The Power of Chocolate Chip Cookies

One of the first treats I learned to bake as a young girl was chocolate chip cookies. My mom made sure we had two homemade cookies in our lunches each day for school, now she makes cookies regularly for her grandchildren, and my sister and I both had hundreds of homemade cookies at our wedding receptions. I suppose you could say cookies are part of our family culture.

Chocolate chip cookies were an aspect of my life I carried with me when I lived overseas. On a short-term college trip to South Africa one of my teammates suggested we make chocolate chip cookies for one of our host families. We chopped up a chocolate bar; she remembered the recipe; we baked. The family enjoyed eating the cookies, and we enjoyed sharing a yummy aspect of our American culture with them.

When I headed to Portugal for the first time in my early twenties, I learned each week a different teacher brought goodies to share with the school staff each Friday. Cookies were immediately part of my “treats to bring” repertoire, and I quickly adapted the mantra, “I’ll bring cookies” for most potlucks because making them felt like home and people always enjoyed them. A BBQ in Ireland, a team Christmas party in Portugal, a youth event in South Africa – chocolate chip cookies provided a way to connect with and serve others.

In the classroom chocolate chip cookies were my bargaining tool. Classroom management was a struggle for me, but I learned the promise of homemade cookies at the end of the week had the ability to bring calm and focus to the craziest of classrooms. My students were from around the world, but all of them devoured the cookies. A couple of the girls were from a culture where baking wasn’t common. One summer day my roommate and I taught them how to bake chocolate chip cookies; a baking lesson was a simple, fun way to continue to invest in their lives and to open the doors for deeper conversations.

Baking overseas, as we know, can require a bit of creativity. Chocolate chips are a precious commodity often imported via the suitcases of friends and family, so I became an expert at chopping up chocolate bars to use in cookies. Shortening wasn’t easy to find either, so I began to exchange butter for shortening. These simple adjustments were frustrating at first, and at least once I thought, “Why can’t other countries have chocolate chips or chocolate chips for a reasonable price?” Yet the inconvenience of chopping up a chocolate bar or two was nothing in comparison to the end results of deeper friendships and a sense of belonging.

Perhaps cookie baking isn’t part of the family culture you brought with you overseas. Perhaps your thing is making soup or bread or salsa or cake. Whatever your cooking or baking specialty is, look for a way to recreate the recipe in your new home. Yes, learn how to make some local recipes and how to enjoy your new home’s food. But don’t underestimate the power of sharing your culture with those around you. When someone here in America offers to make me a meal from their home culture, I look forward to the meal because I know the food will be authentic and delicious, and the same is true for those who enter your home for a meal overseas.

Christmas bread, poppy seed chicken, chocolate chip banana muffins, chili, biryani, Yorkshire pudding – all remind me of homes and meals and memories. Of families who opened their doors and hearts. Of laughter shared and friendship deepened. Favorite family recipes aren’t just for sharing with those from your host country; they also leave a lasting impact on teammates. A significant portion of my chocolate chip cookies were eaten by teammates or short-term teams at lunches or parties or meetings.

At the first potluck lunch at my new job here in the States, I signed up to bring chocolate chip cookies because I knew people would most likely eat them, and I wasn’t sure what people normally brought. Now when I bake and have extra cookies, I fill a plate and take it to work. I smile because the cookies are devoured before the end of the day, and I’ve found baking is a simple way for me to encourage my coworkers.

In keeping with family tradition, I baked a slew of Christmas cookies to give away this year. My husband and I took some to our workplaces, we gave plates full to friends and family, and one evening we took a plate to our downstairs neighbors. When we handed our neighbor the cookies, he was taken aback, and we could tell he was thinking of what he could give us in return. We hurriedly assured him we didn’t expect anything back, and my husband told him, “She loves to bake, and we have plenty of cookies.” What has impacted me most about baking cookies for others is how quickly a plate of cookies breaks down barriers and demonstrates the love of Christ whether I am living in my passport country or abroad.

I’d love to hear your stories of how God has used a favorite food or recipe to help you bridge the cultural gap and/or find your place on a new team; let’s share together in the comments! (Recipes welcome too!)

17 Comments

  1. Carrie February 26, 2017

    I love how baked goods can become the bridge between you and a new culture. I’ve always loved baking but never realized that it would become an intregal part of my lifestyle or ministry here in Peru. Now I bake cakes at a cafe that helps to support my kids’ afterschool project, make Christmas cookies (and much more!) with the kids or provide cakes for quinceneras (15yr old bday parties). It’s been fun to face the challenges of lack of ingredients and high altitude. But what I love most are my Peruvian friends who love how I’ve expanded their worlds and exposed their tastebuds to new flavors (and I’m not just talking pastries). And chocolate chip cookies or should I say chocolate chunk cookies? I just made a bunch with my kids’ Bible club yesterday. It wasn’t worth cooking show status with overly excited children wanting to pour in the mini-“M&Ms” but it created a memory for them about our Bible lesson: true love is expressed in service. (they will also always remember the word “cookie” in English too).

