I have clearly been living under a rock for the past twenty years, because I hadn't heard about the Family Circle Magazine Presidential Cookie Bake-Off until I read Grace Hwang Lynch's post about it on BlogHer. In case you hadn't, either, here's how it works: the two presidential candidates' wives are supposed to submit their best cookie recipes for judgement by the American cookie-baking public (this year, on Facebook). The tradition started in 1992 when Hilary Clinton made an off-the-cuff remark about not staying home to bake cookies and make tea, appearing to snub SAHMs, and needed to save her reputation. So she and Barbara Bush went spatula-to-spatula, making themselves Middle America-Friendly.
Apparently every winning woman so far (save one) has gone on to be First Lady, so the stakes seem pretty high. Slate has gone so far this year as to critique Michelle Obama's recipe, citing its lack of oats (which seems to be a surefire way to win, according to their highly scientific study) and use of Crisco as the fat. (Gee, how would Americans react to a gluten free recipe, I wonder? Or a vegan recipe? Heaven forbid.) And the New York Times reported that Ann Romney has been serving homemade cookies to prominent donors at the Romney home on Lake Winnepesauke, a "personal touch" that has earned them some serious campaign finances.
I like cookie recipes as much as the next person (oh, heck, even more than the next person), but I'm sort of stunned that this kind of antiquated contest is still happening, in 2012. I mean, come on. What if the candidate bakes cookies, rather than the spouse? What if "home made" cookies in that house are the kind you squeeze out of a tube? What if the candidate is a female, and the "First Spouse" would be a male? Would we still hold the bake off? And why do we care that the First Lady can bake?
I mentioned this to my son on the drive to a birthday party today, and while he liked the idea of a cookie contest, he was (1) confused that only two people were participating ("but mom, why can't other people try to win, too?"); (2) confused that this was a contest that had anything to do with winning the presidency ("don't we vote for the president?"); and (3) concerned that the contest might not be fair ("but what if they don't bake good cookies? Maybe they should have another kind of contest."). Exactly, kimo sabe.
Grace Hwang Lynch points out that what bothers her about the contest is that no one ever expects her to bake cookies. She does it because she likes to, not because she has to. And this whole thing reminds her of the 1950s expectation of dinner on the table and a cocktail in the shaker when a woman's husband arrived home from work. What bothers me most, I think, is that both of these women are intelligent and well-spoken, and neither one of them has said anything about the stereotype that this perpetuates. Which suggests that despite all of our clamoring for feminism and liberation as a nation, we really want highly visible women who can find their way around in a kitchen, who symbolize the hearth and the cult of domesticity.
I made these cookies yesterday. Not because I was expected to, but because my son saw the recipe on the side of a cheerios-equivalent box, and wanted to try them. It was a collaborative effort. In the end, I decided that they're not really my favorite kind of cookie: they're crunchy rather than chewy, and they're a little too sweet. They really do taste the way you'd expect a fancy moon rock might taste. Luckily, I am not trying to please the majority of the cookie-baking and cookie-eating American public, nor am I trying to win a bid for the title of First Lady.
What do you think about the contest? Am I completely misreading this? Overreacting? I'd love to hear your thoughts.
1/2 c. butter
1 c. sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 c. flour
1 tsp. baking soda
2 1/2 c. Cheerios or similar O-shaped cereal
1/2 c. candy coated chocolate pieces (MnMs, preferably dark)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In large bowl cream butter and sugar. Add egg and vanilla; beat until fluffy. Stir in flour and baking soda; mix well. Add cereal and chocolate pieces; stir just until blended.
Drop by rounded 2 teaspoons onto ungreased cookie sheet 2 inches apart. Bake 10 to 12
minutes or until lightly browned. Let cool 1 minute before removing from cookie sheet. Makes 4 dozen.