Dorie Greenspan has a classic recipe for the perfect cookie that she got from Pierre Hermé. It’s basically a French sablé but like an American chocolate chip cookie, it is made with both white and brown sugar. It’s got cocoa and chocolate and butter and salt and that wonderful sandy sablé texture. It’s so perfect it got nicknamed the World Peace Cookie because clearly if everyone ate it, they would be too content to argue.
And then she improved it. She added four things and gave them symbolic meanings: “rye flour for groundedness, cocoa nibs for strength, pepper for unpredictabililty, and raspberries for sharpness and verve.”
The dough, she explains, is unpredictable. Sometimes it comes together quickly and other times you just have to keep working it. It might seem crumbly but, she reassures, it will come together in the end. So, I think, as I knead and press and corral escaped chunks of chocolate, to the four qualities there is also a fifth: patience. It is as if the cookie represents the solution to our discontents while its components are the tools to get there.
I notice as well that the cookie begins with a full embrace of darkness and bitterness. These are no iced sugar cookies, all sweetness and saturated color. Sugar balances them but leaves them sharp on the tongue and addictive. These are cookies of courage for the darkness and dread of the winter solstice.
Am I making too much of a cookie? Pushing the metaphor too far? Perhaps, but if I am going to look into the darkness, I want good chocolate.
Celebrating the thing we believe was born at the darkest time of the year, whether that be the sun, a baby, or the deep underground gestation of seeds, means knowing the darkness, reflecting on it, making the darkness into a meditation. Embracing the season, though, calls up not only fears of exterior threats but also fears of our own dark side. We Americans are historically deeply averse to looking at our shared dark side and now we face daily reminders that there are many of us who would prefer to pretend the dark side does not exist at all. Indigenous peoples, slavery, systematic racism, Vietnam, white supremacy …. Once the dark side gets denied or suppressed, it shows up somewhere else and in myriad ways. At the dark time of the year primal fears of these unacknowledged monsters under the bed creep into the festivities, like cute-but-creepy nutcrackers.
Many familiar carols of the season know this truth. Set in a minor key, they are filled with mystery, longing — O Come, O Come Emmanuel, What Child Is This?, I Wonder As I Wander. They question, they plead. They give voice to the fears and join us to the ancestors who felt the same.
Two days ago I woke in the darkness of 5:00 a.m., my dog stirring beside me. Something had wakened us both. I listened and heard yipping. My dog’s head snapped toward the window. My neighbor’s motion-sensitive light came on. Coyotes, I thought, moving past my room, wildness just beyond the glass. My imagination followed them on their path through the yards and down into the gorge.