Back To Basics With Martha!- Oatmeal Raisin Cookies -249 eggs, 189 cups of sugar, 191 1/2 sticks of Butter, and 238 1/4 cups of flour used so far- 28 recipes to go!
October 17, 2011
After the disappointing Hazelnut Cookies I was losing hope that Martha could redeem herself. Now that I down to the last few dozen recipes, I am tackling the cookies that were either uninspiring or far too time consuming. You have to admit that there’s little inspiration in Oatmeal Raisin Cookies. Most people joke that these are the inferior alternative to Chocolate Chip Cookies. Martha’s recipe, however, knocked my socks off. The usual batter of egg, flour, cinnamon, oatmeal, brown sugar, white sugar, baking soda, salt, butter and flour has the added ingredient of toasted wheat germ. This addition takes the cookie from mundane to extraordinary. It adds a nutty flavor that enhances the buttery taste. I did make one adjustment to the recipe, though. Instead of raisins, I used currants. Not real currants. Those things are expensive and hard to find. I used zante currants which they sell at most grocery stores. They are simply tiny zante grapes that have been dried into very small raisins that look just like currants. This was a good choice as far as I’m concerned. A lot of people told me they were turned off by oatmeal raisin cookies that had big, gooey raisins in them. The tiny currants seemed to do the trick.
How were they?
I baked these to bring into work and they were a huge hit. Even my partner, Dan who doesn’t like Oatmeal-Raisin cookies reserved a handful to keep at home. They are quite crisp on the edges while soft and pliable in the centers with a rich, buttery-nutty flavor. They were, in my opinion, everything a homemade cookie should be. They tasted like something one of those fictional, perfect grandmothers who live in quaint cottages in densely wooded areas would bake. They tasted of comfort kind of like a big, warm squishy, quilted pillow in cookie form.
It was a warm New Orleans afternoon in early Fall. I was unpacking the last of the boxes I had spent most of the morning sorting through my meager possessions seeking out surfaces in the large, empty space on which to place them. I was going to have to purchase some furniture. Of that, there was no doubt. I had moved from a tiny studio apartment near Tulane University in midtown to a large uptown duplex. The entire three-bedroom, 1 1/2 bath top floor would be mine. Well… for at least a week until my friends, Tory and Angela moved in. The space was vast. An old Southern bungalow with a large living room, dining room and kitchen which hadn’t been updated since the early 70s. Splitting the space in two was a long and narrow hallway with a row of doors leading to the three bedroom and one of the bathrooms. Short, tan, stained carpet lined every inch of the floor. I was staring at it with disdain when the doorbell rang. It was a startling sound, one of those old-fashioned electric bells that hammered out a deafening buzz that echoed through the empty and cavernous apartment. I jolted down the carpeted stairs to the front door.
There she was peering in through the large glass door. A petite woman in an oversized sweatshirt and black leggings, her long, radiantly red hair drifting down over her shoulder framing her freckled face and beaming smile. “Hey there, neighbor!” she yelped with the friendliest voice I’d heard in a long while. She held a large tray of beautiful, hand-made pastries. I opened the door immediately. Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses should take note. If you came to people’s doors with a tray full of pastries instead of those little pamphlets, you’d probably have a more successful conversion rate.
“My name’s Jody. My husband, Raphael and I live next door. If you hear any kids screaming in the morning, those would be my boys. If you hear any adults screaming that would be me and Raphael yelling at each other,” she giggled nervously.
I introduced myself and invited her in. I had set up the kitchen and so I made us a pot of coffee and we sat at the only table in the place outside on the sprawling balcony. We settled into a delightful conversation about the neighborhood, her history, then my history all the while sipping on several cups of coffee and chomping down on some of the most delicious pastries I’d ever had.
Jody’s husband, Raphael is a Boulanger. That’s just a fancy French word for Baker. He was a Frenchman whom she’d met while studying abroad. They fell in love, married and moved to New Orleans so he could open his bakery and she could start having kids. Both of her boys were under the age of eight and fluent in French and English. The bakery was a success, supplying most of the Hotels with their daily offerings of pastries and fresh-baked breads as well as a busy store front for the endless foot traffic downtown. Jody had recently started a business of her own as a freelance event planner. She admitted she’d always been a bit of a party girl and loved entertaining. I found her absolutely charming. She was thrilled to hear that Angela, Tory and myself were actors and musicians. “I love artists!” she exclaimed. “They’re just so earthy!” I’m not quite sure what she meant by that but hey, she brought pastries and I’m sure there’d be more where those came from so I just nodded, politely amused.
