[Vegan flourless peanut butter cookies, December 2011.]
Oh, I mean to write about these cookies before Christmas. They were set to be offered up as a beautiful alternative (or addition?) to the holiday cookie bundle: to dip delicately in a cup of tea sipped before the fire, to give away to best beloveds (or new friends), to munch upon whilst decorating the tree. And then … well, the days whisked by in a flash. I barely was able to give the kitchen a quick scrub before hauling these cookies, assorted edible gifts (roasted hazelnuts, smoked salmon from my guy at the farmers market), library books, extraneous pairs of shoes, and myself up to Sonoma County via the commuter bus on Christmas Eve eve. There was no time to sit down and write out a recipe, alas.
Which is not to say these are not killer cookies, or that you shouldn’t make them now in these baby days of the year. You should. And perhaps right now is after all the better time — we are rubbing the gritty remnants of 2011 from our eyes and gazing out at the new year full of hopes and plans (and some expectations too, no doubt). We need fortification for such dreams and imaginings, yes?
[Wildcat, November 2011.]
The day after Thanksgiving I went camping — backpacking, actually, if I am being specific. Which means you pack up a fairly large pack with warm clothes and food and fuel (and if you’re me a too-heavy book) and set out into the wilderness (or, ‘wilderness’ depending). It was just an overnight this time into the Point Reyes Seashore, and we ate very simply (the ‘chili mac’, a.k.a. Annie’s macaroni and cheese + a can of vegetarian chili a la Kurt and Emily), but it was magic to be out in the cool, clear dark. The fog was socked in when we got to the campground — we saw deer on the trail down shrouded in ghostly mist as they nibbled their dinners — but at some point I woke up in the night to see the stars stark and bright against the blackness. Oh for a night unmarred by streetlights! It was quiet except for the constant low roar of the ocean. Orion, I whispered, and squinted to see the Big Dipper, too. I am hopeless at constellations but these are the ones I can remember.
I hadn’t been out to Wildcat in a few years, but it remains one of my favorites as it has been from the beginning. It’s only six miles in or so, but it feels vastly removed. The very first time we went backpacking was out there, my brother and I, with a family friend who threw some hot-dogs and granola bars into our packs and forgot the stove. We ate them semi-raw for dinner (even in those pre vegetarian days I was slightly squeamish about meat) and drank tea that had been brewed over a driftwood fire and was overly sweet and littered with ash (still I think the best cup of tea I’ve ever drunk). The ocean thrummed on in its ceaseless way and we slept out without a tent, waking to skunks trawling the tall grass nearby in the morning. There wasn’t a car in sight. It was good enough that we fell in love on the spot and kept coming back and back again and then went to new places (Yosemite, Sheandoah, Maine). Backpacking = love.
But, there’s something special about your old familiar. That day in November we walked the trail from Bear Valley, hiking steadily along the miles we often run through in half the time, peeling off to the left just before Arch Rock and climbing up through the forest. Hardly anyone was about. We sweated and talked companionably, our conversation peppered with ‘do you remembers’, for the first time I’d ever walked that trail, at 14, was also with my old friend, now my husband. Don’t you remember how you forgot the stove? I asked, though he claims he doesn’t (and in fairness perhaps it wasn’t the stove but the fuel that was left behind to which I still must respond SAME DIFFERENCE REALLY). We’ve hiked and backpacked together that once and then twice — this summer in Yosemite — but this trip felt like a sort of full-circle thing. The first time we went out there together we were friends (and so young) with no inkling of what might come. The second time together on that beach we were married (but still friends), with 100+ jars of blackberry jam behind us as well as not a few life experiences. Suddenly (or not-so) what was old became new again.
If that makes sense.
So, these peanut butter cookies? I feel like they’re another example of something old that’s new again. We’ve all eaten pb cookies (maybe with j, maybe with chocolate?) so many times before no doubt; they’re nothing special. And yet … isn’t there something to be said for the tried-and-true familiar? Well, I will say it: there is. Especially when updated just a smidge.
I made these cookies first off because I was sending a massive box of goodies to the East Coast for my brother and sis-in-law, and needed to make them gluten-free. I’d sent Emily a batch of gluten-free ginger cookies around Thanksgiving, and while she loved them I wanted to do something else this time around. I made a lot of funny-looking flourless chocolate cake bites (which turned out more cookie than cake, unfortunately), some dried fruit-nut-chocolate candies, and flourless peanut butter cookies that were so good I had to hide them from my old-new-again husband. Then, because I was infected with some kind of baking mania, I made another batch — this time vegan, for my dad.
Vegan flourless peanut butter cookies? Don’t cringe. I think they might be better than any other version I’ve ever made (and I’ve made quite a few, with good results). Leaving out the flour makes the cookies crisp and light, yet there’s still heft here, and a bit of sweetness, a bit of salt. There’s peanut butter. The dough comes together so easily and quickly, too — unfussy. Straightforward. They are the same but different.
Today, January 6, it’s hard to imagine the trail ahead. What soups will I make this year? Will my enduring cauliflower obsession serve to well feed or rather bore me? What kinds of jam will I can this summer? Will the economy resuscitate itself? Will it rain in California this winter? Will I ever run again?
The same-old same-old, but viewed through the lens of 2012 which, yes, is new. There are more camping trips to to plan, more cookies to bake. Let’s go.
Vegan Flourless Peanut Butter Cookies, adapted from The Gourmet Cookbook
makes about two dozen cookies
1 cup all-natural chunky or smooth peanut butter
1 cup sugar (1/2 cup brown sugar and 1/2 cup granulated sugar)
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon maple syrup
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a large bowl, combine peanut butter and sugars until well combined, about 2 minutes (I used a wisk/wooden spoon but a mixer may be easier). Add the cornstarch and baking soda and mix for another 2 minutes. Add vanilla and maple syrup. Mixture will be a bit crumbly. Roll into walnut sized balls and press down with a fork. Sprinkle sugar or sea salt on top and bake for 10 minutes, until lightly browned. Cool on a baking sheet for two minutes, then on a wire rack until cool.