Don't Snub the Oatmeal Cookie

Four days till Oscar! In 2010 I saw 45 movies, and by saw I mean paid for a ticket and viewed in a theater. If I were to add the films I watched on DVD or On Demand or HBO or TCM, who knows what the grand total would be? So, as you can see, I come by my Oscar anticipation organically. What kind of person spends close to $600 on movies without an investment in the craft as a whole?
I’ve been a fan since I was a kid and at 16 I learned the great pleasure of going to the movies alone. The film was Now Voyager, in which Bette Davis gets one of the world’s best makeovers after spending what seemed like such a lovely, relaxing time at a tony mental hospital. Whenever I get stressed out, I think of the scene where she’s lying on a chaise, a wool blanket tucked around her legs, looking out onto the beautiful grounds while a nurse tends to her every need. Wouldn’t it be nice if that’s all it took to get over our neuroses? Well, that and a good eyebrow tweezing.
I rarely go to the movies alone anymore because my best friend Rich loves them even more than I do. (And a big shout-out to him for the stellar record keeping that led to my deducing that I’d seen 45 movies—a mere fraction of the four page list he emailed me.) In reviewing my films I was struck by how many were passed over during this seemingly endless awards season. With Hollywood in full spin, emptying so much chatter and clutter into the media over these last few weeks, I’d forgotten about some of the performances. So, in the spirit of saluting the snubbed here are a few of my faves that you now need to rent, download or whatever it takes to enjoy them.

The Ghost Writer—Roman Polanski’s thriller came out exactly a year ago, during the traditional crummy-movie dumping-ground time period. It is a taut, edge-of-your-seat, but subversively funny film with fantastic performances by the always charming Ewan McGregor and the always dreamy Pierce Brosnan. Look for a great cameo by Eli Wallach and get ready to email me with your plot questions. Oh, and try not to think about the fact that it was directed by a fugitive pedophile.
It’s Kind of a Funny Story—Zach Galifianakis is the reason to see this movie. If you only know him from The Hangover you will be completely surprised to see his incredibly moving (but still funny) interpretation of a guy who seems more comfortable within the safe confines of the psych ward than the outside world. (What’s with me and the mental hospital today? Hmmn.) Not to worry, the film isn’t dark and gloomy but irreverent, quirky and poignant. I hope Zach continues to do more demanding stuff outside broad hilarity. That said, his Between Two Ferns on Funny Or Die is hysterical.
Solitary Man—I am not normally a big Michael Douglas fan but his portrayal of a rather unpleasant guy whose successful life begins to unravel is nuanced and, despite the actor’s obvious cosmetic tweaking, lacking in vanity. One little note, Jesse Eisenberg plays yet another college student whom Michael’s character attempts to educate in matters of the heart. Although Jesse’s character bears no resemblance to his take on Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network I feel like the two performances cancel each other out. Maybe I’m being unfair but I don’t care. If Colin Firth doesn’t win Best Actor, well, I can’t even go there.
The Company Men—I don’t know why more people aren’t talking about this movie. A crew of such accomplished actors tell a tale that will strike at the heart of most Americans these days: greed, job loss, downsizing and reinvention. Tommy Lee Jones and Chris Cooper are great, as is Ben Affleck. One odd misstep is the casting of Kevin Costner in a supporting non-role playing the older brother of Ben’s character’s wife played by Rosemarie DeWitt. The age difference between “brother” and “sister?” 20 years!
Fair Game—how could this film have been overlooked? The story of the Valerie Plame Wilson CIA brouhaha was another nail biting thriller which propelled me down the internet rabbit hole, searching for articles on the controversy I should have read during the time it was actually happening. Naomi Watts really shows her acting muscles, which she doesn’t get to flex nearly enough. Sean Penn was excellent as her husband Joe and generously allowed the movie to really be all about her, something that surprised me a bit. Again, you may be left scratching your head but please don’t email me any questions. Do what I did. Google.
These are my top five snubs but there are more to put on your Netflix queue: Client 9 (the Eliot Spitzer documentary), Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, Fishtank, and Greenberg are all worth two hours of your time. See why I need to go to the movies so often? There is just so much to see!
The thing about snubs is that often times they are unintentional. (In fact, it took reviewing my movie list for me to remember the films I mentioned above.) Recently I was confronted about why I have yet to make an oatmeal cookie on these pages and really, there isn’t any big explanation or excuse. I’ve said before that I think raisins are idiotic, made to fool us into thinking we’re about to eat a chocolate chip only to learn the hard way that we’ve bitten into a dried-out grape. For many people oatmeal and raisin go hand in hand, maybe that’s why I’ve ignored the cookies thus far. So, although I am happy to share an oatmeal cookie recipe I won’t endorse the raisin. Think of this formula as a base and add your favorite mix-in. I went with chopped dried apricots and some white chocolate chips, giving these chewy treats a nice tart/sweet contrast. But you could use dried cranberries, nuts, chips, or if you must, raisins. As for the Academy Awards, these cookies will definitely be on my dessert snacking plate, to honor those who were unjustly snubbed. Happy Oscars!

