Brown Sugar Choco Chunk Cookies

Brown sugar choco chunk

The kids are at camps this week, which means lunch-making has ensued. This morning's was pretty meager and I found myself scrounging for some Kirkland fruit snacks that I have hidden in the basement. Time for cookies. These are my usual, changed a bit with all brown sugar instead of white, chocolate chunks instead of chips. Yum.

I thought of posting some "let's-get-real" summer photos here. My dried up herbs and brown, bolted spinach on my peeling deck. The damp towels in piles everywhere, the tower of neglected paperwork on my desk. #$*&!! you, Pinterest! 

For the longest time, I had some rules posted on my bulletin board when the kids were younger. One was "Go outside whenever possible" (still the wisest rule I've ever made for myself). Another was "See my world (and messy house) through eyes of love."

Eyes of love. So, I bless you, old fraying beach towel. I bless you, softening once-perfect organic apricot that I should have used for something amazing. I bless you, 6 dozen half-used bottles of ancient sunscreen in 27 different obscure locations. I bless you, shedding dog, who adds 3 hours of housework onto every blessed week. I bless you, turning earth, and your persistence in providing for us no matter what we do to you.

Here's a little poem I wrote about the ordinary things in my pantry. I hope that, somehow, your ordinary becomes extraordinary this week. xo

Prayer of Thanks for Pantry Staples

For the black turtle beans,
hard, a little dusty, even,
half-filling a cannister in the back
of the pantry, and how,
after two hours in the pot,
they are creamy, soft,
warm, salty, filling this family
for a dollar. For them,
and all the daily ways
water becomes wine,
thank you.

And here's those cookies. Don't act like you didn't skip over the damn poetry for them.

Brown Sugar Choco Chunk Cookies

1 3/4 c. flour
2 c. old fashioned oats
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 1/2 c. brown sugar
1 egg + 1 egg yolk
2 cubes (1 cup) unlsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 tsp. vanilla
1 pkg. chocolate chips or chunks 

Mix first 5 ingredients together. Add egg mixture, melted butter, and vanilla. Stir until just combined. Add chocolate chunks, and refrigerate dough for a couple hours (even better overnight).

Form into balls and bake on parchment-lined sheets at 350 for 9-10 minutes, until just set. I like to do little ones, fitting 15 on a standard sized jelly roll pan. 

Advent 2014: Pecan Brown Sugar Thumbprints

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My mom has been making these since the 70's, and I think they might be the first cookies I ever baked. They are still completely magical. I'm not sure where the recipe came from--something like Good Housekeeping or Betty Crocker. We have always just called them "Thumbrints," but I notice most recipes use white sugar instead of brown, are sweeter, don't use nuts, and are most definitely sub-par. I can't believe they haven't made it only this blog yet. Your lucky day.

We ate these while decorating the tree tonight with my parents. Loretta whined because she was tired, Wyatt shot nerf hoops most the time, but I'm sitting here now next to the lit, ornament-festooned tree, feeling in my bones the sadness and nostalgia that will come when Yancey and I decorate the tree without them. I hope I'm able to let seasons come and go, to let the tide go in and out. The definition of "good" isn't that it lasts forever. But sometimes I want these days to last forever. And what a sweet longing that is.

Pecan Brown Sugar Thumbprints
I like to make these (and most cookies) quite small. They last longer, and all I really ever want is a bite with my coffee or tea. I have always used raspberry jam, but I had some quince jam thumbrpints at The London Plane that blew me away. Of course you can use whatever is in your pantry. Lemon curd would be delicious, too. And I added some flaked salt to the chopped nuts because I couldn't help myself. You can leave it out if you're not the salt freak that I am. 

1 c. (2 cubes) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 c. brown sugar (I used dark brown. Either light or dark will work.)
2 eggs, separated
1 tsp. vanilla
2 c. flour
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/4 c. finely chopped pecans or walnuts
1/2 tsp. flake salt (optional)
jam or preserves 

Preheat oven to 350.

Cream together butter and brown sugar. Beat in egg yolks and vanilla. Stir in flour, baking soda, and salt. 

Shape dough into 1" balls. Beat egg whites slighltly. Dip balls into white then roll in chopped nuts/flake salt mixture. Place cookies about 1" apart on parchment-lined baking sheets and press thumb deeply into the center of each. Bake until light brown, about 10 minutes. Cool thoroughly, then fill with jam or preserves. 

*If you check on the cookies before they're done baking and notice that the thumb indents are puffing up, you can stick your finger or a spoon in there and gently press down again so you've got maximum room for jam when they are done.

Tiramisu

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It's about time for a good old recipe, don't you think? Enough of my pontificating and opining! Emily says this is really a spirituality blog that calls itself a food blog. Sigh. Don't give me an opening, or I'll squeeze through it. 

We're celebrating Yancey's birthday all week, starting with Monday Night Dinner last night. When 10 or 12 of us gather a few Mondays a month at our house, one of my rules is I don't make dessert. But birthdays are another matter, of course, and Yancey reached back in the archives for this request. Remember when tiramisu was on every menu? Setting it down in the middle of the table last night, I remembered why.

And though it looks impressive with its beautiful layers, it could not be easier. I often bring it to Christmas gatherings as it's so festive and everyone thinks I toiled over it.

P.S. Yancey's birthday marks 25 years of the two of us knowing one another. On his 16th birthday, we sat next to one another on a high school bus. He hadn't been in in my sights at all (Jock? Ew!!), but he was after that. It took awhile for the feeling to be mutual, but that's what makes good stories. We have been so blessed with the goodness and love of each other.

Tiramisu
I got this recipe at least 15 years ago from a little stack of them at Pacific Food Importers in Seattle. I really, really miss that place. They sold ladyfingers, marscapone, and every other Mediterranean foodstuff you can think of. Thankfully, Trader Joe's sells marscapone, and they even have ladyfingers right now. A good grocery store should have the same. This probably isn't the best dessert for pregnant diners since it contains the trifecta of no-no's--raw eggs, coffee, and alcohol! But I've never worried about serving it to others and never had any problems.

4 eggs
8 Tb. sugar
4 Tb. rum, brandy, or marsala
1 lb. marscapone
1 big package ladyfingers (or 3 TJ's packages--60-75 cookies)
strongly brewed coffee or espresso (about 1 c.)
cocoa powder or chocolate shavings made with a vegetable peeler 

Get out a 9x13 glass dish.

Divide eggs, putting yolks in a medium bowl and whites in the bowl of a mixer.

Beat whites until peaked.

To the yolks, add sugar, rum, and marscapone and whisk, beat, or stir until smooth. Gently spoon in egg whites, folding until incorporated.

