When I was a child, once a year I would travel with my parents to Paris, Tennessee, where my father was born. At least two or three times during our stay, my father’s diminutive aunt, Zaida, would invite us out to her sprawling farmhouse. There we would enjoy one of her memorable country meals; cranberry-glazed ham, skillet-fried corn, homemade buttermilk biscuits, and her famously-good oatmeal cookies, are some of the dishes I remember the most.
Aunt Zaida served all of her meals—including her weekday meals—on beautiful pieces of China and porcelain. She was a wonderful cook, but knowing what I now know about the influence that a proper presentation has on an eating experience, I’m sure Aunt Zaida’s fine China and porcelain place settings enhanced the flavor of her food. And lifted her husband’s mood. I once heard her say, “Don’t save all of your best—whether it be smiles or compliments—for company and strangers. Put some of that consideration to the side, and give it to your husband.”
Uncle Wallace, a tall and heavily-built man, was Aunt Zaida‘s husband. Uncle Wallace was so powerfully made, he resembled Paul Bunyan when he walked through the screen door after she’d called him in to supper. In contrast with Aunt Zaida‘s delicate table settings, big and tall Uncle Wallace looked out of place sitting at the table. His hands and arms were large and muscular; I knew it was just a matter of time before he knocked something over, the way you’d expect a bull in a China shop to do. But it never happened. He accepted and passed the delicate dishes around the table with the grace of a ballerina. My mother used to tell me, “All men have a soft spot. Sometimes you have to help them find it.”
I guess, serving him his meals—even his weekday meals—on fine China, was Aunt Zaida’s way of helping Uncle Wallace find his.
My friend, Harris, isn’t as big and brawny as Uncle Wallace was. But he’s not a prissy little guy either. Like any manly man, at times he can be a little rough around the edges. When I want to tap into his soft side, now and then I’ll ask him to hold something sweet and ladylike of mine…a little evening bag, a pair of soft leather gloves, or a flimsy apron, while I wash my hands at the sink. Or I’ll serve him something on one of my pretty dishes. It’s one of those intimate little maneuvers that I do to remind him that I’m not one of the fellas he occasionally whoops around with; I am a woman.
Aunt Zaida’s Oatmeal Raisin Cookies
The toasted oats in Aunt Zaida‘s recipe give the cookies a nutty flavor that men like. If they didn’t, why would Harris tell me the other day, “The next time you make your Aunt Zaida’s cookies, I hope you’ll make a bigger batch.”
3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats, uncooked
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1-½ cups sifted all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup raisins
Spread the oats on a baking tin. Toast in a preheated 350-degree oven for 5 minutes, or until fragrant and golden; Take the oats out of the oven and set them aside to cool.
To bake the cookies, increase the oven temperature to 375 degrees.
In a large mixing bowl, thoroughly cream the butter, light brown sugar, and granulated sugar. Add the eggs, milk, and vanilla extract, beating well. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, and salt; add to the creamed mixture, blending well. Stir in the toasted oats and the raisins. Drop rounded tablespoons of cookie dough, about 2 to
2-½ inches apart, onto ungreased baking tins. Flatten the tops with the bottom-side of a water glass. Bake in a 375-degree oven for 8 to 10 minutes for chewy cookies; 10 to 11 minutes for a crunchier cookie. Do not over-bake. Take the cookies out of the oven and allow them to cool on the cookie tins for 1 minute. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
Note: If you make Aunt Zaida’s cookies for your husband or your boyfriend, of course you can let him serve himself from the cookie jar, but if you’re looking for a subtle way to create a little kitchen-table closeness, I’d serve his portion on one of my sexiest little saucers, if I were you.
Makes about 3 dozen cookies