Don't Snub the Oatmeal Cookie
Adapted from Everyday Food, November 2003
Printer Friendly Version
1 1/4 cups rolled oats
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional-I did not use because I don't love cinnamon but a lot of you do)
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup packed light-brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups of your favorite mix-ins (any single or combination of white/dark/milk chocolate chip, small diced dried fruit, chopped nuts)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
In a medium bowl, combine oats, flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon (if using); set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream butter and sugars on medium speed until smooth; beat in egg and vanilla until incorporated.
With mixer on low, add oat mixture, and mix until just combined. Stir in mix-ins by hand.
Using a two-teaspoon ice cream scoop (or two teaspoons) drop dough onto lined cookies sheets
and bake for about 15 minutes until golden brown.
Transfer to wire rack to cool completely.
Yield: 40 cookies


Pretty As a Picture Meyer Lemon Blood Orange Marmalade

I became completely distracted at a recent performance of Jon Robin Baitz’s new play, Other Desert Cities. Set in the living room of a well-appointed Palm Springs house, the stage was all taupes, golds, beiges—calming non-colors that served as the perfect counterpoint to the explosive performances of Stockard Channing, Linda Lavin, Stacy Keach, Thomas Sadoski and the especially combustible Elizabeth Marvel. But even with a twisty plot and some seriously fantastic acting, my eyes kept drifting to the pop of color that disrupted the neutral palette, a glass carafe of orange juice.
With the o.j. still on my mind I flung open my refrigerator door as soon as I got home, ready to guzzle down a glass of thirst-quenching citrus. But somehow my cardboard carton of Tropicana wasn’t nearly as appealing as the pretty glass carafe on the stage and I made some mint tea and called it a night. All of this got me thinking about presentation and how much it affects how we feel about what we eat.
I grew up in a house that never put any cartons on the table. Even at breakfast cereal was dispensed from big glass jars and doused with milk poured from a yellow and white striped pitcher. Same thing at dinner: if we were having steak and baked potatoes the container of sour cream was never plopped onto the dining table. My brother (the table setter) had to ladle the Breakstone’s into a porcelain ramekin and then put it and a small serving spoon onto a china plate. The only exceptions were ketchup and steak sauce. We were allowed to bring them into the dining room but not allowed to put them directly down on the table; they always had to be placed on a little tray or plate. I guess the thinking was, much like toothpaste and the tube, you can’t get the Heinz or A-1 back in the bottle. Yes, the room always looked beautiful, but when you and your sister are the dishwashers and still facing four hours of homework, it was a pain in the neck.
At the time, our table-setting rules weren’t completely unheard of. I had a friend whose family had converted their dining room into a multi-purpose space. One side was the den where there was a leather sectional aimed directly at the giant TV in the wall unit. (Oh, and there were always M&M’s in a Lucite dish on the coffee table—an extra perk.) The other side was devoted to the sleek black laminate dining table and its angular high-backed cushiony chairs. Although the place screamed 1970’s they had a meticulously set table and maintained the same no-carton formality with one hilarious exception. Their housekeeper, who cooked and served dinner every night, would bring out a giant plastic bottle of Diet 7-Up throughout the meal offering endless refills of the family’s signature beverage as if it were a rare vintage. (I was just excited to have soda at dinner.)
