It’s 95 outside and with the kitchen oven working overtime, Wendy Tekverk has every reason to be cranky.
But there’s a smile plastered on her face like frosting on a perfect cookie. She’s chatting happily with a couple of journalists who are there for a story, photos and, please dear God, samples of the cookie creations coming forth from that magical Coeur d’Alene oven.
“There were a couple of experiments today,” Wendy says without breaking stride, “and one of them was an accident.”
She laughs off the mishap and acknowledges that even accidents sometimes turn into financial successes — “if they’re not a disaster.”
She nibbles on that thought for a moment before declaring: “Disaster on the cookie level is really not that catastrophic.”
No, catastrophic, particularly if you’re young, ebullient and academically advanced, is having a rare autoimmune disorder called microscopic polyangiitis, blood vessel inflammation that can damage organ systems. Wendy’s got it, and it can do much more than ruin her day.
The disorder requires a chemo-like infusion every six months. On Thursday, Wendy had her fifth infusion but still planned to bake up a storm and work the Saturday farmers market.
The disease can strike anytime and anywhere, without warning, like when she was in Canada five months ago, or in New Zealand before that, or visiting her sister in San Francisco.
But the Tekverks aren’t big on self-pity. When she talks about her thriving cookie business, Wendy says she dove into it “when I was stuck here for doctor reasons.”
Her mother, Jan, says simply, “She had to slow down for a little while.”
So the 23-year-old Lake City High and Boston University graduate, who has lost feeling in several parts of her body, including almost all of both hands, requiring her to learn to write again, to hold a fork again, to be able to climb a single flight of stairs again, first “slowed down” by substitute teaching full-time at her alma mater the last six weeks of the school year.
That was no simple assignment, because Wendy took over the physical science classes formerly taught by Jeffrey A. Kantola.
Kantola is accused of sexual misconduct with a 15-year-old girl and faces trial next month. His departure from Lake City High last October fueled water-cooler gossip throughout the community and ultimately created a difficult classroom void that Wendy willingly filled — admittedly with a little help from Mom, who teaches physical science just down the hall.
“It was a lot of work and not much pay, but I really liked having students,” Wendy says. “This (baking and selling cookies) is not as demanding as that, for sure.”
But this second phase of “slowing down” pays in other ways.
Wendy says she earned $80 a day for subbing, working an average of 9 hours a day, five days a week. As a teacher, Wendy was pulling down $400 a week, or under $9 an hour.
When her cookies crumble, there’s cash.
Baking for and selling at two farmers markets a week — Wednesdays in downtown Coeur d’Alene and Saturdays at the market on Prairie Avenue and U.S. 95 — Wendy has been working an average of 26 hours and earning upward of $500 weekly. That’s more than $19 an hour.
“It pays the way for a millennial living in her parents’ basement between jobs,” says her Harvard-educated mom, smiling. “And it’s fun.”
“She makes more baking cookies than teaching children,” says her father, Ray, his expression that of a guy who just bit into a lemon bar laced with sauerkraut. “That’s not a very positive comment on modern society.”
But it is a testament to the quality of Wendy’s cookies, which are unusual — and unusually good. Wendy says they’re all comprised of “poofy, cakey stuff” and special home-grown ingredients.
Each batch contains something from her family’s diverse gardens, plants and vegetables the elder Tekverks — green thumbers of the highest order who owned a geology consulting business for 22 years — sell at the same farmers markets. Just not quite equally.
“Wendy’s doing differently than I am,” says Jan. “She’s actually making money.”
The lavender butter cookie reaps plenty of that profit. Wendy sells out of them every time, yet acknowledges they’re not for everybody.
“Some people are like, ‘This tastes like soap,’” she says. “Others say they’re the greatest thing ever.”
Her pumpkin chocolate chip cookies, made from the family’s sumptuous cinderella coach pumpkins, evoke happy feelings of Halloween and Thanksgiving.
One of her experiments (definitely not a disaster, two journalists attest) was a chocolate peppermint sandwich cookie Wendy offhandedly calls Whoopie Cookies.
“I don’t know if Whoopie Cookies is a real thing or if I just made it up,” she says after a thoughtful pause.
And then there are other specialties, like the rhubarb ginger scones that make her dad salivate.
Coming soon, Wendy promises, are carrot cookies and zucchini cookies, and possibly other grand experiments from her “Google Doc Cookbook” — a transformative digital collection of mostly family recipes that have been modified, dare we say perfected, by Wendy, her mom and two sisters. And yes, the Tekverk gardens will be part of them all.
Beyond that, nobody knows. Especially Wendy.
In a family that collects geology degrees (five Tekverks, nine degrees) like rockhounds gather agates, Wendy fits her dad’s description of a “female Indiana Jones.” But archaeological work isn’t something she sees herself doing “forever.”
“In the long run I’d love to have a tea shop/bakery,” she says, a dreamy look settling in. “Or I’d love to have an orchard/restaurant.”
Work or continuing ed? Geology/archaeology studies or culinary school? California or Colorado?
These are questions she and her disorder simply can’t answer right this minute. But that’s OK.
“This is what I love to do,” she says. “I make people cookies.”
Cost: $6 for bag of 10 or so
5th & Sherman,
Wednesdays 4-7 p.m.
Prairie & U.S. 95,
Saturdays 9 a.m.-1:30 p.m.
They try ‘em, they buy ‘em
Customer quips from Wednesday’s market:
‘They’re very rich and very buttery. You can definitely tell the ingredients are upscale.’
- Marina Tredway, Colorado
‘I thought it was delicious. It’s unusual. It’s amazing.’
- Anna Wilson, Hayden
‘I like that it’s made with ingredients she grew. I like the uniqueness of the lavender flavor. I like that my kids like them.’
- Heather McCann and her four children, Sumner, Wash.