writer’s block and a recipe: chocolatey chocolate chip cookies

I have started this paragraph at least ten times, and I have deleted it each time. I have written, and then deleted, countless Facebook status updates and Twitter posts since the beginning of this month. I have writer’s block, and when I do finally write something, the editor inside me is not happy with what I have to say.

My mind is preoccupied with work. I’m right in the middle of a two-week stretch of hospital call, one that won’t end until September 16th. No days off. Long hours. Tired feet.

Though it may sound like it, I really am not complaining. I love what I do – every aspect of it. My job is not just a job. It is a significant part of me, of who I am deep down inside. Being an oncologist is tied in with my identity as a person, just the way that being a wife or a mother is.

But the words that I find myself writing over the past week are not cutting it. My sentences sound stuffy or contrived or false. Like I’m trying too hard.

Every day in the hospital I’m encountering sadness and suffering, mingled with anxiety and fear and helplessness. There is hope, too, but of varying degrees. Because I become emotionally invested in my patients’ outcomes, I feel all of these things, too, at some level, throughout the course of each day.

Which means that whatever I try writing here just sounds trivial and stupid.

If it’s quiet here over the next week, I’m sure you’ll understand.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *

I made these decadent chocolate chip cookies on Saturday evening when I got home from work, as part of my own personal therapy. The cookies were for my family, and they were a hit. The baking process was for me, and it helped. It always does.

 

Yield: approx 2 dozen cookies

Chocolatey Chocolate Chip Cookies

This is adapted from a recipe for Chocolate Chubbies from Sarabeth Levine's book, Sarabeth's Bakery: From My Hands to Yours. I didn't make very many changes - just added some malted milk powder and omitted the nuts. If you like this recipe, you should totally buy her book. It's incredible.

These cookies can be made in advance and stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.

Ingredients:

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
9 ounces of semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped
1/2 cup (2.5 ounces) all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons malted milk powder
3 large eggs, room temperature
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
12 ounces semisweet chocolate chips

Directions:

    1. Position oven racks in the center and top third of the oven; preheat to 350 degrees. Line two half-sheet pans with parchment paper.

    2. Melt chocolate using a double boiler: Bring 1 inch of water to a simmer in a medium saucepan over low heat. Put butter in a wide heatproof bowl or double boiler insert, and melt the butter over the hot water in the saucepan. Add the chopped semisweet and unsweetened chocolate, and stir often until melted and smooth. Remove the bowl from the heat and let stand, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes.

    3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, kosher salt, and malted milk powder.

    4. In the bowl of a stand mixer, whip the eggs using the whisk attachment on medium-high speed until the eggs are foamy and slightly thickened, about 30 seconds. Increase the speed to high and gradually add the sugar and then the vanilla. Whip until eggs are thick and pale yellow, about 3 minutes. Reduce mixer speed to medium and beat in the chocolate, mixing until it is completely incorporated. Change to the paddle attachment and reduce mixer to low speed. Gradually add in the flour mixture. Remove bowl from mixer and, using a wooden spoon, stir in the chocolate chips, making sure to evenly distribute them.

    5. Using a 2-inch diameter ice cream scoop, portion the batter onto the half-sheet pans, placing the cookies about 1 1/2 inches apart. Bake, switching the pans of the position from top to bottom and front to back, about halfway through baking, until the edges of the cookies are set, 17-20 minutes. Do not overbake. Cool completely on baking pans.

Thanks to Sarabeth Levine for giving me permission to reprint this adapted recipe here.

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32 Responses to “writer’s block and a recipe: chocolatey chocolate chip cookies”

  1. 1
    Nancy@acommunaltable — September 8, 2011 @ 2:32 pm

    I suppose in view of the pain and suffering you see on a daily basis, writing about cookies or cakes does seem a bit trivial – (but never stupid!!) But I am not so sure that it is -yes, you are writing about cookies but you are really writing about something else.. You are writing about the simple joys of life. I think that is why people enjoy reading your blog – it’s an escape and it reminds them that, despite the craziness, scariness and pain in their own life, there are simple joys as well – like chocolately chocolate chip cookies.

