 2013, an audio interview with Douglas Rushkoff about Present Shock:

I'm arguing not that we get rid of technology by any means, but that we use technology in a way that conforms with some of these more subtle rhythms of human beings moving through time, rather than assume that everyone can be anything to anyone at any given moment.

Manage the Temptation to Publish Yourself, a 2011 recap of John Mayer's clinic at the Berklee Performance Center:

Mayer realized that pouring creativity into smaller, less important, promotional outlets like twitter not only distracted him from focusing on more critical endeavors like his career, it also narrowed his mental capacity for music and writing intelligent songs. "I realized about a year ago that I couldn’t have a complete thought anymore."

Zen in the Art of Writing, a book by Ray Bradbury:

Be certain of this: When honest love speaks, when true admiration begins, when excitement rises, when hate curls like smoke, you need never doubt that creativity will stay with you for a lifetime.

Your turn

What's your food of choice for celebrations?