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Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2009 11:39 am

The cookie eaten around the world


It really is a small world.

If I hadn’t known it before, it was brought home to me when I first journeyed to New Zealand. My youngest daughter, Ashley, was going there to study viticulture and oenology (grape-growing and wine-making). Down under, the school year starts in late February, because the seasons are reversed. So that January, Ashley and I made the long flight to spend a month touring around one of the most beautiful countries on earth and getting her settled in school.

January really is summer “down under.” It’s not just the temperature – not like going to, say, Florida. The days are long, and folks are taking their summer vacations. Cooking magazines feature holiday suggestions for picnics on the beach and barbies, a.k.a. barbeques.

Ashley had decided to study winemaking in New Zealand for several reasons. We had a friend in Springfield from New Zealand in the wine business, and knew his family and other New Zealand friends from their visits here, so she’d have a support group. New Zealand’s wine industry is relatively new, but has been receiving worldwide accolades. The only winemaking degree in the U.S. at that time was at the University of California/Davis, and it was almost impossible for out-of-state undergraduates to be admitted. A bonus was the favorable NZ/US exchange rate. Unfortunately that bonus quickly became a liability: the exchange rate worsened almost immediately after our arrival, and continued to “go south” throughout Ashley’s four years there.

 New Zealand consists of two large islands, unimaginatively named North and South. We flew into Auckland, a city of one million in the north part of the North Island (the largest city in a country of four million), and stayed with friends for a few days before heading south in a rental car. The scenery was breathtaking, and we soon tired of exclaiming “This is the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen!” only to repeat ourselves minutes later.

We had many adventures on our trip (not least because of driving on the “wrong” side of the road) and put 7,000 kilometers on our rental car in a month. When not staying with friends, we searched out bed-and-breakfasts.

In a suburb of Wellington, the capital city, on the southern tip of the North Island, we found the nicest bed-and-breakfast of our entire journey. It had a beautiful garden, and our room was thoughtfully furnished with every convenience, including a tin of cookies. We were hungry, and each took one. “What do you think?” Ashley asked. “It’s good, but too short (meaning, it has too much fat/shortening)” I replied, ever the food critic. She agreed.

We settled in, freshened up, and went into the kitchen to chat with our hostess; quickly discovering we had a lot in common. She was in charge of the music curriculum for Wellington schools and loved to cook.

“Do you know who Jo Seagar is?” I asked. I’d met Seagar – sometimes referred to as the Julia Child of New Zealand – a couple of years earlier when she’d stopped in Springfield to visit some of our NZ friends on her way to a culinary convention in Chicago. Seagar even looks a bit like Child: tall, with a broad face and an outgoing personality. We’d had a fun evening, and my husband, Peter, had helped her the next day with a dental emergency.

“Of course I know who Jo Seager is,” our B&B hostess replied enthusiastically. “She’s wonderful! I have all of her cookbooks. In fact, the cookies in your room are from her latest book. I have to say, though, I was a bit disappointed in them.” She turned to her shelf of cookbooks, pulled one out, opened it to the appropriate page, and handed it to me. I looked at it, dumbfounded. It was my recipe.

Well, not exactly. She’d called them “Nuts and Bolts Cookies,” subtitled “Dentist’s Revenge,” a tribute to Peter, no doubt. But the recipe was close enough that it was clear that it was based on my recipe. I hadn’t given it to her, but I knew where she’d gotten the recipe: I’d given it to the NZ friends with whom we’d had dinner back in Springfield. The ingredients were expressed in grams, and as Ashley and I examined Seager’s adaptation, we discovered why the cookies were too greasy: Seagar had halved all the ingredients except the butter, so its proportion to the other ingredients was roughly twice that of my original recipe. I was more amused than offended. It was just so incredible to find my cookies – even slightly altered – waiting for me by my bed in a stranger’s home on the opposite side of the planet. But I wished she’d gotten the butter proportion right.

The next day we took the ferry across Cook Strait to the South Island, which, incredibly, was even more beautiful than the North Island, with its Southern Alps and fjords. We traveled the length of the island, then returned to Christchurch, site of Lincoln University, Ashley’s new school. Though it’s named for a British city rather than our Abe, one of the first things we saw on the campus was a large plaque about America’s 16th president. It even included information about Springfield – more evidence of our small world.

For the rest of my time there, we did everything I’d done with my two older children preparing for college: buying sheets and towels, books and supplies. As I rode up the elevator towards the gate for my flight back to Springfield, looking backwards for a last glimpse of Ashley, I couldn’t stifle my tears. Still, I’d discovered that even the other side of the world wasn’t that far, after all. And when I got home, I found that Seager had mailed me a copy of the cookbook.

Contact Julianne Glatz at realcuisine.jg@gmail.com.  

RealCuisine Recipe
Three Chocolate Three Nut Cookies

 I said this was my recipe, but can’t claim having invented it. I don’t remember where I first came across it, but it was many, many years ago. These cookies are among the best-loved, most popular things I’ve ever made.

  • 1 c. hazelnuts
  • 1 c. walnuts
  • 1 c. pecans
  • 2 c. (1 lb.) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 c. sugar
  • 2 c. dark brown sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 T. vanilla
  • 4 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 5 c. oatmeal
  • 8 oz. milk chocolate
  • 1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 bag (approx. 12 oz) white chocolate chips
  • 1 bag (approx. 12 oz) bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375°. Scatter the hazelnuts in a single layer on a baking sheet and put them in the oven. Toast until the skins have begun to crack, and the nuts are fragrant and lightly browned, 5-10 minutes. Wrap the hazelnuts in a lint-free towel or old pillowcase and let rest until they are cool enough to handle. Massage the nuts in the towel or pillowcase to loosen as much of the skin as possible. It’s okay if some bits of the skins stick to the nuts. Discard the loosened skins and chop the hazelnuts very coarsely. Toast the walnuts and pecans separately (because the times may differ) until they also are lightly browned. Cool, then chop very coarsely and set aside with the hazelnuts.    

 Cream butter and sugars and add the eggs and vanilla in a mixer.

 Place the oats and milk chocolate in the bowl of a food processor and grind to a fine powder. Combine with the remaining dry ingredients and mix into the butter/egg/sugar mixture. Stir in the nuts and chocolate chips. Form into golf-sized balls and bake for 15-20 minutes. Cookies are best if they are slightly underdone. For that just-out-of-the-oven scrumptiousness, briefly warm completely cooled cookies in the microwave. Makes 2-3 dozen. 

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