    1. Laura February 28, 2017

      Carrie, I love hearing how you’re using baking in so many different ways to build relationships in Peru! 🙂

  2. Laura Ajibero February 27, 2017

    I loved this post! I have found this to be true as well. During my first teaching job in the USA, I would crave a treat, but lived alone in a tiny town, so learned that if I made treats I could save a few for me, and bless my staff. The day I brought a sweet treat, word quickly spread that Laura had done some baking. When I moved to Peru the trend continued. I used food as prizes in class, and treats for our staff. I learned to make bagels because I missed that taste of home, and that made me super popular! Haha! After our “harvest festival” I’d collect all the extra pumpkins, bake them, and make bread or cookies to share with the staff. During “I love to read” month, one of the prizes was a “teacher treat.” I had so many requests for “oreo balls” or anything sweet, that they had to create a limit to how many treats one teacher could make! My roommates and I would have taco night and invite our local friends. Now that I’m in Nigeria, I’ve had to become more creative. My options at the store or market are more limited than what I experienced in Peru, but I still find ways to make treats. Avocado brownies were a hit with my staff, muffins were a new idea, and biscuits and gravy have even made it onto the student lunch menu! Burritos, pizza (without cheese), and Italian spaghetti all become requests when it’s meal time. They don’t like things quite as sweet here, so I’ve learned to reduce my sugar, but no matter what I make, or who I share it with, a taste of “home” for me becomes a great tool to reach out those I work and live with here.

    1. Laura February 28, 2017

      Laura, I admire your creativity and your ability to adjust ingredients based on cultural preferences. 🙂

  3. Bethany February 27, 2017

    Brownies and magic cookie bars (sometimes called 7 layer bars, although mine have varying layers depending on what I can find!) have become a regular part of my baking. Everyone seems to like them–expats and Mongolians alike–and they’re pretty easy to make. This summer, I introduced one of our recently graduated students to peanut butter, and it blew his mind. 🙂 One of the foods made recently when several students were over was gimbap, which became a team effort as different students prepped different ingredients to go in the seaweed wraps. Delicious results and a lot of fun to do together!

    1. Laura February 28, 2017

      Bethany, easy to make is always great!

  4. Sarah Hilkemann February 27, 2017

    Thanks so much for sharing this, Laura! I baked myself a one-serving chocolate chip cookie today after reading this. 🙂

    My teammate and I did a homestay a couple of years ago in a fishing village on the Cambodia coast. The mother made us amazing Cambodian soups and stir-fries, and she asked us to teach her how to make bread. It took us a few Google searches, coming up with the right words for all the needed ingredients, and some creativity in baking since they didn’t have an oven…but we ended up with a loaf of bread that everyone tried. They weren’t sold on it (of course, it wasn’t anything like rice) but it was a fun experience to share with them!

    1. Laura February 28, 2017

      Sarah, teaching someone how to bake bread with a language barrier; I’m impressed! 🙂

  5. Verena Schafroth February 27, 2017

    Hey Laura, would you mind sharing your recipe?

    1. Laura February 28, 2017

      Verena, I’m working on getting the name of the cookbook the recipe is from; I’ll post the recipe as soon as I have it. 🙂

    2. Laura March 13, 2017

      Verena, thanks for your patience in my posting of this recipe.

      Chocolate Chip Cookies (slightly modified from Alpha-Bakery Children’s Cookbook)
      Makes approximately 24 cookies

      Ingredients:
      1/2 cup granulated sugar
      1/2 cup brown sugar
      2/3 cup butter or shortening
      1 egg
      1/2 tsp vanilla
      1 1/2 cups flour
      1/2 tsp baking soda
      1/2 tsp salt
      6 oz. chocolate chips

      Directions:
      Preheat oven to 375 degrees F
      Mix ingredients – cream sugar, butter, egg and vanilla. Add dry ingredients, adding flour last. Stir in chocolate chips.
      Place in small spoonfuls on ungreased baking sheets.
      Bake for 7-12 minutes (depending on oven) until lightly brown on top.

  6. Cecily February 27, 2017

    I used to make peanut butter cookies for every occasion and for birthdays. PB is expensive here, as it is not very common. Some Bulgarians have no idea how to identify the taste of the cookies, so I have to tell them that they are made from peanut butter. I don’t make them so much anymore. I don’t have all that extra time, and I realize how unhealthy they are. (My pastor loves them, but after his heart attack in December. I am not sure I want to make the cookies anymore for anyone. Not saying the cookies were the cause of his heart attack! Just saying that I want to encourage healthy eating.) Need to find an easy, heart healthy something to bake 🙂

    1. Laura February 28, 2017

      Cecily, I think that’s great that you were able to introduce people to peanut butter cookies; also, I hope you are able to find some great, healthy recipes to bake!

  7. Kim A. February 27, 2017

    Yes!!! This is so true! We love baking and cooking with our staff and students! It has bridged the cultural gap so many times and allowed for much needed relationship building times!

    1. Laura February 28, 2017

      Kim, so glad baking has helped build relationships for you too!

  8. Spring February 28, 2017

    I remember when we went to Mexico for the first time. It was 1998. To write an email to my parents I had to go to the pastor’s office (once a week) and send the email to my pastor in Pennsylvania who would print it out for my parents…

    Needless to say we didn’t have internet to look up good cookie recipes. The Mexican cookbooks we had didn’t have them in. We did the best we could. A few batches flopped. No one we knew baked. In fact, my host mom stored plastic bags in her stove. It was so interesting to learn culture. This past year we taught our friends how to make cookies several times. I am not sure that our friends will repeat the process. It was a really good time to meet and just learn from each other though.

    Thank you Laura for sharing your cookie baking stories

    1. Laura February 28, 2017

      Spring, the internet has made it so much easier to bake overseas (and to communicate with family)!

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