My second year in New York I was living in Chinatown in a small apartment with five other girls. The building was snuggled cozily in between a correctional facility and a homeless shelter, just steps away from beautiful, serene Canal street. By the second week of September that year all five of my roommates had decided, unsurprisingly, to study abroad second semester, but credit requirements and budget restraints had me locked securely in to that joyful place. The day my roommates all broke the news to me I left the apartment to walk to class and a homeless man threw up Cheeto-colored vomit on my open-toed shoes as if to say, “Abandon all hope, you silly nineteen-year-old.”
I returned to the apartment that January to find four strangers living in my home—a meek Chinese girl whom I never, not once, heard utter a word, and her boyfriend, whose hobby was knife-throwing. He threw thick-handled knives at the kitchen wall all night long, leaving gaping, plaster-spewing holes and preventing me from leaving my bedroom in the middle of the night for fear of being killed. The other was a six-foot-four-inch celebrity-obsessed med student who was forever singing a (really disturbing) song called “I am my own grandpa.” She used to camp outside of the popcorn factory down the street and wait for them to throw away industrial-sized garbage bags filled with reeky, neon orange cheese popcorn, which she would then lug home to the apartment and eat, noisily late into the night. The fourth was a tiny, hunched girl, whose oily black curls were forever hanging over her face and who once barked at me when I begged her to throw away the takeout food she had been collecting in her bedroom. When I say “barked” I don’t mean that she got snippy with me, I mean she actually opened her mouth and let out a dog bark so unnervingly realistic it still gives me chills to think about.
What I’m trying to tell you is that it was a very lonely time.
One night, shut in my bedroom watching re-runs of Dynasty on my laptop, I saw out of the corner of my eye the tiniest, sweetest-looking little mouse sitting on his haunches staring at me. I’m sure he was lured into the apartment by the smell of my suitemate’s putrefying egg foo young, but for some reason I found his company immensely comforting. For the next few nights I waited patiently for him to reappear and he always did, twitching his nose in the blue light of my laptop screen. When he suddenly stopped visiting I panicked—images of glue traps flashed through my head and in a moment of sheer desperation (and extreme loneliness) I crumbled a piece of the chocolate chip cookie I was eating, placed it on the floor where he usually sat, and waited. A few minutes later he appeared and I, the only person in history to ever have this reaction upon seeing a mouse in her apartment, let out a giant sigh of relief.
A few weeks later the apartment was overrun with mice. They crawled up through the burners on the stove and huddled in the corners of the cabinets under the sink. When the boy I was dating at the time asked how in the hell things had gotten so out of control I admitted to him what I had done with the cookie on that lonesome night. He was astoundingly angry at me. “YOU ACTUALLY GAVE A MOUSE A COOKIE?! HOW COULD YOU DO THAT? DID YOU NEVER READ THE BOOK?” We broke up shortly after.
The thing is, I had read the book—many many times. It was a bedtime reading staple at my house, and one of my all-time favorites. Despite the fact that the book has been panned by many a critic and author (most famously Maurice Sendak, who stated “If you give a mouse a cookie you’re an asshole), I maintain that it is a valuable piece of literature. As a kid I liked the book for the delicious illustrations and the precious, overalls-clad mouse. As an adult I like it for its sinister message—if you ever give anyone anything they will always ask for more.
I am convinced that the author, Laura Numeroff, was an embittered counter-girl at some upscale Manhattan coffee shop before she struck gold with her “If You Give a…” series. Laura, like so many of us who have struggled trying to please the general public, knows that if you give a customer a free latte, chances are she is going to ask for it to be soy, no-foam, extra whip, two pumps, room temp….
I think about the book on a daily basis, and whenever one of my coworkers freezer-packs a sausage for someone and ends up, forty minutes later, grinding them an eighth of a pound of custom burger blend all of us say, unsympathetically, “you gave that mouse a cookie.”
While visiting my parents’ home recently I found my old copy of the book, and like so many other books from my childhood it had a dreamed-up recipe in my round kid handwriting on its back cover. The recipe in this one was for my favorite cookie—oatmeal chocolate chip— crisp, chewy and fluffy all at once. The texture on these cookies is insane–they are so crisp and airy while still being chewy. I think even my seven-year-old self would have been pleased.
If You Give a Mouse a Cookie Brown Butter Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies
Makes 1 dozen jumbo cookies, 2 dozen smalls
- 1 cup AP flour
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ¾ teaspoon baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon table salt
- 1 ¾ sticks (14 Tablespoons) softened butter, browned and cooled to room temp
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- ¼ cup brown sugar
- 2 ½ cups rolled oats (quick cooking work too!)
- 1 large egg
- 1 teaspoon good vanilla
- ¾ cup good quality dark chocolate chunks
- flaky sea-salt for sprinkling
Pre-heat your oven to 350. In a medium saucepan brown your butter within an inch of burning (for tips on how to brown butter click here). Pour browned butter into a metal bowl and place it in the freezer to cool–you want it to return to a solid, but still soft state. Sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt and set aside. Once your butter is cooled and firmed place it in a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and beat it with white and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Add vanilla and eggs and mix until well-incorporated. With the mixer running, add your dry mixture a little at a time. When all of the flour is incorporated slowly add oats and chocolate chunks, shutting off the mixer as soon as everything comes together. Scoop onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment (the dough might look and feel crumbly, but that’s okay!) sprinkle with sea salt and bake for about 10-12 minutes, or until edges are crisp and brown. Let cookies sit on the sheet pan for a couple of minutes to set before transferring to a wire rack to cool.