I hadn’t stealth-baked since I was twelve.

The Only Oatmeal Cookie

As the weather in southern New England threatens to break into the 50’s any day now, I’m wrapping up my winter bake ware, but not before a final run of my favorite waist expanders. And what do you know, after years of fine-tuning and this particularly insidious past winter, I seem to have perfected the oatmeal raisin cookie. I made the good-bye batch in secret late last night; Billy the Kid is convinced that oats are an attempt to pass off a vegetable in snack form and refuses to allow any baking time to be wasted on hippie health food. BK’s free will is coming in at full speed and it’s battle-picking season at the Peña house. I can sympathize with his resentment of vegetables (and hippies), so I’m letting him choose what we bake for now. While these contain a satisfyingly concerning amount of sugar, the salt cuts it down perfectly, encouraging a rapid cycle of consumption. I despise a cakey oatmeal cookie; this one is barely a solid when first removed from the oven. I’ll go right ahead and claim full credit for these bad Larries since a second egg apparently has never occurred to anyone else. If you’d like to comment on my method of pluralizing “Larry,” feel free to drop a hand-written note right in the garbage.

2 sticks salted butter, softened
1 C dark brown sugar
3/4 C sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 C flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp cloves
3 C old fashioned oats
1/2 C golden raisins
1/2 chopped, toasted pecans

Assemble the ingredients as you would any normal cookie dough. Drop by rounded tablespoons onto cookie sheets with at least 2 inches between each pile and bake single sheets at 350 for 13 to 14 minutes. Once removed from the oven, let the cookies sit on the sheet for 5 minutes, then carefully transfer them to a wire rack for 10 more. As soon as they hit room temperature, cover them up to preserve the chew.

A note on the raisins: I prefer the golden variety, as they lend an element of surprise to each bite. Unless you look closely, they blend right into the golden-brown cookie, and I, for one, need something to look forward to.

Saturday Night Special

Emergency Dinner

I’m insanely competitive, but only with myself. Many mistake this for low self-esteem; on the contrary, I’m just not that concerned with everyone else. Since becoming a stay-at-home mother, I’ve had to institute policies that keep me on my toes, as the lack of a supervisor translates into the lack of a glowing annual review. For example, I try to cook as many meals out of the week as possible, not for the warm contentment that comes from nourishing one’s family, but because an uninterrupted string of “HCD”s (home-cooked dinner) on my wall calendar reassures me that I’m earning a nice pointy A. The only real feedback I get from my subordinates comes in the forms of screams, wails and tantrums, and the occasional “I love you” is usually a last-ditch attempt to elude the repercussional time-out nap. So my need to self-monitor/praise manifests in my psyche’s constant addition of items to my daily to-do lists, while conscious executive-me gripes through each chore, cursing the perfectionist work ethic instilled by a former Catholic (nicely done, Mrs. S!).

There are no corners that the tiny slacker who lives deep inside me and constantly undermines my cultivation of hustle won’t cut, so a good percentage of HCDs involves prepared foods, to my chagrin. I reserve jarred sauces for the end of the week, which usually finds me too disoriented and frazzled to be trusted with a measuring cup. It would be impressive, indeed, to screw up this mindless but tasty pasta dish, and I don’t offer it because I assume you need help putting spaghetti together, but to reassure you that even I don’t start every dinner at the farmers’ market. In fact, I avoid farmers’ markets as well as the California attitude they promote.

1 jar Newman’s Own Roasted Garlic and Peppers Sauce
1 16-oz box spaghetti (1/2 box per 2 eaters)
1 pkg sweet Italian sausage (5 or 6 links)
olive oil

Cover and heat up the sauce in a medium saucepan over low while you fry the sausage in 1 tbsp olive oil over medium-high/medium until completely cooked (fill the emptied — not rinsed! — sauce jar with hot water and add as needed to the sauce to achieve the desired consistency). Toss the completely cooked (it’s never redundant) sausage into the sauce along with 1 tbsp of the pan sludge, and continue to cook over low, covered, stirring occasionally, while you boil well-salted water for the pasta and cook it. When the spaghetti is done (drain, but don’t rinse), so is the sauce. Look at all that free time! Let’s find some trim that needs a fresh coat of paint.

If you use a plate, you use a fork.

Buttermilk Fried Vehicle for Fried Buttermilk

I know next to nothing about the South. Why would I? I recoil from sun and heat, reserve physical affection for family, the Hamiltons, and Jess D, and prefer not to make eye contact with strangers, especially in crowds. When I first became aware of the “see something, say something” campaign at train stations and airports, I was slightly taken aback that the administration would assume I was in the habit of taking stock of my fellow passengers. Once the practice of noticing people becomes acceptable etiquette, the terrorists have won. No, I’ll keep my eyes quietly glued to my Maugham novel all the way to my grave, thank you very much.