    The healing power of a good, chocolately chocolate chip cookie should never be underestimated!:-)!!

  2. 2
    Rachel @ Not Rachael Ray — September 8, 2011 @ 3:15 pm

    Well, I think you overcame your writer’s block. As always, beautifully written. I know what you mean about your job. I’m a PT in a hospital, so I’m not as close to the sadness and suffering as you, but just being in a hospital so often can have the tendency to bring you down a bit. However, still wouldn’t trade it for any other job. Also, I’m sure your family doesn’t mind that you turn to baking for therapy. :)

  3. 3
    Paula — September 8, 2011 @ 3:31 pm

    With the shifts you work, in the environment you do and the emotional load that you carry I admire the fact that you do maintain this wonderful site as faithfully as you do. I do understand that it is an outlet from your job as much as it is a way to express your love of writing, food and photography.
    Your honesty in this post, in all your posts, is what jumps off the pages of your blog (not to mention the beautiful photographs) and whether you post daily, weekly, monthly or whatever, we will be here.

  4. 4
    Leah @ LoftyBites — September 8, 2011 @ 3:36 pm

    I was moved by your post… my husband is an orthopaedic surgery intern and although he has just started, he goes through some of the same ups and downs. I also love baking & cooking (just started a food blog myself!) and try to cheer him up through food. It almost always works! It definitely is a good source of therapy. You should ask for foot rubs for your tired feet in exchange for cookies :)

  5. 5
    Joanne — September 8, 2011 @ 3:38 pm

    Beautiful post, aren’t we lucky that we have found something like cooking that can be our therapy! Your post was lovely and nothing you write comes across false or contrived, instead, honest. Also, love the cookies, they look awesome!

    Thinking of you (and your tired feet).
    Joanne

  6. 6
    Bob — September 8, 2011 @ 4:57 pm

    The malted milk powder…where did you pick that up?

    I approach double and triple chocolate chip cookies with skepticism. IMHO, once chocolate (the most wondrous of foods) gets baked into flour and transformed into a cookie, the chocolatey goodness sorta disappears. I’d much rather have a chocolate chip cookie with a 60:40 flour:chip ratio.

    But, this recipe has a much higher ratio of chocolate and butter to flour…more like a brownie.

    It is a beautiful looking cookie.

  7. 7
    Barbara — September 8, 2011 @ 7:12 pm

    I cannot believe how hard my oncologist works. I have access to him 24/7 . If I have a question or problem I can page him and he gets back to me immediately. Maybe because I bake him Greek cookies.

  8. 8
    Brian @ A Thought For Food — September 9, 2011 @ 8:03 am

    You certainly have been incredibly busy recently, MJ. I just hope that you get to take some time for yourself one of these days. I guess sitting down with a plate of chocolate chip cookies isn’t a bad start.

  9. 9
    Julie Blanner — September 9, 2011 @ 9:15 am

    I love anything with malted milk powder and these do not look like an exception! I cannot wait to try them!

  10. 10
    Dmarie — September 9, 2011 @ 10:15 am

    oh, my, two weeks without a break…no wonder you’re feeling a bit of burnout and lack the energy to write. those delicious-looking cookies should be just the thing to tide you over ’til you get a needed break, needed no matter how rewarding the work. hopped over from foodgawker–thanks for sharing!

  11. 11
    claire — September 11, 2011 @ 8:04 am

    these cookies look so yummy :)

  12. 12
    Mardi@eatlivetravelwrite — September 12, 2011 @ 7:34 pm

    Mj – you never cease to amaze me. Not only are you an incredible wife and mum but a fabulous life-saving oncologist. And then you tell me you have writer’s block and I think there will be a post with like, no words. But instead there is a thoughtful, quiet post with a fab recipe. You rock.

  13. 13
    Cheryl Arkison — September 13, 2011 @ 9:26 am

    Two weeks on call? Brutal. Hang in there.
    I’m definitely adding these cookies to the list for my next baking date with my Evil Genius.

