Friday, December 4, 2015

One flew east, one flew west, one flew over the cuckoo's nest - Pistachio Jam Cookies

Lost in the mists of my law degree and my years in marine insurance is the fact that my undergraduate degree is in psychology, and that I was halfway through a graduate program in psychology when I decided that particular program was not what I was looking for. So I remember the move towards community mental health, and the move away from the ginormous state psychiatric hospitals, which was already in progress while I was a student at Stony Brook. I did not know exactly why, but the local psychiatric hospital, Central Islip State, was utilizing only a small number buildings while the rest of the campus was falling into disrepair. During one semester I did volunteer work on one of the wards, and I still have nightmares. That then begs the question, where were the rest of the mentally ill people going, if not to C.I. and Pilgrim State and Kings Park and Creedmore?

When I got to graduate school, I got the answer: community mental health.  This article from the Wall Street Journal gives a good historical perspective on how we got from Over the Cuckoo's Nest to weekly massacres. I remember how, back in the late seventies while I attended grad school, the idea of community mental health did not make sense to me - set all those really disturbed people out on the street? That was also when I could not help but notice how the homeless population in New York City was increasing at an alarming rate. More alarming was when I started to see so many clearly mentally ill homeless on the previously pristine street of Orlando. And now, all these years later, I can see how the whole concept of community mental health, initialized by President Kennedy and pushed along by President Reagan, has so seriously weakened the fabric of American society as to cripple us all. We are being attacked from within. There is no gun control law in the world that can stop an at-large schizophrenic from doing exactly what he or she want to do.

"From the beginning, it was clear that CMHCs were not interested in taking care of the patients being discharged from the state hospitals. Instead, they focused on individuals with less severe problems sometimes called "the worried well." Federal studies reported individuals discharged from state hospitals initially made up between 4% and 7% of the CMHCs patient load, and the longer the CMHC was in existence the lower this percentage became.
It has now become politically correct to claim that this federal program failed because not enough centers were funded and not enough money was spent. In fact, it failed because it did not provide care for the sickest patients released from the state hospitals. When President Ronald Reagan finally block-granted federal CMHC funds to the states in 1981, he was not killing the program. He was disposing of the corpse."
I mentioned the Cuckoo's Nest (Jack Nicholson's finest performance), because there is no question that those state mental hospitals could be terrible, evil places. Their greatest virtue was keeping dangerous mentally-ill people off the street. Somewhere out there must be a plan or procedure for getting these people off the streets and into humane facilities where they can receive whatever treatment might help them, and the daily care they will always need.

I'm going to tuck my soapbox back into the corner and switch gears to cookie-baking. The pistachio jam cookies are coming along nicely, with the first batch in the oven and the second batch being set out on a silpat. The problem is - and there's always a problem - is that in the middle of preparing the dough, I started to clean the floor in the kitchen, dining room, and entranceway.  The truth is that my pets, although pee pad trained, miss their targets more often than not. To exacerbate the problem, my dining room floor is scattered with large plastic file boxes full of photos and whatnots and thatches and other stuff I should have put away a long time ago, and so when one of the boy pups feels the need to lift his leg, those boxes make a splendid target. Without going into too much detail, I realized there was a pressing need to move all of those boxes to dry locations, covered with clean pee pads, and to apply the cleaning formulas best suited to removing the offending build-up.
So after I cleaned out the litter box and mopped in the kitchen, I attacked the other two rooms, and they attacked me right back. I lifted things and moved other things and I probably should have known better, especially after I dropped one box on my big toe. Fortunately it was not from a distance, but it still hurts. Oh hell. Everything hurts. I mopped all of the offending spots with clear water and with the exception of the kitchen, left the second mopping-with-chemicals to my dear husband.  Although the dining room is still a visual mess, it is quite a bit cleaner than it was, and that, as Martha would say, is a Good Thing.

My Florida retirement quest is rocking along, but that's a story for tomorrow.  Today I am (finally) going to give you another fabulous recipe for cookies, namely the pistachio jam beauties I prepared. I have it on good authority from my Chief Taste Tester that these are fantastically delicious. Bake them and judge for yourself. These are known as Karithata in Greece, their country of birth.

1 cup of butter (2 sticks), softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup honey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup shelled, roasted pistachio nuts, finely chopped
1 jar seedless red raspberry jam (you will have plenty left over)

In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter, sugar, honey, vanilla, almond extract, and salt until light and fluffy. Beat in the flour, 1/2 cup at a time until there is just 1 cup left, and stir that in by hand. Stir in the pistachios. Cover the dough and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Using silpat, no-stick spray, or butter, prepare a baking sheet. Portion the dough onto the baking sheet, using the smallest scoop. Place 20 cookies at a time on the baking sheet.  Roll the dough with your hands to form balls, and arrange back on the baking sheet. Using your pinkie finger (I used the bottom of the handle of a wooden meat mallet) make a deep indentation, almost to the baking sheet, in the center of each ball. With the tiniest spoon you have (I used one of Cory's baby spoons) carefully place a small amount of jam in each indentation.  Bake the cookies for 8 to 11 minutes or until golden brown. Leave them on the baking sheet for a few minutes, then use a metal spatula to move them to wire racks to cool. I think I got a little more than 4 dozen cookies.

Once I was properly outfitted with dentures, I tasted a cookie, and as George Takei would say, oh myyy!

I am off to my Tai Chi class.  I seriously messed with my chi during my cleaning adventure; let's hope I can repair some of that damage.

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