Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Logistics and Joy of Baking Holiday Cookies and Delivering Them the Academic Way

All academics have to be very patient - it takes time to get a PhD, time to get promotion and tenure, and one has to wait referees' reports on journal articles that we submit, which we then revise, and, hopefully, the articles that we have labored so hard on, do get accepted and then published, which also takes time!

It is, hence, advisable to also have activities that one can engage in that one gets more or less instant gratification from and focuses a different part of the brain, although, as an academic, one brings one's analytical and critical thinking skills to almost any endeavor.

This time of the year, when the weather gets colder, and the days shorter, and one has recovered from the Thanksgiving travel and celebrations, I always enjoy baking holiday cookies. But even more so, I enjoy delivering them to friends and neighbors.

The logistics of cookie baking involves identifying the types of cookies to be baked and finding the recipes, procuring the necessary ingredients, scheduling the baking of the cookie varieties (some, serendipitously, might not even require baking, such as our famous chocolate rum walnut balls), waiting for them to cool, decorating them, if necessary, putting them on plates for delivery and packaging them nicely. Then I usually insert a nice holiday card and figure out the optimal routing for delivery, always taking into consideration the day and time of departure to try and find the recipients at home.

This year, the first batches of cookies that I baked took parts of two different days and a big tip is using parchment paper since there is no cleaning of baking pans before putting on the next batch and into the oven.

Below are some photos from this baking project and my family members are the taste testers and approvers.

The ingredients in the cookie recipes this year included lots of almond paste, candied cherries, coconut, pecans, walnuts, chocolate,  the usual butter, sugar, and vanilla, plus raspberry jam, to make butter cookies that our wonderful staff member at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, Wivvian Hall, once made for me when I was a Visiting Professor there and then gave me the recipe!

Now, since our friends and neighbors range from very young children to those in the mid80s, and many children like the less fancy cookies, I also make some cookies (see above) with reindeer faces and Christmas trees on them. These are ready to bake.

This past Sunday, we did one of the biggest deliveries, and to see the joy on the neighbors' faces was very special. Even two little boys wrote us a beautiful thank you card and delivered it to our door. It is important, especially in this day and age, to support your immediate community and neighbors and to show that they matter. Baking is a labor of love and a way of saying, in a small way, that someone matters. We will continue to be making deliveries and baking as well, which provide a warm and welcoming break from end of the semester projects, exams, and all sorts of committee meetings.

Of course, I also plan to bake more cookies for various events and parties including our end of the semester UMass Amherst INFORMS Student Chapter party at the Isenberg School of Management. This semester I am teaching a class on Transportation and Logistics and am practicing what I preach.

Happy holidays!