Thursday, September 11, 2008

A 9/11 Remembrance: Baking a Little Love into the World

On September 11, 2001 I was 23 years old, one year out of college, and working as an analyst with the Department of Defense just north of Washington DC. I remember that day like it was yesterday -- the intensity of the fear, the profound sadness, the confusion, and the incomprehensibility of what had happened.

I'd gotten into work early that day, by 8:00, which was highly unusual for me. I answered the phone when one of my co-workers (who was on leave that day) called in to say "Turn on CNN, someone just flew a plane into the World Trade Center." I remember thinking it must have been an inexperienced pilot who lost control of his little plane when out flying. It NEVER occurred to me that someone had intentionally flown a plane into the WTC with the intent to cause as much death and destruction as possible.

The one TV for our entire office was in my cubicle area, and I went and got someone who knew how to turn it on (with the way it was set up, you practically needed an advanced degree to turn the dang thing on!). When I saw what was really happening, that this was not an unfortunate accident, but rather a terrorist act, my jaw dropped. As word spread around the office, more co-workers trickled into the area, and before long, the entire office was standing around the television watching in a stunned silence, trying to comprehend what was happening.

I remember calling Psycling, who was a grad student at UMD at the time, and I asked him "are you watching the news?" He said he'd been trying to get to the CNN website for his daily news check, but assumed the server was down because the page wasn't loading. Then I told him what was happening. He and his friends found a television and joined the rest of the nation as we watched events unfold.

I remember watching CNN, a journalist reporting live from the Pentagon, when the third plane hit there. I remember hearing the fear and confusion in his voice (his initial assessment was that "a bomb just went off here at the Pentagon"). And I remember the intense fear I felt at that moment. This was not an isolated event in New York City, this was national. And it was happening near me. And they were targeting Defense facilities in the Washington DC area. And there I was, working in a Defense facility in the Washington DC area. It didn't take very long for me to realize "IT COULD HAPPEN HERE!!!" The fear I felt at that realization was deeper and more intense than any other I had ever felt up until then, or since. My legs were shaking, I was feeling nauseous.

At that point I decided to go home. I wasn't getting any work done, and I knew I wouldn't the rest of the day. We were all just standing around the television, and I figured I could do that much more safely from my apartment. After shutting down my computer and locking up my work space, I practically ran out of the building. And then I got outside, where the perfect fall weather seemed so eerily at odds with what was happening in the world. It was warm for September, sunny, with bright blue skies, puffy white clouds, and just a hint of red and yellow dotting the green trees that lined the Baltimore-Washington Parkway.

I got home and Psycling arrived not too long afterwards, as did my roommate, who also worked for the DoD. It turns out they evacuated the facility. We were out of work for three days, as the powers that be figured out what was going on, and made sure everything was safe.

The next day, I was so overwhelmed with the death and destruction that I could not bring myself to continue watching the non-stop news coverage; I did not want to be continually bombarded with the image of the planes hitting the towers. As it is, that is something that is seared into my brain forever. Amid all this craziness, sadness, hatred, evil, I needed to do something good; I needed to create, to prove to myself that good can and will triumph over evil, and we will get past this. Not knowing what else to do, I baked. I'd recently been to a wedding where the favors were heart-shaped cookie cutters attached to a recipe for sugar cookies. Hearts represent love, and to me, love was the antithesis of the evil and hatred that perpetuated these terrorist attacks. Baking these heart shaped cookies was my way of saying "F$*K YOU" to the terrorists, of saying that despite this horrible thing that you have done, you HAVE NOT WON!! Because I still have love and soul and passion and those cannot be taken away. And those things will over come in the end.

This year, the 9/11 anniversary has hit me harder than it has in recent years. I had a hard time falling asleep last night, as the images and feelings of that day played through my head like a movie. And I knew what I had to do. I had to make cookies.

I still believe that in the end, love and compassion will win out. I have to believe that. So today was spent doing what I love with the people I love.

When I woke up this morning, Psycling agreed to watch LC while I got busy in the kitchen. I couldn't find my original sugar cookie recipe (I tore through all my folders of recipes looking for it), so I looked for a comparable one, one that uses confectioners sugar instead of granualted sugar, and includes Cream of Tartar. None of my cookbooks had an acceptable recipe, and couldn't find one on Epicurious either. So I turned to my friend Google, and after some searching found this recipe.

These cookies came out really well. They were soft and chewy; sweet but not overly so. In essence, exactly what I wanted in my sugar cookies. I baked these cookies in remembrance and honor of all who lost their lives or their loved ones on 9/11, and as an outward display of my faith that the goodness that is inherent in humanity is stronger than evil and hatred. What better way to demonstrate that than to share the love. So we took the entire batch of cookies into Psycling's lab at school to feed hungry grad students.

I may not be saving the world, but at least I can bake a little love into it.


* 1 cup butter, softened
* 1 1/2 cups sifted confectioners' sugar
* 1 egg
* 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
* 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
* 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
* 1 teaspoon baking soda
* 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
* 1/4 cup granulated sugar for decoration


1. In a large bowl, cream together the butter and confectioners' sugar until smooth. Beat in the egg and stir in the vanilla and almond extract. Combine the flour, baking soda and cream of tartar; blend into the creamed mixture. Cover and chill for at least two hours.
2. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Divide the dough into two parts. On a lightly floured surface, roll each piece of the dough out to 3/16 inch in thickness. Cut into desired shapes with cookie cutters. Place cookies 1 1/2 inches apart onto greased cookie sheets. Sprinkle cookies with plain or colored granulated sugar.
3. Bake for 8 minutes in the preheated oven, until lightly browned. Allow cookies to cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.