As mysterious and stressful as I find Southern culture, the food is another story; I can be bought with fried chicken. My first successfully fried chicken (I usually wind up with fried chicken and fried flour) is courtesy of Simply Recipes, a site that garners more of my trust with every new recipe. I was nervous that the eight hours my refrigerator invested soaking the chicken in herbed buttermilk might be wasted, but the payoff was nothing short of magnificent. There was little conversation at dinner this evening, and both Mr. P and I were relieved that our new rice cooker botched the starch, opening up some unexpected gastronomical real estate. It’s not at all greasy, no small feat considering the two cups of oil you get going, and if you use grape seed oil without actually reading the recommended article on its health benefits, the sky is the nutrient-rich limit! A squirt of lemon juice rendered the whole thing intolerably good — so good that I’m still just a little furious.

The Coach Bag Experiment

I have a Coach bag, and it’s making life a little weird. Mr. P was terribly impressed by my successful production of two additional individuals last year, and he went wildly overboard for Christmas. By now I’ve had a few months to settle into my gorgeous, well-made and roomy bag, but I don’t know that I’ll ever be completely at home in it, spectacular as it is.

The weirdness is two-fold. I don’t tend to run glamorous errands with my brood, so it’s strange to be out with Billy the Kid and realize my purse is the most well-dressed of our trio. I started to notice that I had become catagorizable soon after I started going out with her majesty. I’m one of those stay-at-home moms whose makeup and bag don’t match up with the rest of her. (My Sephora addiction will be an entirely separate post). I always assumed those women armored themselves with their fancy Louis Vuitton or what have you so that even in their drool-laden mom-ness, everyone would know, more or less, in which tax bracket their husbands fell. It never occurred to me that the bag might have been given to a woman without the resources to amass a new wardrobe that would compliment her misleading status symbol.

The second change I’ve noticed is much creepier. Until now I’ve floated invisibly through my neighborhood Hannaford and local Target and Old Navy with my standard uniform of jeans, brown jacket, hiking sneakers and sweater bag, but recently I’ve received a record-setting amount of eye contact and head-bob from my now fellow brand-slingers. I was much more comfortable when the same women assumed I was a few class notches lower, their sense of superiority somehow smugly satisfying. I’d never flaunt my Daughters of the American Revolution lineage that traces back to the Mayflower, but my inner monologue isn’t always as gracious when it feels itself being judged. Now, however, I can’t make a single mental comment about a stranger’s ensemble without glancing at my bag and reprimanding myself for being such a vacuous snob. It’s really quite exhausting.

Why do I continue to carry my bag on a daily basis? Mr. P didn’t just order the top-selling Coach bag because he knew I loved them. He took a huge gamble in the gift, since I’ve never expressed any interest in expensive accessories, and my unhelpful parameters for the type of Christmas gift I’d like (he asked, otherwise I wouldn’t have volunteered) were pretty and superfluous. I considered his offer of a portable dishwasher, but after a year of being pregnant and then sick, I felt like something more along the lines of a pony. Not a pony, obviously (I don’t ride and they’re ridiculously expensive) but something in that vein. So my wonderful husband went to the Coach store, and spent an hour with several eagerly helpful clerks considering what color and style would go best with my “wardrobe,” which size would be most practical, and which wallet would coordinate best. I am an unbelievably lucky gal. I’d never seen a Coach bag that I found appealing until I opened the box under the tree Christmas morning, and I had never even seen the actual Coach logo, so I had no idea what was coming until the parting of the tissue paper.

More than anything, the bag represents to me one of my favorite of Mr. P’s many enviable qualities: his sense of whimsy. So much went into the selection of this particular item, requiring such attention to the details of my daily life and the girlier aspects of my personality. It required that he, for a few moments, give a rat’s ass about designer handbags, without any guarantee that the gift would elicit the intended level of glee. He shmoozed with salespeople, he wrapped it out of sight. So even if I remain fully conscious of the concerning lack of irony in my possession of a Coach bag, it’s worth the frequent reminder of how hard Mr. P does, indeed, rock it.

Professional finish be damned, my sweet tooth was aching.

My, That Was a Lot of Work Cookies

During my recent bake-a-t(h)on with Jess D, from which emerged the ostentatiously delicious Oreo-stuffed chocolate chipper, we also knocked off our first batch of these mint and ganache-filled whoopie pies from Epicurious. I made Round II today with Billy the Kid, who acted as my enthusiastic emergency finger-licker, since this batch is reserved solely for Peña bellies. Jess generously contributed a new essential to the tiniest functioning kitchen on the Eastern Seaboard: a whoopie pie pan! Finally, there is officially no excuse for cakelette disks of any other kind than perfect circles.

I’m not a huge mint fan, and Mr. P knows that he’ll always find his packages of Girl Scout Thin Mints untouched, no matter how long they wait in the cupboard. These ladies, however, wear mint so delicately that my palate was refreshingly unjarred by the often abrasive essence. The consistency of the filling is similar, I imagine, to whipped angel, and the semisweet chocolate “glue” edges the whole thing into oeuvre territory. They’re embarrassingly unconcerned with undoing gender stereotypes, however, and take forever to get dressed. So if you have a few free hours and inches in your pants, you’ll want to take advantage of yet another opportunity to assert that no one should feel badly; you’re just better.

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