Quickly dip ladyfingers in coffee and place a layer in your glass dish, trying to make sure the whole bottom is covered. Pour on 1/3 of the marscapone mixture and smooth with a spatula. Repeat two more times, ending with a layer of marscapone. Refrigerate at least an hour. 

Before serving, sift cocoa powder or sprinkle chocolate shavings over the top. Cut into squares or just scoop out with a spoon.

Coconut Rice Pudding

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Today was all about Loretta.

She begged for a doll and for rice pudding. She got both.

The pudding is a Tamar Adler recipe that I've made a few times before since I usually have cold rice in the fridge and coconut milk in the pantry. 

And the doll? It called for a poem.

Girl Power

Suddenly, after seven years of girlhood,
you wanted a doll.

In the toy aisle, there's Rachel, Tess,
Ashley, Star. They have horses, roller skates,
tea sets, electric guitars, and big price tags
next to your crumpled allowance.
You pick Phoebe
because her hair is long.
You're talking to her before we're home.

I forget how much love you have to give.

Now, on the living room floor, you're brushing,
humming, cooing, changing her shoes,
making her a bed. Something in me knows
this is the easiest
being a girl will ever be--
before rejection, scales, first love, 
before unraveling, tidal desires--
one suntanned, lively second grader
who wants only a doll, a Sunday afternoon,
and snacks all around.

Coconut Rice Pudding
I don't know how Loretta got rice pudding in her head, but she did. My kids have a one-track mind (treats!) just like their mother has a one-track mind (cheese!). Phoebe had some too, of course.  

2 c. cold cooked rice
2 c. coconut milk
1 c. heavy cream
1/3 c. sugar
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
grate of nutmeg
1 tsp. vanilla
lime zest if you like

Combine all ingredients except lime zest in a heavy medium saucapan. Stir and bring to a simmer. Turn to low and cook until rice has absorbed a lot of the liquid and pudding is the consistency you like. Tamar says 50 minutes--I did more like 25. Once done, spoon into bowls and top with lime zest, if you like. (or stewed fruit, cinnamon, toasted nuts...) Phoebe likes hers plain. 

Salted Dark Chocolate Cookies with Ginger and Coconut

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Emily had a yoga circle for her 40th birthday last week. It was such a gift to be there in that room, celebrating her and the love that wound its way around the studio.

One of the things the teacher (from Seattle Yoga Arts) said was, "Think of a strength of yours that you have in spades--something you've got extra of! Put that into the circle, and freely take from the circle what it is that you lack or want. I think of it as a 'give-a-penny-take-a-penny bucket'."

This morning, my mom and her best friends had a vintage sale (beautiful and beautifully arranged treasures) and I wanted to bring something. What I have in spades is SPEED in the kitchen and a mind and heart that's always wondering, "What can I bring? What can I give?" So I made this dough last night (almost all cookies benefit from a long time in dough form), baked them this morning, and brought them warm on a cookie sheet. All of us have gifts to give. Mine often happen to be cookies.

We are leaving for our annual Ross Lake trip tomorrow. I am loaded up on novels, bags of pulled pork for the dinner I'm in charge of, and an almost desperate readiness to get out of town, away from email, and away from laundry. As I do, I'm putting some gives and gets out into the world.

I want to give:

  • My love and attention to whoever is in front of me
  • Hospitality, warmth, and food to friends, family, and strangers
  • Good questions and intent listening (instead of advice--I'm working on that) 
  • Beauty and fresh perspective
  • Humor

 I want to receive:

  • Healing for my dog, who was diagnosed with a probable neurological disorder today. I cried at the vet's office and I'm sure it won't be the last time.
  • Guidance and energy for my consulting practice so I can keep giving my gifts in the world
  • Wisdom for the groups I'm leading at church and at Loretta's school, that I can provide good leadership and a non-anxious presence
  • A heart that still breaks for violence in Gaza, ebola in Liberia, and refugee children on the border

Thank you for being here with me. xo

Salted Dark Chocolate Cookies with Ginger and Coconut
Many of you will recognize the base of these cookies as my mom's famous chocolate chip cookies. I make them so many different ways, and this is one of them. Plan ahead, as an hour or two in the fridge will give your cookies the right consistency and more depth of flavor.

1 3/4 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 c. whole wheat pastry flour
1 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1 c. (2 cubes) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 egg + 1 egg yolk
1 pkg. 60% cacao chocolate chips
1 c. unsweetened big flake coconut
1/4 c. coarsely chopped candied ginger
flaked salt for topping 

In a medium bowl, combine flours, sugars, salt, and soda. 

Add melted butter, egg and egg yolk, and stir until almost combined. Add chocolate chips, coconut, and ginger and stir until just combined. Cover with platsic wrap and refrigerate for 1-2 hours or overnight. If overnight, let it sit out for awhile so it's easier to scoop.

Preheat oven to 350 and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Form dough into balls, press a bit of flaked salt onto each one, and bake about 10 minutes until firmed up and slightly golden on top but still a little underdone. Let cool completely.

Strawberry Shortcake Forever

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I was born on Fathers Day almost 40 years ago. (I have 26 more hours of being 39. And I'm happy about turning 40. It's much better than the alternative.) So Fathers Day and my birthday have always had blurred lines.

The night after I was born, my dad stayed up wallpapering the closet that became my nursery on Walnut Street. My mom loves to tell that story. Of course my newborn self didn't give a burp about wallpaper. But my anxious, first-time-father needed something to do, so that's what he did. He's been thinking about me and creating loving spaces for me every since. I love you, Papa.

And every birthday I had under my parents' roof, my mom made me strawberry shortcake. We used to go berry-picking in the fields, and my mom has stories of me getting sick with all the sweetness, parking myself betwen the rows and not contributing one single berry to the bucket. And every year, she'd say, "Do you want something different for your birthday this year?" Nope. Strawberry shortcake forever.

Loretta and I went picking this morning at Bellingham Country Gardens. Bellinghamsters, get thee to Kelly Road! What an absolute treasure. Especially Lily, the resident pooch, and Sam, the farmer who showed us around and let me take his photo.

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A light mist, no-spray berries.And my companion? This miracle of a girl who came from my body and from her amazing father. Yancey appreciates that I don't talk a whole lot about him on this blog. So I'll keep it brief and just say that I married a marvel of a man who loves me, loves his children, and models every day what it's like to love life, be curious, and be tender. It's so easy to celebrate him on Fathers Day.

