Kimberly Winter Stern
My first experience in true anticipation came at the end of my daily walk home from grade school. Lori, Shari and I crowded the narrow sidewalks, jumping over cracks, exchanging quips about class and playground activities and reviewing the boys who were crush candidates. On the route home, Lori was the first to leave our close-knit trio, running up her driveway and spinning around to give us a signature goofy wave, and then Shari dropped off at her house on South Glass, leaving me solo on the last lap of the 20 blocks between Joy Elementary and Chicago Avenue.
Mom hadn’t taken a job outside the house yet, a decision that undoubtedly stretched my parents’ household budget tight, but she was there every day at 3:30 p.m., distributing hugs, advice and any necessary consolation to my sister, brother and me.
We cherished the hugs—sometimes they smelled like Pledge or whatever cleaning product Mom had spit-shined the house with that day—but we each secretly peered beyond her welcoming arms to glimpse the plate of yumminess that predictably awaited our homecoming.
Our treats were usually homemade cookies—peanut butter, which I loved because of the craggy appearance of each, juxtaposed by precise fork marks; perfectly moist and chewy chocolate chip cookies; Snickerdoodles, the plump sugared disks wafting an irresistible and voluptuous cinnamon-spice smell.
The after-school snack of choice before the advent of refrigerated sliced cookies and pre-packaged individual bags of pretzels and crackers were marketed to busy moms was the humble cookie. For me, it was a symbol of nurturing, a signal that all was in order in my pre-teen world.
I call my friend Allyson to see what kind of after-school snacks she serves her children. Sweet stuff—brownies, cookies and they just finished a phase of consuming dozens of blueberry muffins.
“It’s important that I have something warm from the oven for them,” she says, surprising me because I thought that in today’s hectic world kids didn’t get premeditated snacks. “And they like cookies. But they’re not homemade,” Allyson cautions, as if she fears I’ll label her as supermom.
I move onto my neighbor Julie. She answers her cell phone while cruising the aisles of the neighborhood grocery store. “Crackers, apple slices with peanut butter,” she ticks off. “They love anything with peanut butter.” But tomorrow night, she informs me, is cookie-baking night. “The real thing, with a recipe. I’m shopping for ingredients now.”
Kathy in upstate New York leaves huge bowls of fruit sitting on her counter for her daughters to self-serve. “But they always love cookies,” she says.
Judith I can always count on for creative eating. “When they were young, finger sandwiches of peanut butter, granola bars, fruit,” she says. “Today, now that they’re older, they occasionally get sushi. When they were younger, I did make cookies sometimes.”
So there. Each of my sources eventually said “cookies” were after-school snacks-of-choice. Modern post-school snacking isn’t all about handfuls of salty potato chips or microwaved pizza rolls or packaged sandwich cookies. That indescribable magic of warm and gooey, fragrant and dunkable cookies to greet kids after a long day of hitting the books—and the computer—still exists.
I’m always intrigued with riffs on traditional recipes—not for the sake of change, but for enhancement—and one of my favorite cookbook authors, David Lebovitz, shared this chocolate chip cookie made with mesquite flour on his blog. The result is a deliciously moist and chewy cookie—with a hint of smokiness that is captivating, addictive and kid-friendly. Best part? You can freeze premade mounds and pop them onto a baking sheet so that they’re ready to greet your school-weary students. Note: I used bittersweet chocolate chips, which is the perfect foil for the mesquite flour.
Mesquite Chocolate Chip Cookies
About 60 cookies
Adapted from Super Natural Cooking (Ten Speed) by Heidi Swanson
2½ cups flour
1 cup mesquite flour
1 teaspoon aluminum-free baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon fine sea salt
8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups rolled oats
2 cups chocolate chips (or chopped chocolate)
Preheat the oven to 375°.
In a bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder, baking soda and salt. With an electric mixer, or by hand, beat the butter until soft. Add the sugar and beat until creamy. If using a mixer, stop it once or twice and scrape down the sides.
Add the eggs one at a time until completely incorporated, then the vanilla. Add the flour mixture in three batches, incorporating it as you go. Mix in the oats and chocolate chips. The dough is quite stiff at this point and if you’re not using a powerful standing electric mixer, you may wish to roll up your sleeves and use your hands. Drop mounds, about two tablespoons of dough each, evenly spaced onto parchment-paper-covered (or use silicone mats) baking sheet.
Bake for 10-12 minutes, until just beginning to set. Don’t overbake these; if anything, underbake them. Cool pan on rack.
Kansas City-based freelance writer Kimberly Winter Stern, a former corporate manager, caterer and food stylist, is constantly on the hunt for stories that need to be told and words that need to be written. She pens articles for national, regional and local publications on a diverse range of topics including food, shelter, design, lifestyle, business and people and writes a food blog called “Kim Dishes.” This writer may have been given product and/or other compensation from Dean & DeLuca for this post.