Cookies worthy of a president

She couldn't help but send the presidential family her award-winning cookies through a friend.

Joanne Ciccarello/Staff
COOKIES FOR OBAMA: A gift of pecan cookies sent through a friend were a hit with the presidential family over the holidays.

As I watched the inauguration last month, I couldn't help but smile. I wondered if the cookies I'd baked for the Obama family's Thanksgiving dinner had contributed to this moment in history.

My friend, Joan, is the mother-in-law of President Obama's half-sister, Maya. As soon as she told me about her Thanksgiving plans, my mind started to whirl. "Howard and I are driving to Chicago to have Thanksgiving with Obama and the family," she said.

I was quiet for a moment. I thought frantically about the skills I possessed that would make it impossible for her to leave me behind. "I'm great at carrying luggage," I offered. When she stayed silent, I tried again. "What about my sense of humor? I tell a good joke, and could help lighten the stress from these grueling days on the campaign trail." I was getting nowhere.

That's when the idea hit me. If I couldn't go, I could send cookies in my place. But not just any cookies – the $100 Pecan Cookies, which always inspired a win. And a win was just what they were after – this was my chance to influence history!

More than 25 years ago, the friend who gave me the recipe said, "The woman who submitted this recipe to a contest won $100, and that's why they're called, $100 Pecan Cookies." I didn't think much of it at the time. I just wanted the recipe because I thought they were the best cookies I'd ever tasted.

Soon after that, my workplace had a cookie contest. I submitted the $100 Pecan Cookies and they won first place! They weren't easy to make, but people loved them.

And so with winning on my mind, I baked and boxed up a batch for my friend to take to the Obama holiday feast. I tied some string around a plain white box and tucked a note under it, telling Mr. Obama how much I admired him. I thought a presidential candidate might be too busy to open a wrapped present, and that's why, to make things easier, I used the string. But it wasn't just any string, it was gold and glittery, befitting a grand occasion.

When Joan got back, I asked her how it went. She said it was wonderful, but made no mention of the cookies. Not wanting to seem too eager for praise, I waited. Finally, I couldn't stand it any longer. "What about the cookies?"

"Oh, sorry, yes, they loved them. They were great. In fact, they sent you this as a thank-you." She opened a drawer, took out something, and handed it to me. It was a lovely presidential campaign bag with a tag attached to it that had Oprah's signature on it. I kept the bag on my lap for a while, beaming.

I still have it, and although many features stand out, the one that thrills me the most is its size: It's just right for a big batch of cookies. I keep it in the kitchen, hanging on the wall right above my recipe box. After all, you never know when you'll be invited to the White House for dinner.

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$100 Pecan Cookies

1 cup shortening (butter-flavored Crisco is best)
1 cup butter
2-1/2 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla
3 cups all-purpose flour
3 cups cornflakes
2 cups chopped pecans
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
With an electric mixer in a large mixing bowl, cream shortening and butter, then add confectioners’ sugar. Mix in vanilla and beat in flour gradually. At this point, the dough may not hold together. That’s OK. By hand with a wooden spoon, stir in cornflakes and pecans. (The dough will be very stiff, so this won’t be easy.) Roll large teaspoonfuls of dough into balls, mashing the dough together but being careful to not crush the cornflakes any more than necessary.
Place on ungreased cookie sheets 1 inch apart and bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until slightly brown. Remove from oven and transfer to cooling racks.
Makes 100 cookies. (More than enough for a grand gathering.)

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