WINNER of Poor Mojo's $33-and-a-third Meritorious Boon for finest "Best Recipe You'd Never Guess", Winter 2009
Before I continue: I admit to possessing the palate of a six-year-old.
That said, I am perpetually disappointed by 'cookie parties,' 'dessert swaps,' 'pastry bandies,' or whatever one calls them. I always attend when invited, because I love sugar and fat, and such a party promises both. The disappointment arises because of dishonesty. In preparing my desserts, I follow the instructions as requested. Everyone else lies.
Instructions invariably ask each participant to prepare one or more dozen of his or her 'favorite' cookies or pastries. When party time arrives, everyone takes a few of everyone else's offerings. As such, I will bake rich brownies, chocolate chip cookies, or something else not only edible, but preferable. The other participants, however, bring the most disgusting concoctions I can imagine. These can be nobody's 'favorites'. These are confectionery castoffs, passed off to friends or family in an attitude I can only perceive as veiled malice.
The last cookie party I attended was thrown at my place of employment. I had little choice but to participate. I shunned human contact whenever possible there, as I had no desire to discuss the goings-on of hepatitic pop stars or dance-themed reality shows. But when our supervisor announced the party, I brightened. Here, at last, was a chance to bond with other human beings over something I cared for, a rare opportunity. Excited, I baked several dozen chocolate chip cookies.
The day of the party, I knew I had erred when I saw the table of desserts assembled in the break room. Each plate was labeled, in neat script on an index card, with the cookie's name and ingredients. Nobody had told me about this practice, but everyone else had done it.
As I scanned the table, my own cookies still in hand, my lightened mood sunk to a dark funk. Here were 'Heart-healthy pizzelles' prepared by 'Brina*, the dour redhead who worked in finance. These were flattened embroidered discs of Splenda-sweetened cardboard. 'Brina flavored them with anise, the root that gives black licorice its bitter, tar-like flavor. Next to those Italian horrors, Jason* from reception had laid out Fruitcake Balls. To make them, according to the card, one chopped up the most stomach-turning fruits one could find, stuck them together with molasses, and rolled them into balls. Raisins and dates feature prominently. Beyond these, more plates of revolting desserts littered the table. They seemed to compete with one another in an attempt to prompt the gag reflex.
Gazing upon them, a familiar pang ran through my gut. It was the same pang that hit me when I was seven and ran up to Mary Jo Wagner on the sidewalk. I told her she didn't have to undress her lame Barbies; she could instead play Transformers with me. She tilted her head at me, gorgeous blond hair falling over her shoulder. Wrinkling her face as if staring at a many-legged bug, she picked up her doll, its hair identical to hers, and turned toward her house. In the years that followed, I would experience that reaction many times. Here it was again: the others in my office shared some understanding about desserts which I lacked.
But no, I told myself. I was overreacting. My cookies were just as valid as anyone else's; after all, they were the only good ones. It must have been a gross cookie party, I told myself, a little joke. I yanked a sheet of notebook paper from the counter and scrawled the ingredients to my chocolate chip cookies. I didn't have a prepared index card with neat printing on it, like the others, but surely nobody would care about that. As I exited the room, Jayna from human resources entered. Her greeting demanded a response.
Keep it light, I told myself. "Hey," I said, "I thought this was supposed to be a cookie party, not an improvised ipecac party."
She gave me a sharp false grin. "I don't know what that is," she said, "but I spent hours on my Eastern Russian Sourdough Sandies." Then she brushed by.
Groups wandered in and out of the break room throughout the afternoon. They talked about their precious recipes, exchanged cookies, and, God help me, ate them. It soon became apparent that these were not joke cookies. My co-workers expected me to eat them. They excused the disgusting nature of their dishes by claiming they were recipes passed on for generations, in some cases brought over from 'the old country'. I don't know which countries these people came from, but apparently their inhabitants either hated the people they baked for or lacked taste buds.
Over and over I thought, what have I done to these people to make them think I deserve this? Were they masochistic enough to believe that they deserved an equal measure of horror in return? Was I the only one who brought tasty cookies in good faith?
Only crumbs of other cookies remained by day's end. They'd been packed into Tupperware or covered with plastic wrap on paper plates. All that remained were two dozen of the chocolate chip cookies I had brought.
As I wrapped my own cookies to take home, 'Brina patted me on the shoulder. "Don't feel bad," she said, her permanent frown in place. "It takes years to learn good cookie recipes."
Arriving at my front door, cookies in tow, that rolling gut feeling returned. Like so many other times in my life, some instinctual knowing had passed forth between the humans around me, some understanding I could never perceive. It was like their minds all scanned happily along the FM radio frequencies, interacting amongst one another with ease, while I searched the airwaves in vain on my ham radio. I might find another mind along that wavelength, but chances are it would be as scattered and awkward as my own. We might a few words before returning to our solitary basements.
Or so it feels in my more angst-ridden moments.
But I have not given up. I trust that I can find a way out of my pastry isolation. If I follow the rules set forth by others at these events, perhaps I can pass myself off as one of them, at least when it comes to preparing cookies. These thoughts in mind, I have come up with a set of rules the other confection makers seem to follow. By following these rules myself, I've concocted not one, but two cookie recipes. Even better, I'm sure that once others like myself get the hang of these guidelines, they can come up with their own dessert disasters.
GREAT GRANDMA'S CAROB/PINE NUT "SWIRLIES"
There's no more nauseating sensation than biting into a cookie you think is chocolate and discovering it's really carob. The sour cream touch makes these "swirlies" extra nasty.
Preheat oven to 350°. Blend margarine, Splenda and corn syrup until oozy. Combine flour, carob powder, salt, and cream of tartar in separate bowl. Dump into oil/sweetener blend, mixing well. Be sure to over mix the batter so it ends up rock hard after baking. Then add sour cream and Egg Beaters. Mix over-well, then stir in carob chips and pine nuts. Shape into circles on an un-greased cookie sheet, then make a swirly pattern on the top of each one with a knife-edge for no reason. Bake 9 minutes, or until you can't stand it anymore.
- 2 cups whole wheat flour
- 3/4 cup tub margarine
- 1/2 cup corn syrup
- 1/4 cup Splenda
- 2 tsp carob powder
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 cup carob chips
- 1 cup chopped pine nuts
- 1 tsp cream of tartar
- 2 large dollops sour cream
- 1/2 cup Egg Beaters
OLD UNCLE MELVIN'S COTTAGE CHEESE YAM SURPRISE SQUARES
There are people who bake with cottage cheese, I swear to Christ there are. They shall never be forgiven. The "surprise" in these squares is the coconut bits you've tucked inside.
Preheat oven to 375°. Roll oats, oil and rice into a gooey mess. Thin with soy milk and blend. Dump in molasses, coconut and yams. One the mixture is too thick to move with a spoon, add more soy milk to thin. Hold nose and pour in cottage cheese. Mix well and pour into greased 9x13 pan. Sprinkle top with shaved carrots. Bake for 15 minutes, or until kitchen stinks of yams and rotten dairy.
- 1 cup rolled oats
- 1 cup cooked rice
- 1/4 c canola oil
- 3/4 cup molasses
- 1/2 c shredded coconut
- 1 c shaved carrot
- 3/4 cup mashed yams
- 1 cup cottage cheese, large curd
- 1/2 c soy milk; more for thinning
You won't want to eat these, but maybe they'll buy you a measure of acceptance. Or, if nothing else, revenge.
Faith Van Horne lives and writes in Ohio. You can see what she's up to at her blog, Scribacious.
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