“I don't like the idea of being eaten by a shark. I like to swim in the ocean, and I think much more about sharks than anyone should. I really resent the fact that my oceangoing experiences are ruined by 'Jaws.’” - David Duchovny, actor
In 1975, Steven Spielberg released a movie that so terrified viewers who were watching in theaters, it caused many to pledge never to go swimming at the beach again. It was simply called “Jaws.” I was still in elementary school at the time of its release, so I wasn’t allowed to watch it, and believe me, I didn’t mind. A few of my friends had been permitted to see it, and the tales they told of it, plus the image on movie posters everywhere of the giant shark rising from the water, were enough to make me nervous about swimming for months.
When we moved to Florida less than a year after the movie’s release, I was thrilled. I loved playing on the beach, making sandcastles and swimming with my family. But then I’d catch sight of a dolphin swimming along, dorsal fin exposed, and I’d be certain we were all about to be massacred, right there on St. Joe Beach. Mom would assure me that it was a dolphin, pointing out the curve of the faraway fin. I wasn’t convinced. I got out of the water and finished the day by watching them all swim as I drank my juice and had a peanut butter cookie, all the while hearing the ominous music in the back of my mind as I scanned the waves: “Da dum. Da dam. Da dum...” in rising crescendo.
As a few weeks passed and no one I knew was devoured by any sharks, I became more comfortable going into the water again. Any beach resident will tell you common sense things to know about sharks, such as not going in the water at early morning or dusk feeding times, not swimming around fishing piers, and keeping a watchful eye on the water beyond where you are swimming, for example. I felt safe knowing my parents and grandparents were on the lookout and wouldn’t let anything happen to us.
One day, however, we had all gone down to the beach to swim, when something happened. Dad and Granddaddy had gone out swimming beyond where the rest of us were hanging out in our inner tubes, and were in water about shoulder deep. Suddenly, something started banging against their legs, and they ordered us to leave the water as they quickly swam in to more shallow water, themselves. Granddaddy had seen a small shark during the incident. No teeth marks, nothing bad, but needless to say, it was a few more days before I’d dip my toes cautiously into the water again.
As the years ticked by, I got closer looks at sharks when they were caught off the shores of Gulf and Bay counties by people fishing from the beach. And once, I was on one of Mr. Guy Gibson’s commercial boats when the men brought up the net and lowered it onto the deck. There, in the midst of all the other underwater creatures that they pulled up … flipping fish, shiny shrimp, and the like … was a good-sized shark.
It was amazing to see it up close while in a safe place, where I wasn’t afraid that I’d be mauled. I felt a little sorry for the fellow, honestly. I don’t remember now whether he was released back into the water, but I do remember some of the crew saying that he would make some good shark steaks, and being unsure if they were teasing me or were serious. Either way, that experience left me certain of the fact that sharks are beautiful, powerful, intimidating creatures whose home we are swimming in when we go to the beach. We must respect that we are their guests, essentially, and that they are an important part of the ecosystem of the Gulf.
Cable channels have certainly cashed in on the awe humans seem to have for sharks. Shark Week has been a huge success for the Discovery Channel. The week-long event, featuring content exclusively about sharks, began in the summer of 1988, and continues to gain in popularity year after year. I don’t watch it, honestly. I love our beaches so much that I’m afraid watching too much of that kind of thing, as interesting as it may be, will send me back up onto the beach drinking juice and eating peanut butter cookies. But if you’re into it, it’s going on through this weekend, I believe, on that channel.
And if something bumps up hard against your legs next time you're in deep water, get the heck out of there for awhile and go chomp on one of my peanut butter cookies, ok? I think you’ll like them.
Peanut Butter-White Chocolate Chip Cookies
1 1/4 cups plain flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup peanut butter at room temperature (not tested with natural peanut butter; use at your own risk)
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 tablespoon milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup peanut butter chips (found wherever chocolate chips are located; if unavailable, just double the chocolate chips)
1/2 cup chocolate chips or white chocolate chips
For rolling: 1 tablespoon sugar, plus more as needed
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter and peanut butter together until fluffy.
Add the sugars and beat until smooth.
Then, add the egg and mix well.
Add the milk and the vanilla extract, and mix until smooth and fluffy.
Add the flour mixture to the peanut butter mixture, and mix until flour is incorporated into the dough.
Finally, stir in the peanut butter chips and chocolate chips.
Place the sugar, for rolling dough balls in, into a small bowl. Drop dough by rounded teaspoonfuls (or use a medium cookie scoop) into the sugar, then onto ungreased nonstick cookie sheets (or lined with parchment paper), leaving several inches between each dough ball. Using a fork, lightly indent with a crisss-cross pattern (I often use the back of a small offset spatula for a smooth top instead, but if you want crisscrosses, go for it), but do not overly flatten cookies as you do so.
Bake for 10 to 12 minutes. Do not overbake; cookies may appear to be slightly underdone, which is perfect.
Cool the cookies on the baking sheets for one minute, then remove to a rack to cool completely.
Makes about 33 with medium OXO cookie scoop that I use at home.
Stephanie Hill-Frazier is a writer, food blogger and regional television chef, whose on-air nickname is "Mama Steph.” She grew up in Gulf County, on St. Joe Beach, a place she will forever call home.
She is married and has three sons, including one who once caught a (tiny) shark. You can find more of her recipes at WhatSouthernFolksEat.com or email her at Steph@whatsoutherfolkseat.com