There are a lot of things a little lamb from the Midwest learns when she moves to the big city. Not THE big city. The one where little girls dream of becoming some combination of Carrie Bradshaw and Idina Menzel. I wasn’t that lucky. Another big city. And, I was too naïve to realize what I was getting myself into when I agreed to relocate to this big city: Baltimore, Maryland.
That was seven years ago. In recipe speak, I’d describe my time there as three parts happy, one part soul-crushing, and a tad moldy. It’s the kind of place that you describe to your family back home as “not that bad.” I learned a lot of life lessons and a lot about human nature by spending a quarter of my life and the formative period of my twenties in “The Greatest City in America.” (Early 2000s attempted campaign slogan to re-brand the city. Those ad execs were later fired).
One of the most powerful lessons I learned was this: if there is anything that unites folks South of the Mason Dixon line (besides a soft preference for the Confederate Flag), it is food. In it’s hay day (still researching for that exact time period), the Baltimore food scene was a sweet and savory fusion of Chesapeake crabs covered in Old Bay seasoning, fried chicken and an ice cold Natty Boh. Ah, the good old days.
Today, however, Baltimore fusion food is crabs from Indonesia, Popeyes, and again, a Natty Boh. Except, this time, it’s in the style of Edward Fortyhands.
Nevertheless, you can’t take a love of soul food out of the Baltimorean, a point reinforced by my friendship with one of my administrative secretaries: Denise.
Denise is an absolute ray of sunshine and sweeter than honey. Her cubicle was positioned directly outside of my office door, leading me to question her place in academic medical clerical work on a daily basis, but that’s neither here nor there. She is 4’10’’, nearly a senior citizen, and a self-proclaimed “strong black woman!” In food parallels, Denise personifies a Little Debbie’s chocolate cupcake in every way: squatty, a real treat, and mostly made of sugar and air. We forged a fast friendship over our shared love of food.
On a near daily basis, when Denise and I would work together on administrative issues, our conversations would frequently go like this:
H: Denise, were you able to schedule that test for my new patient?
D: Don’t be trippin’ Hads, I gotchu, baby, I gotchu!
H: Ok, thanks. Did I tell you that Mrs. Johnson missed her appointment again?!
D: YOU’RE JIVIN’!!! You are STRAIGHT jivin’!
H: I know! I’m going to call the patient, you call her daughter. I will put in her orders, and you can reschedule her tests.
D: Now we’re cookin’ with butter, child! …And, when are you gonna bake Momma another chocolate cake??
You think I am joking, but I assure you I am not. Denise is truly a character and an authentic Marylander, and to this day, I find myself using her signature phrase:
“Now we’re cookin’ with butter!”
I love this phrase. It is intrinsically charming because of its wholesomeness, and it always evokes a smile. The analogy embodies something that everyone knows and holds to be true: good things happen in the kitchen when you start with a stick of butter. Sweet or savory, main course or dessert, it is the foundation for magnificence. With the exception of a large glass of vino, nothing else can universally improve a meal like the addition of a dollop of soft, warm butter.
Have I made this and Julia Chid’s first tenant of the kitchen clear? Butter begets greatness! And for the love of all things good and pure, do NOT poison your food with margarine. Just, please don’t. If you want to eat plastic, just go and eat some Legos.
If you’ve stuck with me this long, you are due a reward! And it is one of my favorite cookie recipes of all time, full of buttery goodness, of course.
Martha Stewart’s Snickerdoodles
2 ¼ C all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
½ tsp coarse salt
1 C (2 sticks ie 16 TBSP) butter (room temperature, salted)
1 ½ C + 2 TBSP white sugar (separated)
2 large eggs
2 tsp ground cinnamon
** full disclosure: Martha calls for unsalted butter, but I absolutely prefer salted butter. Martha’s instructions are also excessively fussy for my taste, so I simplify here.
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Sift together flour, baking powder, salt in a bowl. Set aside.
- With an electric mixer, combine room temperature butter and white sugar (2 C) for 3 minutes until white and fluffy.
- Using your stand mixer, if you have one, is very nice for this recipe because who wants an arm cramp?
- Mix in eggs and fully combine.
- On low speed, gradually mix in flour mixture.
- In a small bowl or a flat plate, stir together cinnamon and remaining white sugar for the coating.
- I usually double or triple this part of the recipe – who doesn’t like a lot of sugar coating?! Or, I’ve been known to just dump McCormick’s Cinnamon Sugar right on a plate. It’s all about the easy, people.
- Shape small balls, roll them in the cinnamon sugar, and space them 3×4 on a baking sheets that you have lined with parchment paper.
- Martha calls for 1 ¾ inch balls spaced 3 inches apart – ok, Martha, relax.
- Parchment paper is no joke. Your cookies don’t stick AND you won’t have to wash your cookie sheets afterwards. At least I don’t. Parchment paper for the win!
- Bake cookies for 12 – 15 minutes. Look for golden brown edges!
- Martha would like you to rotate your cookie sheets 180° halfway through. I say “Martha, were you this high maintenance in prison?”
- This should make about 20 cookies. I usually get 15 because the cookies have a hard time leaving the batter stage.