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Cookies for Conan

I made some major life changes around the time Conan O’Brien’s Harvard commencement address was popular on youtube.  In his speech (Parts I and II), Conan says to fall down, make a mess and break something occasionally because it’s only when you’re not afraid of failure that you are truly free.

As a note of caution, let me say this: when you watch it, you will laugh and think he is very wise.  You will nod along because you agree it is silly to be afraid of not being successful.  More than anything, you will be mesmerized by his perfect hair undulating in the Boston breeze.  And then, if you don’t give yourself a time-out, you will be inspired to do something rash.  If you’re like me, you will give notice on your apartment and your job, get a dog, buy your old car back, and move to Alabama.  (It would be awesome if you could do this in time for our Christmas party.  Also, it would help if you play the tuba, own a plaid suit, and know a lot of carols.)

I don’t regret those decisions for a second, but I still struggle with Conan’s advice.  It has a certain intuitive appeal.  It would be a shame to look back on your life and realize you never did what you really wanted because you worried about being successful.  In principle, I agree with him and with this guy:

On the other hand, being afraid of failure can be useful.  For example, when my brother and I were kids, we smuggled our pet guinea pig onto a 6-hour flight to California.  At no point did we consider failure scenarios.  In fact, the only thing we were thinking was that it would be fun for Charlie to come with us on vacation.

MAJOR FAIL, friends.  Charlie may have gone through the x-ray machine in a shoebox.  And while he had an astonishing appetite for carrots and lettuce later that day, he expired a week later.  The lesson I take from this is that being afraid of failure saves lives.

So I don’t know where this leaves me and Conan.  I am pretty excited about my new life of falling down, making a mess, and breaking things, but then again, I bet Charlie was all “WOOHOO! FIELD TRIP!” on the way to the airport.  I am going to think on this, and in the meantime I will share a no-fail recipe with you.  It is always perfect, every time.

Chewy molasses cookies.

They make for delicious ice cream sandwiches, too.

The recipe was posted on by a lady named Shirl, who must be lovely, if these cookies are any indication.  The recipe is here and reproduced as I would explain it below.

Molasses Cookies


3/4 c. shortening

1 c. brown sugar (packed)

1 egg

1/2 c. molasses

2 1/2 c. flour

1/2 tsp. salt

2 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. nutmeg

1 tsp. ground ginger

1 tsp. allspice

white granulated sugar (for dusting)


Cream together the 3/4 c. shortening and the 1 c. packed brown sugar.

Mix in the 1 egg and the 1/2 c. molasses.

In a separate bowl, combine the 2 1/2 c. flour, the 1/2 tsp. salt, the 2 tsp. baking soda, and 1 tsp. of each of the four spices.  Add to the shortening mixture until just combined.

Chill the dough 1-2 hours.

When the dough has firmed up, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Roll the dough into small balls about the diameter of a quarter (the size of a large marble).

Put some white granulated sugar (1/4  c. should do to start) in a bowl and roll each ball of dough in the sugar.  Place cookies on a greased baking sheet at least 2 inches apart.

Bake at 350 for 7-9 minutes.  Transfer cookies to a cool surface.

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14 Comments Post a comment
  1. Kate #

    Oooh, I am definitely going to make these. I really want to find a way for you to watch the episode of Louis called “Duckling.” It is on fx, but I can’t find it available online. Louis C.K. accidentally takes a duckling to Afghanistan, when his daughter puts it in his luggage.

    My dad can play a lot of carols on his tuba, but doesn’t own a plaid suit.

    November 14, 2011
    • Well there you go– you should get him a plaid suit for Christmas!

      I am intrigued about what Louis’ daughter was thinking. Did she think Afghanistan was going to be a better home for the duckling? When I found cute wild animals as a child (turtles, crawfish, frogs), I generally tried to keep them in my bedroom for as long as possible. My goal was pretty much to never let them out of the awesome home (albeit inappropriate ecosystem) that I had built for them. I will have to watch that.

      November 16, 2011
  2. Your blog is hilarious. And that puppy is the cutest thing ever!

    November 14, 2011
    • Dan, so kind of you to say. Thank you. I agree that she is the cutest thing ever, except that she looks totally batty when she is in the mood to eat couch cushions. Which is pretty often. I like your blog a lot and look forward to reading more of it!

      November 16, 2011
  3. DAve #

    you bought your old car back? did it still have 143,000 plastic bottles on the floorboards?

    ps. watch any three episodes of Louis and you will be hooked

    November 14, 2011
    • Dave, the professor took all of the plastic bottles out, even though I reminded him that plastic bottles (both full and empty) come in handy in the event of a nuclear meltdown or other catastrophe. He was unfazed. Now that I have the car back, I have been keeping it very clean because Thunder likes to eat the caps off of them. I need to find a way to wrap the bottles in material and turn them into dog toys. I bought exactly that the other day for like $11.99. It was probably one of my very old bottles that I was buying back, which is not a good business plan for me, going forward.

      November 16, 2011
  4. Really enjoying your writing and gorgeous photography (I’m still working on that!). These cookies look wonderful ….. Must add them to my To Bake list. Mar

    November 16, 2011
    • Thanks, Mar! I am going to try your vinegar chicken sometime soon, and I am also jealous of your celery root adventure– celery root puree is one of my favorite things in restaurants but I’ve never made it myself. I like your picture of the fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice. If you’re like me and you’re working on the photography, you might want to check out tastespotting and foodgawker. I have learned a lot about lighting and composition by just scrolling through and seeing by example how it’s done.

      November 17, 2011
  5. ana #

    I’m gonna try to make this and put them in a cookie jar for Christmas presents :).

    November 22, 2011
  6. These are so cute and puffy, my ginger cookies are chewy and delicious, but they spread out flat. I’ll have to try your recipe. Love the story!

    December 5, 2011
    • Sue, thank you for the comment! It reminded me that there is an article in the most recent Cook’s Illustrated about how to get soft, chewy molasses cookies that don’t spread out. They say putting the rack in the middle position of a 375 degree oven is important. They suggest doing one rack at a time, otherwise the ones on the bottom rack won’t get the pretty cracks in them. They also say to take them out when they look slightly raw and underbaked, which I pretty much always do with cookies (except snickerdoodles). I hope this helps!

      December 6, 2011
  7. The cookies look delicious and the dog is so cute!

    January 3, 2012
    • Woah– you, um, know how to bake cakes, lady! Wow. The stuff on your site is great.

      Thanks for the kind words. The cookies are, indeed delicious–I hope you try them sometime in between you cake baking activities!


      January 3, 2012

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