Cookies & Comfort

Sometimes there’s really nothing that makes you want to leave the bed in the morning. You might still be exhausted, even after supposedly sleeping all night, because your brain never leaves you alone. The bed might be too soft and comfortable compared to stepping outside of it. The idea of doing anything other than nothing seems like a really bad idea, because nothing lately has been going the way that it’s supposed to.

What do you do? When your eyes still aren’t opening fully? Bake cookies.

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Sometimes there just isn’t anything better to do at 7:00 AM. Sometimes you need to make yourself get up just so that butter and those eggs can get to room temperature, otherwise your cookies will just not hack it.

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Dewy eggs and a bit of a rainbow on my butter wrapper. Already the morning is a bit brighter.

I always take a bit of solace in that line from Julie & Julia: “You know what I love about cooking? I love that after a day when nothing is sure, and when I say nothing, I mean nothing. You can come home and absolutely know that if you add egg yolks to chocolate and sugar and milk, it will get thick. That’s such a comfort.” (It’s one of those movies that I often turn on when I’m baking. Is that too meta?  I already know it’s really dorky.)

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I hope that the act of creaming butter into sugar will always a similar effect on me.

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Should we just stop now before the raw eggs go in? Yum.

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Is there anyone else like me who doesn’t bake professionally, yet buys chocolate chips in bulk from Sam’s Club? I’m not ashamed. I’m owning it. These things are fabulous. I’m one step away from getting those huge dog-food-sized bags of flour and sugar next time.

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Chocolate chips make the harder parts of life easier to get through.

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Also, my cookie scoop.

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It makes all the cookies roughly the same size. This makes me unreasonably happy.  Most people don’t care about things like this, but when you combine my slight-OCD tendencies to want to make these chocolate chip cookies just as pretty as Bakerella’s (ha! impossible!), plus the fact that I really dislike getting my hands dirty, the cookie scoop is a wonderful little tool.

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Part of what’s so great about Bakerella’s recipe is that she stops halfway through to sprinkle more chocolate chips on top. With my larger chips, they didn’t come out nearly as pretty, but the cookies stayed chewy and gooey and melty and delicious long after they reached their destination.

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Cookie! In your face!

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Milliseconds later. They taste like all the best things about chewy Chips Ahoy, but way, waaaaay better. They taste like warmth and sweetness. They taste like chocolate, vanilla, and butter.

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They taste like comfort.

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My cat is jealous. As am I, because right after these cooled off, they got packed up and sent along to Dan’s hungry coworkers. I did get to eat a few, but just not enough. Never enough.

I might need to make more.

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Morning Ritual Tryout – Apple Pancakes

Because Dan and I have such different work schedules, we try to make the little time that we have together slightly special. But only slightly.  Don’t know why, but I feel like this requires pancakes.

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Wow, I’ve gotten much better at making pancakes. These are almost IHOP consistency. (Don’t laugh. IHOP is freaking delicious and everyone knows it.)

Now, this isn’t exactly a ritual yet, but it needs to be.

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Combining the basic pancake recipe from The Big Book of Breakfast (which might be my favorite cookbook ever, no pictures or anything, but, oh dear, so much breakfast), with some apples cooked all up in some butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon, might be the best way to start a morning together.

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Even though it does make it almost intolerably hot in the kitchen for a little while.  I do love my gas stove, but it’s hard to love something that makes your face so hot.

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What? Let’s look again.

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Should this be our new whichever-morning-we-might-get-to-spend-together ritual? I think so. Followed up by going to get granitas at PJ’s at some point? Yes.

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Dan likes his apples with extra apples. Right on.

The only problem is that I always end up making 4-5 too many pancakes and keeping them in the freezer where they call to me as I pass by the kitchen. They tell me that it’s okay to have pancakes for lunch. They are dirty liars. But delicious liars.

Oh man, I need to stop spending so much time at home.

Just a Little Love & a Little Rubbing Alcohol

When Dan and I first met, we liked each other right away.  However, when we both discovered that we each had a passion for vinyl records, it may have been what sealed the deal that we were meant to be.

