I don’t love to admit this, but there was a time in my life that I didn’t think I needed you; I was wrong about that. After high school, and a few half-hearted attempts at college classes, I thought maybe living my life was way more important than learning things from books. I kept working full-time; no college for me, at least not at that point. I was burned out, needed a break, and if there was one thing I was sure of, it was that I had zero ideas about what I really wanted to do with my life.
Looking back, I don’t think that was a bad move on my part. I still don’t understand how most kids know at the wee age of 18 what they want to do with the whole rest of their time on the planet. Some do: I have a friend whom I’ve known since middle school who always wanted to be a veterinarian, and she is – you guessed it – a veterinarian now. But it seems like most kids have roughly the same idea of their future at 18 years old as they did at 8, when their hearts were set on being astronauts or race car drivers.
So library, I didn’t mean to forget you; certainly I read books during our time apart, but not in the way that I used to, because I just didn’t make the time for it. But because of your earlier influence, I found my way back to school; on my own time, in 2002. I chose to major in English Literature with an almost-minor in Political Science. It was exactly what I wanted it to be: a degree where I would be challenged, forced to read endless amounts of material, research until my eyes dried up like the Sahara, and then write about it coherently. Yay!
And so it was that I found my way back to you, too; that absence made my heart grow fonder. You looked good, Library; really good, and I could tell you had really taken care of yourself. You had updated your material, just opened a new branch, and had rolled out the beginnings of what would be one of my most-frequented places on the internet: your online catalog and ordering system. It wasn’t as streamlined as it is now, but it was incredible to see how far you had come.
Library, that online ordering system saved me countless hours of drive time. Not only could I locate where my books were, I could have them delivered to my nearest branch. I lived within walking distance of the Weber Road branch during college, and would scoot my way up there to collect my often massive amount of books needed for papers. I wrote so many papers, Library; many of them inside your walls. My favorite writing branches were Tesson Ferry (also near my house, larger, and nice to aimlessly wander through when I took breaks from my gigantic laptop) and Headquarters (my ultimate branch, and an excellent choice for my Poly Sci research and papers.) You made it easy to focus; something about the smell of thousands of books really inspires me to work.
You may be wondering why I did so much actual book research when by this time, sites like Wikipedia were well-established and the internet was a veritable treasure-trove of information. Well, Library, I still think it’s the best way to research. In books, you can’t just type in “Earl Warren” and get someone else’s summary of Earl Warren and the critical part he played in history. When you use books to research, you have to look up first which books mention him; chances are, that’s quite a few books. Then you narrow down what specifically you want to know, find references in those books, and grab them. Then you need to find the index, locate the specific reference, and read near the mention until you find what you’re looking for. How is this better? Because while you’re finding the information you need, you’re reading through information; things you may not have found online with a directed search. You gather things in your brain, and they stay there; maybe they make you want to find out more about them.
Confession time, Library: I almost stole a book from you during this era, but I didn’t. It was a brown-covered book on the Kent State Massacre, written and published just after the shootings had occurred. It was, I believe, a first edition. Often times those first editions still contain so much raw emotion resulting from the topic; another thing so valuable to have in this age of near-constant revision. I hope you still have it: I may search for it to see if you do. I wish I could remember the exact title or author. If you ever want to part with it, please let me know. It was one of the best books I’ve ever read.
Library, this may have been when I figured out your biggest value. You speak to my long-term memory, where the internet speaks to my short-term memory. I read and forget information found online hundreds of times a day, but I learn things from books. I have to dig around in books; comb through them and really think about what I find. Don’t get me wrong, I think online research is a spectacular companion to book-based research, but it is certainly no replacement.
So I made it through college, in three years; I was mega-full time and always carried a full load through the summer, and you were a big part of me getting through the journey as quickly as I did. During those years, I remembered how much I loved you outside of school, and I started reading more and more on my own time. It was difficult during school, because there was so much else I was required to read, but I made myself do it. By the time I graduated, I was reading through books at the speed I used to in elementary school, and loving every minute of it. You cared for me during college, Library; your endless supply of material and comforting low hum while I feverishly wrote essays were two of the biggest reasons I was able to stay the course in school. Thanks, Library. There are those who say my English degree is useless; I beg to differ. College should be more about finding what you’re passionate about and going for it, and less about getting what everyone assumes to be a “practical” degree. At least in my opinion.
