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.

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.

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

 

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

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. 

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.

cookie jar

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.

Oatmeal Coconut Chews

Oatmeal Coconut Chews

I'm generally not a giant oatmeal cookie fan. I can be found, peering into the cookie case at any given bakery or cafe, stopping just short of asking the clerk to let me perform a biopsy on the poor cookie. When they're good, cookies are really good. When they're bad? A disappointing waste of calories. (Don't ever let this snottiness stop you from offering me a cookie from your kitchen. I adore eating other people's food, whatever else this blog might project.)

Last week, my father-in-law had knee replacement surgery. I asked my mother-in-law what I could do for them. She was in the middle of saying "Nothing, honey. We're fine," when Dick grabbed the phone and said, "Oatmeal raisin cookies!" So Loretta and I made a special delivery, and I made them again today for a picnic with Bethany at the remodel. And there were enough left over for a barbeque with my other father-in-law tonight. The kids are in bed, and I finally have a few minutes to myself, which I've been craving all day. I have a little internal pressure gauge, and since 3:00 pm today, I could feel it getting dangerously close to the red zone. I am in love with my life, but I'd go bonkers if anyone needed anything right now. 

What I needed was to be here with you. These cookies are EASY, as cookies should be, and depend on the high butter to oats ratio and watching them carefully so they don't overcook. If you're about to explode from all the people and details that need you, excape to a little corner, crouch down, and nibble one of these with an afternoon cup of coffee. It will be alright.

Oatmeal Coconut Chews
Makes about 3 dozen. 

3 1/2  c. old fashioned oats
1 1/2 c. flour
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
2 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
2/3 c. packed brown sugar
1/2 c. granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 c. unsweetened coconut chips
3/4 c. raisins
3/4 c. dried cranberries
1/4 c. coarse bakers sugar

Preheat oven to 375 and butter two baking sheets (or line with parchment).

Stir together oats, flour, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl.

Beat together butter, brown sugar, and granulated sugar in a large bowl at medium speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add egg and vanilla and beat until well combined. Add oat mixture until almost combined, then add coconut, raisins, and dried cranberries.

Form dough into balls (1 heaping tablepoon) and dip tops in baking sugar. Place aout 2 inches apart on baking sheets and bake until golden and slightly underdone, 10-12 minutes. Let cool.

Buttermilk Orange Pecan Cookies

Pecan orange cookies 

I remember reading Molly Wizenberg's post,"CILTE" (Crap I Like to Eat). She hadn't cooked in eons, especially not anything blog readers would be much interested in. In fact, she was eating peanut butter sandwiches for every meal and generally finding herself with not an ounce of energy for kitchen creativity. At times like that, she said, she lists to herself all the things she likes to make and eat, reminding herself the world of food is still out there, still real, but just hibernating for awhile.

My CILTE list has always included these cookies. When it seems like my bag of tricks is empty, I've often thought, "There's always the orange pecan cookies. I can't believe I haven't trotted those out yet." Readers, I guess it's your lucky day. I'm pulling out what may be my last trick (until I scrounge for something tomorrow).

This is my great grandmother's recipe from Louisville, Kentucky. My mom made them for us many times growing up, and sometimes they'd even be warm from the oven when we came home from school. I've always intended to keep up the warm cookie tradition now that Wyatt is school-age, but I've only delivered a couple times. The timing is tricky, and I'm always pooped by 4:00. I admire her feat even more now.

These cookies are similar in texture to these all-time favorites--more like a mini cake than a cookie. Because they are not not too sweet, the icing is essential, and they are best eaten within a day or two after making them. Somehow, when I sit down with an afternoon cup of coffee and one of these, those after-school moments around the island in our family kitchen don't seem so far away.

Buttermilk Orange Pecan Cookies

Makes 3 1/2-4 dozen cookies. If you are allergic to nuts or just don't like them in baked goods, you can leave the pecans out. (Although I can't imagine these cookies without them, of course). It's important to watch these really closely in the oven, as with all cookies. You want the bottoms lightly browned and the tops just done. And wait to frost them until they are completely cool, otherwise you'll end up with a puddle of melted butter.

