When I was a kid I used to love to look at cookie jars. I loved the width and depth of them. The squat ceramic pigs that had removable beanies for tops. The wide glass jars with the metal lids. The Winnie the Pooh honey pots that were so clearly designed for homemade chocolate chip cookies. I loved them all. I used to fantasize about coming home from school to a cookie jar full of fresh cookies that my mom had just put in there that day. That is not the life that I lived. I would come home to exactly two Chips Ahoy! straight out of the blue bag and half a cup of milk. Obviously this is no hardship, but to an 8, 9, 10, 12, 15 year old dreaming of a cookie jar, things could have been better.
It’s not that my mom didn’t know how to bake, she just couldn’t handle having the temptation of a cookie jar in the house. My mother was (is) the queen of the controlled diet, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t love her sweets. When I was a kid and someone gave my mom a box of chocolates or some kind of sweet as a gift, she would eat the whole thing in one day so that she “wouldn’t have to worry about it tomorrow.” If it was gone in one day then the next day she could be vigilant about her diet again.
As my mom was watching her diet, she also kept a very close eye on mine. For as long as I can remember I have been scared of gaining weight. I was never an overweight child, but my mom made me believe that if I wasn’t careful about every bite that went into my mouth, I would balloon up 50 pounds. That’s why she was the one to make my lunch every day and cook dinner every night. She would put me on diets which basically consisted of salads and grilled chicken. I tried to stick to her diets, but when you tell a child, or especially a teenager, that they can’t have something, what happens? I would go to friends’ houses and eat ice cream and cupcakes, and then go home to my mom’s dinner for me. I guess I had a pretty decent metabolism because somehow I would still lose weight and when I did, my mom would get so excited. Sometimes I felt like the only way to have my mom’s complete approval was to drop 10 pounds.
After college, the only time in my life I actually needed to lose weight, I started Weight Watchers and began to change my relationship with food. I lost weight on that program, but couldn’t keep it off because I craved the validation that came from losing weight. I would lose weight and people would tell me how great I looked, and that felt amazing. Then people would stop noticing and slowly I would let the weight creep back on so that I could again experience the compliments of people noticing I was losing weight. It was yo-yo dieting for validation.
Finally, when I was 24 I managed to put a stop to my weight loss cycle by learning to cook. I started out with the recipes on the Weight Watchers website. Suddenly I could make food that I liked that tasted good. I learned how to use herbs and spices and turn a bland, grilled chicken breast over a green salad, into moroccan chicken with roasted vegetables. I started to feel in control of my food instead of food having control over me. I realized I could bake chocolate chip cookies, put them in a container, and not obsess over them. Nothing was off limits. I knew that if I did eat the entire container of cookies (or the bowl of dough…) that I would feel sick afterwards, and that would not feel good. By taking the restrictions off of my food, I started to enjoy it and respect it more. On top of that, I discovered a new passion for cooking.
I love my cookie jar now. It’s not really the jar that I dreamed of, just an oxo container with a vacuum sealed pop-top lid that keeps the cookies fresher longer (since I’m not eating them in one sitting!). I look forward to the day when I have kids of my own and they come home from school and can expect to have freshly made cookies in the house. They’ll get excited to push down on the pop top and spring the lid open, reach in and grab their cookies (“Why don’t you start with 2 and come back if you’re hungry?”). I can’t wait to teach them how to cook and appreciate food. They’ll never have to dream of a cookie jar, one will be within their reach.