I started early, with Cabbage Patch Kids and Care Bears records, moving on quickly to stealing my parents’ records and keeping them in my room, listening to the Doors and Iron Butterfly with incense lit and blacklight on. The only records from my parents’ large collection that made it through Hurricane Katrina safely were the ones that I had stolen long ago and were safe in Colorado in my greedy mitts.  I added to my collection from Goodwill and other thrift stores and garage sales, never buying a record unless it was preowned and preloved.

Dan has a ridiculously large collection of pristine techno, dance, and breaks, rounded out by lots of alternative and classic rock. He’s the real deal, buying new, still-wrapped albums on vinyl if it’s available rather than CDs (Are we really old? Do people buy CDs anymore? I think the evidence that we are might be in the fact that I don’t know either way.) or downloading them. He’s got an unnatural aversion to used records, thinking that they might taint both his equipment and the rest of the collection with their battered covers and scratches.  However, both my preloved records and I won him out in the end, and the rest is history.

Since we got together, our collections have merged into one really big, weird, electic mix that demonstrates how two very different people came together. There’s Chemical Brothers next to the Kinks, Lady Gaga residing by Pearl Jam, and all kinds of crazy stuff in-between.

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Which brings me to my point. Upon moving back home, Dan and I discovered boxes and boxes of albums and 45s that needed some extreme TLC.

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All of the records that didn’t make it safely through Hurricane Katrina have been sitting in my parents’ garage ever since in their rusty carrying cases and mold-ridden sleeves. I’ve been taking my afternoons and using them to dig out these jewels and help restore them to their former glory.

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I was scared to start at first, but I discovered (after a little online research) that rubbing alcohol can work wonders. All I’m doing right now is using a towel and some 1:1 isopropyl alcohol and water solution. I’ve been taking this…

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…and coming out with this…

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…much to my surprise. Now, the final results are a little less striking in person after the rubbing alcohol dries because then you get to see all those years of tiny scratches and dings, but it’s still an amazing change to me. All those people who have taken proper care of their records since they started collecting are probably not so impressed, but I can’t even say how excited I am.

I can’t wait until I give them a few more passes and make sure that they’re all ready for their maiden voyage on the turntable. I’m excited about getting them all new paper sleeves and cataloguing them and alphabetizing them, although I know that there’s no way they’ll stay that way. I’m especially excited about this one.

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Harlem Globetrotters? This is awesome.

Challenge Accepted

For me, part of baking (and really almost any hobby that I try to tackle) is trying to accomplish something that seems difficult. I realize that a large section of baking and cooking in general falls into this category since I’m not exactly an expert, but part of the fun is challenging myself. When my dad didn’t show any particular interest in what his birthday dessert should be, and Dan suggested apple pie, I knew this was a “challenge accepted” type of situation.

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Is it just me, or doesn’t this apple look quite pretty in my apple corer?

I’ve never made a double-crusted fruit pie before. Only pumpkin pie, at which I’ve actually grown quite proficient thanks to Libby’s Pumpkin Pie recipe on the back of the can and Joy the Baker‘s awesome no-roll pie crust. This, however, was going to actually take more finesse than I typically exhibit. I had to go for the big guns.  The classy touch.  The Betty Crocker cookbook.

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I needed practice.  In learning the things that all bakers seem to instinctive know but that doesn’t come naturally to me.  Like, in cutting and peeling things properly.

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And making crust. Crust that doesn’t fall apart and rip at the merest touch.

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Nearly there, but I think that my rolling pin is working against me. I bought a non-stick fancy-pants one a while ago, and I really think at this point that I’d do better with a baseball bat. No amount of flour and refrigeration and tender care keeps the stupid thing from sticking to whatever I put it to. I thought I was pretty clever using my star-shaped cookie cutter for the vent, but again, the dough had different plans and shaped itself accordingly.

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I’m getting a little to fascinated with these in-the-oven shots. It think they look fairly futuristic, especially with all the tin foil.

In our haste to deliver said pie, I forgot to take more pictures, so excuse the iPhone quality and odd lighting for the rest.

