A Few Pieces from My Writing Workshop

My friend Joy jokingly chided me for complaining about slow broadband at the hotel I am staying at in Iowa City (I won’t even go into the problems with getting my iPhone on the network). She said “Maybe it’s a sign that you SHOULD be disconnected. Aren’t you supposed to be writing after all?” It been more like a billboard, one of those video screen that keeps flashing – “Get back to the writing.”

Here is a little proof of writing. I am taking a class in essay writing and our instructor Cecile Goding is exposing us to a variety of forms that blur the lines between prose, poetry, journalism, and scholarship. The survey is perfect for someone like me trying to find his way.

Here are a couple exercises and the results:

–In three sentences, include the following: a fruit, a musical instrument, a weapon, and someone famous:

Dilinger peaked out between the shades on the cabin window, Gatling in one hand a half eaten apple in the other. A fawn and her mother slowly walking into the yard. On the radio, Benny Goodman soloed on the clarinet while the feds plotted their next move.

–This was inspired by a one paragraph piece titled “The Host” by Jim Heyen in In Brief: Short Takes on the Personal. Very short and efficient, I wanted to see if I could do the same.

“That’s your father’s chair,” my mother would say, in a strangely over-protective tone, like it was the last chocolate chip cookie at the bottom of the Tupperware jar. She always claimed he would be sitting down at any moment, barring our use of the recliner/rocker.

The rules have changes. The throne is now a jungle gym, with as many kids as room allows. Companions for afternoon naps welcome.

–The final piece I want to share is a pre-assignment where the instructor asked us to write a recipe sharing whatever details relevant:

Cookie recipes all start with the same process. Softened butter is creamed in an electric mixer as sugar is slowly added. My mother’s 1969 Betty Crocker cookbook recommends a mixture of equal parts shortening and margarine pointing to the influence of industrial food science on the nation’s kitchen pantries. In the 1999 The Best Recipe, the meticulous bakers at Cook’s Illustrated don’t even mention the possibility of using these two 100% fat-based substances in their five page explanation of alternatives they tested in creating the perfect cookie dough. I asked the people-powered answer engine Aardvark.com about what I might give up switching to margarine in a cookie recipe and Jenn C. responded saying “In a word, taste. 🙂 There’s also a trade off with texture, since butter is fat + water, and margarine is purely fat – you’ll get flatter cookies when baking with margarine. I’d definitely recommend using unsalted butter over margarine for cookies.”

When I asked my mom about this inconsistency, she told me she had always made her Kenosha County Fair Grand Champion Chocolate Chip Cookies the same way. She even went as far to say that Parkay was the only brand of margarine should would use. “The others just don’t taste the same,” she said.

Fats aside, dark brown sugar is the other ingredient my mother insists on. This is another area of contention, where experts claim little difference between 3% molasses contained within light brown sugar and the 6% molasses found in dark brown sugar. All agree the specialty sugar adds a caramel flavor while lending a darker shade of brown to the baked cookie.

Purists would call these changes dumb or inconsequential, but the test kitchen at Betty Crocker clearly adjusted the ratios to optimize for the margarines used. The late twentieth century bakers called for an extra cup of flour to fight Jenn C.’s concerns of flattening. The additional bulk meant increasing the white sugar and calling for higher fortification provided by dark brown sugar.

The rest is pretty simple. Use teaspoons to drop batter onto cool cookie sheets. Bake at 375 degrees for eight to twelve minutes. Enjoy after a few minutes on the cooling rack. A glass of whole milk is the recommended side.

Makes about 60 cookies

2/3 cup shortening
2/3 cup Parkay margarine
1 cup sugar
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 ½ cups flour
2 cups chocolate chips

1. Mix thoroughly shortening, margarine and sugars in an electric mixer
2. Add eggs, and vanilla.
3. Stir in remaining dry ingredients. Add chocolate chips until combined.
4. Drop dough by rounded teaspoonfuls 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheet.
5. Bake at 375° for 10 to 12 minutes or until light brown.
6. Cool 1-2 minutes before removing from baking sheet and transferring to cooling racks

2 thoughts on “A Few Pieces from My Writing Workshop

  1. It’s always nice when you can not only be informed, but also entertained! I’m sure you had fun writing this article. Excellent entry! I’m been looking for topics as interesting as this. Looking forward to your next post.

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