I have a favorite, reliable, go-to, standard (etc. etc.) cookie recipe that never fails me: an oatmeal-chocolate chip. When I ‘need’ to make cookies and am pressed for time, I make these — they’re buttery and addictive, the oatmeal sort of caramelizes during baking and there’s a tiny hint of salt to counter the sweet. I throw in chocolate chips liberally, because it feels right and because, also, chocolate. My friend Lesli calls them the ‘make everything better’ cookies and truly so they might be — I have carted them round near and far and they hold up sturdily in packages mailed across the country. In short: I love ’em.
But sometimes you want something different; you want something else. And so it was on a sunny afternoon in West Marin a few weekends ago, the weekend of dog-sitting and running in the Seashore and looking out for owls and general moaning on about how ready I am to leave the city already and live out there ad naseum and infinitum. It was later on Friday and there was about an hour left between the end of work and the time to take the dog for his walk. You know, an in-between time when you feel just the barest bit out-of-sorts because work’s not yet done for the week but the weekend hasn’t quite started.
So. What I do when I feel like that, or just funny in general, is to bake — in this case, cookies. And that day I baked not my regular old standby cookies, mind, but something else. Something new. I scanned the empty-ish cupboards, jumped on 1010cooks, and found it: a recipe for a vegan peanut butter cookie that I was sure would tide me right up and over the afternoon slump and into two whole days off.
[Spring, April 2011.]
Of course Heidi Swanson’s 101cookbooks.com was one of the first food sites I read way back when. Of course. It’s not hard to see why — she’s a vegetarian, cooks with whole and whole-grain ingredients, has an extensive vegan recipe collection, and creates and cooks healthful dishes that are not only good for you but taste good — things I try to do myself as well. She presents them all with disarming ease; this is food you can whip up for a weeknight dinner or serve with a flourish to luncheon guests. I’ve done a riff on her peanutty noodle salad for years and have been itching to try that browned butter spice cake — perhaps as muffins — ever since she published it in January.
Plus, she’s a Californian and takes beautiful photos (of food, yes, but also) of this area — thus, she’s a girl after my own heart. I visit 101cookbooks regularly for inspiration as well as information and constantly refer to it when I’m at a loss for what to cook for dinner. I’ve gifted copies of her first cookbook, Super Natural Cooking, and just received her recent Super Natural Everyday in the mail last week; it’s waiting patiently for me on the kitchen table to be delved into immediately upon returning home tonight when I’ll finally have a few minutes to savor it appropriately.
I loved these cookies. I loved that they’re vegan, but you can’t tell that really except for you don’t feel weighted down by butter after devouring a handful (let’s be honest: cookies made with butter can sometimes do that). I love that they come together in a flash and are rich but not-too-sweet; I love that they’re ever so slightly crumbly but not so much as to be annoying. I’m thinking — yes, these might just become my new favorite, my new reliable, my new go-to, my new standard (etc. etc.)., and not just because I usually have the ingredients on hand at all times.
That afternoon I made a cup of tea and took a plate of cookies out on the deck to sit in the sun, poking at the dog with my feet and taking deep breathes of that good, sea-sharpened air. The weekend loomed full and delicious, the cares of the previous week slipped away. New standard, indeed.
I read Super Natural Everyday last night from cover-to-cover and now must implore you to buy this book. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt so very inspired by a cookbook; the words, photos, and recipes will stick with me for a long time. It’s simply gorgeous, through and through.
Heidi’s recipe calls for using only whole wheat pastry flour, and a cup of maple syrup rather than the sugars. I’d love to try it this way; when I baked these cookies I didn’t have any maple syrup (nor whole wheat pastry flour) so had to improvise. I ended up adding a bit of soy milk because the batter was pretty dry, probably because I didn’t use the maple syrup … I’d like to try again and experiment with different amounts to test the flavor and consistency. Regardless — these were very, very good and disappeared in a flash.
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
1 cup organic smooth peanut butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1/3 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 tablespoons soy milk
Preheat oven to 350F degrees. Place racks in the top third.
In a medium mixing bowl combine the flour, baking soda, and salt. in a separate larger bowl combine the peanut butter, sugars, oil, and vanilla. Stir until combined. Pour the flour mixture over the peanut butter mixture and stir well; add the soy milk. Let sit for five minutes and give another stir. Add a drip or two more of soy milk if the batter seems too dry to handle.
Drop by heaping tablespoonfuls onto parchment-lined baking sheets and press down on each cookie gently with the back of a fork. Bake for about 10 until very lightly browned. Let cool five minutes and transfer to a cooling rack.