Yet the effort to maintain all this propriety can come at a price: exhaustion. My mother, who is the queen of the tabletop with more sets of dishes than anyone should be allowed to own, tends to let things slide a bit when she has a night all to herself. Recently, when my father was out of town, I stopped by around 7pm to find her standing over the sink eating a small plate of sautéed chicken livers (disgusting) while flipping through Architectural Digest. I was horrified; didn’t she love herself enough to set a place at the table? Or at least sit down? Yes, but her idea of a treat was to free herself from the shackles of the dining room. For her it was a perfect liberating evening.
All in all there really is something to be said for making things look pretty before you get ready to gorge. There’s a great series of children’s books by Russell Hoban about Frances, a little badger. I loved her when I was a kid and my nieces feel the same way now. A Bargain for Frances taught me how to navigate mean-girls, A Baby Sister for Frances prepped me for the arrival of, well, my baby sister and Bread and Jam for Frances taught me the pleasure of a pretty place setting. In the story, Frances refuses to eat anything but bread and jam. After her mother feeds her nothing but those two items for days Frances sees the error of her ways and brings a feast to school. She places a doily on her desk and sets out a thermos of cream of tomato soup, a lobster salad sandwich on thin slices of white bread, celery, carrot sticks and black olives, a little cardboard shaker of salt, two plums, a tiny basket of cherries, a vanilla pudding with chocolate sprinkles and a spoon. I didn’t eat most of those foods as a five year old, but the illustration was one of my favorites, with everything in its place and looking so much more appetizing than they would have if she had eaten them out of a brown paper bag.
But Frances did have the right idea about jam. There are times I think I could live on bread, cheese, jam and chocolate. When I saw this recipe in the Times a few weeks ago I was so excited having just spotted Meyer lemons and blood oranges at Fairway. This marmalade is beyond easy to make, no fussing with pectin or boiling jars. The spicy warmth of the blood orange tones down any bitterness you’d expect from traditional orange marmalade. I love the sweetness of it set against a saltier baked-good like Irish soda bread. But really, it’s great with everything. And most of all, it’s so pretty! So, get out a place mat, toast some bread, make your tea, and enjoy. And keep that juice carton off the table.
Pretty As a Picture Meyer Lemon and Blood Orange Marmalade
Adapted from Melissa Clark, The New York Times, January 28, 2011
Printer Friendly Version
3 medium Meyer lemons, ends trimmed
1 medium blood orange, ends trimmed
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1 1/4 cups raw sugar (Demerara, Turbinado, Sugar in the Raw)
2 1/2 cups water

Wash the outside of the fruit.
Cut the lemons and orange in half lengthwise. Cut each half into 1/8-inch segments, lengthwise. Remove any exposed membrane and seeds. Place fruit in large measuring glass measuring cup. You should have 2 1/2 cups of fruit.
For the next steps you want to use the same amount of water and sugar as fruit, hence amounts listed in ingredients. If you have less fruit reduce water and sugar to that amount.
Place fruit and water in a large, heavy bottomed pot (enamel or Le Creuset works really well)
and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
Keep cooking until the peels are really soft and completely cooked, 20-30 minutes.
Add sugars to pot and stir to combine.
Turn the heat up to high and bring back to a boil. Then lower heat to medium and let the marmalade simmer until it reaches 222 on a candy thermometer. It should take about 20-25 minutes.
Let marmalade cool and ladle into jars or containers. Store in the fridge for up to one month.
YIELD: 2 cups


