Baking to Night Vale

Last year the duck and I assembled our Berlin Baking buddies and baked Christmas cookies to celebrate that we had successfully made it through the ovenless period. This year we are over our oven excitement. So we decided to go back to our tradition of baking Christmas cookies solo (well, duo) which also sounded like the sensible thing to do this year. In the past few years whenever we’d embark on a duo baking adventure the duck and I would put on a fiction podcast to go on an added adventure in our imagination while we combined ingredients, rolled out dough, cut fun shapes, or waited for our creations to be done baking or drying. This year, as we were baking cinnamon cookies, we decided to go back to the origin of our podcast appreciation and caught up on some episodes of Welcome to Night Vale.Cinnamon cookie duckBack when I lived close to many of my friends, we used to have movie nights that we would not only spend trying to find the perfect silly movie to watch together (we discovered quite a few unexpectedly good movies that way) but also talking about all kinds of (funny, weird, creepy, annoying) things that we had experienced, discovered or read somewhere. One night, while talking about creepy stories, one of my friends mentioned Welcome to Night Vale and recommended we all give it a listen. This has probably been one of the best recommendations I have ever gotten which is why today’s friends’ recommendation post will focus on this wonderfully creepy podcast that began my podcast obsession:

Welcome cookies!

When I was introduced to Welcome to Night Vale it was less than two years old and trying to catch up to my friends resulted in regular ‘aaah’-ing whenever the podcast had reached a funny situation that they had told me about. There is just something extra fun about listening to a podcast (or watching a show/movie, reading a book) that your friends have recommended and making mental notes about things to discuss or joke about the next time you meet.
When the duck and I were ready (= mentally prepared) to bake Christmas cookies, we did what we learned the hard way to do: we collected all the ingredients that we would need for the cinnamon star cookies (and for the other two varieties we were planning to bake that day) to make sure we had everything we needed.Cinnamon cookie duck 1Welcome to Night Vale is a fiction podcast that takes the shape of a community radio show for the small town of Night Vale. Through Cecil, the generally nonchalant radio host, the listener learns about all the strange goings-on in the little desert town, like the mysterious Glow Cloud that suddenly appears above Night Vale or the cat that is hovering in place in the radio station’s men’s bathroom. Even though I can only sometimes tolerate horror, this podcast is just the perfect mix of creepy and funny (mostly through the matter-of-fact way the weird occurrences are described); it’s not too scary to keep me from listening to it while I walk home in the dark.
Baking cookies is all about getting the dough right – anything else you might be able to salvage, but a bad dough will usually result in bad cookies. Unfortunately, our dough was a bit too sticky. This has not been the first time I used this recipe, and every time, right as I’ve finished combining all the ingredients, I remember that I had problems the previous year and tell myself that I should write a note so that I won’t make the same mistake the next time. I always forget.Cinnamon cookie duck 2Welcome to Night Vale makes it easy to completely immerse yourself in its curious world. That is why I love listening to it when I’m baking or sitting on a bus driving through the dark. The world of Welcome to Night Vale is so carefully and beautifully built that, to me, it feels like a waste to listen to it if I can’t fully concentrate on what is going on. I don’t mind at all that I sometimes have to laugh out loud when I listen to it in public (doing monotonous things, like walking somewhere). A few Christmases ago, while baking, I listened to ‘Who’s a Good Boy? Part 2‘, the finale of the fourth year/season. As I had gotten up to throw something away, one of the characters asked a question that I thought was hilarious (so much so, that I’m writing about it years after the fact). The situation itself was far from funny; it was, in fact, the climax of the episode (that featured events that several earlier episodes had been building up to), but just hearing this particular question asked in a serious manner in a serious part of the episode led to me standing in front of the trashcan, unable to stop laughing. The duck was very embarrassed.
Lots of flour makes it easy to properly roll out your too sticky dough. I have had my fair share of rubbery dough and misshapen cookies from adding flour too generously, but this time I made sure to add just enough to allow me to handle the dough without it sticking to my hands or the table or the rolling pin. I managed to cut decently shaped stars that only stuck to the table about 20% of the time. I call that a success. The duck called it amusing.Cinnamon cookie duck 3Welcome to Night Vale is a popular podcast with lots of amazing merchandise that features some of my favorite quotations from past episodes. I was often close to buying something from the store, but the shipping rates always made me reconsider (maybe I should wait until the next time I’m in the States? Maybe I should wait for them to bring their merch to me?). Welcome to Night Vale is so popular that they’ve done several (world) tours. But, somehow, I always found myself in the wrong place whenever they were touring. Earlier this year there was supposed to be a live show in Berlin – for the first time I was in the right city at the right time! I was about to buy myself a ticket (after weeks of ruminating on how uncomfortable I was at the thought of having to go alone, well, with only the duck, since none of my Night Vale listening friends live in Berlin) but then the pandemic hit and the tour was put on hold indefinitely (which definitely was the right thing to do!). Well, at least this is one more thing to look forward to when the pandemic is under control.
Examining freshly baked cookies is a popular pastime for the duck. The duck just loves building little cookie towers while I whisk together the icing to soak them with. Only 50% of the icing I make is firm enough to not partly seep into the cookies I brush it on (I guess I’m afraid of the icing turning out too sweet which is ridiculous if icing sugar is the very thing that will make the icing thick enough to not seep into the cookies). When I iced the first cookie, I realized that the icing was a bit too runny. Then I iced the remaining cookies with that very icing.Cinnamon cookie duck 4Sometimes I keep myself from listening to a certain number of podcast episodes or seasons so that I’ll have something to listen to when I’m baking Christmas cookies. Even though the duck is impatient at times, we both agree that this is a worthy sacrifice for a perfect Christmas baking session. In the past few years, I’ve started listening to various fiction and non-fiction podcasts, some of which have become Christmas baking exclusives, like Within the Wires, while others are principal ingredients to a long train or bus journey (like Passenger List or This American Life) or to walking around (like Criminal or Flash Forward). Actually, sometimes I wonder if the duck and I listen to too many podcasts, but then the duck reminds me that there is no such thing as ‘too many podcasts’ because otherwise preparing our breakfast oats, walking to the grocery store, or crying over how I’m yet again failing at cooking would be pretty boring. I think I’d have to agree.
Sometimes the duck spends hours watching the icing dry. I guess that’s at least a tiny bit more interesting than watching grass grow. It’s also quite useful because I get regular updates on how the icing doesn’t look anything like it is supposed to and that, in fact, the cookies still look naked. The duck is right. But the duck also never wants to wait for me to add a second layer of icing (and I’m grateful for that! Not only would a second layer mean more effort, it would also mean the cookies turning out much sweeter than I’d like). In the end, the duck was quite happy with how the cookies turned out. They are a bit too sweet and not cinnamony enough for me, but the duck loves them with a nice cup of tea… and ten more cookies to go with it!Cinnamon cookie duck 5What about you? Did you do any Christmas baking this year? Do you like to listen to podcasts? The duck and I would love to get some recommendations to add to our list!

The duck and I also want to wish you happy, healthy, and safe holidays wherever you are and however you celebrate them!

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