Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Italian Lemon Cookies

***WARNING: long, rambling blog post ahead featuring dental mishaps. Scroll down for recipe.***

I have a long history of hating dentist visits. When I was 8, I knocked out the bottom half of my top, front tooth when my bike collided with another kid's bike. A neighborhood mom sent me running for home, crying, carrying the tooth fragment in my hand.

I don't remember much about the incident other than being taken to the VA hospital where my uncle -- a dentist -- was working. Earlier in the day, an HIV-positive patient had been in and the dental station where he'd been was taped off with yellow and black "danger" tape. I was hurried past, the adults speaking in urgent, hushed tones. In my uncle's station, I lay back in the chair, frightened and struggling not to see my broken tooth reflected in my uncle's protective goggles.
Bonding was placed on the remaining shard of my front incisor, remaining there for nearly 20 years until that same uncle replaced it with a well-crafted porcelain crown. I was heavily sedated.

In my middle school years, there were a number of visits to Dr. Ianuzzi, who filled the cavities dotting my molars. Ianuzzi was tall, dark and hairy, with the gentleness and temperament of frustrated serial killer. His hygienists -- and I have found many hygienists to be this way -- were overly permed, lids heavy with blue eyeshadow, and spoke in cooing, cotton-candy toned voices, better suited for pre-school TV programming than legitimate medicine.

Two years ago, I visited yet another dentist for a check up. With barely contained glee, she pointed to my new X-rays, and asked me, "What's wrong with this picture?"
Not being a dentist, I could only guess. So she pointed again -- to the three wisdom teeth that had not "erupted," and pointed at other teeth in 45-degree angles, on a trajectory never to emerge above the gum line. The one wisdom tooth which had made it out should be extracted, too. ("Might as well!" she'd chirped .) I'd need $5,000 in dental work. The wisdom teeth -- an oral surgeon who would cut into my gums and chisel out the bloody fragments -- would cost extra.

I am finally addressing that dental work she recommended, albeit at another dentist, for a much lower price ($1,500). Today, he replaced three fillings first installed during the Ianuzzi days, and if not THE most traumatic dental experience I've had, it's certainly up there.

I suppose he's not a fan of the topical anesthetic that gives some relief to the giant needle entering a patients gums, as he injected me not once, not twice, but three times with a torture device from Orin Scrivello's office. A tear ran from the corner of my right eye, rolled down my check and landed in my hair. I was handed a tissue.

Then, metal clamps were put on my teeth, which helped hold onto the latex dental dam he then stretched across my mouth. "OK," he said. "Now we're ready." At first, I wasn't sure if he was referring to dental work or oral sex but, when I saw a loud, spinning drill head approaching my mouth, I resigned myself to the former.

The next two hours were filled with drilling, scraping, pushing, picking, and grinding. Had The Big Dig been rerouted to teeth 19, 20 & 29? Was he pushing my molar around because it had gotten fresh with him?

When he asked his assistant for a "ball burner," I'd never been so happy not to have testicles.

When it was finally done, he told me I'd be sore when the anesthetic wore off. (It did, and I am.) On his way out of the room, he told me not to eat until I'd gained feeling back, otherwise I might "bite off [my] tongue or lip and not even know it."

It was at this moment that I finally cracked, leaving his assistant to explain which teeth should be done next to me, a visibly shaken, teary-eyed patient. "Are you OK?" she asked, surprised. "Was it something we did? Said?"

I smiled as best I could with a jaw, chin, bottom lip, and tongue completely without feeling and said, "It's me. I'm just freaked out by all this. Where's the bathroom?"

I left the office 10 minutes later, $450 lighter and an appointment to go back in two weeks.

It didn't really hit me until I got home (conveniently just around the corner from the DDS) how upset I was, and how badly I needed a distraction. With that, I decided to bake up some Italian Lemon Cookies I've long been meaning to make. While the work involved did little to distract me from my numbed and swollen jaw (note: when my tongue is numb, so are my taste buds) now that both the cookies are done and I've regained most of the feeling in my mouth, they are a comfort. (Well, the one bite I had was a comfort. Now that the anesthetic has worn off, I'm sore from the injections. The fun doesn't stop.)

