I recently noticed that there seems to be a direct correlation between my increasing age and my decreasing tolerance. Not that I was ever really easy-going but I have become so much more prone to agitation. And it is all of the petty variety brought on by strangers. In all fairness to myself, I am actually more accepting of people I know than people I don’t. Does that make sense?
A few weeks ago my friends Scott and Nancy came down for a visit from Boston and we walked across the Williamsburg Bridge with their friends Gail and Rich to go to Smorgasburg, the food bazaar by the water on the Brooklyn side. This foursome is incredibly can-do, full of more energy and pep than most people I know. They are so curious and always up for anything; their vibe was infectious. I tend to be derisive of the average Billyburg resident, what with their hipster affect and foodie earnestness, but the mere presence of Nancy & Co. helped me stay in the moment and, despite the brutal heat, fully enjoy a day in the sun eating a perfect Connecticut-style lobster roll (hot butter instead of mayo; d-lish!) and a blueberry-apricot popsicle. However, everyone has her limits and on our standingroom-only subway trip home, I felt the thorns of my old self poking through my cheerful patina.
“I can’t believe it’s so crowded on a weekend!” I whined to Nancy as a sweaty, sleeveless person trying to read a book on a packed train brushed up against my exposed shoulder.
“Really? I didn’t even notice!” she smiled.
Now usually when people don’t support my kvetching I become secretly annoyed. How can they not agree? What’s wrong with them and why are they so content?! But I decided to use this instance as a teaching moment. If Nancy and Scott aren’t bothered, why should I be?
That lasted about five minutes until we arrived at our stop and had to wade through the teeming, steaming platform to get to the stairs, where the slowest woman on earth was hoisting herself up to street level. I felt my chest tighten. But it didn’t stop there. At the top of the stairs was a guy who thought now would be the perfect time to stop dead in his tracks and check his iPhone. What is wrong with people? Did he really not know that another 100 people had just gotten off of the train and were trying to get outside, just like him? Maybe I want to check my iPhone too but I know better than to assume everyone else is going to take my need into consideration and gingerly step aside while I hold up the whole exit system!
I guess it’s the sense of entitlement that upsets me the most—like there is no one else on the planet but the offending person. There’s this kid in my building who rides his skateboard up the block so fast, his shaggy, over-grown Justin Bieber hair flying in the wind. He careens into the building and could easily take out one of our older residents, not to mention me. And the thing is, for some reason I find myself unable to confront him. He’s a 14 year old boy! What is wrong with me? But that’s just it. I am more comfortable muttering under my breath and letting my blood pressure skyrocket than just dealing with something, or someone, in a straightforward way. I can talk a big game but when it comes to tackling it head-on, I wimp out. And I secretly hope the kid cracks his skull on the sidewalk. (But far enough away from our building’s door so that his parents can’t sue the co-op.)
Of course you don’t have to be a teenager to be selfish and unaware of your surroundings. Being a movie star helps too. Awhile back I was in a local upscale drugstore while a famous actress, we’ll call her CZ-J, was there with her kids and her little fluffy dog. The pooch was on a retractable leash and while she was chatting with the saleswoman the dog had walked far enough away so that his leash stretched across the entire aisle, blocking anyone from passing.
“Um, excuse me?” I said politely, assuming she hadn’t noticed her dog’s actions.
“Um, can I get by?” I said again.
Still chatting with saleswoman, no acknowledgment of me.
Finally I just climbed over the leash, squelching my temptation to kick the little fluff-ball out the way, and looked back at the two chatty Cathy’s (get it?) who didn’t even glance my way. Who does that? And why am I the one forced to adjust myself because of someone else’s thoughtlessness?
I thought I was alone in my pain until I had lunch with my friend Liza the other day. We both got so annoyed (under our breath of course) at the jerk sitting at the table behind us who pushed himself so far back as to literally slam his chair into mine. When the force of the movement caused me to lurch forward I turned my head around quickly and he just kind of stared at me. His lunch companion said, “Dude, you backed into her,” and he grunted something unintelligible. Why couldn’t he just say, “I’m so sorry, please excuse me”? This got Liza and me on a rant about people who text on the street while walking and not looking up, and people who drink open cups of hot coffee on the subway (one abrupt station stop away from causing third degree burns on their fellow commuters), and mothers on cell phones who barrel down the sidewalk using their strollers as weapons. I was out of breath by the time I finished cataloging the affronts to civility that we encounter on a daily basis every time we step out of the serenity of our apartments.
By the time I got home I was in a frenzy. And then I remembered that I had yet to break the binding of a new cookbook I’d been given for my birthday, and isn’t my love of baking borne out of its ability to soothe and calm? Yes, it is. And it is exactly what Joanne Chang’s chocolate chunk cookies did for me. Like most sweet-tooths my search for the perfect chocolate chip cookie is never ending. And I want to keep it that way because I’m not sure what will happen to me if I stop. The quest is part of the fun. These are enormous, and I have to say the portion-controlfreak in me found it almost physically painful to scoop out so much dough at once. But the size gives them a great texture of crispy around the edges and soft in the middle. Using excellent chocolate is worth the extra time needed for chopping and the slightly extra expense. Don’t skimp. The toughest part was waiting a few hours to bake them, but by the time I had measured and mixed, scooped and cleaned up, my blood pressure was back to normal and I was in a calm Zen-like place—which is where I stayed, until I had to leave the house again.
Calm Yourself Chocolate Chunk Cookies
from Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston's Flour Bakery & Cafe, by Joanne Chang, 2010
Printer Friendly Version
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup unbleached, all-purpose flour
1 cup bread flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
9 ounces semisweet chocolate (about 1 1/2 cups)
2 1/2 ounces milk chocolate, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or a handheld mixer or a wooden spoon), cream together the butter and both sugars on medium speed for about 5 minutes or until mixture is light and fluffy. (If using a handheld mixer or wooden spoon it will take more like 10 minutes.) Stop the mixer a few times and use a rubber spatula to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl and the paddle to release any clinging butter or sugar. Beat in the eggs and vanilla on medium speed for 2-3 minutes, or until thoroughly combined. Scrape the bowl and paddle again to make sure the eggs are thoroughly incorporated.
In a medium bowl, stir together both flours, baking soda, and salt until well mixed. Add both chocolates and toss to combine. On low speed (or with the wooden spoon), slowly add the flour-chocolate mixture to the butter-sugar mixture and then mix just until the flour mixture is totally incorporated and the dough is evenly mixed.
For the best results, scrape the dough into an airtight container and let it rest in the fridge overnight (or for at least 3-4 hours) before baking. When you are ready to bake, position a rack in the center of the oven, and heat to 350 F.
Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Drop the dough in 1//4 cup balls (I used a regular sized ice cream scoop), spacing them about 2 inches apart. Flatten each ball slightly with the palm of your hand.Bake for 15-18 minutes, or until the cookies are golden brown on the edges and slightly soft in the center. DO NOT let them get brown all the way through and over bake, you want the center be slightly underbaked and chewy. Let cool on the baking sheet on a wire rack for 5-10 minutes, then transfer the cookies to a rack to cool completely.
Yield: 24 cookies