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And guess what we're having for breakfast? Strawberry shortcake. It can certainly be construed as breakfast--not that much different from biscuits and jam. Here, I've combined the strawberries with some raw, macerated rhubarb, but you can leave that out. And I am still in love with this shortcake recipe. Just the right density and sweetness, comes out of the pan in perfect wedges.

Strawberry shortcake (and the love it's made with) forever.

Shortcake with Strawberries and Rhubarb

Make this shortcake
Whip some cream
Very thinly slice two stalks of rhubarb, combine them with 1/4 c. sugar, and let them macerate for 30 minutes. Combine the rhubarb with sliced strawberries and maybe a little more sugar, and serve with the shortcake and whipped cream.

Coconut Lime Bundt Cake

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You know me and my bundt cakes.

No layers to mess with, no teetering heights, no great expectations. (And I'm sure I don't have to tell you that expectations are everything. Keep them low--or at least realistic--and life is much happier.)

I read recently that another secret to happiness is visiting the library. Some researcher determined that library visits deliver as much happiness as a pay raise! If you're me, you must pay your massive fine first and take yourself out for a consolation drink afterward. Only then will you enjoy your visits. Loretta will readily tell you how big it was. I won't.

This time, I checked out One Bowl Baking by Yvonne Ruperti. My branch is small, so there is very little choice, and this is a mercy. Whatever is on the new book shelf is what I take. I've made three delicious things from it, but wanted to let you in on this bundt cake first.

I made it for a meeting at church and had enough leftover to bring to clients the next day. (Another Bundt Cake Plus: they can be cut into at least 12 pieces.) Besides cake flour (which I used and reccomend you do, too) I had everything for it in my pantry. And that makes me over-the-moon happy.

Coconut Lime Bundt Cake
I followed Yvonne's recipe almost exactly except I wanted a little tang. So I added lime juice and zest, but you can take that out if you want pure coconut. And I prefer my coconut toasted, but she doesn't call for that either.

Cake Batter
20 Tb. unsalted butter, softened, plus more for buttering the pan
1 3/4 c. plus 2 Tb. sugar
3/4 tsp. salt
3 large eggs
1 1/4 c. full fat coconut milk
1 c. shredded sweetened coconut
1 Tb. vanilla
2 1/2 c. cake flour, plus more for dusting
2 1/4 tsp. baking powder

Glaze
1 c. sifted powdered sugar
2 Tb. full fat coconut milk
Juice and zest from one medium lime
1/3 c. shredded sweetened coconut, toasted in the oven for 4-5 minutes if you wish

Preheat oven to 350 and butter and flour a 12-cup bundt pan.

In the bowl of a mixer, beat together the butter, sugar, and salt until creamy. Add eggs, one at a time. Beat in the coconut milk, shredded coconut, and vanilla. Remove bowl from mixer and stir the flour and baking powder in by hand until just incorporated.

Spoon the batter into the pan and bake until golden, just firm, and a toothpick comes out clean, 40-45 minutes. Cool for 30 minutes, then remove from the pan to cool completely before glazing.

To make the glaze, stir the sugar, coconut milk, and lime juice together in a bowl until smooth. Spoon over the top of the cooled cake. Mix the coconut with the lime zest and sprinkle mixture over the top so it sticks to the glaze.

Go-To Cake

Save the day cake

"*&%$! I forgot that I said I'd bring dessert!"

Seven-year-old Loretta has taken it upon herself to be the Bad Word Police. She thinks "crap" is a bad word, so I guess it could be worse. My friend Emily says she swears more when she's excited. She's excited about her new role at work (which happens to be a church) and finds herself swearing about it all the time. Hilarious. I guess that's true with me, too--the Bad Word Police can issue tickets when excitement or frustration ensues. Abby,who's here every Monday night for our big family dinner, says she can't get a word in edgewise around here. Even the most inconsquencial subjects are blown up into an excitable mess. Loretta, of course, lives for this. Many citations to issue.

%&*#$! If I've forgotten to pay the water bill and come home to a sputtering faucet, that's one thing. (I did that last summer and actually went around to the neighbors asking if they were having problems with their water. My neighbor Lori said, "Have you paid your bill?" Mortification.)

But if I've forgotten about bringing dessert, that's an easy fix. Molly Wizenberg saves the day again. Easy, quick, chocolately depths. Add a little bit of lightly sweetned whipped cream or some strawberries. Or some reduced balsamic syrup and a sprinkiling of flaked salt. Or just plain. The expletives will diminish. Actually, scratch that. They will just be uttered in a more contented way.

Save-the-Day Almost Flourless Chocolate Cake

Softest Molasses Cookies

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Wyatt has a book nook under the stairs. Lately, I've had fantasies of holing up in there. With People magazine, episodes of The Good Wife, and these cookies. Lots of them.

It's been a roller coaster beginning to 2014 in my neighborhood. A beautiful, bright, loving high schooler died in a car accident between her house and the grocery store where she worked. Last week, a single mother opened her door for a teenager in distress and was beaten within an inch of her life. I didn't know them, but lots of folks in my world did, and I can't stop being sad.

Of course I'm not going to stop driving, and I can't do anything about being home alone at night while Yancey's working. I don't feel scared, but I'm on notice--aware of mortality, alert to the very thin line between life and death, between happiness and extreme suffering. A wise teacher said to me lately, "We know we're close to the holy when we bump up against paradox--the both/and."

So this town has been been mourning and I've been praying, but still there have been moments of beauty, grace, deliciousness.

Jordan came up and we went to an Enneagram retreat together at Stillpoint. The best part was the 36 hours afterward when we consulted all our books and analyzed one another. Is that friendship or what?

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Loretta, as usual, had several make-out sessions with our dog Padré, made me lots of love notes, and reminds me every day of all the love in the world that's waiting to be shared.

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My clients asked if they could appreciate me at the end of a retreat I facilitated. They said the kind of things you might hear at a retirement party, the kind of things you might wait your whole life to hear. I soaked it up and I'm still soaking it up.

Today, MLK Day, I feel a tsunami of gratitude for MLK, Ghandi, Dorothy Day, Jesus, Oscar Romero, Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and countless others who have turned the paradigm of domination on its head and paid dearly for it. I know I fail mightily some days, but I hope I can honor their prophetic voices, living in love instead of fear.

Our family went for a hike today and we were treated to brilliant sunshine and breathtaking views of Puget Sound at the summit. I'll feast off it for a long time. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, the message I heard was, "The universe is good. It's supporting you, supporting life, rooting for you. Breathe it in." So I am.

