It’s usually immediately after I make some sort of pledge to be the healthiest I can be that I make cookies. I’m afflicted with some sort of temporary good-intentions-amnesia, in which I think about how nice it would be to bake something on an afternoon, then I bake something, eat three of them, and then remember, “Wait a second…”
But all this gets me thinking about what is really means to be healthy. Good health encompasses so much more than blood sugar levels and body fat – good health is a radiance from happiness, from peace of mind. Good health does not come from obsessing over calorie content or macro- and micronutrient ratios. Good health means balance and joy and mindfulness.
My idea of good health has changed significantly in the last few years. In college I was fascinated by veganism, the raw food movement, by vegetarians and the moral high road they took by eschewing animal protein. Looking back on the way I lived an ate as a sophomore, it’s no wonder I was almost always sick. I prided myself in being healthy but, in reality, I was probably malnourished. I remember once when my parents came to visit and took me out for dinner at a nice steakhouse – I ordered a ribeye and felt better after the first bite, as if the lifeblood of another creature sustained my own.
The next couple of years were a mishmash of experimentation as I lived in my first apartments and learned to cook for myself. Within this was a struggle to accept my still-changing body. I went from a rail-thin, stick-straight high school athlete to something resembling a woman, and a petite woman at that; but anyone who has all of a sudden woken up one morning to find hips that weren’t there the night before can understand my disconnect with my new shape. And so I obsessed, I worried, I researched, I dieted. That worry balled up inside of me and kept me from appreciating the smooth skin of an Arkansas Black apple, the crisp lace of perfectly cooked bacon.
Because what we eat and how has so much to do with the larger scheme of our life. It orders our day, it affects our mood, it determines how long we will live and to what degree of happiness. Thinking about what I’m going to make for dinner now on any given night is a combination of my creativity, my family’s nutritional needs, and our emotional nourishment. Has it been a particularly hard day? I’ll reach for something savory that can stand up to a slow braise, pair it with wine, and make something decadently chocolate for dessert. Is it the start of a long-awaited weekend? We might set up a picnic in the living room with marrow bones, pate, a really nice cheese and a movie. Are we feeling a little under the weather? Nothing but homemade chicken vegetable soup will do the trick.
The thing I want to get to behind every meal, within every morsel, is that food is so much more than the vitamins and minerals that compose it. Our attitudes, our emotional associations with a dish, and how we savor certain flavors over others create this incredible tapestry of experience. This is why, when Andrew and I travel, we do our best to find the best street food or decadent restaurants. Sharing a candlelit cocktail or a greasy bite of paper-wrapped tacos in a park means a shared memory made, one with sights and smells and sensations.
Good health is being grateful at every table, no matter what is on the plate. Be it cookies, a giant salad, or a juicy ribeye, we can impart a little more health to ourselves if we slow down, appreciate, taste, and admit that it may not be so much about what we eat as how.
Gluten Free Salted Chocolate-Pretzel Peanut Butter Cookies
Adapted ever so slightly from Oh Ladycakes
1 stick butter, softened
½ c. chunky peanut butter
½ c. maple syrup
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 Tbsp. Bulgarian yogurt (or milk, or cream…)
¼ tsp. fine sea salt
¼ tsp. baking soda
¾ c. gluten free baking flour mix
½ c. finely ground gluten free pretzel crumbs
½ c. Enjoy Life mini chocolate chips
coarse sea salt, for topping
Speaking of how we enjoy our food, I found that these are best enjoyed in the company of another who enjoys cookies very much, perhaps with a cup of tea while the cookies are still warm. Treasure the slow moment in a busy day, relish the flavors and textures and decadence of cookies on a Tuesday for no real reason, and look back on it when you need to remember that things are good.
To make a gluten free flour mix: in a small bowl, combine 1 c. gluten free oat flour, 1 c. sweet rice flour, ¼ c. plus 1 Tbsp. arrowroot powder and sift until incorporated. Store in an airtight jar – feel free to increase the measurements proportionally to make a bigger batch for cookies, etc. I haven’t tried this mix with a cake yet, but so far it makes for a moist, crumbly cookie.
Cream together butter and maple syrup, then beat in egg, vanilla extract and yogurt. In a separate bowl, sift together salt, baking soda, gluten free flour and pretzel flour. Stir dry ingredients into wet and mix until combined; fold in chocolate chips. Dollop cookie dough onto a lined baking sheet and sprinkle a tiny bit of coarse sea salt on the top.
Bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes. OL recommends freezing the cookies on the baking sheet for ten minutes or so before baking, but I accidentally skipped that step on my first batch and the world didn’t end. Her cookies were, however, more uniform than mine, so take from that what you will.