This I believe: the cookie edition

This post by Ali.

cookie cleaner plate clubThe Boston Globe Magazine received a letter in response to our Better Way to Snack piece. Our article had provided a recipe for peanut butter chocolate chip cookies, and the response said something along the lines of  “cookies shouldn’t be considered snacks, yo.”

We wrote a response; I’m pretty sure that our response will be published this Sunday, and I’ll provide a link when it does. But there’s only so much one can say in 62 words, only so much nuance one can pack in to four lines of text.

But what I would have said, if we’d had the room to explain it fully, is this: Fair enough. And huzzah for anyone who gives a damn. And also that I believe in cookies, still.

You know the “This I Believe…” series on NPR? I love that series. I love hearing that people believe in anything at all — I’m not sure so many folks do these days. I love hearing them pack these beliefs — such big, driving forces in their lives — into a few carefully-selected words that help the rest of us see the world through their eyes for a few moments. A few years ago, I heard an interview with the people who started the series… They said that after the first year, you had to believe in something other than “kindness.” It turns out an awful lot of people believe in kindness.

Well, here it is, friends: I believe in the power of a good cookie.

Sure, there are way too many processed cookies out there, cookies everywhere you turn. There are Oreos and Chips Ahoy and Milanos and Mint Milanos and Double Chocolate Milanos and Ginger Snaps and Lemon Snaps and Pecan Sandies and Lorna Doones and Snickerdoodles and Teddy Grahams and Bunny Grahams and Nutter Butters and Mallomars and Fig Newtons and Fig Newmans and Newman Os and whatever happened to Mystic Mints, anyway? Cookies, cookies, so many cookies. True dat.

And in that way, the reader is right: kids don’t need more opportunities to eat cookies. Cookies are not on the list of things of which they need more. But then there is the simple, irrefutable fact of a home-baked cookie.

It would be a shame, I think  if the abundance of processed cookies morphed our world into one in which we couldn’t enjoy a home-baked one from time to time. (Oh, who am I kidding? A shame? In my world, we’re talking Homeric tragedy, complete with hexameter — Sing in me, Muse, and through me tell the story of that pleasure great in all ways of contending, the home-baked cookie, enjoyed for years on end, after which was sacrificed from our lives to the proud height of Chips Ahoy)

I mean, really. Just imagine that world. No warm, gooey, fresh-from-the-oven treats, complete with molten chocolate? No homes filled with that fresh-baked aroma? Ach! it sounds like that movie, the dark, dystopian one where there are no children whatsoever and our unlikely hero Clive Owen must get the world’s only pregnant woman to safety and Michael Caine gets shot by the Fishes in the middle of the woods and no one ever, ever laughs. Come on, you’ve seen that movie, right?

And pleasure aside, here’s the thing: cookies are often the doorway through which children enter the kitchen at all. My own first memories in the kitchen involve brown sugar packed tight in a Pyrex cup, an egg cracked against a stainless steel mixing bowl, the sound of chocolate chips tumbling over one another as they’re folded into batter.

I made cookies with my children on Sunday (the same cookies, in fact, that were featured in the Magazine). Merrie, at age 9, is just mastering her multiplication table, and I posed questions to her as we went. “If a cup contains 16 Tablespoons, and we need a quarter cup of canola oil, how many Tablespoons is that? And what if we only had a teaspoon to measure?” At first, she was cranky to discover that math really is everywhere, even in her favorite treat. But then she found herself rising to the challenge: “thirty-two. No, wait. Twenty-eight. No? Um….thirty-six!” We talked about the role of each ingredient –  the eggs bind ingredients and add richness. The baking soda adds some tenderness and helps the cookies rise a bit. The brown sugar imparts a richer flavor than the white.

Charlotte, for her wee part, was delighted to have the chance to help: to crack, to pour, to stir. She literally giggled out loud.

We put the cookies in the oven and set the timer. Within minutes, the house smelled incredible. Blair watched the Bears-Packers game, and Charlotte joined him, rooting for the “Polar Bears” just long enough to express her wonder that the players are actually allowed to knock one another down like that. Merrie read Harry Potter in the “Wizarding Corner” she set up at the top of our stairs. Twelve minutes passed.

We took them out. Charlotte danced, Merrie hovered, peering eagerly around my shoulder. The kids were proud; they had made these. We all ate a few, then wrapped them up so they could be packed in lunchboxes this week. They were pretty darned delicious. None of us are worse for having made them; of that, I’m sure. I think it’s possible that it’s quite the opposite.

So in the end, that’s my response. Sure, I believe in applesauce, I believe in hummus, I believe in whole grain crackers and vegetables with dip and grapes and nuts and healthy yogurt and all of those “anytime” snacks. But once in a while, I also believe in cookies.

Even today. Even in this era of twenty thousand varieties of packaged cookies that are filled with high fructose corn syrup — or perhaps I mean “especially today, especially in this era” — I really, really do.

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5 Responses to This I believe: the cookie edition

  1. Lovely, lovely post. The only thing I ever cooked with my mother was cookies. Oh wait. Cookies and fritters. (I liked the fritters better. I know, I’m a heretic.) Huzzah indeed!

  2. Lisa says:

    I could not love this post more — for a hundred reasons — and also it sent me right to the cabinet for the mixer.

    I can’t wait to try some of the produce recipes once our farm season is in swing. My copy of the book just arrived this morning and I think it’s chock full of awesome ideas to share with our CSA members. Thanks!

  3. That reader needs to get a life. I read the Globe article and made your cookies. They were exceptional. Sadly, there are peanut allergies in my son’s classroom so he is unable to bring them to school. Might you have a way to modify this recipe?


  4. Lisa says:

    Just writing again to say I’ve already made these a second time, this time with my 15-month old standing next to me on a kitchen chair pulled up to the counter. He reached right into the mixing bowl and pulled out a wee fistful of brown sugar and put it right into his mouth — not EXACTLY what I was going for, especially this early, when we’re not yet offering sugary snacks — but I couldn’t help but laugh aloud in delight and happy anticipation, hoping this is the kind of fun and joy he’ll associate with all kinds of good home-cooked real food as the years go on.

  5. bethb says:

    Roberta, thanks for the support. Eileen did have a valid point on the difference between a snack and dessert, and I am sure glad we could discuss it with her. I will look at ways to modify the recipe for the peanut butter substitution. It might mean adding more canola. It’s a good challenge and thanks for asking us to do this. My kid’s school won’t even let us bring homemade snacks due to allergies. The list of approved foods is all processed brands and woefully short on healthy items. So, after we fix the recipe, maybe I’ll go to work on fixing our school food list!

    Happy snacking!

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