Molasses Cookies
Good old Bon Appetit comes through again. My aim is to have the cookie jar full during the week since my kids have come to expect a treat in their lunch and I prefer to know what's in the treat and be able to pronounce it. I made a double batch of these (enough for some after-school snacks, too) and enjoyed Wyatt's groans of pleasure. He's fun to cook for. One big difference between the recipe and my method: REFRIGERATE YOUR DOUGH FOR A COUPLE HOURS. This means a little planning ahead, but it's worth it.

Recipe

 

Gingerbread Pear Bundt Cake

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What is up with me and my baked goods lately? So much for kale and brown rice. It's Christmastime.

Like I've said before, I love the "cut and come again" nature of a bundt cake. Leave it sitting on the counter, have a little sliver with tea in the afternoon, have some more with coffee tomorrow morning.

Emily and John are here for the weekend, and I like to spoil them. I was happy there were lots of slivers snuck through the afternoon.

Gingerbread Pear Bundt Cake
There are so many superlatives floating around food blogs these days that I hesitate to add to the mayhem. But this cake is GOOD. You'll wake up in the morning wanting a piece.

For cake:
2 1/2 c. flour
2 tsp. baking powder
2 Tb. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. freshly ground nutmeg
2 Tb. cocoa powder
1 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground pepper
1 1/4 c. packed dark brown sugar
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 c. water
2 Tb. grated fresh ginger
1/2 c. white sugar
1/2 c. vegetable oil
3 large eggs
1/2 c. molasses
2 large Bosc pears, peeled and very thinly sliced

For glaze:
3 Tb. butter
4 tsp. milk
1/2 c. brown sugar
1 c. powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350. Butter and flour a bundt pan.

Combine first 8 (dry) ingredients in a medium bowl. Combine next 8 ingredients in a separate bowl (brown sugar, baking soda, water, fresh ginger, white sugar, vegetable oil, eggs, molasses). Add dry ingredients to wet, stirring just to combine, then add sliced pears.

Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 45-55 minutes until a tester comes out clean. Let cool in pan for 20 minutes, then turn out on a plate. Let cool for an hour before icing.

To prepare glaze, combine butter, brown sugar and milk in a saucepan over low heat until just melted. Take off heat and cool a bit, then add powdered sugar. If it's too thick, thin a tiny bit until it's pourable. Pour over cooled cake.

Advent 2013: Russian Teacakes

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Or Mexican Wedding Cookies. Or Viennese Cresecents. Whatever the international moniker, they will melt in your mouth.

They are the first Christmas cookies I make every year. My cooking magazines are full of tantalizing and novel options, but I get overwhelmed. And don't want to go to the store. And Loretta is very proficient at rolling things in powdered sugar. Like many favorite cookies of mine, they are not fragile and will not go stale quickly. Packed in a Chinese takeout container, who wouldn't want to find these on their porch or desk with a note from you?

Russian Teacakes
This recipe calls for hazelnuts, which would be delicious. I used toasted pecans. Pecans or walnuts are my favorite in these cookies. You can also use almonds. Just make sure you toast them. Makes a huge difference.

Recipe

Rosemary Shortbread

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Shortbread always makes me think of my sister. Every Christmas, she makes a gargantuan batch of dough and proceeds to turn each cookie into a frosted work of art. 

I trust myself less with the decorations (yikes!) and more with the recipe. I was craving a traditional cut-out shortbread recipe that wasn't fussy, and it actually took me awhile to find one. I ended up coming back to my tattered Silver Palate cookbook. The first one. I remember so clearly my mom cooking out of that in the 80's, way before people even knew what pesto was. Or sundried tomatoes. Or roasting garlic, which seemed so crazy at the time. 40 cloves of garlic? Wild!

Don't let the rolling intimidate you. This dough is really easy to work with, and the results are perfection. I added some fresh rosemary here. You can leave it out or add countless other (finely chopped) additions--lemon zest, pecans, hazelnuts, or almonds, Chinese 5 spice powder, lavender, candied ginger. Shortbread tastes even better if it ages for a few days, won't go stale for at least a week, and is so wonderful with a cup of tea in the afternoon. 

Rosemary Shortbread

3/4 lb. (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 c. powdered sugar
3 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/4 c. granulated sugar

Cream butter and powdered sugar together until light and fluffy.

Sift flour and salt together and add to creamed mixture. Add vanilla and blend thoroughly.

Gather dough into into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill for 3 or 4 hours.

Roll out chilled dough to 1/2" thickness. Cut into rounds or shapes with your favorite biscuit or cookie cutter. Sprinkle tops with granulated sugar. Place cookies on ungreased cookie sheets and refrigerate for 30-45 more minutes before baking.

Preheat oven to 325. Bake for 20 minutes, or until just starting to color lightly. Cookies should not brown at all. Cool on a rack. 

Chocolate Chunk Cookies

Chocolate Chunk Cookies

I'm checking in here tonight feeling so FULL.

My family is doing the dishes around me, and I'm enjoying seeing my new maxim of "The Cook Doesn't Do Dishes" in action. Wyatt is listening to Jack White (loudly), Loretta is swiffering, and Yancey is supervising. We had clam chowder for dinner, and you would have thought I gave Wyatt a trip to Universal Studios. After mountain biking with Yancey, he ate two huge bowls and thanked me three times. 

And I'm full of other things, too. I have a friend who's really sad and suffering. I was able to be with her over the weekend, and I'm thinking about her every second. I have clients whose jobs are demanding more of them than I could ever imagine. I'm thinking about Egypt and Syria and indeed, all the conflict and scarcity in the world and my seeming helplessness in the face of it. In much more incosnquential news, I feel overwhelmed by my inbox, things that didn't get crossed off my summer to-do list, a new car payment, finding time to be still, procuring soccer gear, and the unearthly amount of laundry that insists on torturing me.

Fall is always a time of goal-setting for me. I think there are lots of us, parents or not, who are still on the academic calendar. After I've dug myself out from summer off-the-radar-ness, I usually have a burst of energy and optimism that helps reset things a bit. Among my intentions this fall:

  • Hand off more work and responsibility to the kids. For instance, tell them what time we're leaving and expect them to be ready by that time instead of micro managing everyone to death just so I don't look like a loser mom by being late. Hello, enabling behavior!
  • View my responsibilities as opportunities for engagement, relationship, and connection. We have Soccer Mania around the corner and I find myself resenting the space it's taking up on my calendar. But they'll be outside, getting exercise and great lessons in collaboration. And I will be outside (drenched!), hopefully making new friends and seeing old ones.
  • Get up earlier than my kids to exercise and meditate. That happened this morning, and I've been drafting on it all day.
  • Hold myself accountable--in health, relationships, spirituality, work, parenting--but don't compare myself to others! I'm really noticing lately how damaging and defeating that is. Continue to cultivate the discipline of gratitude, which is the best antidote I know of for the trap of comparison.

