Sometimes it's better to bake a cookie than to have a long, drawn out conversation. Sometimes we need a spoonful of chocolate chip cookie batter to set things right. Sometimes we cook when we don't know what else to say, or when we've already said what we can. We cook to satisfy our bellies and our emotional hungers. Simply put, cooking is a language of love.
This sentiment is reflected beautifully in this poem by ETP's second place winner, MariJean Sanders. You feel the struggle in the poem. A struggle of the heart, twisting this way and that, yearning to express itself, and what comes out is not a soothing word, but a plate of cookies that says I love you.
You should know
we resort to cookies
when we run out of words.
when saying is too sharp
or too incoherent -
here have some
extra-stuffed chocolate chip, pumpkin-buttermilk
seven layer snickerdoodle
(yes let’s fill you up with too much sweet -
as if you really need it-)
it’s maternal instinct, maybe.
Or perhaps we just fail at loving,
and all we’ve got to hide behind now, our
is coded for your tastebuds, masterpiece-by-the-dozen
(maybe you missed it)
allow me to translate.
I love you
cookies mean I need a hug
cookies mean I just wish you would
say I’m beautiful or
tell your friends that I’m Pretty Much the Best
cookies mean please don’t leave
because I feel at home when you’re around,
I’m so very proud of you
you can do it I know you can and
I want you to know so badly that
I’m afraid to tell you
We stir it all in
with the butter and vanilla
Q&A With MariJean
What struck me first about "Translation" was how relatable it was. Has food always been a language of love for you?
Yes! I grew up with family dinner as a central part of the day, and gathering around the table with family or friends are some of my best memories. Particularly after a hard day’s work. Nothing draws people together like working hard together and then sitting down for a meal afterwards.
Also I am drawn to anything that piques the five senses, and food has a special monopoly - sitting down to eat is one of the only things that utilizes sight, sound, smell, touch and taste. And since eating also happens to be necessary to sustain life, a well-done dish is a wonderful example of making the most of what you have, transforming something potentially mundane into a masterpiece.
Tell us a bit about the genesis of the poem and what compelled you to write it.
I ran for my college’s small cross country and track team, where often the entire team would go to the cafeteria together for dinner after practice. Since it was such a small team, often the guys and girls would train together as well. Therefore, I developed relationships with both the guys and the girls on the team. I started to notice that girls could compliment and affirm each other verbally, whereas that didn't work so well with the guys. For instance, I could tell my girls “I’m so proud of you” after a great race – but those words wouldn't communicate what I meant as effectively with the guys – they were too afraid of anything that smacked of sentiment! Baking them cookies always seemed to get the message across, though.
The poem is a sort of universal confession from women to men they care about (though not all women and men will communicate exactly alike!) – when we get frustrated with the sometimes vast gulf of communication that exists between the sexes, it isn't words, but food, that can occasionally bridge the gap. Which is a bit magical, I think.
Besides chocolate chip cookies and snickerdoodles, what's your favorite thing to cook?
Pie is definitely my specialty. This summer I think I averaged one pie a week. My two latest pies were a pie baked into a cake (a piecaken) and a pie shaped like a pirate ship. I enjoy experimenting and making anything from as 'scratch' as it gets (I even butchered a turkey once), and I love recreating recipes from my favorite stories. I could also make and eat any kind of soup or pesto every single day.
Download the anthology to read the rest of MariJean's interview.
Adapted from Michael Rhulman
4 tablespoons butter, browned
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
4 tablespoons pumpkin puree
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
Pinch of salt
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
When the butter has cooled slightly, pour it into the bowl of a stand mixer and add the sugars and pumpkin. Mix on medium speed until well incorporated. Reduce speed to low and add the egg and vanilla; mix until combined. Gently add the dry ingredients and mix until juts combined; dough will be slightly sticky. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Stir the sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl, then drop heaping tablespoons of dough into the bowl and roll around to coat before rolling between your palms to make a uniform circle. Chilled dough will be easier to work with, but will still be a bit sticky, so rolling the dough in the cinnamon sugar first will make it easier to rub between your palms. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake for 12 minutes, or until edges are golden.