Don't Say Hate Oatmeal Lace Cookies

Last week, after dissecting the Golden Globes with my sister, I realized I’d become a hater. Every sentence began with “I can’t stand….” or “How awful did…” or “I loathe…” Now, of course awards shows are ripe for ridicule, and really, how important is it that you have nice things to say about the beautiful and famous in their free clothes and jewels? But it’s how I feel when starting a sentence with “I hate” that got me thinking, what if I just expelled all my negative thoughts in a kind of last hurrah rant? Maybe that would help cleanse my soul, an exorcism of sorts. I thought it was worth a try.
Here is the list I compiled of all people and things worthy of my hatred:

Ladies first, all of whom make me nuts and none of whom I actually know: (Oh, just in case I needed a transplant of some sort and one of them turns out to be the only match, I stuck to first names).
Padma, Reese, Claire, Renee, Anne, Kate H, Julianne, Sophia, Sarah Michelle, Katherine H and Lea.

Gentlemen, if you please:
Oh dear. Looks like I have a problem with women. I can only think of one man whom I’d like to punch, Jeremy Piven. (I’ll risk losing him as an organ donor since I don’t want a transfusion of mercury poisoning.)
But wait, there's more. I also can't stand:

Adults who ride Razor scooters
Tommy Bahama shirts
Coffee or tea served in a glass mug
People who like rain
People who whistle, smile or sing to themselves in public
People who talk to the bus driver
The Uggs shuffle of insolent teenage girls
Every shopper at Fairway, when I’m in the store
Women who eat like birds
People who talk during movie previews
Cashiers who say, “the following customer” instead of “the next customer”
Men who call women "Darlin'" (Darling is okay)
Slow talkers
Slow walkers
Nouveau business speak (e.g. “Digital Space,” “Pop-Up,” “Experiential,” “Curate”)

After I made this list I realized that my plan didn’t work. The list wasn’t an exorcism, it was self-indulgent. There is something about actively expressing negativity that just feeds on itself and makes you feel worse. Also, don’t I have better things to do with my time and my brain than to wallow in all the really petty things that annoy me? Of course! And that was my “take-away,” (Oops, forgot that I also hate “take-away” and “Aha moment.”) I needed to try to just let the hate go.

On the heels of my insight my friend Marsha asked me if I wanted to join her for a tea being held at Park Here, a sort of indoor park in Openhouse, a space downtown. My instinct is always to say “yes” to her suggestions because 1) she’s great and 2) our adventures force me to leave my neighborhood. But I paused when I opened the forwarded link and saw a thick-bespectacled hipster couple sitting on a bench in the indoor park under the header, “Openhouse: Pops-Ups, Events, Experiential Marketing.” Gag me. Oh, and the guy was wearing a knitted wool hat. Inside.
Here I’d made this promise to myself to stay positive and I was already feeling my will begin to waver. Then I clicked on the photo describing the tea and it got worse. There was a picture of a prissy pink floral tea set, artfully set on a wrought iron table with a pedestal of treats and pink flowers everywhere. It was all so precious that I feared I’d overdose on whimsy before taking my first sip. But then again, it promised “a selection of sandwiches, biscuits, scones, petit fours and graceful service” and an afternoon with Marsha. I bucked up, committed to my attitude adjustment and we headed downtown.

