Finding Comfort in a Familiar Family Recipe

My mom suggests we make poop cookies, a family name for chocolate oatmeal no-bakes. I agree, give her a slight smile and a “Yeah” (the best I have to offer right now). It’s a hard week (a hard month) (a hard year). She’s inside my kitchen pantry taking inventory of what’s in stock in our new house, busy texting my dad to bring whatever we’re missing. My whole life, I’ve known this recipe can’t fix what’s missing, but it sure does taste good for a few moments.

“Instant oatmeal, we need some peanut butter. How about butter and milk?” she says out loud as she types into her phone. I’m always nagging her to stop reading every message to the whole room, word for word as her blue fingernails type away.

“I don’t have real milk,” I say. “Only almond milk.”

“We’ll try that,” she says. “Vanilla, sugar, cocoa powder… I think you have everything else we need.”

“I don’t have wax paper, does that matter?” I wonder if my grandmother will shudder in her grave at the lack of real milk and wax paper, not to mention we’re substituting butter for margarine. I never met her, so I can’t know for sure.

“Should be fine.”

I remember years ago posting a photo on Instagram of my grandmother’s recipe book from my mom’s keepsakes, the chocolate oatmeal cookie recipe printed in loopy handwriting, so I pull that up for us to remember the exact quantities. Somehow I can already taste the scoop of warmth straight out of the hot pot on a cold spoon, just as the peanut butter has melted into the sugary chocolate mixture and right before the oatmeal hardens, like I have hundreds of times in my life. My cousin and I kept the tradition going every summer at the lake house, and he took over adding in the vanilla when my “dash” could have had us all drunk.

My dad arrives with the ingredients. We add in the butter, sugar, cocoa, and (almond) milk to the heavy bottom pot.

“You want to bring it to a hard boil for one minute,” Mom says. She grabs a glass bowl from the cabinet and fills it with cold water. “After a minute, you drop a little scoop from the wooden spoon into the water to see if it forms a little ball. That’s how you know if it’s ready.” She tells me like I’m learning how to make this for the first time.

I measure a teaspoon of vanilla (with a matured steadiness), swirl in the melting peanut butter, then slowly pour in almost three cups of oatmeal. But three cups is half a cup too much. We’ve perfected this recipe over the years, somehow losing track of the latest version. Mom scoops out the first few cookies, dry as chalk.

“Get me the almond milk,” she says. She adds in a splash and together we’ve made diarrhea.

Sans wax paper, the runny mixture goes straight on the cookie sheet and we decide to try to put it in the fridge to hope it hardens. They do, eventually, but the sugar granulates and we use a tiny plastic spatula to scrape it off in bite-size chunks, crumbs flying.

Days later, I’m alone eating the crumbs by the spoonful. I could care less that they’re cold and gritty. They still teleport me to much sweeter days, when nothing or no one’s missing.

(Here’s a recipe that’s close to my family’s version. We skip brown sugar, use less cocoa, and of course a little less oatmeal.)

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