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Julie Van Rosendaal's Cookie Revelation

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By Malcolm Jolley

Julie Van Rosendaal changed my life in that whole, complete and irretrievable way that only passionate food writers can. Her book, One Smart Cookie is a national bestseller that, if you live east of Winnipeg, you’ve probably never heard of. It’s collection of low fat cookie recipes, which does not sound awe inspiring at first, but after I flipped through half a dozen or so of tasty looking recipes I had a serious road to Damascus moment. I am not stretching when I say the revelation has affected me as a consumer, a cook, a food writer and even as a father. Her book showed me the way by getting me to ask the question: why would you ever buy a package of cookies again? Seriously, why would you when baking a sheet of cookies is so plain easy and fun. And as Ms. Van Rosendaal’s lengthy introduction to her book makes plain, why would you when cookies made from scratch will only contain those ingredients that you choose to put in at the quantity you choose to put in. Her cookie recipes are more than smart, they’re health food for body and soul.

In her 20s, Calgary’s Julie Van Rosendaal turned a small and successful cookie baking business into a book. When she found her self getting up at one in the morning to service her coffee shop and fitness club clients, she decided to trade her apron for a laptop. The first edition of One Smart Cookie was self published and when she sold-out the entire run of 10,000, Vancouver’s Whitecap Books wisely picked it up. I say wisely because their author is a one woman communications industry with a TV show, HGTV’s 'It’s Just Food' with Chef Ned Bell, a morning drive-time CBC Radio column, two other self published books, Grazing and Starting Out and a network of food writer friends stretching across Alberta and over the Rockies into BC and not one but two blogs: juliewashere.blogspot.com and dinnerwithjulie.com. The latter records every one of her dinners for the entire year of 2008. Smart: she’ll always have something to write about.

Julie puts herself firmly in the prairie tradition of Jean Paré’s Company’s Coming series. It’s what inspired her to become a cookbook writer in the first place. When I met her recently, I was struck by her lack of artifice and friendly can-do demeanour. Not that she’s unsophisticated ? far from it she’s as attuned to the trends out of Berkeley or London as any of the gourmet press. It’s just that she really cares about her readers and thinks that they ought to enjoy a cookie or two.

One Smart Cookie’s subtitle is "All your favorite cookies, squares, brownies and biscotti" with less fat!? and it’s sort of a diet book, I guess. Although Julie doesn’t agree, she doesn’t agree with diets at all: ?Diets have 5% success rate. I don’t like those odds.? And she should know. At one point she weighed in at 330 pounds. As a severely underweight baby, due to complications with her mother’s pregnancy, she figures she has a built-in predisposition to weight gain, which made shedding the pounds all the more difficult. So, how did she do it without a diet? ?Well, I did eat less. But I also changed my life and became more active. And I became much more careful about what I ate.? That would include easing up on fat intake, which is not a radical idea unless you incorporate it into a chocolava cookie, her ?low fat? trademark.

?People feel so guilty about eating a single cookie, when we’re genetically programmed to enjoy them. It's so sad and it makes me angry. You should be able to eat two cookies without feeling bad about yourself. There are a lot worse things to do? This is the crux of Julie Van Rosendaal’s cookie revolution: relax and eat the cookie. Even two. And just to make it easier on you: don’t use so much fat in your recipe. Apparently cookies made with a quarter of the amount of butter found in the recipe on the back of those chocolate chip packages taste just as good. ?A cookie without fat is a cracker,? she explains, ?but you only need so much for flavour and mouthfeel. After that point it’s just extra calories.? Van Rosendaal spent a year tinkering with the fat levels with all her cookies, so each recipe is specifically calibrated to minimise calories without sacrificing flavour. And they smell just as good baking in the oven, she assures me.

It’s pretty simple, when you think of it. Bake cookies and be happy.


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