And lastly, involve my kids more in cooking. I'm pretty bad about this, actually, because a) I'm in a hurry and b) I really like to be alone in the kitchen. It's meditative for me. That won't go away, but once or twice a week, it's good for us to do things together. Loretta helped me make these cookies, and she was in heaven. She's so stinking careful with her measurements and so eager to help with every little thing. I want to bawl when I think about all those kids in Syria, camping outside, fleeing from their homes, who'd give anything for a quiet and safe afternoon. Creator, surround them with love, goodness, and plenty even in the midst of their horror. Help us work to end that war and all wars, which only create suffering and loss. Amen.

And Happy Back-to-School. These cookies are divine, and perfect for those never-ending lunches.

Chocolate Chunk Cookies
If you've been following this blog for any length of time, you will notice that I am cheating with this "new" recipe. These are my tried and true cookies with three differences--chocolate chunks instead of chips, no oatmeal, and refrigerated overnight instead of 1-2 hours. That's a really important part. I tried them with just a couple hours in the fridge, and the difference was huge. And in favor of the overnight method.

 2 c. flour
1 c. dark or light brown sugar
1/2 c. granulated sugar
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1 c. (2 cubes) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 egg + 1 egg yolk
1 tsp. vanilla
1 pkg. (12 oz.) dark chocolate chunks
Flaked salt for top (optional) 

Combine first five ingredients in a medium bowl. Add melted butter, egg and egg yolk, and vanilla and stir until just combined. Add chocolate chunks and refrigerate dough for 8 hours, or overnight.

Preheat oven to 350. Grease 2 cookie sheets or line with parchment paper. Form dough into balls (the dough will be hard! Persist!) and sprinkle with salt, if using. Bake on two racks in the oven for about 9 minutes, switching them halfway through. Let cool. 

Zucchini Cupcakes

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Zucchini from CSA+lazy Sunday morning+work avoidance+appreciative children+Martha Stewart recipe=zucchini cupcakes.

Jan Philips' poetry+a recovering perfectionist+food obsession=this poem.

Going for it

Overnight, the yogurt thickens,
straining through cheesecloth,
fermenting to sour.

Blossom on the hairy vine
is suddenly squash
for stir fries, braises, gratins.

Eggs, alert and solo in their carton,
are whisked into yellow froth 
of frittata, omelet, crepe. 

I see now I've been holding back,
getting it right when I could get it
deliciously wrong.

What if I was transformed every day? 

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Zucchini Cupcakes
I followed this recipe almost exactly EXCEPT I didn't add nuts (Kids. You know them.) and I added 1/4 c. buttermilk at the last moment because the batter looked a little stiff to me, probably because I put more zucchini in than it called for. I ended up really liking the little bit of tang the buttermilk gave them. 

Recipe

Everything an Oatmeal Cookie Should Be

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I have finally found it--the perfect, crave-it oatmeal raisin cookie. Chewy, moist, crispy around the edges. Thanks to Alice (Medrich), of course. And thanks to the continuing inspiration of my big, fat cookie jar from the antique mall. It really looks forlorn when it's empty.

For his birthday, I gave my father-in-law a jar of these and told him I'd refill the jar indefinitely with whatever he wanted. I gave him lots of choices this time around--brown butter snickerdoodles, molasses, salted chocolate. But he said he wanted oatmeal raisin again. This time, I was smart and made a double batch.

Emily was supposed to come up last weekend. We've been planning it for a long time and had characteristically assembled little collections of gifts and hand-me-downs to exchange. We'd been sending anticipation texts, and Loretta spruced up her room. (That's where Emily sleeps when she comes.) But it didn't work out. We are both sad, but it was the right thing. And the silver lining, as I told her, was that I still felt like she was here and that my regular life was on hold. I didn't check email. I played lots of card games with Wyatt. We went to the farmers market, the Ski to Sea parade, and the street fair. I made pancakes twice for the kids and am halfway through two new books. I sorted my craft supplies, slept in, made and photographed these cookies, and put off folding the laundry. Yancey and I managed a last-minute afternoon date and I exercised every day. In short, just what the doctor ordered.

I hope you're able to find some time like that soon. You might even find yourself reaching for your mixing bowls.

Oatmeal Raisin Cookies
As with many of Alice's recipes, you've got to think ahead with these so you can refrigerate the dough. It helps the oats soak up the butter and makes all the difference. I doubled the batch and did half dark raisins and half golden raisins. You could also add nuts, other dried fruit, or a bit of flaked salt on top. Yum.

2 c. rolled oats
1/4 c. water
1 1/4 c. flour
1/2 tsp. soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
2 sticks unsalted butter
3/4 c. packed brown sugar
1/2 c. granulated sugar
1 tsp. vanila
1/2 tsp. salt
1 large egg
1 c. raisins

Place the oats in a small bowl and sprinkle with water. Combine the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a medium bowl and mix together thoroughly with a whisk or fork.

Cut the butter into chunks and melt in a large saucepan over medium heat. Remove from the heat and stir in the sugars, vanilla, and salt. Add the egg and stir briskly. Stir in the flour mixture just until all the dry ingredients are moistened. Stir in the raisins and oats. Let the dough sit in the fridge for at least 2 hours or preferably overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and position oven racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven.

For large cookies, scoop about 2 level tablespoons of dough and place the cookies about 3" apart on the lined pans. For small cookies scoop 1 level tablespoon of dough. Bake for 12-15 minutes for large cookies and 10-12 minutes for small ones, or until the cookies are just barely golden on top and they still look a tad undone. Rotate the pans from top to bottom and from front to back halfway through the baking time.

Cool the cookies completely before storing or stacking.  

Salted Chocolate Cookies with Ginger and Coconut

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These really are worth reading about. Stay on the line.

As you must know by now, food is the way for me to talk about everything else. And since tomorrow is Mother's Day, I've got a few things on my mind.

As I've become a mother, I have really mixed feelings a about Mother's Day. I look forward to the cards my kids make me, and if I'm lucky Wyatt will write me a poem. I look forward to lounging around in the morning and sometimes reminiscing about having babies or what life was like before half my budget went to Target.

But...

There should be a Women's Day instead of Mother's Day. A day to honor whatever thoughtful choices we have made in our lives. 

Deciding not to be a mother is full of integrity. And brave. Our culture puts so much emphasis--overtly and subtly--on motherhood as the fulfillment of womanhood. I have been blessed, over and over again, by women in my life who are not mothers. They have more energy for their work in the world. They're less distracted, and they have a lot of love left for my children!

