Thursday, August 20, 2009

That's the Way the Vegan Baked Good Crumbles

This week I was forced to confront a question I never thought to ask: What is a cookie?

Besides being a "sometimes food" (thank you, overly-socially-conscious Sesame Street writers, though I'm fairly certain C is for Cookie cannot be held solely responsible for the youth obesity crisis) - what constitutes the right to wear that yummy label?

A little research gives us this:

"Cookie" is derived from the dutch word "koekie" meaning "little cake" (and you thought the Dutch were only good for windmills and tulips, aren't you closed-minded?). While there are a vast variety of cookie styles and compositions (the drop, the refrigerator, the molded, the computer) what truly, philosophically, empirically separates a cookie from other baked goods is the use of an oil-product (butter, lard, egg yolks, vegetable oil) as a binding agent as opposed to water. Upon reflection I realize that no, I've never added water to a cookie batter except to get the last little bits off the mixing bowl, the better to sup it up with a spoon (that's not yucky, it's deeeeliscious, as Loki likes to say). During the baking process, these oils saturate the carbon dioxide bubbles (resulting from the combination of baking powder and moisture from the eggs) creating the indelible moist-yet-crispy goodness that is a cookie's proper texture. And who says I couldn't have handled organic chemistry?

All of this is to say that, no, I don't think the round, flat hunk-a-somethin' wrapped prettily in cellophane, handed to me by the lovely woman balancing a stack of pink business cards and her 6 month old in her other arm could rightfully be called a "cookie." I could be wrong, but I'll tell you how it went down and you can be the judge.

Picture it. We're in the sweltering ladies auxiliary room of the Runneymeade United Church. Two fans blow around the stale hot air, a dead air conditioner rests in the corner. One wall is covered in collage, celebrating the church's 100 years of parsimony from 1907-2007; no one cares what happened since 2007, it's irrelevant. The circle of mothers and infants is slowly morphing into an amoeba, as crumpled women pull the shorts off their sticky thighs and gather armbags of blankets and diapers and rubber giraffes together letting their babies weeble and drool on the stiff blue carpet. We are the last of four classes our dehydrated music instructor has taught in this room and he is packing away his guitar, letting the pit stains on his graphic t-shirt show without shame or remorse. It was animal day, afterall, and the poor guy wore a pair of bunny ears for the entire damn class. I am looking at Nate and he is looking at me and we are both thinking: "when are you gonna get off your ass and carry me to the car?" Sure, he can't walk and I'm 10 times his weight, but ants do it, bro.

That's when she appears, standing over us in freshly pressed linen - somehow sweatless and crisp as she juggles her wares and her child at once. Her skin looks like soft cocoa powder and I want to touch it, but I don't because that would really be weird. She hands me the object-in-question along with her business card. A caterer specializing in children's foods - healthy but fun. A great idea. I'm all for healthy and fun. I compliment her on the card, which is quite sharp and make some benign quip about how "gee yeah I could use a few tips what with my 2 year old who blablabla..." To which she replied, "Right! Well take this cookie for example. I just took out all the junk and replaced it with healthy stuff." Of course! Why didn't I think of that? And then I caught her definition of junk, namely: eggs, milk, butter, and flour. Are these not, with the addition of sugar, the pillars upon which cookiedom rests? What the eff are in these things?

I don't know all of it, but I can tell you she replaced the eggs with applesauce. Well, that seems random. Why not tomato puree or corn relish? Of course I anticipated that she would have made some substitutions but I was thinking whole-wheat instead of white flour, molasses instead of refined sugar. I didn't think she would replace eggs with apples. And if that wasn't flour, what the heck was it? I'll tell you what it tasted like: sand. Not even good, soft Caribbean sand. Like the dirty muddy grainy sand you find on the banks of Lake Rousseau in Muskoka.

What with the heat and how I like to avoid confrontation and all, I didn't have the nerve to ask her how it is that flour, eggs, and dairy are, in her mind, on par with say cheez-os or chocopuffs. I mean just saying it outloud: eggs, milk, flour - I am overcome with the image of sunshine and white bed sheets and shimmering fields of grass. Was I brainwashed by villainous farmers and breakfast-food hawkers as a child? Probably. But what I don't get is the science.

Look, I have a vegan friend (not that there's anything wrong with that) and I get - believe me I get - the socio-economic-environmental-ethical dilemmas constituted by the agricultural means of production in our post-industrial economy. There are LOTS of good reasons to give up cheese. Not a single one of them has to do - as far as I am concerned - with taste or nutritional value. Sure there are people with viable intolerances: lactards and the such. But unless you fall into one of those unfortunate groups, explain to me why I should be buying gluten-free rice bread in the freezer section. Explain to me how an apple is better than an egg. Explain to me how a lump of sand dotted with carob chips and dried cherries is a cookie.

And here's one more cookie fact, just for fun. Muslims introduced the cookie to Europe during the conquest of Spain around the 8th century. So the next time a racist jerk-off says "we should just bomb'em all" you can tell him who he has to thank for his double-stuffed Hydrox cookies - that's right, Allah.

Tonight's Dinner:
- Leftover Casserole (rice covered with roast chicken, broccoli, bell peppers, and cheese)

Really, this deserves a post all its own as the very concept of this meal goes against every grain in my body. Yet, with Becca's urging I gave it a try. I had to do something with that chicken, right? And Becca's a fantastic cook, she wouldn't lead me a stray. So with her help, we put the whole thing together in about 15 minutes. It smelled surprisingly good in the oven. Guess what it tasted like: leftovers.


  1. ahahah! I love this! I will freely admit I make cookies with applesauce in them. It's applesauce that I canned from apples that I picked at a local orchard. HOWEVER, my cookies also contain flour, egg, butter, and sugar (in addition to spices and chopped fruit). They are really good cookies---the applesauce adds sweetness without having to add a ton of sugar, and it also modifies the texture of the cookies---it makes them moist and chewy. Or maybe it's the egg that makes it moist and want the recipe???

  2. I'm with you all the way. If you want to eat applesauce, eat it. It's great! But don't call it a cookie. Just leave the cookies out of it.

    Nice research paper, by the way. I learned a lot! And found lots of subtle jokes imbedded within. clever girl!