For cookies:

1 1/2 c. brown sugar
1 c. unsalted butter
2 eggs
3 1/2 c. flour
1 tsp. baking soda
2 Tb. baking powder
1 c. buttermilk
1 1/2 c. toasted pecans
finely grated rind of one orange
1 tsp. vanilla

For icing:

juice of one large orange, pulp strained
3 c. powdered sugar
1/2 c. unsalted butter, room temperature

Preheat oven to 350. Cream brown sugar and butter together in an electric mixture until smooth, about 2 or 3 minutes. Add eggs, beating after each addition. Add vanilla.

In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking soda, and baking powder.

With mixer running, add buttermilk and flour mixture alternately in 3 additions each. Add one cup of the pecans, and mix until everything is just incorporated.

Drop by tablespoonfuls onto parchment-lined cookie sheets and bake until just done, about 10 minutes. Let cool completely before icing.

To make icing and finish cookies:

Beat orange juice, butter, and powdered sugar together until smooth. It may be a little bit grainy, but don't worry about it. If you're not ready to use it yet, put it in the fridge and stir every five minutes so it doesn't harden too much.

Generously spread each cookie with icing, and sprinkle the remaining 1/2 c. chopped pecans over the top.

 

Nanaimo Bars

 

Nanaimo Bars

Expletive. These taste even better than they look. I owe it all to Tara at Seven Spoons. She's bona fide Canadian and much more qualified to write about Nanaimo bars than I am. I grew up eating these. They were our north-of-the-border treat, something we got when we took the B.C. ferry to Victoria or went to the Vancouver Aquarium.  And they tended to show up at Bellingham potlucks in the 1980's (alongside the requisite buckets of fried chicken iceberg lettuce salads). When I saw Tara's photo, I literally gasped. My kids said, "What, Mom?!" And I said, "I have to make these cookies." So Loretta and I walked to the store this morning and got busy. I totally let her lick the beater, of course. I never heed the mommy blog warnings about raw eggs.

If you were one of the wonderful participants in the healthy eating class I taught this week at Rainier Health and Fitness, please do not lose faith in me. I still stand by everything I said--avoid white flour and too much sugar, overload your day with vegetables and whole grains, and maybe don't make these this week while you're practicing new, healthier habits. Because they will sing your name through the fridge doors.

A thick layer of bittersweet chocolate ganache on top, crunchy coconut-graham-pecan crust on bottom, and a layer of cheesecake in-between. Not the classic pudding-filled Nanaimo recipe (which is far inferior, I think).

Yancey's re-plumbing our house and emerged from the crawl space for lunch. Anyone else have husbands or partners who have been wearing the same work clothes for 15 years? I think it's smart and sexy--how does he know how to plumb a house?! It always amazes me. He watched me cut these up and stuck his fingers in to grab a little square. He pronounced them the best treats I had ever made. But now I'm annoying you, quoting my biased husband as some kind of credible critic. Definitely don't take his word for it. Make them for your next potluck and upstage the pasta salads and spongy chocolate chip cookies. I dare you.

Nanaimo Bars
Tara adds a bit of sugar to the ganache topping. I left it out because I prefer the topping more bittersweet. I used Ghiradelli 60% chips, which I love to have around for projects like this. Though there are a few steps to the recipe, it really isn't hard at all. Just make sure you line your pan with overhanging foil or parchment, or it will be frustrating to get them out of the pan. And I used regular graham crackers instead of chocolate ones for the crust because that's what I had around.

Recipe

Fudgy Salted Brownies

Fudgy Salted Brownies

I cannot remember the last time I made brownies. Any faint memories I do have aren't good. Once, I made a giant double batch of Barefoot Contessa brownies and left the sugar out. Other times, the recipe has been disappointing--too dry, too wet, too sweet. A few months ago, my friend Abra asked for a good brownie recipe. I'm finally getting around to it, and these deliver. Big time. (Poor Yancey had to endure me preening all night).

They take a few pantry staples--lots of butter, flour, plain old cocoa powder and unsweetened chocolate--and turn them into something that will have you sneaking out of bed in the middle of the night. They have a thin layer of crackle on top, fissuring to reveal a dark, chewy density. Really, the perfect brownie.

I've (again) drastically cut down my sugar and fat intake the last few months. So when I sat down with one of these and a cup of coffee this afternoon, I savored every sweet, fudgy, salty morsel.

