The Toll House cookie “phone tree” disaster


Last week’s contrail post caused a bit of a stir, so it’s time to lighten things up a mite. More linguistic peeves, chocolate chip cookies, and introducing the Jetport Cafe.

DSC_9735bMmm… chocolate… mmm. More about this below. But first… (Ned White photo)

I’m sure you’ve heard people…

…who end lots of sentences like this? You know, taking a declarative sentence and, like, turning it into a question? My first exposure to this problem was, like, back in the late ’90s? On conference calls with clients and production company people in, like, the greater Bay Area of San Francisco? And then, go figure, it, like, spreads east? And I’m, like, what happens to your voice when you actually have to ask a question? The last word is, like, some kind of serious soprano shriek? And they call it Uptalk, but so far there’s no cure?


If we keep honing in…

… on things when we want to focus on them, then soon a dramatic game-ending hit will be a walk-off hone run, samplers will read Hone Sweet Hone, and some restaurants will feature Honestyle cooking. Car mechanics know that hone is what you do to cylinders to enlarge them a bit, and you can certainly hone an axe blade or anything else that needs sharpening. I’m reticent to take this any further because I think you get the idea. [Headslap! D’oh, you used reticent wrong again!]


The old further and farther thing. Further is for abstract space, like, “I’m reticent to take this any further…,” while farther is for real physical space or time. I don’t care a huge deal, but my wife will catch me if I slip, so I’m learning. Maybe we’ll speak of this further, farther down the road…


The Toll House cookie “phone tree” disaster

Some years ago, I was hired by the Baking Division of a very large food company to do some writing for them. They make a leading brand of chocolate chips, which of course are used much of the time for making chocolate chip, or Toll House, cookies. In fact, Toll House is their registered trademark, since 1939.

What they needed from me was a script for their new “phone tree,” which callers would navigate through when they called the chocolate chip cookie 800 number help line. As I’m sure you know, a phone tree can lead people in all sorts of directions, some of them helpful, some of them dead-ends, so our task (I was working with a producer friend) was to write it and help design it to create a satisfying and mouthwatering experience for callers.

DSC_9734Truth be known, these are Hershey’s chocolate chips. I find both leading brands to be perfectly tasty.

To launch the gig, we had a conference call with the client’s chocolate chip cookie people in marketing and communications (which we call MarCom), two or three women as I recall, who surprised me at the outset with a series of brief questions to see if I was on the “same page.” As I recall, the entire call was uptalk-free.

“Ned, we just want to ask you, what comes to mind when you think of (the brand)‘s chocolate chip cookies?”

I was feeling a bit frisky and irreverent that morning, so I was thinking one thing and saying another.

Childhood obesity. “Family. Comfort.”

“Good! What about baking the cookies? What comes to mind?”

Messy fingers. Kids’ greasy messy fingers wiping on — “Togetherness. Family fun in the kitchen!”

“Yes! Tell us about the cookies in general – the feelings and ideas you get.”

Diabetes. Gluttony. Tooth rot. “Warmth, coziness, aromas, happiness!”


So I passed the intro part very nicely, and we cruised through several sections of the phone tree till we got to the “complaint” section. And it happens that this company found that the biggest complaint people had with the chocolate chips was that they sometimes discolored. I’m sure you’ve seen it – the chips acquire a kind of whitish-gray, sickly hue in places. It’s completely harmless, and flavor isn’t affected, but it doesn’t look very tasty.

It has a name. A terrible, unappetizing name. It’s called “bloom.” And some of it comes from “scuffing” – the abrasion of the chips during shipping. So these MarCom folks, who should know their way around effective use of language, wanted me to write a fairly lengthy explanation of “scuff and bloom.” For the general public.

I asked, “‘Scuff and bloom’? You really want me to use those two words? They conjure up, well, you know, some sort of disfiguring dis–”

“We have to tell callers what it is.”

Scuff and bloom, scrofula, yeast infections, serious toe problems.

“Why sure. I’m just trying to figure how to keep them salivating while I write about ‘scuff and bloom’, but I think I can handle it.”

After the call, I spoke with my producer friend and said in so many words that all the warmth and goodness and family coziness and baking fun of chocolate chip cookies would be cut off at the knees by the disease-ridden “scuff and bloom” section of the phone tree. He agreed, but the client is the client is the client.

I finished the job, they were very happy with it, and the phone tree went live some weeks later. But can you guess what happened? No surprise, callers were so grossed out by the “scuff and bloom” discussion that the Baking Division axed it and rewrote it in some way that made it less stomach-churning.

In the end, the people win, and MarCom learns a thing or two.


Welcome the Jetport Cafe!

I could have sworn Knox County Airport manager Jeff Northgreaves told me it was comedian/actor Steve Carell who was the owner of the new Jetport Cafe in the terminal building, but nooo, it’s Steve Carroll and his wife Leling. My wife and I stopped by to have a look, chatted with Steve and Leling, and snapped a couple of photos.








Open just two weeks, the Cafe features coffee and muffins and Mac ‘n’ Cheese and hot dogs and other things, but Steve says their specialty is espressos of all kinds, and Leling added that come summer, when air traffic gets busier, she’ll be preparing authentic Chinese dishes (she moved here from China 12 years ago) – the kind that are very hard to find in the Midcoast. It’s good to have them in the neighborhood!


A very familiar chocolate chip cookie recipe, regardless of ‘scuff and bloom’

Everyone in Maine knows how to make excellent chocolate chip cookies. The recipes vary somewhat, some have nuts, some don’t, some use brown sugar, some white sugar, but I can’t believe there’s a single household in this state that has no idea how to bake them. So maybe this recipe is for out-of-state readers. It’s essentially my former client’s recipe, with some annotations from me.

This makes 60 cookies, which on the face of it is obviously too many. So I suggest cutting it in half.

Preheat oven to 375. Use ungreased baking sheets.

You’ll need:

  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt (I use very little or no salt)
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar (note: I always think this is too much sugar. I’d cut it by 1/3 – a total of 1 cup mixed brown and white, or just brown)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 cups (12-oz. pkg.) chocolate chips
  • 1 cup chopped nuts (I use pecan pieces – more flavor than walnuts)

Whisk together flour, soda, and salt in a small bowl. In a large bowl, cream butter, sugars, and vanilla together, then add the eggs one at a time and beat till smooth. Stir in the dry mixture slowly. Add chips and nuts, mix well, and spoon out on the cookie sheets. Bake 9-11 minutes or until they look done (isn’t that helpful?). Let cool on the baking sheets for a few minutes, then transfer to cooling racks or platters.

There you have it.

Ned White

About Ned White

Ned White is a writer, novelist, crossword puzzle constructor, traveler through 49 states, and at times a danger in the kitchen. He lives with his wife in South Thomaston.