Longing for motherhood and not experiencing it is painful. I don't know about this firstand (2 weeks from decision to fertilization in this household!), but I know from listening and being with lots of women. I've learned never to be cavalier about it or assume anything. Everyone's got a story, and some of them are full of pain and broken dreams.

The maternal spirit comes in many forms. It comes with godmothers and godfathers. It comes with anyone who lovingly takes care of children for a living or as a favor. It comes whenever there's care for a dying, sick, or disabled person. It comes in how we connect with and care for our pets. In the Buddhist way, what would happen if we saw ourselves as mother to everyone AND saw everyone in our community as mother to us? A lot of love going around. And you don't have to actually be a mother to experience that. 

My children don't owe me anything. I don't need to be thanked for bringing them into the world--that was my choice, not theirs! They didn't ask to be born. I've always said that the decision to have children can be construed as selfish, and the decision not to have children can be construed as selfish. The truth is that all of us are just caught up in the mystery of living and we are doing the best we can.

The biggest reward of motherhood is relationship. And that can come in so many ways beside motherhood! No matter how it comes, it's still something we have to choose every day. I could co-habitate with my children, feed and clothe them, AND go to all their soccer games and still not really be in relationship with them. You can be a loving aunt on the other side of the country and REALLY have relationship if you're intentional. Surprise! Intention is the key. Having needy, dependent creatures that come from your own body might be the shortcut to relationship because I don't have to coordinate anything to see them! There are so many ways to have deep, intentional relationship with children or others in our lives, but it all requires work.

Happy Mother's Day to everyone. Every one of us is a son or daughter. Every one of us came from a mother and is going back to our Mother. Maybe you've landed on work that has exposed and deepened your maternal spirit. Maybe you've sat with the dying. Maybe you've negotiated a difficult relationship with your Mother and come out the other side, more reflective and more interesting. Or maybe you're nursing a newborn as you read this, and there are absolutely no words to describe how raw and how "yourself" that feels. 

Happy Mother's Day to my mom. Thank you for all the beautiful picnics our family went on, and your love of suprises. Thank you for being there when my children were born and throwing your love and energy into grandparenthood. Thank you for your great style, your appreciation of beauty, and bringing the party with you wherever you go. I love you.

Happy Mother's Day to these cookies. How's that for a transition? I really wouldn't mind being a direct descendent of these chewy, spicy, expletive-worthy morsels. That wouldn't be a bad lineage. And, fittingly, these are my Mom's chocolate chip cookies with some variations. I made them for my physical therapist, whose care for me in the past year has made me feel more like myself. Happy Mother's Day to her, too.

Salted Chocolate Cookies with Ginger and Coconut
This dough needs to be refrigerated, so plan ahead a bit. No mixer needed here. As with most cookies, watch them very carefully in the oven and take them out before they look done.

2 c. old fashioned oats
1 3/4 c. flour
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. white sugar
1 egg plus one egg yolk
1 c. (2 cubes) melted unsalted buter, cooled
1 c. unsweetened coconut chips (large flakes)
1/2 pkg (or more) dark chocolate chips
1/3 c. chopped candied ginger
flaked salt for tops 

Combine oats, flour, salt, soda, and sugars in medium mixing bowl. Add egg, egg yolk, and  cooled melted butter and stir until almost combined. Add coconut, chocolate chips, and ginger, and stir until just mixed. Refrigerate dough for an hour.

Heat oven to 350. Form dough into balls (about 2 Tb. per ball) and set onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Press a bit of flaked salt into the tops of each cookie. Bake for 9-11 minutes, or until they're just baked. Remove from oven and cool. 

Toffee Bars

Toffee bars

Back when this blog began (Four years ago. Can it be?), I felt some sort of compunction to vary my entries--cookies one week, soup the next, perhaps. Now, in my blogging dotage, I've realized what you have known all along. That this blog is really for me--my ramblings, my musings, my opining. And yes, my cookie baking. Variation be damned.

Loretta has an art room off the kitchen, and she is constantly--every spare second, some days--creating things. Books, paintings, 3D kites and houses, cards. After each one, she puts down her pens, runs to me, and says, "Look, Mom! It's for you!" When I'm being a good mother, I stop what I'm doing, hold her creation, and tell her what I like about it. And then I hang it up in my office. (Don't worry, fellow mothers. I then recycle most of it the next day. She has a short memory.)

But the excitement is in the creating, and that's what filling up the cookie jar does for me. If everything else in my week fell flat--I said the wrong thing to my client, I forgot to send Wyatt's field trip money, I fell asleep during every meditation attempt--at least I baked. It has a beginning, an end, and I can say to my children, "Look! It's for you!"

In a world of consumption, it's increasingly important that we create something. I have friends who are creating geniuses. They sew, they build chicken coops, they felt. And I'm so inspired by them. But you don't have be a DIY person to create! Or go spend a bunch of money on objects that will allow you to "live simply and beautifully." Maybe you arrange the cheese and crackers in your children's lunchbox. Or send a letter, assemble a colorful vegetable platter, or make a shrine of found objects in your office. Something that reminds you of your power to impact the world around you. All of us have that power, but screens and chatter and perfectionism drown it out sometimes.

As for me, you know where I'll be. Thumbing through Alice Medrich's cookie book, looking for something that will survive the tumult of a kid's lunchbox. These did the trick this week.

P.S. Wyatt got a lead role in his school musical, "Once Upon a Mattress." After counless rehearsals, the productions were this week. Look at this 10 year old putting himself out there. Blowing me away. 

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 Toffee Bars
More from Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-in-your-Mouth Cookies by Alice Medrich. These are crazy easy.

For the crust:
12 Tb. (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
1/3 c. sugar 
1 tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp. salt
2 1/4 c. flour
2 c. pecan halves

For the topping:
1 Tb. water
3/4 c. packed light brown sugar
8 Tb. (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 4 chunks
2/3 to 1 c. milk or dark chocolate chips (I used 60%, but I think milk would be delicious, too)

Line a 9x13 metal pan, bottom and all 4 sides, with foil. Prehat oven to 350.

To make the crust, cut the butter into chunks and melt it in a large saucepan over medium heat. Remove from the heat and stir in the sugar, vanilla, and salt. Add the flour and mix just until incorporated. Scatter the pecans over the dough without pressing them into it. Lay an extra piece of foil over the nuts to allow them to toast without buring while the crust is baking.

Bake for about 20 minutes, until the crust is lightly browned at the edges. While the crust is baking, make the topping.

