Tag Archives: relationship advice

Aunt Zaida’s Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

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


Viola Tresvant’s Blueberry Pie

Shortly after Miss Viola, a normally good-natured woman from the old neighborhood, started going through her change-of-life, they say poor Miss Vi suffered one crying spell right after the other.  They say if her husband Morgan, so much as brushed by without smiling or telling her how much he adored her, she would burst into a fit of tears that could last (give or take a few hours) the rest of the day.

Well, as every woman knows, if you cry too often, your tears will eventually lose their effect.  Such was the case with Miss Viola and her husband.  Where Morgan used to rush to comfort Miss Vi at the first sign of a sniffle, it got to the place where she could cry a river and the only attention that Morgan gave the matter was when he’d peek at her from the top of his newspaper, shake his head, then resume reading, seemingly unmoved by the sight of what he had started referring to as one of Viola’s hissy fits.   

My mother, who was a bona fide domestic geisha (she knew how to manage men without them knowing they were being managed) used to say, When you lose your influence with a man, you’ve lost your power.

Now, Miss Viola might have been going through her change and therefore experiencing bouts of wild crying, but she wasn’t about to let Morgan disregard her at a time in her life when she needed him to be his most compassionate.  After all, she had coddled him through many of his little episodes.  She’d baby-talked him back to his senses when his “bright idea” to quit his good-paying  job at General Motors (in order to start up a neighborhood bowling alley) would have set them back for years, had he gone through with it.  She’d followed him from place to place in a rickety, rented, secondhand RV during his wanderlust period.  And when the bald spot at the back of his head spread to the size of a Mason jar lid and sent him on a tail chase concerning his thinning good looks, she was steadfast in doling out a daily dose of compliments designed to make him feel like a new man.  When she saw that her tears were no longer moving her husband, they tell me Miss Viola decided to touch him with her cooking;  Morgan loved to eat.

When Miss Viola’s change-of-life moods overtook her, especially when she felt forsaken by her husband, she’d set a sparse dinner table; nothing more distinguished than a bowl of unseasoned meat broth and a chunk of day-old  hot-water bread.  But when she felt good, when she felt loved and appreciated, she’d go all out — fried chicken, smothered white potatoes, mustard greens and smoked ham hocks, skillet cornbread, sun tea.  And her glorious blueberry pie with the crumb topping that Morgan loved so much.

They say, shortly after Miss Viola started cooking according to how she felt, Morgan began paying more attention to his wife; they say, sweet talking and keeping her in a good mood became his area of expertise.

This little story was borrowed from my cookbook, SWEETY PIES: An Uncommon Collection of Womanish Observations, with Pie (Taunton Press, 2007).   Am I saying that it’s okay for a woman to reward and punish a man with her cooking?….well, yeah.   When I see that I’m being taken for granted, and the little niceties that I provide, around the house and at the dinner table, are going unappreciated, you better believe I scale back on some of the pampering.   I am a womanish cook; love is a two-way street.  

What woman can honestly say she’s never used her cooking to get what she wanted?  

Miss Viola’s Pie   

Your favoite,  9-inch single pie crust, rolled out, fitted into a pie plate, and edge trimmed and crimped.

CRUMB TOPPING

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 cup (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into pieces

FILLING

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

4 cups fresh blueberries, picked over

1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon rind

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Prepare the pie crust and set aside.

To make the crumb topping, in a medium-sized bowl, stir together the flour, brown sugar, and cinnamon until well mixed.  Work the butter in with a fork or your fingertips until the mixture resembles crumbs the size of tiny sweet peas.  Set aside.    To make the filling, in a large bowl, stir together the sugar and flour until well mixed.  Gently stir in the blueberries and lemon rind and juice.  Pour the mixture into the pie crust, then dot it with the pieces of butter. Sprinkle the crumb topping evenly over the pie.    Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees.  Place the pie in the oven and bake until the topping is golden brown, 40 to 45 minutes.  Let cool completely on a wire rack before serving.   This looks and tastes wonderful with a dollop of vanilla ice cream sitting on top.