Fudgy Salted Brownies
You won't be surprised that this is adapted from a Melissa Clark recipe. She includes a pinch of cayenne, which I didn't for the sake of children. And I covered half the batch with flaked salt and left the other half plain. I can imagine lots of other additions if you want to experiment--bits of candied ginger, cinnamon for a Mexican chocolate version. I happen to have a 9x13 baking sheet (quarter sheet) which is my workhorse for bar cookies. If you make cookies a lot, I suggest spending the $10 for one. If all you have is a 9x13 baking dish, that will work too.

2 sticks + 2 Tb. unsalted butter
3 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1 1/2 c. flour
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 c. plus 1 Tb. cocoa powder
2 1/2 c. sugar
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 Tb. vanilla extract
Maldon salt, for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 350. Line a rimmed 9x13-inch baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a microwave or in the top bowl of a double boiler, melt together the buttter and chopped chocolate, stirring until smooth. Meanwhile, combine the flour and kosher salt in a medium bowl.

Transfer the chocolate mixture to a large mixing bowl and whisk in the cocoa powder and sugar. Add the eggs and vanilla and whisk until smooth.Fold in the dry ingredients and continue folding until no lumps remain.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top with a spatula. Sprinkle all over with the Maldon salt. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the edges just begin to pull away from the sides of the pan and the top is set and shiny. Allow the brownies to cool completely in the pan before cutting into 2x2-inch squares.

Salted Maple Thumbprint Cookies

Salted Maple Walnut Thumbprints
I buy one or two cookbooks a year. Of course, I spend hours coveting them and poring over the cookbook tables at Elliot Bay. But, in the end, I'm very careful about what I bring home to our 750 square foot house, getting most recipes online or tweaking what I already have. I love what Christopher Kimball says--that most of us absolutely do not need more recipes. We just need to keep practicing what we know and slowly get better and more experimental. Sorry, folks. There's no shortcut.

BUT (you knew this was coming, right?), I just bought a new cookbook that makes me want to storm into the kitchen. It's Melissa Clark's In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite. Almost everything in it can be made in under an hour, and is so bursting with flavor that you'll be wiping the drool off the pages. And wondering, "Why didn't I think of that?"

The annual Christmas baking day with my mom and sister is coming up, so the first thing I tried was these cookies. OMG. They don't look like showstoppers, but watch out. I gave them away to several people, and some reluctantly took one off the plate, like, "Well, I guess. There's no chocolate involved, but I'm bored and slightly hungry." Then their eyes would widen and I could have the self-satisfied moment I was waiting for.

Am I posting about Christmas cookies already? I guess I am. Em sent me this Christmas pledge, which I posted on my bulletin board:

  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.

Here we go. Bring it on, Season of Light.

Salted Maple Thumbprint Cookies
Melissa doesn't instruct you to chill the dough, but I recommend it. It's quite soft and you might have trouble with the cookies spreading if you don't.


3 c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 c. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 c. sugar
1 c. pure maple syrup
2 large egg yolks
12 oz. walnut halves
Fleur de sel or other coarse salt, for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 350. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour and kosher salt. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add 1/2 c. of the maple syrup and the egg yolks, and beat until fully incorporated. Add the flour mixture and mix until just combined. Chill dough for 30-60 minutes.

Using a Tb., drop dough, 3 inches apart, onto two baking sheets. Using your thumb, make an indentation in the center of each round of dough--as deep as you can go without pushing through. Bake until the edges are just golden, 12-15 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and cool.

While the cookies are cooking, prepare the maple glaze. Place the remaining 1/2 c. maple syrup in a small saucepan over medium heat. Simmer the syrup until reduced to abut 1/3 c., 7-10 minutes. Carefully spoon the glaze into the thumbprint of each cooled cookie, then place a walnut and a sprinkle of salt on top. Allow the glaze the set, at least 10 minutes, before serving.

Peanut Butter Coconut Bars

peanut butter bars
For a few years now, these have been my go-to cookies. (Alright. One of them.) You can almost make them in your sleep. In fact, I've often been half-asleep, standing at the mixer at 11:00 pm, making cookies for a potluck I forgot about or a school bake sale I foolishly agreed to contribute to. Peanut butter (the bad, hydrogenated oil kind), coconut, butter, maybe some chocolate chips. They're what I like to call "sleeper cookies," in that they look disappointingly dull.  Like, "Who made those for the bake sale?" No one will swoon when you walk into the room with your Saran wrap-covered platter.  But they'll be your BFF after that.

