Well, besides a bleak, blank uncertainty, we're heading into the Year of the Ox.
At first glance, this certainly seems promising enough. Oxen are strong, hard working animals. According to Chinese astrology, the Ox is also patient and tenacious. It can be counted on to get whatever job it has been set to done. It is even suggested that those born under the sign of the Ox share these qualities and would make excellent tennis pros, surgeons, and hair stylists. Walt Disney and George Clooney were born under the sign. But, then again, so were Adolf Hitler, Saddam Hussein, and Tori Spelling.
The Ox is not considered an especially intelligent animal (See: Tori Spelling). Perhaps this lack of smarts is what led him to his fated, castrated state in the first place. With its lack of virility, of full potency, will this Ox plow its way to better times for us? Let's hope so. I'm sure the market watchers were hoping for something a little different. Like a bull.
Things are rough, no question about that. People are losing their jobs, and those who still have them are tightening their belts. That is, if that haven't already sold them on Ebay. A general sense of malaise is beginning to infect the mindsets of even the cheeriest Pollyannas.
And it's irritating me. So I've decided to channel that irritation into baking something. Like fortune cookies. Or, more correctly, misfortune cookies. Though I came up with the idea independently, the thought is not an original one-- they've been done before with varying degrees of success. I have chosen not to examine the others for fear of plagiarizing any dooming, damning fortunes, but I am cheered to know that there are others out there of like mind.
I have always found the idea of the fortune cookie mildly off-putting, since I've never bought into the notion that a baked lump of flour and sugar was somehow empowered with the ability to decide my future, though I admit I have always welcomed them at the end of a big, Chinese (American) meal because, well, it's about all the dessert one is ever going to get at a Chinese restaurant. Dessert must seem like an odd waste of time to a culture whose cuisine strives for balance. Sweetness can be found co-habitating with Mr. Salt, Miss Sour, and Sr. Bitter in a number of dishes.
The misfortune cookie, I think, strikes this balance much more accurately than the ordinary fortune cookie, with its vague, sometimes chirpy prognostications and lucky numbers. Sure, the sugar and salt in the recipe are the same, but a refreshingly sour note of bitterness found tucked inside bring the cookie's yin some much-needed yang.
Serve them to unsuspecting friends and family members and watch their faces as they learn that they are destined to someday chew off their own foot or will eventually be exposed and humiliated for past wrong-doing. Go ahead, it's fun.
If the recipients of misfortune begin to turn against you, you might want to laugh and pretend you made the cookies to provide a valuable moral lesson. You could say that these cookies merely illustrate the fact that it is impossible to divine the future, so what's the point, really? That things aren't nearly so bad as what's written inside those cookies. Things could be much, much worse.
And then you might want to suggest a good pedicurist, just in case.
Makes about 12 deeply distressing cookies.
The batter for these cookies is remarkably easy to make. The baking and shaping of them is another story. So much for the theory that Chinese food is 90% prep and 10% cooking. Of course, the Fortune Cookie is a Californian invention, so you can blame us, if you like.
The making of them is somewhat labor-intensive on the back end. Purchasing them is certainly easier, but then you would be surrendering the chance to play God by deciding the fates and fortunes of your hungry friends and family. More free time or unmitigated power? It's a toss up.
For those of you not entirely mean-spirited, you may wish to include one Pandora-like message of hope, but that would be mixing mythologies. Fate is in your hands.
1 egg white
1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon almond extract
a pinch of salt
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup white sugar
1. Compose as many hideous fortunes as you deem necessary on strips of paper about 4 inches long and 1/2 inch wide.
2. Preheat oven to 400F. Grease two cookie sheets with butter or, if you have a silpat or other such baking pad, use it instead. Cutting a round stencil three inches in diameter from a plastic lid is most helpful in shaping these cookies. I suggest you follow this advice.
3. Beat together egg white and both extracts until quite foamy. Sift in flour, sugar, and salt; blend into egg white mixture.
4. Place stencil onto cookie sheet and add one teaspoon of batter in the center of it. Using and offset spatula, bring the batter around to the edges, making as smooth a shape as possible. Repeat, leaving at least 4 inches of space between cookies. I suggest you start off by baking two at a time to test your misfortune cookie-making skills.
5. Bake cookies for 5 minutes, or until they have turned a golden color around the edges. The center of the cookies should remain pale. You may prepare the second batch as the first are baking, if you like.
6. Remove cookies from oven and very, very quickly remove them from the baking sheet with a large, offset metal spatula. Turn them upside down onto a wooden cutting board. Place fortunes in the center of each, fold them in half so that the edges meet. Pull the pointed edged towards each other and let them cool. Of course, I have never been able to develop the speed necessary to accomplish this feat even with one cookie, let alone two. If you are as slow as I am in these matters, I would suggest the following:
When cookies are finished baking, pull them from the oven, pry them from their baking sheet as previously mentioned. Now turn them upside down on the same baking sheet and pop them back in the oven. Count to ten, open the oven door, and then proceed to shape the cookies while there are still inside the oven. Aside from the potential for burning one's hands, this is a most effective method.
Repeat until finished.