the perfect chocolate chip cookie + a novel update

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Writing a novel is torture. If anyone tells you otherwise, they’re pathologically insane or basking in the afterglow of having written a novel instead of being in the throes of it. It’s a feeling I imagine women who have children feel–they tend to forget the cruel pain of labor because the result, a small life held in one’s hands, erases everything that came before. You say to yourself, This is worth the stretch. This thing I hold in my hands is all that matters.

Yesterday, an old friend came by and lured me out of sleep with a baguette, cheese and chocolates. I’d just woke from a long nap and I was disoriented, eyes filled with sleep, and he asked me, several times, if I was okay. Give me a moment, I thought, to get accustomed to the light around me. Give me a second to let the world come into focus. We found a bench near my home and sliced cheese with plastic knives, discussing our mutual projects, both four-year-long Odysseys. I told him about a private Facebook group I’d just joined, and how talking to strangers was oddly comforting. A few nights ago I had a terrifying thought. What if this novel isn’t good? What if it’s meaningless, ridiculous, pomp, and overwrought? Have I been entertaining a four-year flight of fancy? You can’t understand the terror I experienced as I regarded my 218 pages with dread. Had my child, along the way, developed some sort of incurable illness, a deformity, that I only just noticed? Had I woke to lift the blanket and discover something gruesome? I posted something along these lines on Facebook and Twitter, and while scores of friends wrote notes and comments–all coming from a place of kindness–they were the exact opposite of what I needed to hear.

I didn’t need validation. I didn’t need to hear the words, you’re such a good writer, because it’s something I already know. Good writers, even great writers, write bad books. What I needed to hear was that my feelings were normal. Doubting one’s work is normal. I love this world and these characters I’ve created, so much so that the risk of my novel being permanently flawed is entirely too difficult to bear. Never in my life have I been committed to a cast of characters for so long, never have I enjoyed a sort of demi-permanent solitude without the ache of wanting to move to something shiny and new–my god, I even grew tired while writing my memoir–and the thought of this book not seeing the light of day was unbearable. I’ve experimented with form; I’ve meditated on mental illness and how we vilify people who do monstrous things; I’ve attempted to write about hurt, in all of its forms, as quietly as I possibly could. But what if it wasn’t good enough? What if I’m failing?

What I needed, I told my friend, was the comfort of strangers. I needed objectivity. I needed validation of the process, and this anonymous group gave it to me.

My friend talked to me about his project, and I admired him for his ability to be so wholly present in the process. Regardless of what happens to his book, setting aside the circus that is the business of publishing, he’s celebrating the fact that he spent years writing and editing what is now this great work. I watched pride wash across his face, and I realized I needed to swallow some of the sermon I’d be preaching. What I’m enduring is the fall to the ground and the taste of my own blood, and what I’m feeling is the space between the pain of my fall and the rise to my feet. I’ve got to feel this, every moment of it, in order to get up and keep going.

Last night I stayed up late, a rare thing for me to do, and baked these cookies and read through my manuscript as calmly as I could. I read it without pen in hand, poised to edit. I read it without judgment. I read it without comparing myself to what other great writers are doing. I read it for me and I ended up loving it more. So I tell myself that regardless of what happens to this book, at least I wrote it for me. At least I created these people for the express purpose of formalizing so much of what I want to say but can’t articulate without prose.

So here’s me, being present, moving toward the final chapters of the novel. Breathing it out.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe courtesy of Cooks Illustrated
1¾ cups unbleached all-purpose flour (8¾ ounces)
½ teaspoon baking soda
14 tablespoons (7 ounces) unsalted butter, divided
¾ cup (5¼ ounces) dark brown sugar
½ cup (3½ ounces) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 egg
1 egg yolk
1¼ cups semisweet chocolate chips

DIRECTIONS:
Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper. Whisk flour and baking soda together in medium bowl; set aside.

Heat 10 tablespoons butter in 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat until melted, about 2 minutes. Continue cooking, swirling pan constantly until butter is dark golden brown and has nutty aroma, 1 to 3 minutes. Remove skillet from heat and, using heatproof spatula, transfer browned butter to large heatproof bowl. Stir remaining 4 tablespoons butter into hot butter until completely melted.

Add both sugars, salt and vanilla to bowl with butter and whisk until fully incorporated. Add egg and yolk and whisk until mixture is smooth with no sugar lumps remaining, about 30 seconds. Let mixture stand for 3 minutes, then whisk for 30 seconds. Repeat process of resting and whisking 2 more times until mixture is thick, smooth and shiny. Using rubber spatula or wooden spoon, stir in flour mixture until just combined, about 1 minute. Stir in chocolate chips and nuts (if using), giving dough final stir to ensure no flour pockets remain. Chill in the fridge for 15 minutes before rolling into balls.