It's All In the Accent Meringues with Raspberries

Last Tuesday, while I was watching the fourth hour of Today, Kathie Lee and Hoda mentioned a recent survey on the character traits ascribed to people with certain accents. Okay, before you start being all judgy about me watching KLG and Hoda let me set a few things straight. First, I am not sitting on my couch staring at the TV crunching on a bowl of Capn’ Crunch. I am at the gym on the treadmill doing my part to keep my heart healthy. Second, watching the fourth hour of Today does not mean I have watched hours one through three because I actually never do. Third, I have a special, personal affection for those two ladies. Hoda and I share a hairdresser and have seen each other at our most vulnerable: a head full of completely frizzed out hair separated by pieces of tin foil. The fact that she has never burst out laughing at my mid-highlights, bride of Frankenstein lid has endeared her to me forever. Then there is Kathie Lee, the woman so many people mock. I don’t know why. Despite her emphasis on her faith, which I do not share, I will always have a soft spot for her. When I was an agent many years ago, she couldn’t have been more generous and gracious in my few dealings with her. For that I will always be thankful and will therefore never jump on the bashing Mrs. Gifford bandwagon.
And now, back to the survey. What was revealed was that, based on their accents, Americans assume the following about people: if you are from the south you are nice but uneducated, New Yorkers are rude and dishonest, someone from the Midwest is nice and honest, New Englanders are well-educated and intelligent and the British are well-educated and sophisticated. My lack of regional accent to one side, of course I take issue with the characterization of New Yorkers. But I suppose the gruffness of the traditional Noo Yawkese could translate to rudeness if you aren’t used to it. Personally I find that accent, now rarer as our melting pot changes, comforting. As for the other American accents, I don’t really associate anything specific with any of them. However, when it comes to the British accent, I am guilty as the survey charges.

What is it about the English accent that makes us feel we are in the presence of superior intelligence and greater sophistication? (Okay, I’m not talking about the Cockney accent which is as harsh as any you could find in the tri-state area 40 years ago.) Think of it this way, if Cary Grant had spoken with an old school Brooklyn accent would George Clooney aspire to be the next Archibald Leach? I don’t think so. Would The King’s Speech be as riveting if King George had been King of Estonia? Well, yes, because Colin Firth would have made it so, but I digress.
I recently confronted my own English accent prejudice while entranced by Masterpiece Theatre’s latest offering, Downton Abbey. Oh, it was heaven! It aired as a four-part mini-series in the US and I was despondent at the end of the final installment. Apparently in the UK each episode was half as long so they got to sink into England on the brink of The Great War for eight weeks, which I would have much preferred as I like to make any delicious thing last as long as possible.

I won’t go into details of the show because you need to watch it. It’s available online and on DVD and I am jealous of you, like a kid who finished her Halloween candy before her more disciplined sister. (Not that I would have any idea how that feels.) Suffice it to say it brings together the best of Upstairs/Downstairs, Brideshead Revisited, The Remains of the Day and every other story told about an aristocratic English family and the people who work for them. Pray for a snow day and you will get lost in the world of Lord and Lady Crawley.
But here’s the rub. It is a soap opera. Filled with multiple secrets, unrequited love, plotting servants, a closeted gay footman, covered up crimes and a wicked sister, it may owe as much to Esther and Richard Shapiro (the creators of Dynasty, don’t you know?) as to Evelyn Waugh. Now, as a lifelong fan of the sudsy genre I have no problem with this revelation. However, I think those more accustomed to patting themselves on the back that the only channel their set is ever tuned to is PBS may be a bit horrified. In fact, if you took the show, set it in say, Dallas, put the men in cowboy hats and the girls in big hair, well you know what you’d have.
Yet I have bought into thinking I am watching something more intelligent and sophisticated because of that wonderful accent. Even the servants sound smart! The scenes in the kitchen are so much fun and watching the territorial cook (thank me, I’m leaving out a spoiler!) make raspberry meringues haunted me for the week after the series ended. I know I am a sucker. And I don’t care. What I do care about is that I now have to wait until fall for the next season. That is just so cruel. Between the fickleness of Mad Men Season 5 (start date is anyone’s guess) and the loss of Downton Abbey I am afraid of what will become of me. (Unfortunately I have a feeling it begins with “The Real Housewives….”) In the meantime, next month the 40th Anniversary Collector's Edition of Upstairs/Downstairs will be released. While I wait for my Amazon order to arrive, you can find me making these meringues while practicing my English accent. And for those of you searching for the perfect romantic treat, this red and white dessert hits all the notes. It's cool and creamy, crunchy and sweet and fully decadent. Happy Valentine's Day!
It's All In the Accent Meringues with Raspberries
Adapted from Barefoot in Paris, Ina Garten 2004
Printer Friendly Version
3 extra - large egg whites, at room temperature
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
Pinch kosher salt
3/4 cup granulated sugar, divided
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Stewed Raspberries (see below)
Whipped Cream (see below)