Remind me I said all of this around 15 years from now when I have a child thinking about her own college plans, okay? Okay.
Libraries are like sugar cookies: always there for you. It is simple, yet complex. Some are fancy on the outside, some are just very basic, but inside? Always wonderful, comforting, and present. Probably you have loved the humble sugar cookie since you were little; such is the case with me and my library.
These are from another perfect cookbook I borrowed from the library for this week. If you like style and sensibility of the Baked guys, then this would be a great one for you to check out. It’s filled with homestyle treats, some with a twist, others just the best possible versions of themselves. This sugar cookie is a good example of the latter: it couldn’t be more simple, but it’s fluffy, and light, and has incredible flavor. Bonus: evidently the authors are responsible for bringing the whoopie pie to Britain; a pretty epic claim to fame.
One of the pitfalls of having a “go-to” recipe for a certain type of cookie, or cake, et cetera, is that you forget there are other versions out there to try. Such is the case with sugar cookies for me: I have a great recipe which everyone loves and that is perfect for cutouts and decorating, as it stays put when you bake it. These are the opposite of the ones I normally make, and are delightful: big, round, and unashamedly puffy. I love them, because now I have not one, but two perfect sugar cookie recipes that I can switch out depending on my mood. Feeling like an exact, royal-icing ready cookie? Use my classic sugar cookie recipe. Feeling like diving into a giant, sprinkle-laden puffball? These are the ones for you.
Adapted (just barely) from Piece of Cake: Home Baking Made Simple by David Muniz and David Lesniak. Bakers, this is your dream book, especially if you enjoy American dessert classics. Non-bakers, you’ll enjoy this too; the recipes are straightforward and decidedly un-finicky, with some really lovely results. These two are also the owner of a beautiful bake shop in London called “Outsider Tart,” which is my imaginary nickname.
Note: I halved this recipe when I made them, mostly because I didn’t need a pile of delicious, Saturn-sized cookies lying around my house. I’m giving you the full recipe, which using my 2-ounce ice cream scoop, makes around 20 gigantic cookies. If you don’t need that many, or are making them smaller, it’s easily cut in half.
Classic Sugar Cookies
- 4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt (scant)
- 1 1/2 cups unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup grapeseed oil (a favorite of mine for vanilla things, as there is zero flavor)
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 4 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- so many sprinkles (for rolling; you could use the non-pareils, the bar-shaped sort, or sanding sugar)*
*I realized for perhaps the first time with these that sprinkles can slightly alter the way your cookies bake. My bar-shaped classic sprinkles got a little melty in the oven, but hardened once the cookie cooled; leaving a bit of color bleed. The non-pareils hung on to their shape and didn’t melt or soften one bit, and made for the roundest domes, while the sanding sugar yielded a flatter, slightly more spread out cookie. It’s a science thing probably having to do with heat which I’m going to try and explore later. For now, cookie away.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter on medium speed for 1-2 minutes until fluffy. Turn down the mixer to low and stream in the oil, then pour in the sugars, crank up the speed to medium, again, and beat for 1 minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the eggs and vanilla, beating on medium until fully incorporated.
Add the flour mixture in three parts, beating on low just until each addition is incorporated, about 15 seconds per addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed , and be careful not to overmix. Once your final addition has been incorporated, remove the bowl and stir with a spatula, making sure your batter is homogenous and there are no dry patches.
Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to overnight; your batter will be soft but will firm up with some chill time.
When you’re ready to bake them, preheat the oven to 350˚F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Using a 2-ounce ice cream scoop (or larger, if you dare), scoop out balls of dough, flattening the bottoms with your hand. Dunk them into the sprinkles, covering all sides except the bottom, and place 4 at a time onto the prepared sheet pan. Use the palm of your hand to flatten them slightly (which also helps to press stray sprinkles firmly into the dough.)
Bake for 13-15 minutes, until edges have just started to turn a light golden color. Your middles will be soft, so leave them on the baking sheets to cool for 10 minutes or so. Transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely before serving.
These store well in an airtight container for up to 3 days.