Maybe you can bring these to the Halloween party you forgot about. Growing up (and this is a long story I won't tell), our family was one of those weird ones that had harvest parties instead of going trick-or-treating. So I am bound and determined that my children will go trick-or-treating, get as ghoulish as they want, and dive into the ridiculousness of Halloween with gusto. And if that means cookies and candy, so be it.

Peanut Butter Coconut Bars
Adapted from my Gourmet cookbook. You really do want the bad kind of peanut butter here, not the good-for-you, stir-it-up kind. Other than that, these cookies are a blank slate. I've made them without the coconut, subbed oatmeal for the coconut, added chocolate chips or not, put salted peanuts on top or not. The best pan to make them in is an aluminum  1/4 sheet (half the size of a regular baking sheet). If you don't have one of those, a  9 x 13 will work.

3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2  cup white sugar
1/2 c. brown sugar
1 cup smooth peanut butter
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sweetened flaked coconut or oats (or 1/2 and 1/2)
1 c. chocolate chips (optional)
1/2 cup finely chopped salted roasted peanuts for the top (optional)


In a bowl with an electric mixer cream the butter with both sugars and beat the mixture until it is light and fluffy. Add the peanut butter, beat the mixture until it is combined well, and beat in the egg, the vanilla, and the salt. Add the flour, beat the mixture until it is just combined, and stir in the coconut and/or oats, and chocolate chips. Spread the mixture evenly in a buttered jelly-roll pan, 15 1/2 by 10 1/2 by 1 inches, sprinkle the peanuts over it (if using), pressing them into the mixture lightly, and bake the mixture in the middle of a preheated 350°F. oven for 20 to 25 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean. Let the mixture cool completely in the pan on a rack, cut it into 24 bars, and cut each bar in half diagonally to form 2 triangles if you want (I usually don't.)

Apricot Espresso Chocolate Chip Cookies

IMG_9477
I brought a big tray of these cookies over to to my friend Kathy, hoping they might help feed all the family and friends that had descended on her house after Bud's death. I met some of the family later at the memorial service. I positively beamed when they asked me for the recipe and recounted how they had all stood over them exclaiming and how there were none left. I suppose it helped me feel that, in some small way, I had lightened the load just the tiniest bit. Cookies are good for that sort of thing.

And I did promise the recipe. You, faithful readers, will not be surprised that it's simply an adaptation of my Mom's Chocolate Chip Cookies. Macrina makes a similar version, but I am going to be completely audacious and sacrilegious by saying I think these are better. Pride comes before a fall. I'm now ensuring that the next 10 things I cook will utterly flop.

Still thinking about you every second, Kathy. And about how Bud tended to gobble up whatever baked goods I made. I'll miss that.

Apricot Espresso Chocolate Chip Cookies
Even if you're not a huge dried fruit fan, I'm betting you'll like the dried apricots in these. The chocolate balances out their sweetness, and they lend a wonderful chewiness. And the espresso powder (available at lots of decent grocery stores--I buy the Medaglia D'Doro brand) adds a depth that your grateful tasters might not be able to put their finger on. Super important to LET THIS DOUGH REFRIGERATE FOR AT LEAST 30 MINUTES or the cookies will flatten out too much.

1 3/4 c. flour
2 c. old fashioned oats
1 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. white sugar
1 ts. baking soda
pinch salt
3 tsp. instant espresso powder
2 cubes (1 cup) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 egg and 1 egg yolk
1 ts. vanilla
1/2 bag semisweet or 60% chocolate chips (Can add more if you want.  This is how I get two batches out of one bag)
1 c. coarsely chopped dried apricots


Preheat oven to 350.  In medium bowl, combine flour, oatmeal,sugars, salt,baking soda, and espresso powder. Add egg, egg yolk, melted butter, and vanilla, stir once or twice, then add chocolate chips and dried apricots. Refrigerate dough for at least 30 minutes to firm it up.  Place balls of cookie dough on cookie sheets lined with parchment paper, and bake for 9-10 minutes.  Take them out while they still the tiniest bit underdone.  Once they sit for 15 minutes, they’ll be just right.