In all fairness the idea of the indoors mimicking the outdoors is not a stupid one. I could see if you were downtown, and it was really cold and you just wanted to take a load off and relax, or do some work on a laptop using their free Wi-Fi, or get out of the house with your small, cooped up children, Park Here might be just the thing. It really does look like a park. Between the “grass” and the extensive “flora” the walls are painted with more flowers and trees, the sounds of “nature” surround you, there’s a picnic table and benches and little café tables and space to run around or lay out a blanket etc. It’s really pretty.
Now, let’s discuss the tea. I was prepared to let the anticipated, cloying whimsical fussiness roll off my back in exchange for a tiered stand filled with abundant cucumber, egg and smoked salmon sandwiches, scones, jam and the petit fours. Here is what the buffet looked like.
Um, excuse me? How was I supposed to stay positive under these conditions!? I don’t want to trash the attempts of the tea givers because indeed the service was graceful, if by graceful you mean warm and friendly. But what they had in kindness they lacked in speed. Truthfully it took 20 minutes for me to get a cup of tepid mint tea and another 20 for Marsha to get her English Breakfast. It was so strange. I’m pretty sure the “petits fours” of an “Afternoon tea…a delightful tradition born in England” don’t translate into slices of an Entenmann’s fudge cake or a plate of Food Emporium mini black and white cookies, even if we are across the pond. But the most irritating, and kind of insulting, aspect to the experience in the experiential space was the price. This hodge-podge scenario cost us $25 a piece!
But the real news was that none of it got to either of us. Sure we discussed our confusion and slight disappointment. Marsha thought our tea would have been fairly priced at $12. I felt more generous and came in at $15, just because the women working there were so nice. But then we both just let it go and talked about the real things that matter. Our families, our writing, Marsha’s upcoming blog, our shared love of the Supa Dupa Greens juice at our neighborhood Juice Generation and our plans to try to recreate it in Marsha’s new Vita-Mix. You know, the important stuff. We gabbed for three hours and didn’t notice that our lukewarm tea had become ice cold.
And since I made my last hurrah list I haven’t started any sentences with “I can’t stand,” “How awful did” or “I loathe.” I feel lighter and clearer. But what I don’t feel is satisfied by my tea experience, which is why I baked these crispy, crunchy oatmeal lace cookies when I got home. They have a wonderful burnt sugar, toffee flavor, are egg and nut-free and are so light they're the perfect ending to a real, and filling, afternoon tea. Now all I need is a tiered stand, a loaf of bread, a cucumber and some scones. Oh, and a teapot.

Don't Say Hate Oatmeal Lace Cookies
Adapted from the Ladies Home Journal Dessert Cookbook, Doubleday 1964
Printer friendly version
½ cup flour
Pinch salt
¼ teaspoon baking powder
½ cup sugar
½ cup oats (old-fashioned, not quick cook)
2 Tablespoons heavy cream
2 Tablespoons Lyle's golden syrup or light corn syrup
1/3 cup melted butter (see measurement on stick, it’s almost ¾ stick)
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract.
Preheat oven to 375 and line two cookie sheets with parchment paper
Sift flour, salt, baking powder and sugar together into a large bowl
Add oats, cream corn syrup, butter and vanilla.

Stir together until well-blended.
Using a one teaspoon measuring spoon, drop 4-inches apart onto cookie sheets. (They really do spread a lot)
Bake 8-9 minutes until golden brown. (I like mine more towards a dark golden)
Let stand just a few seconds
and remove carefully with spatula on cooling rack.
Yield: 40-45 cookies


Move Over Twinkies Madeleines

I haven’t been able to stop thinking about Twinkies and it's Brad Pitt's fault. In Moneyball, one of the year’s best films and I don’t even care about baseball, Brad’s character Billy Beane eats constantly and mindlessly throughout the film. But the scene that really transfixed me was when he stuffed a Twinkie in his mouth. He wasn’t having a secret shame moment, furtively darting his eyes to make sure no one was witnessing his snack-fest. He wasn’t reading the back of the package trying to decipher the ingredients in the “Crème” filling and debating whether or not the bad-for-you indulgence was “worth” it. He was unapologetically treating his pie (er, cake) hole to one of America’s most iconic snack cakes. Oh, to be that guilt-free! (BTW, Brad eats a ton in movies. This list is pretty funny as is this video mash-up.)
Despite having quite a bit of insight into how advertisers and marketers work, I am a highly suggestible person. I adopt the hypnotized eyes of a zombie following the come-hither of the manipulative food manufacturer into his waist-expanding, artery-clogging, tooth-rotting web of sweet junk. All I need is one commercial for Dunkin' Donuts and I can’t stop thinking about honey glazed, yeasty cakes until I buy one. The latest variety of M&M’s displayed in the cardboard, white gloved hand of a new “melts in your mouth, not in your hands” character at Duane Reade? I grab a pack immediately, you know, for research purposes.

