Out of the Blue

You Can’t Eat Just One

Never underestimate the power of cookies

By Deborah Salomon

Today I will explore a subject rarely attempted by essayists, columnists, commentators. They are too busy solving (or fomenting) world problems to bother with cookies.

Pity. We’d be better off if Freud had spent more time on cookies, less on phantasmagorical dreams.

My only memory of kindergarten is the tiny choco-chip cookies shaped by a cookie press, served at snacktime with a paper cup of milk. They weren’t even good but they were cookies, and I loved them.

Obviously, I suffered a cookie-deprived childhood. My mother (high school math teacher) never baked a cookie in her life. The only ones she bought were mushy with dried fruit. How I loved playing at my BFF’s house. Not only was her mother a retired Broadway chorus girl, she kept a stash of store-boughts (fancy, gooey, buttery, frosted) in the pantry. And you needn’t finish your spinach to get one.

No surprise, then, that I learned early on to bake cookies — just chocolate chip and oatmeal — usually on Friday when my kids’ pals hung around for handouts. Holidays meant shaped butter cookies: turkeys for Thanksgiving, hearts for Valentine’s Day. In the mid-’90s I arrived in Switzerland to write about the former Vermont governor, Madeleine Kunin, then U.S. Ambassador, carrying a tin box of state-shaped cookies frosted green. Even her Swiss pastry chef was impressed.

By then I realized that cookies are an acceptable carryover from childhood. Zabaglione and tiramisu for dessert, cookies at bedtime. Where a Supreme Court justice wouldn’t be caught dead drinking espresso from a sippy cup, nibbling a cookie is OK. In fact, this penchant affirms the jurist’s status as a smart cookie.

Long live Cookie Monster! Don’t get me started on the misnomer.

I know one man and three women who have been called Cookie for so long nobody remembers their real names. I also befriended a cat named Oreo (black on top, white tummy) and a figgy-hued poodle called Newton.

Another crumb on the cookie path: It was once my honor to attend a weekend house party hosted by a New York Times food writer/cookbook author. Everybody brought something for a potluck beyond lucky. I brought chocolate chip cookies which, although made from my usual recipe, spread out flat rather than rising. Even worse, they were chewy, not crisp.

The foodie’s husband went gaga over my disaster. She was miffed. The culprit, I assumed, was old baking soda. Imagine my horror when she swallowed her pride and requested my “secret.”

People wax emotional, even irrational over their choices. Duels have been fought over Whippets vs. Mallomars. A gentleman I know well, who grew up in the Northeast, insists Hydrox are far superior to Oreos, even before this bestseller went wack-o with seasonally flavored/colored fillings.

To me, Hydrox still sounds like a controlled substance.

Would it impress you to know that Lorna Doone shortbreads were named for the heroine of an inconsequential British romance novel published in 1869, in which Lorna is shot at her wedding . . . but survives?

It bothers me that spicy Biscoff monopolize in-flight airline refreshments. I don’t care if they are vegan and made in Belgium. They leave fingers greasy.

I save mine for the squirrels.

It also riles me that faced with worldwide cookie popularity (fortune cookies, Italian wedding cookies) the Brits insist on dipping “biscuits” in their tea, while calling real biscuits “scones.”

Alas, commercial cookies have deteriorated, except maybe Pepperidge Farm. Smaller packages, questionable quality, higher prices. I miss real vanilla in vanilla wafers. Most chocolate is diluted or outright fake.

Therefore, over the years I have committed several simple, foolproof cookie recipes to memory. The latest — a super-easy but divine almond mini-chocolate chip biscotti.

Because you never know when an ambassador or Supreme Court justice might ring the doorbell on a Friday afternoon.  PS

Deborah Salomon is a writer for PineStraw and The Pilot. She may be reached at debsalomon@nc.rr.com.

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