Creative Nonfiction. Embellish or Not?Posted: August 24, 2010
I have a craving for some old-fashioned oatmeal cookies. You know, the kind with thick steel-cut oats and loads of brown sugar and pure vanilla, like your grandmother used to mix up in her farmhouse kitchen. I dig around and find a recipe which is not my Grandma Hardy’s because she just made hers up and threw in a cup of this and a pinch of that. I don’t think she even had a cookbook. I never saw one mixed in with the white enameled pans, ripe tomatoes, black skillets, pink Lux detergent, and worn doughboard that filled her countertop.
I mix all the ingredients up in a blue pottery bowl—flour, eggs, butter, sugar, white and brown, salt and soda, vanilla, then three cups of oats. I want to run my finger through it and taste it because there’s nothing I love better than brown sugar melted into creamery butter and eggs, but I have to worry now about raw eggs and salmonella, so I pull past memories from my mind of what that sugary wet taste was like on my tongue.
The dough is uneventful. All one color, no depth except for the occasional oat flake sticking out. I can spoon the dough onto the cookie sheet, and they will all come out of the oven the same size, the same shape, all the same—no colorful morsels scattered about, no sweet coating, no thumbprint on top with red jam in it. Boring. I know I’d eat a few warm ones, then leave the rest on the plate until they get hard as a brick bat and stale and my only recourse is to throw them away.
Following the recipe, I add a cup of raisins and fold them into the boring beige dough. Then it comes to me that I don’t like raisins in cookies. Raisins, shriveled up little fruity bits reminiscent of the body of a very old naked woman, dried up, wrinkled from toe to top. I pick the raisins out of the dough, one by one. I don’t care what the recipe calls for, I don’t want these things in my cookies.
I scratch through the pantry for something better and dig out a yellow bag with Toll House written on it. I cut it open and pour all these rich chocolatey chips with tiny swirls at the tops into the bowl and begin working them in to embellish my dough. Chocolate works well with brown sugar. And there’s nothing more compelling than chocolate. I always look at the top and bottom of a baked-brown cookie and take my first bite where the most chips are. My cookies will have depth and rich detail and when I bite in, the chocolate will melt in my mouth, and I will want more, and more. And I will eat until the plate is gone.
And then I wonder, Will these still be Grandma’s Old-Fashioned Oatmeal Cookies? I have embellished with an ingredient that doesn’t belong. I have not remained true to the recipe.
What have I done?