The word need has a rather bouncy personality. It skip-hops from require to oblige to desire to demand, and slips toward want, that most evil cousin, and back again.
It’s no accident that need is a four-letter word—it’s a dangerous one to use. If I had my way, we’d have as many words for need as the Eskimos have for snow. Because really, the way we have it set up now, need is sorely overworked. There are simply too many kinds of needs.
There are the real ones, of course, the requirements: Children need love. My plants need water.
There are the complaints, superficial and serious: I need a new haircut. We need a new president.
There are the certainties: Our car needs new struts for the back hatch so it doesn’t fall on my head again.
There are the obligations: I need to go to the store; we’re almost out of milk.
Then, there are the dreams: I need a garden that actually gets some sun.
But it seems like the more serious the subject, the more inadequate the word becomes. Talk about real needs, and it gets a lot more useful to skip the four-letter and go for cynicism: I bet all of Gaza could use a good nights’ sleep. Or, Please send my leftovers to Africa. Someone might be hungry there.
Me? I don’t have needs, on that scale. I’ve never known a single one. I put on nice mittens and go from my heated office to my heated car to my heated gym, where I have to make time for exercise because someone else grows my food, finds my fuel, and pumps my water. Then I come home and complain, because I have so many interesting things to think about that I can’t do them all. My lifestyle—and yours, I daresay, if you’re here reading about food instead of outside looking for it—hardly provides an excuse to use that word at all.
But we do, just the same, because there’s only one need.
So please, friends, don’t think I’m ignoring the world’s privations and emergencies when I say that yesterday, in my infinitely small, overly charmed, sometimes completely shallow world, I needed a cookie.
You understand, don’t you? It happens to everyone. In fact, there should be a word for the very needing of a slightly crunchy, chocolaty treat, just as there should be a different word for needing milk when it’s cookie that has been smashed and smeared into all the little crevices in your mouth, and not, say, brownie. Need just doesn’t have enough letters to do the job.
But need I did. And far be it from me to deny anything to the unborn.
Cookies have needs, too; like people, they’re all different. No one likes a soggy cookie. Not many people like them charred, either. But beyond that, it’s all up to interpretation.
My cookies have a very specific needs list: The chocolate must come in chunks, not chips, all the better for smearing across the bottom lip when still just a bit warm. There must be some whole wheat, to present the allusion of a feigned interest in the overall health of the cookie. (There will be no questions asked when others bake, however.) Unless there’s been a particularly cookie-less stretch, they also require more intrigue than just the chocolate—some orange peel, or a bit of some spice or another, and yes, most definitely—okay, always—something just a little crunchy. I also like them high and almost shortbread-ish, rarely flat and spread out.
And for God’s sake, they don’t need to be baked all at once, when you’re likely to move on to a different project and burn one batch. I always bake one sheet at a time, and freeze the rest, in little balls, so that I can bake just a few for days on end, when I need them most, and eat them right after the chocolate has ceased to pose a burn threat, but before it actually solidifies.
Yesterday’s crisis came on fast, but I should have seen it coming. (There’s another word—crisis. In the news, it’s a euphemism for undeclared war. Is there a word for an urgent-yet-peaceful food crisis? Something more serious than just a plain old craving?)
Anyway. My cousin reported eating too much oatmeal cookie batter, and I listened, and wanted some. I made triple chocolate chunk oatmeal cookies with coconut flakes back east, and their memory followed me home. Then, this week, the New York Times reposted a story called The 11 Best Foods You Aren’t Eating, and in fourth position, they printed cinnamon, and something about controlling blood sugar and cholesterol and sprinkling a bit on your oatmeal.
Here, I should point out that maybe Sarah Palin is right about the state of today’s liberal elite media. There was not one mention—not one—of putting cinnamon into chocolate chunk cookies. If that’s not journalistic bias, I don’t know what is.
Some days, you just have to do everything yourself.
So smack-dab in the middle of moving my files downstairs (beware, the nursery prep has started!), I tilted back the KitchenAid’s head, dropped a couple sticks of butter down the hatch (KitchenAids have cravings, too, right?), and got going.
And oh, yes, they hit the spot. In fact, I think today, I need another.
One more thing. If you live in Seattle, and depend regularly on the farmers’ markets (or if you’ve ever bought a piece of Washington produce), take a second to remember that a lot of your favorite farms are under water right now. A bunch of small donations to the Good Farmer Fund might help someone get through the winter. And really. If that’s not a need, what is?
The truth: What makes these cookies great, besides the big hunks chocolate (of course), is the millet, which creates little bursts of crunchiness in the final product. But no one seems to like the sound of “millet cookies.” So keep it a secret, if you must—but I love it. Look for small, yellow millet grains in the bulk foods aisle of a good natural grocer. (If your partner dares say anything about birdseed, simply accuse him or her of a lack of vision and deny future cookies. Worked for me.)
ACTIVE TIME: 25 minutes
MAKES: About 40 2” cookies
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
2 cups lightly packed sweetened coconut
1/2 cup millet (uncooked)
1/2 pound bittersweet (70%) chocolate, chopped
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two heavy baking sheets with parchment paper, and set aside.
In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment (or using a hand-held electric mixer), cream the butter and both sugars on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time on low speed, beating well after each addition. Beat in the vanilla, and mix again.
Meanwhile, whisk both flours, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, coconut, and millet together in a medium bowl. Add the dry ingredients to the wet mixture about a third at a time, mixing on low speed until just combined between additions, and scraping the bottom of the bowl clean when necessary. Fold in the chocolate chunks.
Drop the dough by heaping spoonfuls (a 1 1/2-inch ice cream scoop works perfectly) about 2” apart on the baking sheets. Bake 12 to 15 minutes for cookies the size of a walnut, 14 to 17 minutes for cookies the size of a golf ball, or until the edges are lightly browned and just beginning to crack. (The cookies will not spread much, so roundish dough portions work better than lumpy ones.) Cool the cookies on sheets for 5 minutes, and transfer to wire racks to cool completely.