Going With Cookies
by Nicole Freire
You Edhat readers are a curious bunch. Some of you wanted to know why I was so angry last week. Some of you wanted to know if I had really eaten my entire breakfast at Farmer Boy.
Yes, I really did eat all my breakfast at Farmer Boy, including every single blueberry on my pancakes, which turned my teeth a lovely shade of blue.
So ... the anger. Well, like 30,000 other Americans last Thursday, my husband lost his job. We're navigating the rocky shoals that surround Freak The Heck Out Island. Our little family boat feels like it may capsize at any time. I have thought streams that go like this...........he loses his job, we have to go and live with my parents and file for unemployment and eat soup and give the girls string for Christmas and tear up the front yard to plant a vegetable garden.
This is what my therapist calls "catastrophic thinking". I'm very good at it. I could have gotten a master's degree in anxiety.
Anyway, if you know of anybody who needs a crackerjack facilities manager or project manager, may I suggest my better half? His anxiety levels are way lower than mine and he loves kittens.
Our landlord, whom I adore, used to deliver cookies and bread to grocery stores before he retired to spend more time working on miniature trains.
(Seriously, I adore the man. I love our little house that he rents to us and I wish him a long and healthy life. I love the trees in our backyard, I love our funny little kitchen, and I'd like to stay here for a long long time.)
I was dropping our rent check off the other day and my sweet landlord and I were chatting about the economy and people losing their jobs and the entire U.S. economy circling the drain in the world's bathtub and this is what he said to me: "Nicole, when times are tough, everyone still needs cookies and bread. Especially cookies."
As you can see by the photograph, we're going with the cookies.
We had already scaled back on many expectations months ago, when it was clear (at least to us) that the days of Americans buying flat screen televisions like they were hamburgers were going to come to an end. But there are a dozen wonderful teachers at my daughters' school to be thanked, relatives to share gifts with for the holidays, and the family budget has taken a huge hit, what with all the one paycheck drama happening here at Chez Freire.
Voila! Cookies for everyone! There is more Crisco and butter and sugar in my kitchen pantry than is probably legal. I purchased flour in bags so heavy that I had say to the nice checkout lady at Vons, "Yes, I DO need help out to the car." Also, we have molasses and vanilla and ground ginger and I am thankful that we have lots of cookies sheets.
We are going with the cookies. I think that spending time rolling balls of dough into perfectly round one-inch balls and opening the oven door every five minutes to check on them is an effective distraction. The Freire family has crafted handmade gifts for several years now, but this is the first time we've attempted cookie baking on this kind of scale.
While I try to keep my anxiety levels under control and my husband spends time printing out resumes and making phone calls, we'll be baking cookies.
When I tell the kids that we won't be able to have the heat on all night long and pile more blankets on their beds, we'll be baking more cookies. As we have a family meeting at dinnertime and we tell our children that it's a game for them to play to see how few lights we can have on, we'll be making cookies.
As I remain grateful for our good health and the job I do have, and the faith I have that my husband will get another job, I bake more cookies.
And because I have learned that the people who read this column are, by and large, a lovely and generous group (when they're not suggesting I try hormone therapy or confusing my 'let me talk to you' columns with something called 'real journalism') here are two cookie recipes for you all to try.
Because when things get tough, everyone could use more cookies in their lives.
First up is our favorite cookie in the entire universe -- shortbread.
(Actually, this is a recipe that came with one of those clay cookie stamps, but you have to oil those suckers constantly and I'm all about getting to the end result, not obsessively oiling cookies stampers, no matter how charming the design.)
Shortbread. 1 ½ cups butter (yay, butter!), ¾ cup sugar, 3 cups flour. Cream butter and sugar thoroughly. Add flour one cup at a time. Mix well. Roll into one-inch balls and place on an ungreased cookie sheet (like you would need a greased cookie sheet? you saw the amount of butter being used.) Eschew the complicated cookie stamp and instead, take a fork and flatten them out gently using fork hash marks like you would with a peanut butter cookie. Fancy, eh? Bake at 300 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes. These are so good that you will roll your eyes in ecstasy. Try not to eat too many at once, as I have anecdotal evidence that you will get a stomachache.
Next up, and the reason for the molasses, is another holiday cookie that will make you happy. Gingersnaps. Oh, you thought I was going to say gingerbread, didn't you? Well, those require getting out the rolling pin and cookie cutters, and as I said before, we are all about the end result -- and quickly.
Gingersnaps. ¾ cup Crisco, 1 cup sugar, 1 egg, ¼ cup molasses, 2 cups flour, 2 tsp. baking soda, ½ tsp. salt, 1 tbsp. ground ginger, 1 tsp. cinnamon. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Cream Crisco and sugar. Add egg, then molasses. Toss dry ingredients together in separate bowls, and then beat with wet ingredients. Roll into one-inch balls and bake until tops crack. Take out and cool on cookie racks.
One trick we like to add is to take fancy raw sugar (it looks like little crystals) and pour some into a pie plate. After you've obsessively rolled the gingersnap dough into one-inch balls, roll them into the raw sugar. Then bake. When they come out of the oven, they'll look just like jewels. You can play around with baking times with these. You can leave them in the oven until they just start to crack, then take them out and leave them on the baking sheet for another five minutes, and then transfer them to cooling racks. Or, for a crispier version, leave them into the oven until they've cracked on top and started to turn even browner.
Once again, refrain from eating too many of these, even if you're "just testing" them. No one will have sympathy for your upset stomach if the reason is "I ate too many cookies". We have sympathy for "I ate bad fish" but not for cookie gorging.
I hope you enjoy making these cookies, because when times are tough, just remember -- everyone needs cookies.
See you all next Wednesday, when I'll try to talk about something besides job loss and Crisco.
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Nicole Freire is a freelance writer who lives in Santa Barbara.