There is a scene in Collateral Beauty when Ed Norton’s character is talking to his ailing mother. “The werewolves, they’re meeting out front all hours of the night,” the elderly woman complains. He replies, “But I got a raccoon friend. He’s on the task force. He put a bug out there for me by the trash cans.” She seems comforted by this response.
Collateral Beauty is an okay movie. It deals with tough themes like dementia, divorce, and death mostly by means of gaslighting. Concepts—like love and time—are played by ideological actors pretending to represent these abstract notions in the flesh.
As things unfold, it becomes easier to believe that death personified might visit dressed in a blue beret and feather boa than swallow the premise. But what I like predominately is the bit about the raccoons conducting surveillance. It is a nice reminder that reality is not our only means of survival.
Last week, I had minor surgery to remove a melanoma on my leg. It was caught incredibly early. So early, in fact, that it was awarded a stage of 0. Except this cancerous numerical nil still necessitated that my skin be cut and sewn back together much like you might a Thanksgiving turducken.
Even the nothingness kind of cancer can be an unwelcomed reminder of the flighty nature of one’s existence. My coping techniques have tended to involve running on a treadmill until I get chest pain or opening a bottle of red wine. (Sometimes both, depending on the day.)
Neither maladaptive method was available post surgery. Also, I needed the aid of a cane to walk. As I hobbled, my anxiety slowly ramped up. A day later I yelled at Brett for attempting to take a cookie out of the freezer.
At that moment I was unhinged with complete clearness. I reflected on the situation, and a little on my life. Then apologized and resigned to bake another batch in contrition.
Luckily, the cookies are fairly easy to make and arrive buttery and nutty. They lean on the side of crispy and, in my opinion, contain the right ratio of chocolate to cookie. They are at once familiar and also new, thanks to the sesame.
The original recipe called for halva, as well, but I took it out. For most of us, I think, life is complicated enough without having to hunt down goddamned sweet sesame fudge. I am sure they would be fabulous with halva. I love halva. But procuring halva does not need to stand in the way of these cookies.
That said, I do not want to convey this as a stress-free project. I find baking, while exhilarating once it is over, is often an exercise of doubt and self-loathing until the dessert can be verified as worthy of the time you lost making it. Perhaps you do too. If so, this is a task for which you will be rewarded. Plus the cleanup provides another chance to practice the art of washing dishes, which the Buddhists are always taking about.
I may need more time at the sink.
This process is yet another way to confront the werewolves. Plus, you will have a full batch of fresh cookies. And they’re on the task force.
Chocolate Sesame Oatmeal Cookies
Adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi courtesy of The New York Times
- 1 cup (115 grams) roughly chopped walnut halves
- 1 tablespoon white sesame seeds
- 5½ tablespoons (80 grams) unsalted butter, softened
- ¼ cup (50 grams) packed dark brown muscovado (or brown sugar)
- ½ cup (110 grams) granulated sugar
- 1 large egg
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ¼ cup (60 grams) tahini
- ⅓ cup (50 grams) all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- 1½ cups (140 grams) old fashioned rolled oats, pulsed a few times in a food processor
- ½ cup (70 grams) roughly chopped dark chocolate
- 1 teaspoon orange blossom water (optional)
Set the oven to 400 degrees. On a baking sheet, place the walnuts and sesame seeds and toast them in the oven until they start to smell fragrant and turn golden (5 to 10 minutes). Remove from the heat; set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, add the butter and sugars and mix with a paddle attachment on medium speed for 2 to 3 minutes, or until light and fluffy.
Add the egg, vanilla, and 1½ tablespoons of water and continue mixing until well combined. Blend in the tahini, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.
In a medium bowl, sift the flour, cinnamon, baking powder, and salt; mix in the oats. Stir in the walnuts and sesame seeds.
Add the dry ingredients to the wet and mix on low speed (or mix by hand using a rubber spatula) until just combined. Toss the chocolate in a dusting of flour and add them to the mix. Stir in the orange blossom water, if using.
Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Form the dough into 1½ to 2-inch balls and place them about 2 inches apart. The balls will be on the loose side and the mixture will look a bit like wet granola.
Bake for 7 minutes and then rotate the pan and bake another 5 to 7 minutes or until the cookies are golden brown at the edges.
Remove from the oven and place the pans on cooling racks for 5 minutes. Transfer the cookies to the rack to completely cool.
Makes about 15 cookies
- I did not have the orange zest the original recipe called for, so I added orange blossom water. Did it make them better? I’m not sure, but it won’t hurt to add if you have it.
- After lamenting the difficulty of procuring halva, I found this recipe. It may be worth a try.