The Joy of Filboid Studge

I could squeak through fasting rules with a 'Virtue Cookie,' but should I try to?

A person can only hope to accomplish so much in a lifetime, and of course many of the better discoveries (fire, the wheel, the home Jeopardy game) have already been taken. But I can rest easier now that my own contribution to mankind has been perfected. I have discovered the moral equivalent of oatmeal.

It goes like this. You know that eating oatmeal is the most noble act a human can perform in the course of food consumption. It's the right thing to do, as some wise man (Copernicus?) once said. This is because, face it, oatmeal is not very appealing. Once in a bowl, it transitions quickly from homey to homely, and in bright morning light is a soggy, depressing mess. What better sight to thrill our sense of duty?

H.H. Munro (pen name: Saki) played with this theme a century ago in his short story "Filboid Studge." Sales for this mushy cereal boomed when bland, cheery ads were replaced with a depiction of the damned in hell reaching for bowls held just out of reach by fiends. The new slogan ran, "They cannot buy it now."

Orthodox Christians are quite familiar with oatmeal, since it's one of the few foods indisputably allowed during the fast. We fast frequently, about half the year in all, including nearly every Wednesday and Friday, seven weeks before Pascha (Easter), six weeks before Nativity (Christmas), and two shorter periods in summer. For us, fasting means abstaining from certain foods: meat, fish, dairy, alcoholic beverages, and olive oil (some say all oils). Oatmeal for breakfast, spaghetti marinara for dinner, and a peanut butter sandwich for lunch. Over and over again.

So it was on a fast evening not long ago that I was languishing while thoughts of cookies--or better yet, cookie dough--danced in my head. Then inspiration struck. What if I made oatmeal, but left out most of the water? Added a little flour? Put in salt, brown sugar, and the pat of margarine I usually would? A few seconds in the microwave, and then a sprinkle of semi-sweet chocolate chips (they're non-dairy). Voila--cookie dough.

Basically, it's still oatmeal. Anybody who says otherwise can just step outside. And it's totally fast-worthy. I call it "Virtue Cookies." Now, even I knew there was something wrong with this picture. This, naturally, did not stop me from making up a bowlful of Virtue Cookies every night for a week. But somehow I knew it violated the spirit of the fast, that maddeningly amorphous standard that is so clear in hindsight and so foggy when viewed from the front. Technically, the dish contained no forbidden items. What nibbled at my conscience is that it was a treat.

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