Junkfood Science: For all of the children — Thank you, Paul Newman

September 28, 2008

For all of the children — Thank you, Paul Newman

Ten years ago, a little cookbook with kid-friendly recipes for families to make together was published. This was a very special little cookbook. It was filled with tender letters from children who’d gotten to go to Hole in the Wall Gang Camp. It was impossible to read without getting swept up in the spirit of hope, love and courage of these young campers... and of the extraordinary vision of the man behind Hole in the Wall Gang Camps. All of the proceeds from this cookbook went to the Hole in the Wall Gang Camps, a year-round camping program that provides children with cancer and other serious illnesses the camping experience of their life... with a focus on life, fun and being a kid. All free of charge.

The cookbook was Hole in the Wall Gang: Kid-Friendly Recipes for Families to Make Together by Paul Newman and A.E. Hotchner. The recipes were from Paul Newman’s family, friends and winners of Newman’s cooking contest. Mr. Newman opened by lamenting how the kitchen has been under attack and how many children never know the joy of cooking and a love of food. While bringing children into the kitchen was one goal of this book, the larger one, of course, was to support the charity he founded more than twenty years ago.

While not a scientist or doctor, Mr. Newman loved these children. He envisioned a place where children could come, strictly for fun and to enjoy a carefree camp experience that could heal their spirits, encourage, inspire and restore hope and confidence. But it would also have 24/7 medical supervision, with all of the modern medical equipment and top medical professionals that any medical emergency might need. The first Hole in the Wall Camp opened in 1988 in the Connecticut woods and today, there are eleven camp programs around the world. Over 135,000 children have had the chance to attend a camp and be a kid again. The program also provides year-round support to families and caregivers, offering respite, counseling, support, training and other assistance.

Five summers ago, I came to the Hole in the Wall for the first time. I was a short-haired twelve year old suffering form nonHodgkins lymphoma and undergoing chemotherapy. It wasn’t until my second year that I realized the friends I made here were unlike my friends anywhere else. I had the best summer of my life... This isn’t a camp about sick children. For sick children, yes. But once you drive through those gates, that’s not what it’s about at all. It’s about life. A life that all of the campers never got to lead anywhere else, and hopefully most of the children of the world will never have to face. — Norah from Hole in the Wall Gang: Kid-Friendly Recipes for Families to Make Together

The most meaningful stories, of course, come from the children. One camper, Colneth Smiley Jr., remembered his summer, writing in the Boston Herald today:

Paul Newman and Me: A Hole in the Wall kid remembers

Paul Newman was a silver-screen legend - but he was also the guy who gave me some of my happiest childhood memories. As a young lad in Mattapan in the ’80s, I was one of those sickly kids in and out of the hospital, diagnosed with what was then considered a terminal disease, with a prognosis from doctors that I wouldn’t live past my 20s.

Ah, those were the days. Because of my illness, I got to go to The Hole In The Wall Gang Camp... Looking back at it now, that camp was friggin’ awesome. It was even better than some family vacations, because I got to get away from worried relatives who constantly reminded me that I shouldn’t do this or I shouldn’t do that. At Paul Newman’s camp, a kid - as sick as he or she was - was allowed to be a kid. I went horseback riding, camping, swimming, fly-fishing and canoeing. I loved my log cabin. And the young counselors, volunteers and caring staff seemed to make all us young campers forget about our worries so that we could focus on the important thing - having fun...

I’m grown now, and my doctors were wrong - I breezed through my 20s. But I learned to overcome some obstacles by toughing it out like “Butch” in Newman’s camp, which still sits in the boonies of Connecticut, and from what I understand has grown into something even more extraordinary. So, on behalf of all the sickly kids that just wanted to live life and be kids - thanks, Mr. Newman. You will be missed.

Hole in the Wall Camps, the charity that Paul Newman founded, posted a special tribute to him today on its website, where you can also learn all about these camps and how you can help support this living legacy.

And if you’re lucky and have a copy of the cookbook, or even if you don’t, gather the kids into the kitchen and bake cookies in memory of a pretty cool man.

Hole in the Wall Gang Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 ¾ cups flour
¾ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup (1 stick) butter, softened
½ cup chunky peanut butter
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup packed light brown sugar
½ cup white sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup chocolate chips
1 cup chopped toffee-coated peanuts

Place oven rack in center of the oven. Preheat oven to 350º oven. Line 2 cookies sheets with parchment paper.

Stir together the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl, beat together the butter, peanut butter and vanilla with a wooden spoon until smooth. Mix in the brown and white sugar, but don’t beat. Add the eggs and mix with the spoon. Gradually stir in the dry ingredients, mixing in just until combined. [Overworking the dough toughens it.]

Stir in the chocolate chips and toffee peanuts.

Drop the dough by heaping teaspoons onto the prepared cookie sheets, about 2 inches apart. With a wet spoon, gently flatten each mound of dough until it’s about ½-inch thick.

Bake, one pan at a time, for 7-8 minutes, until the edges are just golden brown.

Remove from the oven and cool. Remove from the pan. Makes about 3 dozen small cookies.

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