When Zach Braff chose to set the drug-spotted, somewhat plotless film Garden State to a Shins soundtrack and feature a beautifully natural and helmet-wearing Natalie Portman, he would unknowingly subject us all to the palpable and self-induced existential crises of American adolescence. Developing faster than a shrub of marigolds in a Miracle Grow commercial, “tolerable emo” sprouted up from the ashes of burnout culture. For those readers who haven’t seen Garden State, hearing a review that “it changed my life,” most likely comes from the same person who said, “Oh my god, ‘Brick’ by Ben Folds is so sad. He talked all about it in concert–really intense.” (Yea… we know.) Sure it’s easy to jab at its moodiness, but  Garden State does effectively show a side of New Jersey unfamiliar to most: residential homes with green plots of land and humans without beta-carotene dyed skin. From a Jersey girl who doesn’t fist-pump I say, Kudos, Braff.

A graduate of Northwestern University and Columbia High School in Maplewood, NJ, Braff has acknowledged our state’s bad rap. He told the Associated Press, “Most people who come in and out of New Jersey go through Newark International Airport and they see the environment around there, and people make jokes and it (creates a perception) that it’s a gross place to live. But anyone who goes south of Exit 14 (on the New Jersey Turnpike) knows [what it looks like].” Aside from our ripe tomatoes and sweet, firm blueberries, we produce the third largest amount of cranberries nationwide. You can find dried cranberries year-round in local supermarkets. That way, you circumvent those matters of ripeness and shelf-life.


Some of you may have caught on to my super-sneaky plan to erase your false notions of New Jersey in this piece while simultaneously supporting my home state’s farmers and a Northwestern alumnus. You caught me. Here are my top three favorite recipes that include the dried versions of those sweet, chewy suckers. I make ’em when I can muster up the will power to put the bag down rather than inhale its entirety one sitting. Resealable closures are overrated.

Photo by Mackenzie Barth

For a sweet tooth:  You can rationalize these cranberry oatmeal cookies as a healthy breakfast treat, or eat them whenever. I like to keep a batch of the dough frozen and pop one in the oven as-desired.

You’ll Need:

  • 3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup packed light-brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup dried cranberries

1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
2. In a large bowl, combine oats, flour, wheat germ, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt
3. In another bowl, mix butter and sugars with an electric mixer until pale and fluffy, about 5 minutes.
4. Mix eggs and vanilla into wet mixture.
5. Add oats mixture and mix until combined.  Add dried cranberries.
6. Space 1 ½ inch diameter dough balls two inches apart on parchment-lined baking sheets. Slightly flatten them. Bake at 350° F for 13 minutes, or until edges are golden brown.

If you’re pressed for time, but looking for a cranberry cookie amongst the oh-so-popular chocolate chip, head over to Bat 17 on Benson Ave in Evanston for their vanilla iced monstrous version.

For entertaining: About ten years ago while we perused Williams-Sonoma, my family sampled a dish they called “Half-cup chicken.” You only need one measuring cup. It’s a meal simple enough for those in a rush, but impressively balanced between candied and savory. I’ve adapted the dish to use lower-cost ingredients and a slow cooker (use a Crock-Pot!), so you won’t have to leave your party to tend to the food. Fashionably late guests might miss out though!

You’ll Need:

  • ½ cup balsamic vinegar
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • ½ cup dried cranberries
  •  ½ cup chickpeas

Brown chicken thighs in hot oil in a heavy-bottomed pan over the stove. Season with salt and pepper. Place on medium in a slow cooker for 3-5 hours in the marinade:

Serve over a bed of arugula and brown rice.

For a drink:  Replace a mimosa’s orange juice with cranberry, drop some dried cranberries in the glass to come to live again, and you’ve got yourself a pink primrose colored drink in honor of the Garden State. The Primrosa will keep you choosing between “I love it” and “I love it… a lot.”

Photo by Kelda Baljon