To make the topping, combine the water and brown sugar in a small saucepan and whisk until the sugar is moistened. Heat the mixture over medium heat and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally Whisk in the butter and remove from the heat.

When the crust is ready, whisk the topping until smooth. Remove the foil from the crust and scrape the hot butter mixture over the pecans on the crust. Bake for 12-15 minutes, until the topping is dark and bubbling vigorously. Remove the pan from the oven and scatter the chocolate chips evenly over the top. Cool the bars in the pan. Lift the ends of the foil iner and transfer to a cutting board. Use a long sharp knife to cut into 24 bars.  

Pebbly Beach Fruit Squares

Pebbly Beach Fruit Squares

For those of you aspiring to eat less sugar and more kale, I hear you. I'm with you. But on a cookie-baking roll. Forgive me.

Alice Medrich's Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-in-your-Mouth Cookies isn't helping matters. I haven't come across a baker that GETS COOKIES like she does. As you know, I'm a cookie person. Just by looking, I'm able to tell a great cookie from an okay one, and a passable one from a don't-waste-your-calories one. And I'm also aware that cookies baked in most home ovens often don't turn out like the OMG ones you might get at your favorite bakery. If you stick with Alice, she'll help you.

I could say a lot more about cookies and even my philosophy about having them sitting around the house. (The short version is I allow myself one when they are warm and about two more over the course of the batch/days. The rest go in the kids lunches or are given away as gifts.) 

But I want to talk about my dog! I am so pathetic. I'm eating a giant slice of humble pie every day. I used to think, "Spare me! People and their pets! What are all these pet super stores doing popping up? Why do people need to get home to their dog, for Pete's sake?" The universe is laughing as I follow Padre around with my camera, look for opportunities to introduce his existence into every conversation, and find myself talking with other dog owners like we have just brought fragile babies home from the hospital. 

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One of the values I articulated for myself in this new year, pre-Padre, was the value of Playfulness. Not to take myself too seriously, to stop what I'm doing and play with my children, and to be more unorthodox with how I spend my time or what I find humorous. Clearly, the shortcut to all of this is having a dog. You can read a bunch of self-help books, search for funny skits on YouTube, take an art class. OR you can get a dog. And enjoy his unrelenting love and loyalty, the way he gets you outside, and the way he's always waiting at the door for you.

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Alice Medrich's Pebbly Beach Fruit Squares
I had to read these directions carefully to visualize how these cookies are formed, but I found the dough easy to work with and didn't experience any problems. You can use any dried fruit, and she instructs to soak it in water, fruit juice, or wine to soften it. But only for 20 minutes. I soaked my dried cranberries in orange juice. Yum. And I used lemon zest and just mixed the softened butter and sugar with a spoon. Anything to avoid getting out the mixer. The kids and I pronounced these divine. 

P.S. Alice is big on refrigerating your dough, which develops the flavor of the cookies, makes them less prone to spread in the oven, and makes your dough easier to work with. This dough requires 2 hours of refrigeration.

Makes 32 2 1/2" squares.

1 1/2 c. plus 2 Tb. flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
8 Tb. (1 stick) unsalted butter
3/4 c. granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp. vanilla
1 Tb. finely grated lemon zest or 1 tsp. cinnamon or anise
1 c. moist dried fruit (raisins, cherries, cranberries, apricots, candied ginger, dates, prunes) 
1/4 c. turbinado or other coarse sugar

Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl and mix together thoroughly.

With a large spoon in a medium mixing bowl or with a mixer, beat the butter with the granulated sugar until smooth and well-blended but not fluffy. Add the egg, vanilla, and lemon zest and beat until smooth. Add the flour mixture and mix until completely incorporated.

Divide the dough in half and form each into a rectangle. Wrap the patties in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight. 

Preheat the oven to 350 and position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator and let sit for 15 minutes to soften slightly. On a sheet of parchment paper or plastic wrap, roll one piece of dough into a rectangle about 8 inches by 16 inches. With the short side facing you, scatter half the dried fruit on the bottom half of the dough. Fold of top half of the dough over the fruit, using the paper as a handle if it's sticking. Peel the paper from the top of the dough. Dust the top of the dough lightly with flour. Flip the dough onto a lightly floured cutting board and peel off the remaining paper. Sprinkle with half the coarse sugar and pat lightly to make sure the sugar adheres. Use a heavy knife to trim the edges. Cut into 4 strips and cut each strip into 4 pieces to make 16 squares. Place cookies 2" apart on parchment-lined or greased cookie sheets. Repeat with the remaining dough, fruit, and sugar.

Bake for about 12 minutes, or until the edges are VERY lightly browned. Rotate the pans from top to bottom and from front to back halfway through the baking time to ensure even baking. Cool cookies completely before stacking or storing.

Brown Butter Snickerdoodles

brown butter snickerdoodles

I got a new cookie jar. Watch out.

My old one hasn't had a lid for years, and it was always too small. I've solved that with a beautiful old jar I found at Fairhaven Antique Mall (my new favorite place). It's inspiring when it's sitting there on the counter, all empty and big. My kids are happy about this development.

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I made 3 batches of these last week. I stumbled across them on Pinterest, and the photo was enough to change my mind about homemade snickerdoodles. Whenever I've made them, I'm disappointed. They turn out like ho-hum sugar cookies and seem to go stale almost immediately. If that's your experience, prepare to have your mind blown. Or your world rocked. Or your universe expanded. (Wyatt and I like to play with these exclamations. He would say these cookies rock his world off. Or blow his socks up.)

They're made with brown sugar and melted butter. Whenever a recipe calls for melted butter (instead of beating butter with a mixer), I know that's a good sign. It means less air will be beaten into the batter, there will be less manipulation, and the cookies are likely to be more tender than normal. And more brown sugar usually makes cookies softer. You need to refrigerate these, so plan ahead. 

Happy Cookie-Jar Filling. 

Brown Butter Snickerdoodles
Adapted from here. If you don't refrigerate the dough, they will spread out too much. And they cook very quickly, so make sure you watch them and take them out a little before they look done.

2 1/2 c. flour 
1 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. cream of tartar
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. salt
2 sticks unsalted butter
1 1/4 c. packed dark brown sugar
1/2 c. granulated sugar
1 large egg plus one egg yolk
1 tsp. vanilla
1 Tb. plain Greek yogurt

For rolling mixture:
1/4 c. sugar
2 tsp. cinnamon 

Mix dry ingredients together in a bowl and set aside.

To make browned butter, melt it over medium heat. The butter will begin to foam. Whisk it constantly. After a few minutes, the butter will begin to brown on the bottom and separate into solids. Remove from heat as soon as this starts happening and pour butter into a bowl to prevent it from burning.

