I am not on a diet, although everyone would love to lose 10 pounds, right? I am not even balking at eating sugar.
The reason I haven’t made my famous Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies for a long time is because my dad died.
I made cookies for my ailing father a couple of times a month for the last seven years. He loved them. Hoarded them. Only shared with his visitors - like his granddaughters - when pressed to do so. Even my mother was rationed.
I took my last batch to him in August, the day he didn’t wake up from his nap. As I stood by his beside, I actually said, “But Dad, I brought you cookies.” As if that would make him roll his eyes and say, “just kidding.” Or grab the bag of cookies from me and hide them under his sheet. No, nada response. The cookies were still warm from the oven, unlike his cheek when I pressed my face to his. Sobbing, I took the cookies into the kitchen, where they were later devoured by his mascara-streaked granddaughters who sat in silence around the table.
IT'S ALL HIS FAULT
My dad was no gourmet. He loved fried bologna sandwiches. Boiled eggs. Runny scrambled eggs. Beef roasts with catsup. Steak and potatoes. Fried chicken. Biscuits or store-bought white loaf bread, served in stacks on the table.
When he quit farming but my mom still worked, he sometimes made supper. Like most men, he loved using a Crockpot. Open up any can and throw it in, then add any tough piece of meat without browning or fussing with it. Douse it with salt and pepper, them turn the sucker on high and let it rip.
You have to understand that he was a typical Southern farmer. The boss with a work crew of lazy kids and hard-working tenant farm families who were not allowed to be lazy.
He expected “dinner” at noon, prepared by my sister or me, or our Grandmother. I remember many summer days “topping” tobacco beginning at 7 a.m. and being told about 11:30 to get to the house and help make dinner. I’d throw whatever vegetables and a meat we had leftover onto the stove for a rapid-fire heating. Make a pitcher of sweet tea. Then after everyone else had sat and begun to eat, sitting down to eat myself, just like my grandmother had done before she gave out. Then, after eating, my dad went and stretched out on the floor in the center hall, where he could catch a breeze and a nap. I cleaned up the kitchen and dishes, just in time for him to get everybody back out to the fields.
So in a way, my dad is responsible for my interest in food and cooking. How’s that, given this history?
I decided that if I were going to have to cook for the rest of my life, I might as well have a good time with it. Explore different kinds of food. Become proficient at cooking. Have fun in the kitchen. Set challenges.
What I learned was that good cooking had immediate reinforcement. Folks like to eat well. Praise the Lord and praise my cooking, I’d pray. As I burned less and created more of a repetoire, I introduced some new ideas to the table. My dad put an end to that. Keep it meat and potatoes with a cake on Saturday and pie on Sunday. Thank heavens I married a man who loves whatever I cook for him, with the exception of peas.
No matter how my dad felt after the cancer started taking its toll, he still ate my chocolate chip oatmeal cookies. I like to think they offered him some comfort, a little enjoyment when pleasures were few and restricted to a hospital room or a bed.
I never realized how they offered me comfort, too. Those cookies were one way I could “do something” for him when even all of medical science was failing.
After he died, my cookie trays remained in the cabinet for weeks, then months. It didn’t occur to me that I had not made any since that fateful day. But then when we were getting ready to take a sailing trip, I thought I’d make some to take to our sailing buddy. As I creamed the butter and sugar, big old tears welled up in my eyes, catching me off guard. I was sobbing when I added the chocolate chips. By the time the first batch was out of the oven, I had figured out my sorrow. Grief has a way of catching you unawares, I have found.
I think I’ll make a big batch to take to the Finch Pottery Open House in Bailey on Sunday, where I’ll join my sister Amy and her husband, Dan Finch, and do some Christmas shopping and hopefully sell a few copies of THE OUTER BANKS COOKBOOK. Come and get a cookie.