  14. 14
    Erin — September 13, 2011 @ 3:24 pm

    These cookies look fantastic. Baking (especially with chocolate I think) can definitely be therapeutic.

    • Merry-Jennifer replied: — September 13th, 2011 @ 7:51 pm

      Very, very true.

  15. 15
    Diane {Created by Diane} — September 14, 2011 @ 2:34 am

    I hope you feel a bit of relief soon, I can only imagine the stress. Baking for me is a huge stress reliever it’s nice to know I’m not the only one who bakes off stress! These cookies look rich and delicious!

  16. 16
    Season with Reason (Rebecca) — September 16, 2011 @ 2:01 pm

    I’m no doctor, but I’ve always seen writer’s block as the body’s way of forcing a day (or a week) off! And what better way to celebrate a “vacation” than with some chocolatey chocolate?

  17. 17
    pickyin @ Life is Great — September 16, 2011 @ 2:08 pm

    It is common for us to face some extent of a writer’s block at certain points of our blogs. There are many days when I have a recipe lined up but just didn’t feel like writing a word of it. Thus I wait it out to get into that zone where I remember why I love my blog and then the words would come.

    On another note, you’re lucky to be doing what you love and having a job that’s not just one. It’s very important in life to have that, just like chocolate.

  18. 18
    Carroll — September 17, 2011 @ 4:10 pm

    Baking/Cooking can reduce all mind clutter and worries…. and the cookies…well they just look divine!

  19. 19
    Nutmeg Nanny — September 17, 2011 @ 4:12 pm

    It sounds like you have overcome your writers block. I can see how working that much could cloud your mind. I guess it’s a good thing you love your work. So many people do not truly understand the love of a job.

    I hope things calm down soon and you have time to rest. Perhaps that is all your mind really needs. And maybe one of these cookies too :)

  20. 20
    doctorbobster — September 17, 2011 @ 9:22 pm

    I turned out a batch today…an outstanding cookie…well worth the effort. I made six and put the rest of the batter in the ‘fridge for later.

    thanks for sharing this great recipe.

  21. 21
    Robbie — September 18, 2011 @ 1:39 am

    These look lovely!!! I really want to try them. Definitelly going to try them :) Thanks for sharing the recipe!
    Awesome blog btw x

  22. 22
    Gail — September 18, 2011 @ 9:07 pm

    I’m sorry. I didn’t read a word of this post. I was hypnotized by that chocolate cookie seductively dripping milk into the glass. Especially when I read the words “malted milk powder”.

  23. 23
    Gail — September 18, 2011 @ 9:10 pm

    Just trying to make you smile.
    Even in ‘blockage’ you’ve send a powerful message.
    xoxo

  24. 24
    Karriann Graf — September 18, 2011 @ 9:11 pm

    Oh these look amazing, happy Baking!

  25. 25
    Lucy — September 20, 2011 @ 10:15 pm

    I totally get the writer’s block problem. Sometimes I know I need to write something but the words or the inspiration is just not there. But I think you pulled it off just by writing about not writing. And the cookies…well, those cookies…divine.

    Thanks for doing what you do and for caring about it–I am positive it makes a real difference in the lives of your patients.

  26. 26
    Susie — September 21, 2011 @ 8:50 am

    These look fantastic. Chocolate cures all – I’m convinced! Thanks for sharing!!

  27. 27
    johnnewman — November 28, 2011 @ 3:37 pm

    These recipes get me excited for holiday baking. Right now I’m teaching my kids to ‘play’ with food, cooking with Rice Krispies :) They been loving these http://ricekrispiesholiday.ca/

  28. 28
    Dr. Bob — July 22, 2012 @ 11:17 am

    Your name was mentioned with praise (again) as my son turned out another batch of these amazing cookies. For the 12 ounces of chocolate chips called for at the end, we substitute the chocolate mocha beans from Koppers.

    https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10150989878421262&set=a.495364791261.268810.692876261&type=3&theater

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