Sunday, October 04, 2009

sugar and spice

I have long had a somewhat contentious relationship with the word "nice." I remember when it started: I was in middle school and I was obsessed with Zilpha Keatley Snyder, a young adult author, and particularly with a book called Libby on Wednesday that was about (surprise!) a shy artistic young girl who has a difficult time making friends until she gets placed in a special advanced school writing group. Which is irrelevant for my purposes here; what made an even bigger impression was the description of one of the other characters, a blond, blue-eyed popular girl who was named, I believe, Wendy. It went something like this (I'm totally paraphrasing, if you can even call something this vaguely remembered paraphrasing, but this was the gist): "If you were filling out one of those worksheets where you assign adjectives to your classmates, the only word you could use for Wendy would be 'nice'. That was the word you weren't supposed to use. There were so many more descriptive adjectives, but even so some people really could only be seen as nice."

Well. Obviously one didn't want to be "nice." One wanted to be "spunky" or "vibrant" or even "kind," but "nice" was just boring, a word that belonged to a barbie doll or those inevitable preteen popular girls that I felt myself to have absolutely nothing in common with. And yet, that is the word that has been continually applied to me for most of my life: I am nice. Sweet, on a good day. My first girlfriend called me too nice, and I attempted to retaliate because really, can you be too nice? (Well, yes, but I didn't get it at the time.) Even recently, I've railed against the idea that I am simply a nice girl, and I suspect that trying to show that I have my own "bad" parts factors into the presence of some of my vices. Does a nice girl smoke? Swear? Get drunk and fall over? Probably, but not in Zilpha Keatley Snyder's world.

I think that the problem with this middle-school analysis of the concept of nice is that it's very one-dimensional. It makes it sound like being nice is so difficult (and also asinine--if I recall correctly it took Wendy most of the book to reveal much in the way of personality, and in the end it seemed like she was mostly redeemed by being somewhat low-income and having a lot of siblings) that it is nearly impossible to still be a nuanced person who is capable of more than sugary sweetness. I don't think it's bad to be nice or sweet or kind; you just have to make sure there's some spice in there too.

Which brings me to cookies. My favorite types of cookies are more than just saccharine; they have salt on top or semisweet chocolate or cayenne pepper in them, and the contrast between the savory and sweet is what makes them infinitely more satisfying. But I recently stretched this concept to its utmost--and grossed out not a few of my friends--by making (drumroll) Vegan Bacon Chocolate Chip Cookies (!!!).

I'd actually heard a fair amount about fancy cooks and bakers putting bacon into sweet items (maple applewood hot chocolate, anybody? bacon cupcake, perhaps?), but I never thought I'd get to try it because of that whole pesky vegetarian thing. But truly, it was a revelatory experience in many ways. Not only did I put fake meat into a sweet baked good, but I had my first run-in with Bacon Salt (motto: "Everything Should Taste Like Bacon"), a vegetarian seasoning that is capable of making cookies into bacony bits of deliciousness. These cookies were so far beyond the sweetness paradigm that I ate them for dinner last night and only felt a little bit guilty. The thing is this: at heart, they are still cookies, even if they taste somewhat like bacon. There was still chocolate in them, and maple syrup, and brown sugar, and if you really concentrated they were, in fact, sweet.

Sugar doesn't have to be one dimensional. Neither do people. I never wanted to be anything other than nice; I just didn't want that to be all I was. But you know what? That argument is so far gone that I don't even know why I'm still internally debating it. I've always been more than just a nice girl. I don't know if I'm quite to the bacon dessert stage, but hopefully there's at least a little pepper in there somewhere.

(Vegan) Bacon Chocolate Chip Cookies

The original recipe came from this link (and I left her snarky bits in, because they're funny), but we modified it slightly. I'll add these modifications in italics. Do it!

Ingredients:

1 cup butter or Earth Balance, unsalted, room temperature

1/3 cup powdered sugar

2/3 cup maple syrup

2 cups flour

1 pinch bacon salt

1/2 cup dark chocolate chips

6 strips cooked bacon or Smart Bacon or other bacon substitute, crumbled (you can use more, if you like)

Bacon salt

turbinado or brown sugar

Extra maple syrup

Directions
Preheat the oven to 325.
In a large bowl, cream together the butter, sugar, and maple syrup until fluffy and thoroughly combined. Toss in the pinch of salt, and then add in the flour. Stir until just combined.
Add the bacon and chocolate chips. Pause for just a moment to consider what you are doing. Ignore that tiny, worried voice in your head, and continue.
The dough will be very wet and soft. You can either roll it up in cling wrap and chill it for an hour (which will firm it up somewhat) before slicing into cookies, or do what I did and just roll out little balls with your hands and squish them into cookie shapes on a parchment-lined baking sheet. You will not want them very big-- these cookies are quite rich, and work best as slightly-more-than-bite-sized morsels.
Sprinkle each cookie with a tiny bit of bacon salt and some coarse or brown sugar, at about a 1:2 ratio. Drizzle the tops with a smidgen of maple syrup. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the bottoms of the cookies begin to brown.
Let cool until you can handle them, and then taste.

Either curse my name or send me flowers, as applicable.

3 comments:

Ms. Sushi said...

I was totally obsessed with Zilpha Keatley Snyder too! I still have the letter she sent me in 6th grade. I wanted to be a member of the Stanley family. "Libby on Wednesday" was one of the best! I also loved "The Witches of Worm" and "Black and Blue Magic."

Lauren said...

You are bacon dipped in chocolate, sprinkled with spiced pecans and cayenne.

Rose-Anne said...

Ammie, you are so incredibly creative. You may be nice too, but you are one hell of a thinker and writer. But it's funny: I really do think that kind is a better description of you than nice. The word "nice" does strike me as a little boring, but "kind" makes me think compassionate and caring, someone who tries to make the world a better place. Those are the kind of people you want to have in your life.

And I may be copy-catting you by telling some bacon stories on my own blog soon ;-)