My apartment building caught fire once. It started in the front bedroom of a corner unit. Pillows of black smoke poured from the windows. Small children ran barefoot into the street. Parents frantically counted, checked, and double-checked that everyone had made it out. My roommate yelled to hurry as she ran for the stairs.
I was searching for my grandmother’s pearls.
I had my laptop in one hand, my passport in the other, and I stuffed that beautiful white strand right into my pocket like the cotton of my sweatpants could protect it.
That’s what I grabbed. In the heat of the moment, my thesis, passport, and pearl necklace were the things – the tangible, physical things – I couldn’t live without.
I remember standing on the street, watching the firefighters run up the stairs one, after another, after another. They carried large hoses and axes. Through the facemask of one who passed close by, I saw eyes. That was all I could see. No nose. No mouth. Just eyes. They looked like calm eyes. Kind eyes. Eyes that were focused, but determined not to allow anyone back into the building.
Which, I seriously contemplated when I realized I’d only put on one sock before slipping on my shoes. One sock. Who does that? It’s damn uncomfortable, let me tell you, to be standing on a street corner, sweating despite the cold. Sweating, because you’re so amped up. Sweating and only wearing one sock.
That’s how I stood there, watching and waiting to see if my home would be saved. That’s the last apartment I’ve lived in and I remember thinking to myself, why don’t I have renter’s insurance?
I didn’t because most of us didn’t. Heck, I didn’t know anyone who did. College students. Grad students. Renter’s insurance? You can see how those things just didn’t mix.
And when the fire was out, when we were able to go back inside, assured no structural damage had been done, I remember seeing an old woman holding a roasting pan. All she had was that damn pan and the slippers on her feet.
It occurred to me then that I’d failed to grab the nice bottle of wine my roommate and I had been sharing.
Priorities people. Clearly, I needed to work on mine.
This was a $15 bottle of wine. Which might sound like a cheap, pour down the drain endeavor to some folks. But, when you’re a broke grad student, that’s one hell of a splurge.
Sitting in my room right now, I wonder what I’d grab. I’m sure I’d go for the computer and maybe the camera. But, would I remember the black and white photo of Gavey smoking a pipe? Would I think to take the glass measuring cup my Iowa grandma used to use for pouring milk, the small card on which Garrett wrote, “because I like to see you smile,” or my autographed copy of Molly Wizenburg’s A Homemade Life?
What would you take if you could? What would you save?
It’s quite the puzzling question. For now, I think I’ll ponder it with a cookie. Or maybe five. Won’t you join me?
Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated
2 cups plus 2 TBS all-purpose flour
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
12 TBS (1-1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled until just warm
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
½ cup granulated sugar
1 large egg, plus 1 large egg yolk
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 to 1-½ cups semisweet chocolate chips
Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
Whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. Set aside.
Mix the butter and sugars until thoroughly blended. Beat in the egg, yolk, and vanilla until combined. Add the dry ingredients and beat at low speed until just combined. Stir in the chips to taste.
Roll a scant ¼ cup of dough into a ball. Holding onto it with the fingertips of both hands, pull the ball apart into two equal pieces. Rotate both pieces so that the jagged, ripped edge is facing upwards, then push both halves together again with the jagged edges still facing upwards. Place the dough on the baking sheet, spaced about 2½-inches apart.
Bake 15 to 18 minutes, until the cookies are light golden brown. Rotate the baking sheet about halfway through for even baking.
NOTE: Don’t overbake! The cookies will harden when cooled and the centers will set.