Tuesday, January 1, 2013


Results of the baking frenzy of 2011
I don't know how it all started.  Maybe it was the holiday visit to my high school boyfriend's family.  I baked cookies to bring as a gift.  But they'd like a variety of cookies, surely, so I'd need to make different kinds.  Somehow I ended up surrounded by tins of cookies -- far too many, really.  Was it then that I thought to give the extras to my friends?

It really snowballed in college and graduate school.  I became well-known for my cookie baking:  More and more of my friends asked to be on my holiday cookie list.  I spent days baking to make enough for everyone.  I hunted for new recipes, bored by the old standbys.  After final exams were over, I'd immure myself in the kitchen, surrounded by flour and butter and sugar, in marathon baking sessions that left my feet aching from the hours of standing, my hands wearied from mixing and rolling. An enjoyable pastime had become an exhausting mandate. 

Decorated by Q (2012)

When I moved to Chicago for my post-doc, I decided to leave behind my baking tradition.  No one knows me in Chicago, I thought, so they won't expect me to bake for them!  I'd reinvent myself, let go of the burdensome cookies.  Freed from other's expectations, I cut back on baking.  Of course, I did periodically find myself arriving at parties with homemade quickbread in hand  . . .  but still, the marathon cookie baking sessions were no more, and I was relieved to have given them up.

So how is it that, years later, I am back in the kitchen for 18 hours at a time, baking cookies for the holiday?  I can't blame this on demanding friends, as my list of cookie recipients has dwindled to family and neighbors.  Now I find myself begging my Facebook friends to take cookies and making Q take the extras to work.  So why am I doing all this baking?

Q's GingerDead Men (2011)

One of my professors in graduate school was fond of repeating this well known psychology adage:
The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.

Our past behavior persists for any number of reasons.  My neighbors stop me on the street to thank me for bringing them cookies; my family tells me how delicious the cookies are.  (In psychological terms, my baking behavior is positively reinforced.)  The baking frenzy is a family tradition, one that I now share with my nieces and nephew.  Each cookie is imbued with the fond memories of family gatherings.  Baking is part of my identity; I'm the aunt who has 14 different colors of decorator sugar and a hundred cookie cutters.  I come bearing royal icing and nonpareils.  

Cut out and decorated by my nieces and nephew (8/2011)
The New Year often brings a spate of resolutions for change.  We vow to do things differently from now on.  And change is always possible, to be sure.  But without significant and persistent effort, these resolutions dissipate as we drift back to our previous habits.  Change requires us to alter the reinforcements, reshape our identity, wrench our behaviors out of their well-worn track.  The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.  I haven't given up striving for improvement, but I do so while recognizing the power of my persistent behaviors.  And perhaps I take some comfort in the continuity that represents. 

Happy New Year!  Want a cookie?

Results of the cookie marathon of 2012


  1. I'm in favor of your continuity. (though obviously cycles worth breaking do exist.). Happy new year!

    1. I'm glad you are in favor of the continuity, as one of its beneficiaries. ;-) Thanks for reading and commenting. Happy New Year!

  2. Same story! I used to love cooking in college and would host friends to see how my food is. Everyone seemed to love it ( college students like free food anyways haha). But when I moved to Chicago, I stopped it since 'no one knew I cooked.' But after moving back to East Coast, I'm back to cooking for any meet ups we have.

    1. Interesting! We move away and reinvent ourselves, only to return to our previous behavior pattern later. Maybe it is the pressure of others' expectations, or maybe we just can't resist the lure of the kitchen. ;-)

      Thanks for reading and commenting!