Dr. Chicken's PCT Cookies

It’s raining in Ohio right now, but it’s probably not raining where my big brother is. That would be somewhere between Kennedy Meadows and Tuolumne Meadows in California’s High Sierra. He’s thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. Every now and then as I go about my daily routines—walking the dog through the cemetery, driving to pick Frances up from preschool, washing dirty pots and pans—I think to myself, “What’s Mark up to at this moment?”

Only he’s not Mark on the trail; he’s Dr. Chicken, or D.C. This trail name of his has a legitimate origin, though I forget exactly what it is. I imagine Dr. Chicken scrambling up a jagged path of scree, taking in noble, wild scenery that most of us only see on wall calendars. Or I imagine him emerging from his ultra-light tent at 4am to get a head start on the day. But usually I picture him eating. Thru-hikers blast through calories and need plenty of fuel.

A few weeks ago, my mother and I put together the food resupply box he’d requested us to have ready . “I’ll need 5-6 days of food” he’d texted me. “Best send by May 17.” Yes, he has a cell phone, and it has come in handy, even though I know Dr. Chicken’s impetus in taking to the PCT was, in part, to escape the frippery of technology and constant communication.

Thanks in part to Cheryl Strayed’s mega-successful book Wild, the PCT is hopping this season. The film adaptation comes out in December, and PCT traffic will probably increase after that. Which is not bad, but the character of a thing changes as more and more people show up. That’s just the way it works.

My brother, D.C., is changing, too. A nonconformist and borderline ascetic, he’s felt trapped in his past few jobs coordinating trail maintenance workers in the backcountry of Alaska and Washington. As the old song goes, he was born the next of kin to the wayward wind. He yearns to wander. All those footsteps on dry desert earth and rocky soil are leading him to some kind of resolution.

I wanted to meet up with D.C. on the Oregon leg of the PCT for a few days, but it’s just not going to happen. I have a kid and a husband and work to do; I long ago squandered all of my wayward-wind days. The best I could do was bake cookies. I packed them up in Ziplock bags and tucked them into the box Mom and I jammed with way too much food, despite his texted assurances not to go too crazy.

I love telling people what my brother’s up to. He’s doing the thing a lot of us wish we could do. I doubt he wakes us up thinking what his sister and little niece are up to, but you never know. He’s out there hiking this thing for himself, but he doesn’t know he’s hiking it for me, too.

Dr. Chicken’s PCT Cookies

Makes 3-1/2 dozen large or 5 dozen small cookies

Plenty of hearty rolled oats, big chunks of roasted almonds, and a generous volume of dark chocolate chips make these modified cowboy cookies hit all of the right textures. I like them for a mid-morning snack. Hopefully Dr. Chicken did, too. To get the most coconut flavor, use extra-virgin coconut oil. It’s not cheap, but its tropical aroma alone is just divine. Some brands of coconut oil are flavor-neutral. Use those and your cookies will still taste pretty great.

  • 1 cup extra-virgin coconut oil, solid
  • 2 cups rolled oats or quick oats
  • 2 cups all-purpose or white whole wheat flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ¾ teaspoon table salt
  • 2 tablespoons finely ground flaxseed or chia seeds
  • 4 ounces (1/2 cup) applesauce, preferably unsweetened
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ¼ teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 cup brown sugar, light or dark
  • 12 ounces (2 cups) chocolate chips (check to see if they are vegan, if that’s a concern)
  • 2 cups whole almonds, toasted and roughly chopped
  • 1-3 tablespoons water

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Position baking racks in the top and bottom third of the oven.

If it’s warm and your coconut oil is quite liquidy, pour one cup into a glass measuring cup and chill in the refrigerator for an hours or so, until it’s firmer.

Place one cup of the oats in a food processor or blender and pulse on and off until the oats are in smaller pieces, but not too powdery. Put all 2 cups of the oats in a large bowl. Add the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt and stir to combine.

Stir the ground flax or chia seeds together with the applesauce and vanilla in a small bowl, and set aside to thicken.

Meanwhile, put the coconut oil in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Beat until it’s relatively smooth. Add the brown sugar and beat on high speed, scraping down the sides with a rubber spatula from time to time, until the mixture is lighter in texture and has a somewhat pearly look (about 3 minutes). Add the applesauce mixture and beat another minute.

Scrape down the bowl once more, than add the oat-flour mixture. Beat until combined (this dough will be a bit crumbly, but if it looks particularly dry, add one or two tablespoons of water.) Add the chocolate chips and almonds and beat just until they are distributed nicely through the dough.

Scoop out balls of dough that are about 1-1/2 inches in diameter for large cookies, 1 inch for smaller cookies. Place the dough balls on an ungreased, unlined baking sheet, 12 to a sheet. Flatten each dough ball with your palm a little (these cookies will not spread much during baking). Bake about 8-10 minutes, rotating the sheet from top to bottom and back to front halfway through baking. Let the cookies sit on the baking sheet 5 minutes before transferring them with a thin metal spatula to a cooling rack. Cookies will keep, tightly covered, for about a week. I think. They’re usually gone by day 5 or earlier.