Sunday, March 8, 2009

Foodie In The Middle

I live in Oklahoma City, fast food capitol of the world. We are known for having more fast-food restaurants per capita than anywhere else in the United States. On average it has been said that Oklahomans visit a fast food restaurant twenty-one times a month. And we're not just talking about poor and working class here. We're talking millionaires in Mercedes, queuing up for taco's, roast beef sandwiches (a.k.a 'botulism on a bun' by local emergency room physicians) and burgers and fries. Yes, where the wind comes sweepin' down the plain, fast food rules.

In response to this, many say we should prepare nutritious meals at home. Encourage families and individuals to grocery shop and discover healthier options.

I more than anyone I know, am all for that. But there are several problems with this solution. First off, in Oklahoma, large superstores such as Walmart and Sam's dominate. There are very few options for obtaining food. Also, these chain stores are spread out - forcing people to drive long distances for basic needs such as bread and milk. And worst of all, most of what we find in such stores is more of the same mass produced, high fat, low in nutrition, corn syrup laden, convenience foods. What's a person to do?

Health experts tell us to stick to the outer parameter of the store. Purchase fresh fruits and vegetables instead of all those fattening, processed foods. But all we find there are tasteless, out of season, baseball hard, ersatz versions of fruits and vegetables. Nothing really appetizing.

It's a real dilemma.

Contrary to what some may think, I am not a health nut. I don't avoid fast food just because it's unhealthy. Actually, I avoid it because, to me, it tastes bad. I feel inhuman whenever I am forced to eat this stuff. The only thing I can choke down are fries and a coke. No meat. No unidentifiable foods. Like Michael Pollan said, "if your great grandmother wouldn't recognize it as food, it probably isn't." This depresses me. The only word that comes to mind is -- Soylent Green.

I am envious of all those foodies in New York, France, California, and Seattle. It's just not fair.

My only consolation is, willing to drive, I am able to find a couple decent local restaurants, some wine, some bread, some cheese, and in the summertime, farmer's markets. I live for the farmer's markets.

But don't even get me started on the liquor laws here in Oklahoma. You cannot buy wine in a grocery store, you cannot buy wine or alcohol on Sunday's, also you cannot buy wine or alcohol after 9 PM. It is only sold in liquor stores, where I skulk in and out at 10 AM during my Saturday morning errands with a single brown paper bag tucked beneath my arm. So if it's 9:30 on a Saturday night, and your cupboards are bare, and you've got guests, or just a hankerin' for a margarita or a nice glass of Zin, you're out of luck.

Take it from me, it's no fun being a foodie in the middle.

I just wanted to put that out there.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

My Dysfunctional Cookie Baking Family

Cookies and I go way back. And while it's virtually impossible to recall the first cookie I ever ate, some cookies do adhere more fondly to my culinary memory than others.

One of my first cookie baking memories, oddly enough, belongs with my Grandma Helen who seldom baked anything. Grandma was very frugal and often bragged on the fact that she used only half a bag of chocolate chips in her Toll house cookies. You really don't need the whole bag, she used to say. Thrifty Grandma twirled up the remainder of the bag with an old twist tie and set it aside until she needed to bake again, which was usually the following year. Then Grandma would retrieve the old, whitened chips, and take pride in the fact that she had just saved 29 cents. Funny thing is, I rather enjoyed those plain, dry cookies that she used to bake. They were the perfect accompaniment to cherry Kool-Aid on a hot summer day.

My other cookie baking memory lies with my mother (daughter of the aforementioned grandmother) who also did not bake. I was in the fourth grade and by some erroneous lineup of the stars, my mother ... career woman/registered nurse ... became home room mom and was asked to bake two dozen sugar cookies, all in the shape of a black cat's head for the grade school Halloween party.

I was giddy with excitement at the prospect of my mom bringing the cookies and remember it vividly: black buttercream frosting with large green piped eyes and black licorice strings for whiskers. Only these are not my mothers cookies that I am remembering. These are the cookies of our talented next door neighbor, the Martha Stewart of Lincoln School. Martha's cookies were perfect, like something out of a magazine. My mothers cookies, on the other hand, looked like something out of a Tim Burton movie, all distorted and re-sewn together. Mom's cookies had red licorice strips instead of black, that were sticking straight up out of the top of the cat's head, like hair(!). When our neighbor, normally a pious, reserved woman, took one look at my mother's cookies, she burst into laughter so hard that we thought we were going to have to take her to the hospital. To this day, my poor mom is still chided for those crazy cat cookies.

So now you know the history of my dysfunctional cookie baking family and can see that I had nowhere to go -- but up. The good news is, I have broken with tradition and now bake, with the help of my daughter, a pretty decent oatmeal raisin and some pretty good chocolate chip. This latest recipe for Oatmeal Raisin has been lingering in my collection for sometime now and I wish I had tried it sooner, for these are the perfect, easy, not too soft, not too thin, Oatmeal-Raisin Cookie. I am moving this one to the top of my list.

Oatmeal-Raisin Cookies
adapted from Cook's Illustrated

2 Sticks unsalted butter softened but still firm
1 cup light brown sugar
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
3 cups rolled oats
1 cup raisins

1. In bowl of electric mixer, beat butter until creamy. Add sugars; beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in eggs one at a time.

2. Mix flour, salt, baking powder, and nutmeg together, then stir this into butter-egg-sugar mixture with mixer on lowest speed, scraping down sides when needed. With mixture on "stir" or lowest setting, mix in oats and raisins.

3. Form into large walnut sized balls and place on cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake until cookie edges turn golden brow, 20 minutes.