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Using a large round cookie cutter or glass and a pencil, draw 5 (3 1/2-inch) circles on the parchment paper. Turn the paper face down on the baking sheets.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites, cream of tartar, and salt on high speed until frothy.
Add 1/2 cup of the sugar and continue beating on high speed until the egg whites form very stiff peaks. Whisk in the vanilla.
Carefully fold the remaining 1/4 cup sugar into the meringue. With a large star - shaped pastry tip, pipe a disk of meringue inside each circle. Pipe another layer around the edge to form the sides of the shells. OR if you are not confident in your piping skills, use a large spoon and drop and spread enough of the meringue to fill in the circle, then using the bottom of the spoon press the meringue down in the center so that the sides build up a bit.
Bake for 2 hours, or until the meringues are dry and crisp but not browned. Turn off the heat and allow the meringues to sit in the oven for 4 hours or overnight.
Ingredients-Whipped Cream
1 cup cold heavy cream
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Directions-Whipped Cream
Whip the cream in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. When it starts to thicken, add the sugar and vanilla and continue to whip until stiff peaks form.
Ingredients-Stewed Raspberries
2 half-pints fresh raspberries, divided
2 tablespoons water
3 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon orange zest

Combine one pint of raspberries, the water, sugar and zest in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and cook uncovered over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, for 8 to 10 minutes. The juice will become a syrup and the berries will be slightly cooked. Off the heat, stir in the remaining raspberries. Set aside.
Place one meringue on each plate, divide cream between meringue and top with berries. Begin speaking to your guests in an English accent.
YIELD: 4-5 Meringues with Raspberries


Make Everyone Happy Maple-Apple Upside-Down Cake

The other day when I was in line at Chipotle I overheard the woman ahead of me grilling the girl behind the counter about the presence of cilantro in their fresh salsas. (If you’re shocked I was at Chipotle, don’t be. Their fresh tomato salsa is the best deal in town: $2.50 for two little cups plus a big bag of chips—the perfect award show snack.) After the customer was told all the salsas contained cilantro she asked if she could just have some plain, chopped tomatoes. I couldn’t believe this woman was asking for special dispensation at a fast-food restaurant, never mind the 10 people waiting to order behind her. The crazy thing? The counter girl said, “Sure!” And someone scurried off to the kitchen to fetch cilantro-free tomatoes.
I immediately remembered the time my mother, grandmother, sister and I pulled up to a McDonald’s Drive-Thru window (don’t ask) and my mother shouted our order into the microphone, “Three Cokes, one chocolate shake and four cheeseburgers, please.” And Nana barked over her, “Make mine medium-rare.” Um, lady, McDonald’s hamburgers come cooked one way, gray.
How did we get here? Sure we remember Burger King’s “Have it your way” so I guess we all assume “special orders don’t upset” anyone. It’s like what Sally said in When Harry Met Sally, “I just want it the way I want it.” And I couldn’t agree more.
I’m often accused of being high-maintenance, but in my defense, I think I do a pretty good job of maintaining my maintenance myself. I don’t really expect anyone else to take my ‘stuff’ into consideration. The one exception is garlic. Most everyone I know knows I don’t eat it. In fact I hate it and the smell makes me as sick as the taste. Just last week I went out with a group for Greek food and knew I was going to get a little ribbing about my anti-garlic policy. So my tactic was to announce at the table that I was going to order a main dish just for myself, without garlic, and didn’t want any grief for it. Now, I probably didn’t need to be so aggressive but I felt an offensive coming on and you know what they say about the best defense. But I must have offended Zeus because, although my main course was garlic-free, the spread I put on my pita triangle had enough to make up for it. Oh, it was terrible. Raw garlic is the worst and I felt awful all night, which actually proved to me that there is no negotiation when it comes to my non-garlic life.
But since I “want it the way I want it,” I fully appreciate those who have their own food-preferences. Recently, when I made desserts for a friend’s birthday dinner, (the same one for whom I made the cream cheese brownies) I proposed several options to the birthday girl, assuming she (who proclaimed the sweets were more for the guests than for her) wouldn’t care and would defer to me. Nope. After she shot down pineapple upside-down cake, but liked the idea of a cheesecake, she mentioned wanting something chocolate-y too. I thought of a recent recipe I’d seen for a cheesecake with caramelized oranges but then remembered that one of the guests, who was also the host, doesn’t like the combination of two flavors in her desserts. This issue also ruled out another idea, the always-a-hit Barefoot Contessa orange chocolate chunk bundt cake. But none of this irritated me because I would have done similar orchestrating had it been my own birthday dinner.

