Thursday, January 29, 2015

Oatmeal cookies! Opera! Margaret Thatcher!

Dear things, my fatheads, we have discussed rather serious topics lately and it has been ages since we simply baked some cookies. Let's do that. If you combine two recipes from Betty Crocker's Ultimate Cookie Book  (1992), namely "Ultimate Oatmeal Cookies" and "Old-fashioned Rum Raisin Cookies," you very cleverly get Oatmeal Cookies with Rum-Soaked Raisins. Start by simmering 1 cup raisins in a combination of 1/4 cup rum and 1/2 cup water for 20 minutes, until they absorb all liquid. As they simmer, you may prepare everything else.

And by the way, just one thing. You know how I have the greatest fascination with, and respect for, sopranos. A few nights ago I discovered another, Edita Gruberova, whom you may see in the documentary The Art of Belcanto. (This is not the same documentary from the mid '80s about June Anderson, called The Passion of BelCanto.) Watch the sixty-two-year-old, swathed in blue veils and crowned with a blue crown, climb the steps up to the stage to deliver herself of "Casta diva" from Norma. Then, toward the end of the program, watch her in a business suit and pearls sing some role -- the subtitles did not make this clear, though a bit of research turns up Donizetti's Roberto Devereux  -- which the director says he wanted her to interpret as though "she were a sort of Margaret Thatcher character." I understood the words "Margaret Thatcher" even without subtitles. The suit, pearls, and titian-blonde wig did the rest.

In one scene, probably at the opera's climax, the diva in mid-aria reaches up and peels off her wig while keeping a ghastly expression on her face. Another maestro, in his interview, exults on how masterful and shocking the scene is. I don't doubt it, and I salute the diva. My question is this: "a Margaret Thatcher-like" character? No, I should say the character is Margaret Thatcher: if this is just one scene, then I think we can be sure that for the rest of the opera also, by gesture and word and deed, this character is understood to be all evil, corruption, danger, and viciousness, and yet all inner sickness, terror, and failure too. Why Thatcher? Assuming for the Donizetti we must keep to an "English court" setting, why not, oh -- the Vogue offices of Anna Wintour?  Imaginative opera directors could do something sacredly provocative with that, don't you think?

But no. Margaret Thatcher is a much plumper target. Even though she died at the age of 87 in 2013 and had been out of office for almost a quarter-century by then. All right, be fair. When this opera was staged in 2005, she was only 79 and had only been out of office for fifteen years. Why does it so deeply satisfy artistic orthodoxy to portray her, still, as something the knowing can shudder at, and yet happily pity? For how many more European generations will the costume of business suit, pearls, and backswept titian wig signify moral nightmare?

"The left hates her -- because she thrashed them," one of our sources says.

Continue with recipe.

Betty Crocker's Ultimate Oatmeal Cookie with Rum-Soaked Raisins

Have your rum-soaked raisins ready.
Preheat the oven to 375 F. In a large bowl, mix:
2/3 cup sugar
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
Stir in
3 cups quick-cooking or old fashioned oats
1 cup flour
the rum-soaked raisins
Drop dough by rounded tablespoonfuls about 2 inches apart onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 9 to 11 minutes. Remove immediately from sheet and cool on racks.

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