Divide dough into 16 portions, each about 3 tablespoons (or use a #24 cookie scoop). Arrange 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets, 8 dough balls per sheet.

Bake cookies 1 tray at a time until cookies are golden brown and still puffy, and edges have begun to set but centers are still soft, 10-14 minutes, rotating baking sheet halfway through baking. Transfer baking sheet to wire rack; cool cookies completely before serving.

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17 thoughts on “the perfect chocolate chip cookie + a novel update

  1. A good friend was reading at a local bookstore yesterday evening and during the Q & A she spoke of an experience she had while writing a novel. Her husband had come home to find her crying. Of course, he asked her what was wrong.

    “Samantha died,” she said.

    “Who is Samantha?” he asked.

    Of course, Samantha was a character in her novel and she’d just written Samantha’s death.

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    1. Keith – Can I tell you the same exact thing happened to me? I was writing a very difficult scene and I started to tear up. I had to close my laptop and watch TV. You get so involved with the people you create….

      On Sun, Jun 22, 2014 at 9:38 AM, love.life.eat wrote:

      >

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I am really proud of you! Putting something you created out into the world like that is very brave. Being able to appreciate the moment, being present and grateful for the process is amazing. I’ve had this abbreviated quote in my head for the past couple of weeks…”vulnerability is the greatest form of bravery.” I can’t wait to read your novel. Much love.

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    1. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. I’ve found that sitting in the dark and uncertain places gives folks such discomfort and they’re so ready to make that feeling neat + tidy. Part of this journey is the excitement of having created and the fear that that creation isn’t good enough. Both are equally important to me, and I feel like being present for all these emotions, whether wonderful or sticky, is so important. Much love, f.

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  3. I am not a writer so I’ve no experience with your feelings but I wonder if you have asked yourself why the book had to be written. It’s true that publishers and the public may not be interested but I suspect you have really written this story for yourself, i.e., these characters were making so much “noise” that you had to get them out, you had to write. Therefore, aren’t you already successful? You have a creation that is, in a way, a reflection of you. While the rest of us may or may not be interested, you have a great deal to be proud of and shouldn’t worry about what others think.

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    1. Hi Pat,

      Thank you for the kind + thoughtful comment — certainly food for thought.

      I don’t really think about the “why” when I write. The why is a constant. I write because I compelled to create and share a particular story, one that will hopefully resonate with a specific audience. However, the “how” and “what” are infinitely more interesting. This is what I’ve been doubting, and whether I’ve achieved the two successfully for myself, and inevitably, for a reader. So while I’ve been successful in the act of writing in and of itself, I do care about what I’m writing about and how I’ve done it, and in doing so, will I impact my reader in some profound way.

      Cheers, Felicia

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  4. I’m a writer too, so I definitely relate to these feelings. Hang in there- don’t quit. Believe in yourself.

    And these cookies look fantastic. ;-)

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  5. I just wrote a comment and it was “unable to submit’ Gurrrr.

    Okay…

    So this is browned butter, eh? I’ve been wanting to try something with this method as I’ve heard great things. I’m trying to abstain from sugar, but this seems, ya know, important to try.

    As for other important things, you know I’m no writer, but I think your finding relief in the validation of strangers about your situation is normal. I can be critical of myself and often find it easier to talk to a stranger about things. Recently I realized I’m likely doing this because they don’t know me and won’t be clouded by the rest of my life choices. Sometimes it’s nice to have a decision or situation stand alone.

    It’s so great that you’re experiencing the journey rather than rushing through it, too. I’ve always thought that you seemed like an empathetic person (I’ve no idea why…) but I’m sure it will only make your story & writing better.

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    1. Emily,

      I feel as if I’ve been on a brown butter/caramelization spree! I have to say that employing this method {browned butter and mixing} made for a chewier, nuttier, smokier cookie. While the cookie doesn’t have the heft and crunch of a normal chocolate chip cookie, everyone in the office today remarked on its smooth, nearly creamy-like consistency.

      YUM.

      RE: writing. Thanks for the love. It’s often challenging for me to immerse myself in doubt, while at the same having a healthy dose of perspective. I’m trying to balance both — doubt and light — to breathe through this place and come out on the other side.

      Warmly, f.

      Like

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