Meanwhile, it wasn’t just Brad’s careless and carefree consumption of the “golden” cake that got me; I could literally sense his experience from the movie screen. The soft, spongy squish of his first bite, the creamy filling coating his tongue, the comfort in knowing they come two to a pack. I knew I was a goner.
Yet somehow I was able to resist temptation for several months. Distracted by a kitchen successively filled with Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Thanksgiving and Christmas treats, I buried the evil Twinkie urge in the back of my psyche (alongside my desire to kick the Yorkshire terrier of a particularly odious neighbor). That was until last week.

Headlines announced the bankruptcy protection being sought by Hostess Brands, makers of everything from Wonder Bread, Ding Dongs and of course, Twinkies. “Oh no,” I thought, “what if this is my last chance?!” Again, I’m not stupid and I actually read some of the business articles and knew Hostess had enough money to keep us in snack cakes for the foreseeable future. There was really no need to panic. But it was kind of the perfect excuse to shut my mouth up and feed the beast. It was time to go shopping. I chose the tragic, depressing market nearest my apartment where, because it is so tragic and depressing, I was unlikely to run into anyone sane that I know. Luckily I also needed some white vinegar so I could casually walk around the store as if I had a reason to be there other than my illicit procurement. And that’s how it felt. I’d imagine it’s what people go through when they’re slipping into an X rated movie theater, a mixture of self-disgust, embarrassment and excitement. I couldn’t wait to tear into my two-pack when I got home. But first I had to get past the check-out line.
I did what I always do when I don’t want to be noticed; I didn’t make eye contact with anyone, as if my not seeing them translated into them not seeing me. I decisively placed the vinegar on the conveyor belt and casually tossed the Twinkies right behind it. “Oh, is Smart Water on sale?” I tried to communicate with my turn of the head and squint to the shelf behind the cashier. “$2.79” she said while stuffing my purchases into the shopping bag. And that was it. No drama, no witnesses. I was home free. Which is where I went as quickly as possible.

Now, you’re probably thinking, “Ew. Who would ever want a Twinkie? They’re disgusting!” And there was part of me that was thinking the same thing. I was sure that once I bit into it I would be repulsed and my more enlightened, sophisticated, adult palate would kick in and right what was so wrong. Plus I know what lurks in that “Crème” and it ain’t cream. (Warning—if you’re a vegetarian, Twinkies are not necessarily your friend.) But that isn’t what happened at all. I ripped open the plastic packaging and gingerly pried one of the cakes off the white cardboard base. First the thin layer of cake still stuck to the paper, the three white holes on the bottom oozing just a bit of crème and then the first bite, just as it appeared on screen, the spongy cake giving way to the slight warmth of the filling, my mouth slick with a fatty film. It was pretty damn good. But it also unleashed a flood of 1970’s memories. All of a sudden I was in second grade finding a pack at the bottom of my lunch bag on a field trip, my mother having surprised me when I wasn’t looking. Then I’m at a friend’s house being given a post-ice skating snack at a small kitchen table. And on and on.
All of the senses can evoke memories. How many times have you heard a song and been transported to a summer, a school dance, a movie? Or smells. I had a college boyfriend whose dorm room smelled like a mixture of Grey Flannel and lumber (he’d built a platform bed.) To this day the scent of both cut wood and that cologne brings me back to the spring of 1987. But it’s when taste brings my past to the present that I am most profoundly affected. That’s what happened with my bite of the Twink. And that’s also all it took for me to toss the pack in the trash. One bite was enough. I felt secure knowing that it tasted exactly as I had remembered. I also knew that I didn’t need that junk food standard to feel comforted and safe. I had my own Proustian moment and I was ready to move on to a new, more age appropriate snack cake.
What better choice than Marcel’s own Madeleines! I’d never made them before because I don’t have the special pan. Isn’t that crazy? My brother-in-law came to my rescue and using uber-baker Dorie Greenspan’s recipe, I created such a lovely treat. These are incredibly easy to make, so pretty to look at and delicious to eat. Actually, at the risk of committing baking sacrilege, they’re not unlike the Twinkie in their slightly lemony sponginess, yet so much more delicate and subtle. Dip them into your favorite tea and maybe you’ll have your own flood of memories. Meanwhile, I’m hoping Hostess keeps stocking store shelves; I’d hate to have to buy a last chance Sno Ball.
Move Over Twinkies Madeleines
Adapted from Baking From My Home to Yours, Dorie Greenspan 2006
Printer Friendly Version
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon double-acting baking powder
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup sugar
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3/4 stick (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

