I know, I know. February is a little late to be telling you about my resolutions. But I really stink at resolutions, which is why I don’t make them. Or it may be, just perhaps, that I stink at January. Case in point: I exercised twice in January. Since January 1st, I’ve managed to bring home a stomach flu, a sinus infection, a torn (and re-torn) intercostal muscle, and more candy than my home has seen since Halloween of 1987. I’ve turned an assignment in late for what might be the second time in my life—yes, I’m that person—and made some pretty awesome mistakes emailing incorrect files for big projects. January is when I mess things up, apparently.
Buying a juicer will make it all better, I’m sure. At least, that’s the theory, which is why there’s now a gleaming mammoth of a thing sitting on my kitchen counter. It’s been churning out delicious combinations and elixirs meant not to replace the vegetables in my diet—there are usually plenty of those—but simply to introduce new flavors and textures into my diet. To notice vegetables in a different way. And to help me pay attention to what I eat for breakfast, because my three-year-old has been talking me into Rice Krispies an awful lot recently. Occasionally, though, the thing is a little threatening. You’re being too healthy, it whispers. My goal isn’t to lose weight. My goal is to pay attention to what I eat, rather than eating blindly.
The theory—one I call Better Late than Never, or Better Something than Nothing—also includes paying attention to the smaller things in my diet. Like, well, gluten. I’ve been off the stuff for about 18 months now, and every once in a while, I need to be reminded why I’m doing it. Eating gluten makes me feel meh, a bit hungover, but it doesn’t actually make me sick. In January, I ate a croissant one day, and a bowl of pasta the next, and, not so surprisingly, I felt off but not terrible. I began to debate eating gluten again. For convenience. For easy dining outside my house. For really good croissants. Then someone published a story in the New York Times Magazine that articulated perfectly what I myself was told about how gluten causes things like lupus, and I remembered why I’m avoiding it: I’m avoiding it for me, not to make things easier on other people. Since then I’ve been darn near perfect about the gluten thing. So. On to bigger and better offenders.
February is also when I pay attention to my diet because it’s American Heart Month. You know, the one where you’re supposed to wear red a lot and remember that there’s this big beating beast inside your chest that keeps you alive. Theoretically, said beast does a bit better with a little less salt, which is why someone somewhere picked now to release a beautiful book called Sodium Girl’s Limitless Low-Sodium Cookbook. I think that’s great for hearts everywhere. But what the title doesn’t say—and what makes the book important to me—is that it’s written by Jessica Goldman Fuong, my San Francisco food writer doppelganger, which means it’s also good for kidneys. She also has lupus, and she, even more than me, has a deeper-than-normal relationship with her kids. (Hers have names, people. Frank and Stein. I’m so jealous she thought of that first.)
The book is a foray into really spunky low-sodium cooking for people petrified of putting down the shaker. It’s a tongue-in-cheek guide to junk food that won’t kill you, or more specifically, her or me—things like buffalo wings and homemade ranch dressing—and a funny, quirky guide to relearning how to cook. (There’s even a full-page Janet Jackson reference.) And most importantly for me, the book is a wake-up call. It reminds me that even after a rough January, when I spent so much time sick because my new lupus drug clobbers my immune system, I sometimes forget to watch what goes into my mouth.
So when I turned to my north kitchen wall yesterday—the one where I sneak recipes up under the rolling pin hanging there, to remind me at all times of the little tastes I want to try—and found one for salted peanut butter cookies, I swooned. (Wouldn’t you? Peanut butter cookies with a ton of salt in them? What could be better?) Then I reconsidered. Technically, I don’t need to eat a low-sodium diet. But with two kidneys always working overtime, it’s probably a bit better for me to steer clear of the extra-salty stuff. And of course, I’d need to make the recipe gluten-free. These are by no stretch diet cookies, but they are better for my diet than what I’d normally make. And these are the changes I want to make at home. Little improvements. Sustainable, kidney-hugging improvements.
The original recipe—from a forthcoming book called Malts and Milkshakes by Autumn Martin, of Seattle’s Hot Cakes Molten Chocolate Cakery—is from someone whose recipes I trust completely. I knew Autumn would nail the right chewiness, and the right vanilla flavor. But I didn’t know whether I’d miss the salt.
So I tinkered. I used Jeanne’s gluten-free all-purpose flour blend , and I added oats for staying power, and because my husband is a sucker for oatmeal cookies and was about to board a plane for Chile. I added chopped peanuts for some of the peanut butter, because I wanted a bit of crunch. I added a bit more leavening, because I wanted them to rise and fall, so they had a bit of crinkle on top.
Then, the strangest thing happened: I meant to decrease the salt from 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon (!) to just 2 teaspoons—still a huge amount of salt for someone on a low-sodium diet but, in my salt-pickled mind, a conscious effort to lower the sodium—but I plum forgot to add any salt at all. And you know what? Between the salt in the peanut butter, the baking soda, and the baking powder, these cookies are delicious and still, strangely, salty. I’m not sure I’d give one to Frank or Stein, but I’d give one to you.
I would, I said. But I can’t. Half of them are at 38,000 feet, somewhere between Miami and Santiago, and the some came with me to feed a gaggle of 3- and 4-year-olds and their associated moms. And the rest of them? I’m saving them for my kidneys, who will someday also have names. I’m not dieting, but I’m trying to treat those kids a little better every day.
Editor’s note: The cookies have made it through customs. You were worried, I know.
Gluten-Free Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookies
This recipe, adapted from Autumn Martin’s Malts and Milkshakes, makes tender, chewy cookies with a bit of staying power. You want the kind of tan that comes with an unexpected sunny day in February on these cookies, not the kind you work for at the beach; even a shallow ring of toasty (as opposed to light golden) color will turn these from chewy to crispy. Pay attention.
Time: 15 minutes active time
Makes: About 3 dozen 2-inch cookies
2 cups all-purpose flour mix
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/4 cups packed dark brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup natural low-sodium creamy peanut butter
1 cup roasted unsalted peanuts, chopped
1 1/2 cups rolled oats
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicon baking mat and set aside.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and baking powder, and set aside.
In the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, brown sugar, and sugar until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl and the paddle once or twice. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing on low speed between each addition. Add the vanilla and peanut butter, then mix on medium speed until well blended. Add the dry ingredients in three batches, mixing on low speed between each until no white spots remain. Remove the bowl from the mixer and stir in the chopped peanuts and oats.
Using a small ice cream scoop or a tablespoon measure, form the dough into 2 tablespoon-size balls and arrange them on the baking sheet, leaving about 1 1/2 inches between the cookies.
Bake for 13 to 16 minutes, or until the cookies are puffed and very pale golden brown around the edges. (You don’t want them to actually brown.)
Let the cookies cool 5 to 10 minutes on the baking sheet, then transfer carefully to a cooling rack and repeat with the remaining batter.
Store baked, cooled cookies in an airtight container at room temperature, up to 5 days.
Note: I used Jeanne’s gluten-free all-purpose flour blend for my muffins.