There is an undeniable sadness to think about a friend who died this past September and is no longer present for a friendly chat as we approach the celebration of Christmas. A master teacher, who taught up until his death, Richard was always rereading and sharing with his students this time of year the “new life brought to Scrooge” in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, and his transformation from, in Dickens’ words, “a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner!”
At the memorial service a couple months ago for my friend, his family shared these “Remarks” that Richard made at a luncheon for the seniors he was then teaching in 2022 (as a 73 year-old who still took great pleasure in teaching Dickens):
“For those of you who read Dickens with me in your sophomore year, or you seniors who are reading Dickens with me now . . . think of it this way: Be Scrooge; but be Scrooge after the ghosts visit. Let yourself care about the . . . Cratchit family. Care about them as if they were your own, and as if Tiny Tim were your brother. Recognize the pain of another, the vulnerability that you wish someone would fully acknowledge in you. As Dickens put it, recognize and admit that you are a fellow passenger on your way to the same end, the grave. Admit you’re wrong, welcome a stranger, protect an outsider, embrace even an enemy.
Perhaps Mahatma Gandhi said it best, Live your life as if you were to die tomorrow – but learn about life as if you had forever to live.”
Amen, dear friend Richard.
This past year, we’ve posted reviews of nine books on this website, and the one that easily comes to mind this holiday season is an entertaining and enlightening book that our reviewer, B. A. Nilsson, wrote “will win your heart.” I would add, Stephen Henderson’s The 24-Hour Soup Kitchen, Soul-Stirring Lessons in Gastrophilanthropy is the perfect book to gift to a friend or for yourself this holiday season.
It struck me as a remarkable coincidence that Stephen Henderson begins his memoir about his travel adventures working in soup kitchens around the world with another Gandhi quote: There are people in the world who are so hungry, God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.
And as noted in B. A. Nilsson’s review of The 24-Hour Soup Kitchen, at the end of the book, there are recipes for various food items mentioned by Henderson including one that he adapted from an Alex Witchel recipe called “Everything Cookies.”
These cookies have a delicious combination of flavors of banana, coconut, chocolate, vanilla and cinnamon. And with the modest amount of added sugar and two cups of rolled oats, they have much healthier appeal than nearly most other sugary holiday treats. I highly recommend cooking up a batch and getting a copy of Henderson’s page-turner description of his purposeful travels.
I varied the recipe included at the end of Henderson’s book for Everything Cookies, by substituting maple sugar for refined sugar, sunflower seed oil for canola oil, and doubling the amount of vanilla extract to 2 teaspoons and of ground cinnamon to 1/2 teaspoon. I also used grated coconut and not sweetened coconut. In addition, my local food co-op, the Honest Weight in Albany, New York, had on sale recently sultana raisins, so I substituted sultanas for “dried cranberries or raisins.” According to an article, Raisins vs. Sultanas vs. Currants: What’s the Difference? posted on the website healthline.com, sultanas are made from green seedless grapes, particularly the Thompson Seedless variety. Unlike raisins, sultanas are typically coated in an oil-based solution prior to drying to speed up the process. For this reason, they are often lighter in color than raisins and currants.
I also used thick cut rolled oats instead of regular or quick rolled oats available at my local food co-op’s bulk food department. Henderson’s recipe advises not to use “instant” oats which are neither steel cut or rolled but are “the most processed of the three oat varieties” according to an informative post, What’s The Difference Between Steel-cut vs Rolled vs Instant Oats? by Kelli Foster on kitchn.com.
Using the thick cut rolled oats I discovered made the dough much less “slippery” but did make it more difficult to form the golf ball sized pieces of cookie dough, required by the recipe. Likely, using regular rolled oats would make forming the golf ball sized pieces of cookie dough easier. Nonetheless, the cookies took shape after baking, even if the dough was not shaped into perfect golf ball sized pieces of dough that stuck completely together.
As is my custom, I used organic ingredients, nearly all of which were available at the bulk food department of the Honest Weight with its remarkable 1000 bins of food items.
Everything Cookies (makes about 2 dozen)
1 very ripe Equal Exchange banana
1/3 cup sunflower seed oil
2/3 cup Ioka Farm maple sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3/4 cup whole wheat all-purpose Farmer Ground flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup Equal Exchange bittersweet 70% chocolate chips
1/2 cup sultana raisins
1/2 cup grated coconut
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Line baking sheet with parchment paper (in lieu of greasing with softened butter).
In a mixing bowl, mash the banana well. Add oil, sugar, vanilla, and blend thoroughly. Add flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon, and mix until moistened.
Add oatmeal, walnuts, chocolate chips, raisins, and coconut. Mix together, making sure the oats are moistened and well incorporated.
Using clean, slightly wet palms, hand-roll dough into balls slightly smaller than a golf ball, about an inch and and a third in diameter. (Moisture on your palms helps in the hand-rolling process.) Place each ball two inches apart on the cookie sheet and flatten slightly.
Bake until lightly browned, about 12 to 14 minutes. Remove from heat. Important to allow cookies to rest for a few minutes before lifting off cookie sheet with a spatula. Then place on a wire rack to cool completely.
(Frank W. Barrie, 12/17/22)