When I was a child growing up in Schenectady, New York, I lived a completely different life, in many ways, than the one I live now. For one thing, there were no computers, cell phones, or ipods (imagine playing with paper dolls and marbles!). There were no fax machines or DVDs. There were no CDs and no GPS’s. But even worse, in my opinion, there were no bagels. There was no hummus, no tabouli, and no baba ganoush. There was no pita, no naan. Computers I could live without today, but I don’t think I could survive without the possibility of pad thai or tom yum soup. Or tofu with black bean sauce.
But back in the day, I survived on such staples as white bread (OMG), fish sticks (eeuw!), pot roast, cube steak, mashed potatoes, iceberg lettuce, and frozen peas (or, in the summer months, fresh peas from my uncle’s garden). The only “unusual” foods my mom ever served were “Spanish rice” (which consisted of white “minute” rice, hamburger and tomatoes) and pizza. Spices used were salt, salt, salt, pepper, and a dash of paprika or nutmeg. Now, don’t get me wrong. My mother was not a bad cook—in fact everything she made (with the exception of her coffee) tasted very good indeed. But my parents’ appetites were unadventurous (in fact, when she did make Spanish rice, my father refused to eat it, preferring instead to make his own concoction of milk, crumbled up crackers and shredded left-over bits of beef served in a cereal bowl). EGAD.
I’m thrilled to be living in 2011 in the Metropolitan New York area: So many restaurants, so little time. I feel blessed to be able to get miso soup whenever I want, baklava or spanakopita, pasta fagioli or pesto, foods my parents never got to know very well (in their later years, I did try to introduce a few of them). And I’m also happy that, though I’ve tried to emulate my mother’s goodness and kindness as much as possible in my own life, I’ve not followed in her cooking footsteps. I am happy to serve my children chicken Marsala or pasta puttanesca, and I love experimenting with vegetarian dishes of all kinds (the more ginger, turmeric or curry the better).
But I will say this: My mother made the best apple pie I’ve ever tasted, and her oatmeal cookies were out of this world. They weren’t too sweet, and with a glass of milk they were pure heaven. I’m reprinting her recipe here (with a slight adjustment: I use half whole wheat flour and half white, and all organic ingredients). I served these at a recent gathering and my friends couldn’t eat enough of them!
Virginia’s Oatmeal Cookies
2 cups brown sugar
1 cup melted butter
1 tsp baking soda dissolved in 1/3 cup hot water
2 cups oatmeal
2 cups flour (1 cup or more whole wheat, the rest white)
1 tsp cinnamon
drop onto cookie sheet and bake at 350 for 10 to 12 minutes