When I first begin to get sick, I begin to clean. Ambitiously.
It's not just scrubbing dishes or sweeping the floors or folding the laundry. It's cleaning the windows and flipping the mattresses and vacuuming under the fridge. When my mind is fuzzy with sickness, I can't stand a similar feeling of clutter in my surroundings.
It drives me bonkers. But at least, in the best of circumstances, my fits of crazy result in cookies.
Last Tuesday I organized the closets. Most specifically, the Closet We Dare Not Open. That's the closet in our little den, a stash and dash repository, the closet that still had sealed boxes from when we moved to this house two years ago.
Yes, you heard me right. Sealed boxes. And yes, it has been two years.
Don't look at me like that. You try moving with a toddler when you're already expecting your next and let's see how well you do in getting all your boxes unpacked.
Ahem. Now that we've thrown open the quite literal door on my secret shame, back to the present. And those boxes. These were the boxes of nonessentials - the last boxes we'd packed from our previous house, thrown together as we made our way out the door.
In one I found a storage container (empty) for CDs, an unopened package of paper, a sketchpad and some dice. In another, pictureless fames and ice cube trays. And in another, I found my recipe notebooks.
The pair of books, pale slate with Prussian blue trim, date back even further than the move to this house. They are from A Time Before; the time before a ring had ever been put upon my finger and before my child had ever been placed in my arms. A time before I started writing here.
My Mum had recipe folders when I was growing up. She'd snip out and tack in recipes from magazines and newspapers, these interspersed with handwritten cards bearing the bosom-held secret recipes of family and friends. Hers were fat and full with both the memory and the promise of delicious meals.
When I decided I it was time to become an adult, I started my own recipe notebooks. It seemed the Thing to Do. I'm a gatherer by nature, and had a considerable stockpile of magazines and notepads full of material ready and waiting. I remember stacking the clippings into neat little piles, considering my methods of categorization. I had Breakfasts, Soups, Salads, Breads, Sides, Vegetarian Mains, Meat, Poultry, Cakes, Pies, Frozen Desserts and Sweets. (All of this compulsion fell neatly in line with my established addiction to stationery.)
I was ready, at least recipe-wise, for Sort of Life I was Going to Lead. My books were as much a compilation of tried recipes as it was of the recipes I wanted to try in that future. I was going to be prepared.
Prepared for everything except baking cookies. In curating these books, I overlooked cookies entirely. Filled anticipation for future dinner parties that would surely require an elegant sweets course, I hopped, skipped, and jumped my way past biscuits and wafers and biscotti. The closest I come to a cookie is the solitary mention of brownies.
I think I thought that cookies were dull. I know. I was young and stupid. Cookies were one of the first things I'd learned to bake, due in large part to Mrs. Wakefield and those bags of morsels, and I believe I had the fool idea that adulthood was the time to move on from such childish pursuits.
Thank goodness for being lazy. And in love. I started those books years ago, but I never finished them. They went into the back of a closet, moved from apartment to apartment to house to house, untouched. Instead of collecting, I started cooking, and the next thing I knew I was here.
A move to rectify the lapse in those books' the cookie section is long overdue, and I have already got my choice for the first one in. These Chocolate-chunk Oatmeal Cookies with Pecans and Dried Cherries are sigh-inducing balance of sweet, salty and subtly sour. They are speckled and nubbly, with a crisp rim and a soft centre, and deep cracks that travel their surface. And oh my stars, they are perfectly delicious. So delicious that they deserve a fan club.
We can have the meetings at my place. Once I'm done cleaning.
Chocolate-chunk Oatmeal Cookies with Pecans and Dried Cherries
From Cooks Illustrated published May 2005.
1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup pecans, toasted and chopped
1 cup dried sour cherries or cranberries, chopped coarse
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped into small pieces about the size of chocolate chips
3/4 cup (12 tablespoons, 1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened but still cool
1 1/2 cups packed dark brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350°F (175°C), with racks on the top and bottom thirds. Use parchment paper to line several standard baking sheets and set aside.
In a bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
In another bowl combine the oats, pecans, dried cherries and chocolate.
In the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer, cream together the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. With the mixer on medium-low, add the egg and beat until incorporated.
Scrape down the sides of the bowl, turn the mixer down to low, and add the flour mixture to the bowl. Stir until just combined. Finally incorporate the oats, nuts, fruit and chocolate. Do not overmix. Turn off the mixer and use a rubber spatula to give the dough a final stir and make sure that all the ingredients are incorporated.
Using an ice cream scoop to measure 1/4 cup portions of dough. Roll these portions lightly between your hands, then place 8 on each baking sheet, spaced evenly. Wet your hands and lightly press the dough to a 1-inch thickness. Bake the cookies, two trays at a time, in a preheated oven for 12 minutes. Rotate the trays top to bottom and back to front and bake for another 8 minutes or until the cookies are uniformly golden, but still wet in the middle. You might think that they're undercooked, but you're wrong - resist the urge to overbake, they will set up further as they cool.
Remove from the oven and cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack. Store cooled cookies in an airtight container at room temperature.
• Although the original recipe specifies table salt, I used kosher salt instead; I enjoy the uneven saltiness of kosher in cookies, but that is only a personal preference.
• Continuing on the topic of salt, I sprinkled the pecans with some fine grained sea salt when they were toasted. This subtle salinity hummed steadily beneath the complexity of the chocolate and cherries.
• Wanting a slightly more modest cookie, I divided the dough into 24 and reduced my cooking time accordingly.