President Clinton's Oatmeal Cookies

Last week someone extended a wonderful act of kindness to me that touched me in several ways; it reminded me the importance of helping and giving to others. In our busy world today it is easy to become wrapped up in ourselves and lose sight of the fundamental importance of doing good for others. With the media ramming the image of "Generation ME ME ME" down our throats, it's no surprise we've become so enveloped in ourselves. So many times we are caught up in our own lives where we find our time and money so valuable that we keep it to ourselves. Honestly speaking, it’s just the easier route – look out for yourself, save money to buy things you want, why not?

But what about the people that are less fortunate than you? Sure we can turn a blind eye, forget that they’re there, but a failure to fix the problem doesn’t make it disappear. When we choose to ignore the uneducated, the sick, the poor, it not only makes the world a more negative place to live in but it affects the future of humanity. I recently re-read Giving by Bill Clinton – with political views aside, one cannot deny the positive influences this man has bestowed for our nation and for the world. In this book, President Clinton teaches us the importance of giving – “how each of us can change the world” through the gifts of time, skills, things and ideas to promote positive changes to the less fortunate.

Since middle school, I’ve been active in volunteering for my community. One of my favorite volunteering jobs was playing piano for the patients of M.D.Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. Though I may not have been a champion award-winning pianist, the patients sure made me feel as so. I felt fortunate to share my gift of music to the ones that needed it the most. Being able to provide a brief moment of solace in their world of stress and pain gave me a sense of responsibility and understanding that every time I sat in front of that piano, I had to play my best as if I were performing for a concert. One evening, a woman came up to me with a huge smile on her face after I played Chopin’s Nocturne in E-flat Major and tightly held my hands in hers  “Thank you. Thank you for letting my mind rest and making me smile, it’s been awhile.” Even after 10 years, I still remember that moment and it made me realize how the simple gift of time can ultimately be priceless.

All around us help is needed – whether it’s helping to clean up a neighborhood park, or teaching low-income students how to read, or going even further and help educate the poor and build schools in third world countries – think about the effects we could make if each of us stepped forward and gave a little time to help those in need, think about the future it would create for our children, for our world. As a tribute to a great man, I found this recipe for “President Clinton’s Oatmeal Cookies” from Desserts by the Yard by Sherry Yard, the executive pastry chef of Spago. I love that this recipe calls for “fat raisins” and the addition of brown sugar gives these cookies a nice chewy consistency.

Here’s to you Mr. President, thank you for striving to make this world a better place, I leave you with this quote:

“So much of modern culture is characterized by stories of self-indulgence and self-destruction. So much of modern politics is focused not on honest differences of policy but on personal attacks. So much of modern media is dominated by people who earn fortunes by demeaning others, defining them by their worst moments, exploiting their agonies. Who’s happier? The uniter or the dividers? The builders or the breakers? The givers or the takers? I think you know the answer. There’s a whole world out there that needs you, down the street or across the ocean. Give.”

-President Bill Clinton

Ingredients for President Clinton’s Oatmeal Cookies (makes 48 small cookies or 24 large cookies):

• 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour • 1 teaspoon baking soda • 7 ounces (1 ¾ sticks) unsalted butter, softened • 1 cup sugar • 1 cup packed light brown sugar • 1 ½ teaspoons freshly grated nutmeg • 1 ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon • 2 large eggs, at room temperature • 2 ¼ cups rolled oats • 1 ½ cups fat raisins

Sift together the flour and baking soda and set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or in a large bowl with a hand mixer, cream the butter on high speed until lemony yellow, about 2 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and the paddle or beaters. Add the sugar, brown sugar, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Continue creaming the mixture on high speed until it is smooth and lump-free, about 2 minutes. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl and the paddle.

Add the eggs one at a time, scraping down the bowl and paddle after each addition. Beat on low speed for 15-30 seconds, until the eggs are fully incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and the paddle. On low speed, add the sifted flour mixture, beating until all of the flour is incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. On low speed, mix in the oats and raisins.

With a rubber spatula, scoop out the dough and divide it in half. Center one half along the bottom of a sheet of parchment paper and roll it up in the paper, creating a log about 2 inches wide and 12 inches long. Repeat with the second piece of dough. Fold over the parchment, creating a sausage. Twist the ends over and wrap in plastic. Chill the dough logs for a minimum of 1 hour. (At this point the dough will keep nicely, wrapped well, in the refrigerator for up to 3 days or up to 1 month in the freezer.) You can also simply spoon the dough onto parchment-covered baking sheets and bake at once.

Place racks in the middle and lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 350F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. When the dough is chilled, remove it from the parchment paper. Using a chef’s knife or an offset serrated knife, slice ½-inch rounds off the log. Place the cookies on the prepared baking sheets, spaced 2 inches apart. Bake for 12 minutes. Rotate the baking sheets from top to bottom and from front to back, and bake for another 5-8 minutes, until nicely browned. Remove the cookies from the oven and carefully slide the parchment off the sheets and directly onto your work surface. Cool the baking sheets between batches. Wait a minimum of 5 minutes before eating, or allow to cool completely before storing the cookies in an airtight container. (The cookies will keep for up to 3 days at room temperature.)

NOTE: Instead of forming the logs and chilling, you can also scoop spoonfuls of dough onto the parchment-lined sheets. Spoon teaspoons for small cookies, tablespoons for large.

Ingredients for Fat Raisins (makes 1 cup): • 1 cup golden or Red Flame raisins • ½ cup dry white wine • 2 tablespoons fresh orange juice • 1 tablespoon dark rum • 2 tablespoons sugar

Combine the raisins, wine, orange juice, rum, and sugar in a small heavy saucepan, bring just to a boil over medium heat, stirring all the while. Lower the heat so that the liquid is at a bare simmer and poach for 20 minutes. Remove from the heat, cover the pan with plastic wrap, and allow to cool to room temperature. Transfer to an airtight container and store in the refrigerator.