the inadequate $20 bill and a recipe: oatmeal double-chip cookies

The man sat with his hands folded in his lap, legs dangling off the edge of the salmon-colored exam table. As we talked, he occasionally rubbed his fingers, swollen from arthritis. He had been my patient for some time, and I asked him about his cancer, his reason for seeing me, and about the rest of his life, something I’m always interested in when I see my patients. I learned that he had recently lost his job. With the income loss, he was in the process of losing his home. In fact, he would be homeless within the week.

He told me this in a straightforward, direct manner, but I could sense the swell of panic rising in his voice as he told me more of the details. He had been through this before, but this time was worse. Plus, he needed two prescriptions, and he couldn’t fill them because he had no money.

“You don’t have any at all?” I asked.

“None,” he said, gravely.

I turned away from him and stared at my computer screen, where I had his medical chart pulled up. I scanned through various screens of his chart as if I were hunting for a critical piece of medical information that would aid in my diagnosis or treatment of this problem. In truth, I was flustered and I felt helpless. I hid those feelings from him by focusing on his chart, on his list of diagnoses and prior surgeries and documented family history. Not surprisingly, I didn’t find any of the answers I was looking for.

Finally, I wrote the two prescriptions he needed, and then I said, “I’m sorry you’re going through this.”

I fished a $20 bill from my wallet, handing it to him. “For your medications,” I said.

That $20 felt so inadequate, so trivial. When someone doesn’t even have a roof to shelter them from the elements, or money for food, does filling a prescription really matter?  Does keeping a doctor’s appointment really matter? I left work that day with a heavy heart, believing that I should have done more.

I still wonder if I could have done more.

I baked these cookies this past weekend, the first baking I’ve done since returning from our cruise. Baking is therapy for me, maybe more so than cooking is. The precision of the measurements, the exactness of technique – it’s a comforting process. And, of course, taking a bite of a warm oatmeal cookie, fresh from the oven, provides the solace like that of wrapping a warm blanket around yourself on a damp, chilly day.

I wish I’d had some of these oatmeal cookies, warm from the oven, to give to my patient along with that $20 bill.  He deserves them right now, more than anyone I know.

Yield: approx 45 cookies

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Oatmeal Cookies with White Chocolate and Peanut Butter Chips

Is there anything more comforting than a warm oatmeal cookie, especially when loaded with peanut butter chips and white chocolate chips? I don't think so.

Note: This dough can be made in advance and stored in the refrigerator for up to one week. Or, freeze balls of dough in the freezer for up to one month.


2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1-1/2 cups firmly packed light brown sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 large eggs
8 ounces white chocolate chips
6 ounces peanut butter chips


Place oven rack in middle of oven and preheat oven to 325 degrees.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and nutmeg. Add oats and stir until well blended. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, on medium-high speed, beat together the butter and sugar until fluffy. Beat in vanilla, then add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Gradually beat in flour and oat mixture. Add white chocolate chips and peanut butter chips, beating until just combined.

(Note: You may store dough in refrigerator, covered, at this point.)

Form rounded tablespoons of dough into balls (measuring 1-1/2 inches across) and place on cookie sheet lined with parchment paper about 2 inches apart.

Bake cookies in batches in middle of oven for 20 minutes, or until pale golden. Cool cookies on baking sheet for 5 minutes, then transfer to baking rack to cool completely.