We continued to exchange pleasantries during which she invited me to have dinner with her and her husband that evening. Having no plans I graciously accepted. She then gave me an unexpected hug and left informing me that our apartment gave her the creeps. “The last occupant committed suicide, you know. Everyone on the block thinks this place is cursed.” She then giggled, waved and exited as quickly as she came.
I picked up a bottle of Pinot that afternoon and showed up at Jody’s doorstep promptly at 6:30 as requested. Raphael answered the door and with an unmistakeable, thick dialect remarked, “You must be André. That eez a good French name. Come. Come. Come.” He motioned me to the kitchen where Jody was chopping onions. The air stung my eyes. Their home was a beautiful old Victorian three story painted a lovely shade of lavender with pale yellow ornate trim. The interior was a series of tiny living spaces, perfect for visiting and offering a bit a privacy for all the inhabitants.
While Jody focused on the meal preparation, Raphael took me on a tour of the home. Most of the renovations he’d done himself. He proudly pointed to the walls, the doors, the windows, the sconces, each time saying “I did zat.” He took me to a back room which was still under construction. He had peeled back the plaster wall to reveal the interior wall frames. They were disintegrating due to a nest of Formosa termites. These tiny bugs had plagued the New Orleans area since the sixties. They love the heat and humidity of the Mississippi Delta and find nothing more delicious than old Victorian mansions. “Look at what zees little bastards have done!” he said, reaching into the wall and effortlessly dislodging a section of the wooden frame and holding it up for my inspection. I offered him a sympathetic shrug and we retreated to the dining room for a glass of wine and a terrific meal.
The vino continued to pour as we ate European style. Course after course of delicious small plates came in from the kitchen. Each course punctuated with another glass of wine. We were all feeling a bit loose and relaxed when the stories started pouring out from my hosts. They spoke of their time in France and how his family hated her for taking him away from them. “I abducted him, you know?” said Jody with a smile. “His mother thinks I’m a bitch.” “You are a beeetch!” bellowed Raphael. “That eez why I love you.” Jody just rolled her eyes and poured another drink. “I wouldn’t be such a ‘beeetch’ if you hadn’t screwed that college girl,” Jody said under her breath. This was followed by a long moment of silence. It seemed as though not everything was perfect in the perfect Victorian home. While I was certainly intrigued by Jody’s statement, I wasn’t going to ask any questions and fuel that low-burning fire.
“This is absolutely delicious,” I offered in a clumsy attempt to break the silence. “Thanks, André,” said Jody appreciatively. “He does all the cooking at work and I do all the cooking at home. I like to experiment with lots of different ingredients. You get the most unusual stuff here in New Orleans. I love that.” She got up from the table to fetch the dessert. I called out to her, “What’s been the most challenging ingredient you’ve cooked with?” Jody entered in from the kitchen with the evening’s dessert and sat down exchanging a mischievous look with her husband. “Well, I usually don’t tell people this but I’ve had a lot of wine and I feel like you’re almost family now. I have to say that I found placenta to be quite a challenge.”
I wasn’t sure if I heard her correctly. “What was that?” I asked hoping I hadn’t. “Placenta!” she squealed. “When our oldest was born I asked the hospital to bag up everything that wasn’t our baby and put it in the fridge.”
I looked at Raphael who seemed to recognize my expression of horror that I wasn’t doing a very good job of disguising. Jody began to scoop out steaming mounds of warm berry cobbler into small serving bowls and continued nonchalantly. “So, when we got home I popped it in the freezer and when the post-partem blues set in I whipped it up in a nice bolognese and Raphael and I shared it.” There was a long pause. I was speechless. “Well, it’s perfectly natural and it’s filled with nutrients. That’s why animals eat theirs. Raphael and I found it quite a spiritual experience. I’m not sure bolognese was the right choice, though.” “Too tough for a good Bolognese,” offered Raphael. “We did a nice lasagna when zee youngest was born.” “That was some damn good lasagna.” said Jody wiping berry cobbler from her mouth.
I thought I was going to pass-out.
That was the last time I broke bread with our kooky neighbors. When Tory and Angela moved in we were greeted with another tray of pastries. Angela and Tory were, like me, invited to dinner. As they left I offered them a word of advice-
Avoid the Italian dishes.