Back to the cookies: they're cakey, soft and a bit crumby, with a subtle lemon balanced with a gentle sweetness. Mmm-mmm. I'm looking forward to eating a whole mess of them tomorrow.

Italian Lemon Cookies (from Wegmans Menu Magazine Holiday 2004, pg. 54)

1 cup shortening (if desired, use butter in place of half or all the shortening)
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
4 eggs
1/3 cup plus 2 Tbsp sour cream
2 1/4 tsp lemon extract
1 tsp vanilla extract
Grated zest of 1 lemon
4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
4 1/2 tsp baking powder

1 cup confectioners' sugar
2-3 Tbsp warm milk
1/2 tsp lemon juice (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Beat together shortening and sugar in medium bowl until light. Add eggs, sour cream, lemon extract, vanilla extract, and lemon zest; beat until combined, scraping down sides of bowl. Combine flour and baking powder; add to mixture in bowl and beat just until moistened.

Shape dough into small balls, using about 1 level Tbsp for each. Arrange about 1 inch apart on parchment paper-lined cookie sheets. Bake 10 to 12 minutes, until lightly browned. Do not over bake. Remove from pans and cool.

Combine confectioners' sugar and milk in small bowl; whip lightly with spoon until smooth and slightly thick. Add lemon juice if desired; stir briskly until well-combined. Dip tops of cookies into icing; decorate with sprinkles if desired. Let set until icing is dry to the touch. Store in closed container.

Yield: approximately 4 dozen cookies.

Nutrition Info: Each serving (2 cookies) contains 160 calories, 22g carbohydrate (0g fiber), 2g protein, 7g fat (2g saturated fat), 25mg cholesterol and 70mg sodium.


Unknown said...

Wow! I have a similar story...I flipped over my bike in second grade and knocked one of my front teeth COMPLETELY out and chipped the other. They put the tooth back in and fixed the other. They are still in place but I have a feeling I'll have to get a veneer or crown or something at somepoint. Fortunately, I had a GREAT endodontist and the tooth was dead, so no shots needed. My dentist now uses the topical anesthetic and is a GREAT shot giver, I never feel it.

Now to the cookies, they look SO good and I'm sure I'll try them at some point...tagging this!

Anonymous said...

Oh you poor thing!! :( I hate the dentist too, but your writing makes the experiences sound positively horrifying! I'm glad you managed to distract yourself from the ordeal with these adorable little cookies though :)

Laura Rebecca said...

Claire,I can't believe you have a similar story! You poor thing! I don't think I could have dealt with a complete knock out AND a chip -- then or now. (When you tell people about this, do they ask to see your front teeth? They always do if I mention my experience, which is kind of odd. If someone tells me about their surgery, I don't ask to see their scars...)

I'm kind of suprised at yesterday's visit. I'd had other filling work (two top incisors)done by him about a month ago and even without the topical, the shot and everything else was fine. I'm not sure why yesterday was so different but I've decided to become one of those patients who asks for some sort of sedative (sweet air, whatever) before anything else is done.

Still, what kind of modern dentist doesn't use topical anethestic? WTF?

Ellie, aww, thank you! I think most people are squeamish about visiting the dentist (clearly, I am), so I'm wondering why more people in the profession don't seem to address that.

Deborah said...

I hear you!! I was at the dentist about a year ago to get 3 cavities filled - after hours of torture and having my mouth wide open the whole time, my jaw hurt so badly. I even went back a week later so they could check if something was wrong with my jaw because it still hurt. I hate going to the dentist.

But your cookies look great!! I'm going to give these a try sometime!

Chris said...

I am so, so sorry to hear your dental woes! I can relate, having regular dental appointments since October...root canals, crowns, gum stuff....and I am not done yet! With all the money I've spent 10 months, I could have bought some luxury car outright! But, like you I make when I get home to get my mind off things. Your Italian Lemon Cookies look absolutely delicious!

Laura Rebecca said...

Deborah & Chris -- Aieeeee!! Horrible. But the cookies will make you feel better! (But if your mouth is tender, leave off the sprinkles. I didn't think about it ahead of time, but they add an extra -- and unwelcome -- crunch to recently worked on teeth.)

Unknown said...

Hey I fell in love with these Italian lemon cookies from the bakery and i tried your recipe.. i found it not lemon-y enough? Do you think it's ok to add more lemon extract??