Place the sugar and lemon zest in the bowl of a standing mixer and rub together with your fingertips until the mixture is moist and lemony.
Insert the whisk attachment into the mixer and add the eggs to the bowl with the lemon/sugar. Beat for 2-3 minutes on medium-high speed until the eggs are pale and thick. Beat in the vanilla to combine.
Using a large rubber spatula, gently fold in the dry ingredients followed by the melted butter.
Press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface of the batter and chill the batter for at least 3 hours or overnight.
Make sure you have a rack in the center position of your oven and preheat oven to 400 degrees.
If your madeleine pan is NOT non-stick, butter and flour the molds. If it is, spritz the molds with cooking spray (Pam or the like). Place pan on a cookie sheet.
Spoon the batter into the molds, filling almost to the top but don't overfill. (I did in a few molds and those cookies weren't as pretty as the others.) The batter will be light and fluffy when it comes out of the fridge. You don't need to smooth the batter completely, it will spread as it bakes.
If you are using a large (12 slots) madeleine pan, bake for 11-13 minutes until they're golden and spring back when touched lightly.
For mini (36 slots) madeleines, bake 8-10 minutes.

Remove pan from oven. Try rapping the edge of the pan on the counter to release the madeleines. If that doesn't work, use a butter knife (you don't want a sharp knife to break the madeleine) to gently pry madeleine out of mold.
Place cookies on a rack and cool until warm room temperature or completely cool, depending on your preference. Dust with confectioner's sugar before serving.

YIELD: 12 regular or 36 mini madeleines.

Dorie's tips
:If you are making minis and have more batter, bake the next batch, making certain that with each new batch the pans are cool and properly buttered and floured or sprayed. The batter can be covered with a piece of plastic film pressed against the surface and kept in the refrigerator for up to 2 days, but the madeleines should be eaten soon after they are made. You can keep them overnight in a sealed container, but they really are better on day one. If they must be kept, wrap them airtight and freeze them, they’ll keep for up to 2 months.


Change is Good Healthy Oatmeal Cranberry Chocolate Kiss Cookies

Change is good. Or so I’ve been told. Being a fan of the status quo has given me minimal experience with metamorphosis. I’ve had the same phone number for over 20 years, the same haircut for almost as long and, despite purchasing some very pretty flatware at an antiques fair, I still eat my cereal with the same yellow plastic handled spoon that was part of a set my first roommate abandoned when she moved out in 1989. It is hideous but has the perfect weight and delivers the ideal mouthful. But there are times when, unless you want to turn into Miss Havisham or a Collyer brother, you have to change your surroundings. Or at least get a paint job. That is what I finally did over Thanksgiving. It had only been 10 years. Why rush into anything, right?
You would have thought I lived in a 15 room house filled with priceless objets with the way I behaved. I complained to anyone who’d listen about being displaced, which really wasn’t true. I just tacked on two days to the holiday and hid at my parents’ place just to get out of the painters’ way. I whined about having to prepare my apartment, which also really wasn’t true. The painters said they’d move everything, but because I’m a control freak and wanted workers in my space for as few days as possible, I moved all of the furniture myself. I left Post-It’s everywhere and memos printed out in Arial Bold 18 point, as if the guys were blind rather than Spanish speaking. I was ridiculous.
But the great thing was coming home to a freshly painted abode. Much like having your hair colored, it took 10 years off the place! But then I had what I refer to as a Carol Brady Moment. Do you remember the episode on The Brady Bunch where Carol convinces Mike to let her buy wallpaper for the bedroom? Once they make a choice she realizes the new paper will make the rest of the room look terrible and she lobbies for new carpeting, curtains and a bedspread. (FYI—they solved the dilemma by repainting the room in the existing color.)
That’s what happened to me. After my walls were refreshed my once shabby-chic red floral rug looked just plain shabby. What started out as red, around which I had based the palette of the rest of my living room, evaporated into a sort of marbleized steak look, heavy on the fat. But after my positive painting experience I was geared up to keep the changes coming and when I saw a rug on One Kings Lane (a fabulous home decorating website that you should definitely check out) that was majorly discounted and seemingly the right color, I pounced.
Like all new things (and people) I bring home I delayed incorporating the rug into my life. First I left it in the package room in my building’s lobby over the weekend. Then once the porter lugged it into my apartment I let the giant shrink-wrapped, rolled up thing lie on my kitchen floor for another few days. When I finally slit open the plastic and unrolled it as much as my narrow kitchen would allow, I panicked. The color was way off. I was sure it clashed with the red paint in my kitchen and the red in my living room upholstery. Granted I was basing my reaction on having viewed the very little bit I was able to unfurl, but still. I went online, filled out the free shipping form to send it back and enlisted Rich to come over to help me stuff it back into the casing from which I had released it.

