Avena Sativa is no ordinary gal. In fact some say this valuable grass with the luxuriantly swaying edible seed heads sprawled forth from a wilder bunch, vagabond weeds running rampant across the broad plains of Asia and Europe. This survivalist’s success is due some part to its ability to withstand sub par soil and climate conditions. Avena is able to thrive where others wither and fall and sympathetically, this characteristic is transferred to those who ingest this powerhouse plant. Oats are soothing nourishing fare. Its many forms are high in fiber which helps stabilize blood sugar and strengthen the heart. Medicinally, the long slender stems were discovered to calm nerves and strengthen the endocrine system. Oat straw is an herbal anti-depressant, an anti-inflammatory and high in calcium too. Befittingly the genus name Avena means ‘nourishing’ in Latin and people the world over observe hale vigorous behavior in those who eat and sow oats.
Yet substantially impressive as this food is, it fails to rile much enthusiasm from me. Oatmeal is a practical food choice that is gentle on the budget while providing a bounty of health benefits. But it can be challenging to focus on the pluses of oat grain when the grey lumpy mist of porridge past is weighing down on one’s memory. Gruel can be cruel. And while I have managed to dress up the tasteless hot cereal of yesterday with an arsenal of sugar and spice and everything nice, when all is said and done the cooked grain is still a mottled muddle of blandness. Somewhere in the center of the chew, in the sweet nuttiness of the fiber is a potential waiting to be captured and explored in another form, like in cookies.
Until now I never thought much about cookie hierarchy. I think of myself as an equal opportunity food lover, embracing all and rejecting none with exception of the sugary Otis Spunkmeyer discs sold at the 7-11 or the “homemade” cookies individually saran wrapped by the check out counter of a gas station. Along with these two types which are really subtle variations of the same thing, oatmeal cookies are at the bottom rung of my ladder. I cannot help feeling that oatmeal cookies are for sissies, for those that lurk behind the shadows of their mother’s knees. The choice of digestive biscuits, seem to be for those not quite weaned from the security of Pablum. They are the “next step up” and worse, they are often studded with the anti-chip, the shrunken sullen raisin.
Praise be to Ceres, the goddess of grains for putting me within reaching range of an oatmeal cookie capable of contradicting my previously unwarranted judgments. It is as if Aveda Sativa shape shifted to take on the form and person of Grandma A, a fine indefatigable woman with high shelf bosom, black sturdy shoes and a penchant for shouting, “Yoo-hoo!” at the top of her lungs. And did I mention this deliverer made a mean oatmeal cookie? While I never had the chance to directly meet her in person, I sense the outline of her being through her brawny-yet-delicate trademark cookies. These iconoclastic beauties put the haute in oat. Each grain is coated in an armor of brittle yet is laced with a heady fragrance of vanilla. The gossamer sweet crisp is populated with a scattering of bronzed roasted oats, cascading seeds in the wind. If Nature is a cathedral, these would be her communion wafers- a life giving celebration of earth’s best. So you can stick to mushy meal to guide you through your day, but I have a better suggestion and that is to tuck a few of Grandma A’s cookies down your hatch. It is an infinitely more delightful way to get the goodness of this great grain and break the fast too.
Grandma A’s Oatmeal Cookies: These cookies are deceptively simple. You may want to fuss with the recipe just as I wanted to do… But it is a sacred family recipe that is really best to leave alone.
3 C rolled oats
1 C brown sugar
1 C all purpose flour
1 C melted butter
1/8 C boiling water
½ tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
¼ tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla
½ C chopped walnuts
Directions: Place the oats, brown sugar and flour in a bowl and gently mix together. Slowly pour the melted butter over this mixture and stir until combined. Pour the boiling water in a glass container and mix in the soda and stir until fizzing stops. Then add the baking powder, salt and vanilla and stir until dissolved. Add the water to the oat mixture and stir again. Add nuts, stir and refrigerate mixture until firm, at least a half hour. Meanwhile preheat oven to 375 degrees. Prepare cookie sheets with parchment paper and form loose balls about the size of a medium to large sized marble with the dough. These cookies spread a bit so do not pack them in too close. Bake for about 10 minutes until deep golden brown. Let cookies cool a bit before moving off the sheet so they do not tear. The cookies will become dangerously crisp as they cool.