With a wooden spoon, mix browned butter with sugars. Add egg, egg yolk, and yogurt until combined. Add dry ingredients, mixing until just combined. Refrigerate dough for 3 hours.

Preheat oven to 350. Form refrigerated dough into balls (about 2 Tb. of dough for each one) and roll in cinnamon sugar mixture. Bake cookies about 9 minutes, or until set on edges but slightly undercooked in the middle. Remove from oven, let cool a few minutes, then transfer them to a rack and cool completely.

Gingerbread Cranberry Trifle

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I've been reading Gretchen Rubin's Happier at Home lately and laughing at all her little lists, rules for life, resolutions, and mantras. Laughing because I relate so completely to wanting to categorize the world that way. I won't go so far as to say we're two peas in a pod (her pod happens to be more disciplined and successful than mine) but I'm sure we'd enjoy a cup of coffee with one another.

She has a rule to Keep it Simple. Unless it leads to too much simplicity! She says,

 I was always telling myself, "Keep it simple." But as Albert Einstein pointed out, "Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler." I was made happier by my decision to bring paper plates, not home-baked muffins, to Eleanor's school party, but "Keep it simple" wasn't always the right response. Many things that boosted my happiness also added complexity to my life. Having children. Learning to post videos to my website. Going to an out-of-town wedding. Applied too broadly, my impulse to "Keep it simple" would impoverish me. "Life is barren enough surely with all her trappings," warned Samuel Johnson, "let us therefore be cautious how we strip her."

I would put food and cooking into the "Happy Complexity" category. Making thoughtful decisions about what to feed my family, keeping a stocked pantry, cooking every day. All of this boosts my happiness, but it surely adds complexity. I always joke that if I were to add up the hours I spend planning, shopping, prepping, cooking, eating, and cleaning up, I'd go into shock.

Yancey and I are going to his work Christmas party tonight. His world at the fire station is so separate from mine, and it's a rare chance to meet his shift-mates and their partners and have a night away from the kids. Yancey signed up for the dessert slot, and I decided not to Keep it Simple. Instead, I made this trifle between basketball games, and it's made the house smell amazing all day. (Gretchen also talks about her rule of Embrace Good Smells. Check.)

Out of all the desserts in the world I could make, I chose this one because:

  1. I've made it before. As Christopher Kimball says, new recipes aren't what most of us need. We need to master a few good ones. I love pulling things out of my back pocket.
  2. Oil-based cakes like this gingerbread one are foolproof. You're not creaming butter and sugar, it's guaranteed to be moist.
  3. I adore ginger, gingerbread, and the tang of cranberries. Even though this dessert is definitely sweet, it's a spicy break from the over-the-top sugar that's around every corner at Christmas.
  4. No cooking eggs for a custard! Even I stress over custard occasionally. This mascarpone-based custard couldn't be easier.
  5. One trifle bowl will easily feed 15 adults, and it transports well.

And, to remind myself mostly, here's the Christmas Pledge I've posted at least once before. Thank you for being such a joyful part of my year:

The Christmas Pledge:

  1. To remember those who truly need my gifts.
  2. To express my love for family and friends in more direct ways than presents.
  3. To rededicate myself to the spiritual growth of my family.
  4. To examine my holiday activities in light of the true spirit of Christmas.
  5. To initiate one act of peacemaking within my circle of family and friends.

Gingerbread Cranberry Trifle
This is adapted from Epicurious. I found their recipe overly complicated, so yes, I made it simpler! You'll need a deep trifle dish or big glass bowl for this. I found the recipe made more than my trifle dish held, so I made mini trifles in drinking glasses with the rest. Fun and cute. Really any straight-sided glass vessel will work. The one pictured is packed in a glass cannister. I put a lid on it and gave it as a gift.

You'll need to have this assembled and in the fridge at least 4 hours before you need it as the "mushing" time is crucial for trifles. If you made it the night before, it would be even better.

Wine-poached cranberries
2 cups fruity red wine (such as Syrah)
2 cups sugar
16 oz. fresh or frozen cranberries

Gingerbread cake
1 c. extra stout (such as Guinness)
1 c. molasses
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
2 c. flour
2 Tb. ground ginger
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. ground cinnamon 
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
3 large egs
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. packed brown sugar
3/4 c. vegetable oil

Mascarpone cream:
3 8 oz. containers mascarpone cheese (3 cups)
3 c. chilled heavy cream
1 1/2 c. powdered sugar
3 Tb. Grand Mariner or orange liqueur
4 tsp. finely grated orange peel

For wine-poached cranberries:
Stir wine and sugar in a large saucepan over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat and boil wine mixture for 5 minutes. Add cranberries and simmer until soft but still intact, about 5 minutes. Transfer mixture to a bowl and chill. Before using, pour cranberry mixture through a strainer to separate cranberries and syrup.

For cake:
Combine stout and molasses in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat; stir in baking soda (mixture will foam up). Pour into a bowl and put in the fridge to cool down.

Preheat oven to 350. Generously butter 3 8" cake pans and dust with flour.

Whisk flour and next 6 ingredients in a large bowl to blend. Whisk eggs and sugar in a medium bowl, then whisk oil and cooled stout mixture into egg mixture.  Gradually add flour mixture to stout-egg mixture and divide batter between prepared pans. It will look like it's not enough. Don't worry--you're going to cut the cake up into cubes, so it doesn't have to be all pretty and fluffy.

Bake until inserter comes out clean, about 25 minutes, switching pans on racks halfway through to ensure even cooking. Cook cakes in pans for 15 minutes, then turn out onto racks or a piece of parchment paper. Once cakes are cool, use a serrated knife to cut the cake into 1" cubes.

For mascrapone custard:
Using electric mixer, beat mascarpone in large bowl until smooth. Add all remaining ingredients and beat until peaks form and mixture is smooth. (Don't overbeat as mixture may curdle.) The mixture will look too wet at first. Don't despair. Pretty soon it will start to get more of a whipped cream look. Cover and chill up to 2 hours (though you can use it immediately).

To assemble trifle:
Line of the bottom of your trifle dish with cake cubes, making sure you're covering the bottom while still leaving a tiny bit of wiggles room. Spoon about 2 Tb. of cranberries and a bit of the syrup over the cake cubes. Top the cake and cranberry layer with about 1 1/3 c. mascarpone cream, and repeat 3 more times, ending with a layer of cream. Sprinkle some more orange zest over the top, cover with plastic wrap (which means your trifle will have to stop just below the rim of your dish), and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.

To serve, use a long spoon and dish it into bowls.