For years, I offered to make cookies for all of the Mormon missionaries I met, as long as they wrote me a letter. The only requirements I have are that the letter has to be handwritten (not an email that is carbon copied to everyone in their mailing list), and it has to be about something good that they’ve learned or experienced on their missions. A moment when something difficult led to blessings, or an “Aha!” moment when they saw or heard something that gave them greater understanding into a concept they hadn’t understood before. Then, they just had to tell me what kind of cookie they wanted. Any kind at all. (A favorite cookie that Mom used to make, something new that they wanted to try, or even a brand-new custom flavor invented entirely for them.) But none of the missionaries thought I was really serious, and so no one took me up on the offer.
And I guess I get it. We live in a cynical world, where it’s easy to filter everything through the “what’s in it for me?” test. So why would someone offer to bake homemade cookies for people she barely knows?
Then, one day about three years ago, Elder Robert Calkins, a Mormon missionary in Albuquerque, New Mexico was at our house for dinner. I gave him my cookie promise, and my kids encouraged him to take me up on the offer. (If I’m making cookies for someone, after all, the kids get to eat some of the fresh-out-of-the-oven goodness.) He laughed. I’m pretty sure he didn’t think it would actually lead to anything. But he had a cool experience to share that he was excited about. So he pulled out a piece of paper, and right then and there, wrote a letter about something he had experienced a few days earlier.
“I don’t know what kind of cookies to ask for, though,” he said as he finished the letter. So my son suggested his favorite: one of my relatively new recipes, which I had created at the request of my good friend, Brenda Drake. Oatmeal Chocolate Chip with Red Chile.
When I gave him my reply letter and a batch of freshly-baked cookies a few days later, the other missionaries noticed.
“How did you get those cookies?”
*shrug* “I wrote a letter.”
“Wait. That works?!?” And suddenly, other missionaries were writing me letters about the amazing experiences and life-changing moments they had on their missions.
I’ve shared this recipe before, but since I’m dedicating this month to highlighting the good and wonderful things I see in the world, and the good and wonderful people who populate my little corner of it, I have to share again. Because this recipe is tied to so many of my favorite people that it never fails to make me smile when I make the cookies.
I think of Brenda, an amazing author, the creator of Pitch Wars, an inspiration and mentor to countless writers, and one of the all-around best people I know. These cookies wouldn’t even exist without her, because she was the one who challenged me to make the New Mexico version of oatmeal chocolate chip cookies in the first place.
I think of Robert Calkins, an amazing young man who trusted my word enough to try my promise, and reminded me (and several other missionaries who took me up on my promise because of his success) that sometimes we’re our own biggest roadblock in life. It’s so easy to talk ourselves out of things that we want, simply because we don’t trust that the blessings will be waiting for us at the end of our challenges. And while it’s a wise thing to remember that, when something seems too good to be true, it usually is … It’s also important to have faith in the goodness and promises of people we associate with. Sometimes, a little effort can bring very sweet rewards.
I think of my son, Ben, who is one of the most inspiring and amazing people I know. Ben has a talent for truly seeing people. He can pinpoint, often within minutes of meeting someone, the strengths and weaknesses of that person. And he generally uses this super power for good, reflecting back to each person their best qualities, and finding little ways to lift and help them through their weak moments. He’s one of my heroes, a true example of the unconditional, Christ-like love we all want in our lives, and I strive to emulate this behavior as much as I can. These are Ben’s favorite cookies, so they don’t stick around long at our house, when I make them. But I love making them, because they always make him smile.
And I think of another Mormon missionary I’ve come to know and love: Savanna Sanborn, who came into our lives and became something of a big sister for my daughters. When she totally cheated my system and cleverly requested not one but four original cookie recipes by asking me to create a representation of the various Harry Potter houses in cookie form, I had to cheat right back and repurpose one of my already-created recipes. These sweet, but a little bit spicy, cookies felt perfect for the challenge.
These are my Gryffindor cookies. A representation of the Harry Potter house that even people who have never read the books will recognize. The familiar flavors of the oatmeal chocolate chip are like the old friends you know and love, who you can count on to always be there for you when life gets you down. And the unexpected kick of the red chile represents the bravery and adventurousness of the house of Gryffindor. It takes a little bit of daring to bite into a cookie that might be spicier than you’re used to, but they are so worth the risk!
"Gryffindor-Inspired": Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies with Red Chile
You will need:
2 c. butter, softened
2 c. dark brown sugar
1 c. granulated sugar
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. vanilla
4 c. oats
4 c. whole wheat flour (you can also use all-purpose, but whole wheat tastes better)
1/2 - 2/3 c. diced dried red chiles (these can be as mild or as spicy as you like)
1 pkg. mini chocolate chips
2 c. raisins (opt.)
In a large mixing bowl, cream together butter and sugars.
Add eggs, baking soda, salt and vanilla, and beat until creamy.
Stir in oats.
Add the flour, 1 cup at a time, beating well after each addition.
Mix in chiles, chocolate chips and raisins, if desired.
Chill dough for 30 minutes to 2 hours. (This step isn’t strictly necessary, but chilling the dough allows the butter to solidify slightly and gives the cookies a fluffier texture. If you’re too impatient and choose not to chill the dough, your cookies might come out fairly flat. They will also spread more as they bake, so make sure to leave extra room on the tray between cookies, so they won’t run together while baking.)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
Using a 1-inch cookie scoop, portion the dough onto an ungreased cookie sheet (I like to line my cookie sheets with parchment paper for easy clean-up, but you shouldn’t need it for a non-stick cookie sheet).
Bake for 8-10 minutes, until bottom edges are slightly golden brown. Remove from cookie sheet and cool on a wire rack.