Patricia “Patsy” Mitchell always has a batch of her spicy oatmeal cookies on hand to share with her five children and 14 grandchildren.
Mitchell, a retired elementary educator who lives in Kansas City, is on call as a substitute teacher and keeps busy by volunteering in the community, especially after the passing of Clarence in 2008, her husband of 46 years.
Q: You’ve been “retired” for 16 years, and yet you are still called in regularly to substitute teach. Why do you still enjoy teaching?
A: It is so gratifying to see the light go on at the moment a child understands something for the first time, like a math problem. This is why I also enjoy my grandchildren, because to experience those moments of discovery with others keeps you young yourself, because you are learning, too.
Learning doesn’t have to happen in a formal school setting, though. My daughter-in-law Liz made a wonderful cookbook with pictures capturing the grandchildren and me in the kitchen cooking together. We have many traditional favorites like these oatmeal raisin cookies and bubble bread. But I also share with them family recipes I learned when I was growing up, such as tabbouleh salad, kibbeh and baklava.
Q: So it seems that Middle Eastern traditions also intersect in your Midwestern kitchen.
A: My mother, Nelle Corey — changed from El Kouri — was Lebanese and married my Irish father, Bob McHenry. They lived in Wichita and ran Hillside Nursery, which is still in business today.
Lebanon has a coastline on the Mediterranean Sea, and Mediterranean countries have their version of hummus, stuffed grape leaves and baklava. People are more familiar with what a tabbouleh salad is today, made with bulgar wheat, cucumber, parsley, olive oil and lemon. Kibbeh is a very traditional Lebanese dish, and I make it with beef, lamb, bulgar wheat, pine nuts, lemon and mint. Then, of course, I add the warm spices like cinnamon and allspice.
Q: Were all these warm spices your addition to Patsy’s Oatmeal Cookies?
A: This recipe is based on the A&P grocery store’s oatmeal raisin cookie recipe printed on their container of oatmeal. I, of course, added all the spices to it, since these are the tastes I grew up with. My family and friends all love these cookies, and I always have dough in the freezer. I use clean 24-ounce cottage cheese containers to store the extra dough, since this recipe makes such a big batch.
Before I put the prepared dough into the freezer, I pour one tablespoon of canola oil over the top to keep the dough from drying out, and it will last three months in the freezer that way. Then when people come over, all I do is take out containers of dough, defrost them and begin baking cookies.
Q: How is it that you so effortlessly blend good food and good will?
A: Sharing food is just a natural part of sharing our humanity. And I haven’t come to this on my own. The cookie plate is part of a hand-painted dish set I received from my grandmother Cecilia McHenry, who ran a boarding house in Ohio.
When our children were growing up, it was so important to be able to sit down together and eat. Now our extended family gets together between two and five times a month to eat and laugh together. That’s when we tell the old stories and hear the new stories about what’s going on in each other’s lives. For this and all things, I am grateful to God.
Mary G. Pepitone is a freelance writer who lives in Leawood. She also writes a nationally syndicated home column. Send email to her at firstname.lastname@example.org to nominate a cook.
Patsy’s Oatmeal Cookies
Makes 8 dozen cookies
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cloves
2 teaspoons Saigon cinnamon
2 cups butter, softened
2 cups granulated sugar
2 cups brown sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup milk
5 1/2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 1/2 cups raisins or dried cranberries
1 1/2 cups finely chopped English walnuts
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a large mixing bowl, sift flour, salt, soda, baking powder, nutmeg, allspice, ginger, cloves and cinnamon together. Set aside.
In a separate large mixing bowl, cream butter and sugars using an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Beat in eggs, one at a time, vanilla and milk until well combined. Slowly add sifted dry ingredients into creamed mixture and blend until a soft cookie dough forms.
Add rolled oats, raisins (or dried cranberries) and walnuts, mixing until just combined.
Using a 1-tablespoon scoop, drop 12 rounds of cookie dough onto a baking sheet. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until cookies just start to brown around the edges.
Allow cookies to cool completely on wire racks before transferring to platter for eating or a resealable plastic container for storage.
Per cookie: 119 calories (40 percent from fat), 6 grams total fat (3 grams saturated), 19 milligrams cholesterol, 16 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams protein, 103 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber.