Monday, December 13, 2010

Whole Wheat Peanut Butter Cookies: The power of peanut butter

I’ve never been beautiful. In high school, I was the sort of dorky, chunky girl who was asked to help the pretty girl running for National Student Council to write a speech that could win over the masses and I always played what are politely called 'character' roles in the school plays. 

The adult version of me is a short, slender woman who wears a B-cup bra and not a lot of makeup.  I would rate myself as okay looking, without being annoyingly self-effacing.

I always tended to think other girls were more attractive than me, especially if their hair didn’t frizz up in the rain. But it wasn’t until I was well into my twenties, and living in the United Kingdom that I met a woman who might be called ‘a beauty.’

Natalie was about 5’11, with what must have been DD-sized breasts and a 23-inch waist.  I know this because I met her when we were taking a movement class for actors together, and all of the men in the class pestered the girls with that one, single, solitary question… because we changed in the same room as her.  She would walk around the changing room naked, and while I never stared, my guess was: yes gents, just like that catchphrase in the Seinfeld episode, they were real.

I doubt most of the men got past staring beyond Natalie’s neck, but Natalie also had dark skin, the color of a copper penny, and cat-shaped brown eyes that were so large they slanted out into the sides of her face. Without any mascara her lashes were heavy, and her long, dark hair hung in spherical curls, thick and luxurious, past her waist.

Natalie’s parents were of Lebanese and Palestinian origin, and she had spent most of her life traveling and living around the world. Like many people who acquired a British accent at British-run schools in the former colonies, Natalie had a plummy-sounding Received Pronunciation (RP) accent of the kind you usually hear from BBC announcers in the old Monty Python episodes. A preserved accent of a previous era.

“Rich-AHRD,” she would say, admonishing her boyfriend. “You are ahh-bsolutely PISSSSED,” taking several seconds longer to say it than any other human being in our circle of friends.

Oddly enough, Natalie was dating a charming, rather scruffy working class lad with a heavy Brummie (Birmingham, Midlands) accent and a fondness for footie, lager, and thick, greasy sausage sandwiches on baps (buns). Both Natalie and Rich were actors, so the Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton comparison was inevitable.

However, the annoying thing about Natalie was that despite her beauty, she was one of the nicest people I knew. For example, on her birthday, since she knew that no one had a lot of money, she asked for no gifts, and instead talked a pub owner into setting up a karaoke machine, so we could have a costume party bash. It was a rare, wonderful birthday that had nothing to do with the self-indulgence of the party-giver.  Natalie dressed as a cavewoman with a bone through her nose.

Oh, and how did she convince the pub owner to be so nice?  Well, I can think of two reasons…

Richard threw his own birthday party at McDonald’s. The sight of him, after spiking his wax cup of soda, putting a crown on his head, and proclaiming in a faux luvvie Shakespearean accent: “Although I am not at Burger King, today is my birthday and I am the king!” is a memory I will cherish.

Both Natalie and Richard always managed to seem incredibly elegant and polished, no matter what they said. Natalie could say: “Rich-AHRD, the way you eat that Cadbury egg is DIS-GUST-ING. It makes you look like you’re giving the chocolate cunnilingus.”  And you wouldn’t bat an eyelash.   I never discussed Middle Eastern politics with her at any length, although I did hear her joke once in a pub to one of my Jewish friends (who, like Natalie, didn’t drink): “Now this is where they should have peace negotiations—Jewish people and Arabs are the ONLY SOBER people in pubs at night and there is nothing else to do. I’m so bored and I want to go home but RICHARD is PISSED and I CAAAAHHN’T.”

Natalie never consumed alcohol, but I do remember one food peculiarity of hers. I was going home to America for a short stay, and asked that ubiquitous question: “can I bring anything back?”

Natalie batted her eyelashes at me, and I thought for certain she would want something like perfume, or some shade of lipstick only obtainable in America.

“I hate to ask you Mary,” she whispered. “But, you see, I did live in America for a few years as a little girl…and…well, the peanut butter here just isn’t the same.  Just not the same! And there are some cereals…Flintstones, Lucky Charms, Trixx, and…Coco Puffs.  Just not the same here. I hate to AH-SK, but…only if it is no trouble.”

What is it about beautiful women, and wanting to be the friend of the pretty girl?  Thank goodness security was more lax back then. I’m sure that I would have to spend many hours in customs, being frisked now. How could I explain the fact that I was lugging one huge jar of Skippy Creamy, one huge jar of Skippy Crunchy, and gigantic boxes of Lucky Charms, Trixx, Coco Puffs, and Reese’s Puff cereal (because although Natalie had never eaten it, I assumed she’d like it)?

“I never made her so happy,” said Rich.

And what is it about peanut butter that holds such power over some people? I couldn’t imagine elegant Natalie slurping down a bowl of Lucky Charms and eating a slice of bread with half an inch of Super Chunk Skippy until I saw it with my own eyes.

This morning, I made some peanut butter cookies. This a low-sugar, relatively healthy cookie made entirely with whole wheat flour. The peanut butter, honey and butter is so moist, it’s indistinguishable from a peanut butter cookie made from white flour.

I did, however, make one error—I didn’t chill the dough.  Please chill the dough overnight because otherwise they spread like crazy—kind of like the will of men in front of Natalie.

They aren’t beautiful, but they are tasty.

“The sifted”
1 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder

“The creamed”
1 egg, beaten lightly
1/2 cup (1 stick) of softened butter
1/2 cup of packed brown sugar
1/2 cup of honey

  1. Sift the flour and baking powder together.
  2. Cream by hand or in a mixer the egg, peanut butter, regular butter, sugar, and honey.  I learned a wonderful tip from an online friend and baker—lightly butter the mixing cup when you measure peanut butter. I also buttered the measuring cup before measuring the honey. It prevents the ingredients from sticking and the danger of these sticky substances adhering to your cups. Fold the flour and baking powder into the creamed ingredients.
  3. Chill dough overnight or at least until firm (I didn’t, but I would suggest it!)
  4. Preheat oven to 350F. Line baking sheets with parchment. Scoop mixture into 30-36 ‘balls’ and make the universal sign that says ‘this is a peanut butter cookie’ by smashing down the surface of the balls slightly with a fork.
  5. Bake 13-18 minutes until slightly brown around the edges.
  6. Cool and serve.

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