By: Barbara Chappell

Picture yourself in your new tiny office on the second floor of an old Bureau of Mines building, the kind with long cinderblock halls and black windowless doors, one after another after another, each distinguished by two name plates: one for the occupant’s name, the other for their title. In nearly every room on your floor, each occupant is a researcher, a chemist, geologist, or engineer of one sort or another. Your job is to publicize the researcher’s work. 

But very few of your new neighbors care whether their work receives publicity. They seem mostly to care about whether they can solve whatever scientific problem next needs to be solved. In fact, getting publicity, for many of them, seems to feel like a foolish distraction from their important work at hand. Bottomline, they have no use for the new PR lady. 

As that PR lady, the next problem I needed to solve was finding a way to engage my colleagues in enough conversation to discover who had the best stories. 

My solution took me to the trophy shop to order a set of plastic inserts for the brass nameplates on my door. Instead of “Public Affairs Office,” my first new nameplate would read “Coffee of the Day.” For the second nameplate, I ordered a set of inserts to name the most fragrant coffee flavors I could find: “Butter Pecan,” “Blueberry,” “Pumpkin,” “Mocha Mint,” etc. And, each Friday I began to bake cookies for dunking into the coffee. I hoped the smell of my coffee would waft through those long halls and bring scientists to my room. To keep them there for more than the time it takes to pour a cup of coffee, I baked cookies. It worked beyond my wildest dreams.

Soon I had stories and friends and a habit that I have held dearly for more than 20 years. It turns out that for me, conversation is pretty much everything. Whether we are discussing a baking secret, news about a special achievement, information about a family celebration or are sharing a word or two about a heartache, conversations (sometimes disarmed with a little sugar and butter) transform mundane tasks into opportunities to love our neighbors. 

For several years, I also kept a Friday Cookie blog. Mostly, the blog was about what was happening at work, and I’d select a recipe that seemed appropriate for that Friday. Once, only once, I used it to write about leadership–my dad’s leadership. 

The post was titled “Strong Enough to Hold its Butter,” and about my dad, I shared that, “He was mentally adroit, morally centered and physically imposing. People did not push him where he did not want to go. He was tough enough to keep his family of seven safe and healthy, and he was humble enough to love us dearly.”  

The post concluded with the following explanation:

So today, I bring you a fantastic cookie – a cookie, like my dad, much finer and better balanced than most.

If you are a novice cookie maker, you might be interested in one of my cookie baking secrets. It’s this: regardless of what the recipe directs, for most cookies, I use a little more fat than the recipe calls for, and I split the fat evenly between butter and shortening. When I use all shortening, the cookies tend to be, and I use this word advisedly, they tend to be too tough. But when I use all butter, the cookies taste amazing, but they also tend to be soft and too flat.

Today’s cookies, double chocolate-chip, drizzled with milk chocolate, are tough enough to handle all the butter I can throw in (no shortening is necessary).  

Happy Friday,
Come and get ’em!

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