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Fork in the Road: Beyond art—Isobel MacLaurin was also a Cookie Monster queen

Make her famous peanut butter cookies and the beat will go on…
Isobel MacLaurin’s peanut butter cookies tasted as good as they looked. She whipped them up at the MacLaurin home on Alpha Lake, with a world map constantly reminding her of their many trips.

No two ways about it—Isobel MacLaurin was a spectacularly unique character amongst the sea of characters who made Whistler Whistler. After all, anyone who considers the best card from her last and final birthday the one that said, “Happy birthday, coffin dodger!” has to be a character. Especially when she hand-painted her own coffin!

But Izzy was way more than that.

A trailblazer deeply embedded in community, at Whistler and beyond. (Likewise, her equally amazing husband, Don—a forester and environmentalist.) A lifelong artist with such a huge portfolio it blew everyone away—including Izzy—when they finally saw it all in one place at her first and only retrospective at the Maury Young Arts Centre. No coincidence, given her ties to Arts Whistler, it was the same venue where her celebratory wake was held after she died in February. She was 92 but, really, 29 to the end.

One thing that always struck me was Isobel was the ultimate sharer. She generously volunteered teaching art to “kids” of all ages in all kinds of places, from Whistler to East Vancouver, even Australia. She also enjoyed this huge reputation around Whistler for sharing something entirely different, besides her ever-present champagne—cookies!

But here we have to back up for a sec, because apparently Izzy was not a great cook at first. So says her daughter, Jill, who now lives in Tasmania as does her sister, Sue, but came to Whistler starting in the ’60s with her other siblings, Lee and Mark (a.k.a. Mushroom Mark to many longtime locals)

“Back in the day when mom and dad were first married, mom didn’t know how to cook because her mother, Noreen, was a great cook and didn’t let mom in the kitchen. So when mom married—it was the women back in the day that did the cooking—mom needed to learn how, and took various classes and whatever,” says Jill.

“So when she made her first cookies,  dad... “ Here Jill hesitates, stifling laughter. “Dad did this particular thing, which he would never do again—it’s not him. But he intentionally dropped a cookie on his toe, feigning it being very hard.” After that, he quickly became her biggest cooking advocate.

As things went, all the MacLaurin “kids” considered her a great cook (and baker), with so many family favourites you can’t count them all.

Lee recalls huge turkeys cooked twice a year with delicious stuffing and cranberry sauce (and all the subsequent turkey soup). Boston baked beans done up in a giant pot that almost filled the oven. And, of course, cookies. Many cookies.

Sue remembers pumpkin-shaped cookies elaborately decorated with candies for Halloween. And chocolate chip cookies that eventually morphed into amazing chocolate chip cookie houses, instead of the traditional gingerbread, that Isobel engineered into A-frames so common around Whistler once upon a time. As Izzy’s grandchildren in Australia noted at her wake, she even went into their schools to teach kids and parents alike how to make those A-frames. One session alone saw 64 students!

For more MacLaurin gems, try Whistler Recipes, the old cookbook from the Whistler Museum. You’ll find their hot buttered rum, featuring honey along with the traditional brown sugar and butter. (“Oh yes, that was dad! He was also a master of glühwein,” Jill says.) And a touch of Polynesia with Izzy’s sweet and sour sauce to which she added pineapple. Perfect, since the MacLaurins spent time there.

There’s also Izzy’s dad’s cookies recipe. But it’s her peanut butter ones that stick in the hearts and minds of many a Whistlerite when they think of Isobel MacLaurin.

Jill figures it all started around the time her dad died in 2014. Izzy would bake up a storm and deliver them personally all around Whistler. The museum; Pique’s office; lifties; muni hall; Whistler Blackcomb offices; liquor stores; her bank and hairdresser; parking attendants—all were lucky recipients of her peanut butter cookies. Sometimes Iz even enjoyed a few perks in return. (Unofficial “bribes” Mark calls them with a laugh.)

Lucky Brad Nichols from the museum. At her wake, he won the last batch of Izzy’s peanut butter cookies, excavated from one of her many freezers. And now you can enjoy some, too.


Here’s the recipe for those famous (or is that infamous?) peanut butter cookies, right from Izzy’s own duct-taped copy of The Fannie Farmer Cookbook, which looks like a brick of some kind of illegal substance a drug mule would carry across a border. Neo-hippies take note: Fannie Farmer was a staple amongst the original ’60s hipster crowd. Also note the note preceding the recipe. It could have been written by Izzy herself: “These are one of our household favourites and have been for over 35 years. My husband ate thousands of these…” I bet he never dropped one on his foot!

Peanut butter cookies [Makes 50-60 cookies]

1 cup shortening

1 tsp. vanilla

1 cup granulated sugar

1 cup brown sugar

2 eggs, beaten

1 cup peanut butter

3 cups flour

1/4 tsp. salt

2 tsp. baking soda

Preheat the oven to 350 F and grease some cookie sheets. In a mixing bowl, thoroughly cream the shortening, vanilla and sugars. Add the eggs and beat well. Stir in the peanut butter. Mix together the flour, salt and baking soda and add to the peanut butter mixture, combining thoroughly. Form into tiny balls with the palms of your hands and place on the cookie sheets. Press each cookie twice with the back of a fork to make a crisscross design. Bake about 8-10 minutes or until firm.

Note: As you can see from the photo above, Isobel also added a generous handful of blanched peanuts, plus she had her own creative way with shapes—no forks involved.

Bake up a big batch anytime, and pass them around—generously and kindly—in your community, wherever you live. Isobel would love it.

Glenda Bartosh is an award-winning journalist who’s now hungry for those peanut butter cookies.