This bespoke food attitude is a pretty deluxe dilemma. Whenever I need a reality check I remember Little House on the Prairie. When you stop and think about what life must have been like living in that lean-to during a Minnesota winter, no indoor plumbing, (I can’t even go there) cooking dinner on a spit in the fireplace, I can’t imagine little Laura complained that whatever Pa shot that day would have benefited from another pinch of Herbes de Provence. But we don’t need to go to the 19th century to gain a little perspective.
For many current citizens of the earth food is fuel, preparing it to taste is an unimaginable luxury. Then again, you can only live the life you have and if you indeed have enough food in your fridge you might as well “have it your way.”

So after much research and discussion we settled on a maple apple upside-down cake. I’d been waiting to try this recipe when I saw it in Food and Wine back in November and decided my resistance to apples is kind of small minded. Sure, they aren’t as exciting as raspberries or peaches (or pineapples, in my opinion) but they don’t offend in any way. This cake is like a celebration of caramel apples. The depth of flavor brought to the party by the maple syrup prevents the cake from being too cloying and the apples stay just firm enough on top of the lovely, buttery cake. I have new respect for this once forbidden fruit. Although, for my birthday I’ll still make my yellow cake with chocolate frosting, because I “want it the way I want it.”
Make Everyone Happy Maple-Apple Upside-Down Cake
From Food & Wine, November 2010
Printer Friendly Version

1 cup pure maple syrup
3 Granny Smith apples—peeled, cored and cut into eighths
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
3/4 cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 1/3 cups sugar

Crème fraîche or vanilla ice cream, for serving

Preheat the oven to 350°. Butter and flour a 10-inch round cake pan. Set aside.

In a large saucepan, bring the maple syrup to a boil over high heat, then simmer over low heat until very thick and reduced to 3/4 cup, about 20 minutes.

Pour the thickened syrup into the cake pan. Arrange the apples in the pan in 2 concentric circles, overlapping them slightly.
In a bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

In a glass measuring cup, whisk the eggs with the buttermilk and vanilla. Set aside.

In the bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with the paddle, beat the butter and sugar at medium speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes.

Beat in the dry and wet ingredients in 3 alternating batches until the batter is smooth; scrape down the side of the bowl.

Scrape the batter over the apples
and spread it in an even layer.
Bake the cake for 1 1/2 hours, until golden on top and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let the cake cool on a rack for 45 minutes.
Place a plate on top of the cake and invert the cake onto the plate; tap lightly to release the cake. Remove the pan. Let the cake cool slightly, then cut into wedges and serve with crème fraîche, Greek yogurt or vanilla ice cream.
Yield: 12 slices