Rich has a great decorative eye, and is also a thorough, prudent evaluator. He had just the right reaction to my rash, get-it-out-of-here, knee-jerk response. Based on what he could see in the kitchen he deemed it worthy of dragging into the living room and unrolling completely. The upshot was he thought the rug looked great. We disposed of the old rug, vacuumed, measured, cut the carpet pad down to size and lay down the new rug. I loved it!
Of course I needed to thank my friend (who had basically had it with my micro-managing the installation of my new floor covering and wanted to get to the gym before it closed) and I attempted to pack up a container of recently made cookies. He refused them.

Apparently I wasn’t the only one who had been confronting and accepting change. Rich had just returned from a transformative week at Rancho La Puerta, a spa in Mexico, with his friend Philip. Phil is an old Rancho pro and health fanatic with whom I have had heated discussions about “healthy” baked goods. While he was away Rich was up at dawn, having hiked five miles, eaten breakfast, practiced yoga and taken a Pilates class all before 10AM, the time he is usually cracking open the newspaper. But most importantly, he was feeling great after a week of eating the freshest local, organic, sustainable everything. No more mindless consumption of my full-fat and plenty-of-sugar treats.
I wasn’t sure I approved of such a drastic about-face. He’s been a loyal consumer of my treats for 15 years. But I still needed to give him a proper thank you. So I baked him Chocolate Chip Cranberry cookies from the Cooking with the Seasons at Rancho La Puerta cookbook. (Thank you Cookstr!) Delivering them to his door I awaited his response. He swallowed hard and said (I think), “I need something to drink. They’re kind of dry.” This wasn’t surprising to me since the recipe calls for very little brown sugar which would provide moisture and flavor if the amount were increased. The best part about the cookies is the dark chocolate kiss stuck in the middle. As far as I’m concerned, why would you bother wasting time with the dry cookie when you can cut to the kiss? To be fair, there is an oatmeal-y wholesomeness to them and in fact, I ate several. But I suggested Rich share some with Phil whose taste was so strongly influenced by the Rancho imprimatur he popped one in his mouth and pronounced it “great!” I’ll leave the judgment to you while I go back to baking real cookies. Some things should never be changed. In the meantime, anyone want a giant white wall unit? It really doesn’t work with my rug.
Change is Good Healthy Oatmeal Cranberry Chocolate Kiss Cookies Adapted from Cooking with the Seasons at Rancho La Puerta: Recipes from the World-Famous Spa, Deborah Schneider, Deborah Szekely October 2008
1/2 cup unsalted butter (one stick) softened
1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 cup milk
1 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup wheat germ
1/2 cup wheat flake cereal
1/2 cup white whole wheat flour or whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup sliced almonds
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup darkest chocolate chips
1/4 cup dried cranberries, chopped
40-ish Dark Chocolate Kisses, unwrapped (the 12 ounce bag will be more than enough)

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and brown sugar. Add the egg, then the milk, beating until combined. (The mixture isn't going to come together and will look a little soupy. That's okay)

In a separate bowl, combine the oats, wheat germ, cereal, pastry flour, almonds, cinnamon, baking powder, and baking soda. Add the chocolate chips and cranberries.
Add oat mixture to the milk mixture, and mix on the lowest speed until thoroughly combined.
Use a tablespoon measure or small ice cream scoop to scoop the dough onto parchment lined baking sheets, leaving 2 inches between each scoop. Press a chocolate kiss into the center of each cookie. Bake for 14 minutes, or until lightly browned.
Let cool on the pan for a few minutes then place on a rack to cool completely.
Yield: 40-45 cookies