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A little wonky, a little burnt, but a lot delicious.

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I’m going to have to concentrate especially hard on not cutting myself a piece for lunch.

Fancy Bird Food for People

I made cookies today. This is nothing new. This is usually what I’m doing on Thursdays when I’m not studying or watching Doogie Howser, M.D. on Hulu. (Don’t pretend you didn’t like that show. When I was a kid, we even taped it every week just in case.) However, these cookies are not quite my usual.

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One might even call them healthy, if one were inclined. These are my very-slightly-altered version of everybody likes sandwiches‘s Smart Cookies.

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So many ingredients! (not pictured: even more stuff) I was in the bulk aisle of Whole Foods, trying to not have a small panic attack at how much this was going to cost, trying to remember that this would make a whole boatload of cookies that would last a while. For some reason, I tend to have grocery price anxiety (much to Dan’s chagrin), especially since moving and getting re-established in New Orleans, but I persevered.

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I mean, look at how pretty that all is in the bowl! Oatmeal, oat bran, walnuts, dried cranberries (subbing in for raisins, my only modification), flax seeds, sesame seeds, chocolate chips, coconut, oh dear…it’s like fancy bird food for people.

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It all gets held together with applesauce and maple syrup somehow, making these vegan treats not-too-sweet and delightfully chewy. It’s also mildly amusing that these cookies look almost exactly the same raw as when baked, just slightly browner out of the oven.

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The taste is both weird and great at the same time. Depending on the elements in your bite, you get either apple cinnamon oatmeal, bright and tart cranberry, dark chocolate and coconut, or even something that vaguely tastes like popcorn.

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It’s awesome. It’s moderately healthy. It makes my kitchen smell like I’ve been productive today. I’m going to make it a point to get more things involving oatmeal into our stomachs as soon as possible. I think that Shutterbean‘s Maple Oatmeal Cashew Squares might be on the way. I’m going to need to get a real cookie jar at this rate.

Avoid Baking Shame with Tabouleh Salad

I bake a lot of cookies. Some have said that it might possibly be too many cookies, but the complaints dry up when the cookies are presented for all to enjoy. In an effort to not eat as many of these cookies (because I can’t be bothered to stop baking them, of course), I’m trying to implement a new system.

While waiting for whatever delicious baked good’s dough that I am making to either rise or chill or rest or cool or etc…I am going to make something healthy to eat for lunch. Chop up some vegetables amidst the flour and chocolate chips. Make something to look forward to for the rest of the day so that I don’t wander down to the kitchen unnecessarily to just “check” on something and grab a cookie on my way up.

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While making pepparkakor the other morning, there were a lot of cooling and chilling steps that needed time-filling. Cue up some tabouleh salad.

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This is adapted from 200 Super Salads, this great little recipe book that Dan got me for Christmas this year, which may seem like an odd gift, but it’s awesome. Lettuce is boring. This book takes you beyond lettuce.

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I didn’t make too many modifications, but I feel like the resulting salad is much lighter and brighter and more summery. The biggest elements are doubling all the good stuff so that I can get enough salad for a good long time, plus taking out the cheese so that Dan can enjoy it, too. I had some of this over some spinach yesterday for lunch, and it was delicious.

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Tabouleh Salad
adapted from 200 Super Salads, Chickpea & Herb Salad

1 cup bulghur wheat
6 tbsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. lemon juice
3/4 bunch of flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped
2 13 oz. cans of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
8 oz. grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
1/4 medium red onion, finely diced
1 cucumber
salt and pepper, to taste

Put the bulghur wheat in a heatproof bowl, and pour over enough boiling water to cover. Set aside and allow water to absorb completely while you chop up all the other ingredients. Dump all vegetables in a large bowl. Add olive oil, lemon juice, and salt and pepper on top. Add bulghur wheat after moderately cooled, and mix together. Chill in the refrigerator for an hour or two, making sure everything’s good and cold. I like it on a bed of spinach or with wheat crackers and hummus. Yum!

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Eat it all up. It’ll definitely make you feel better about the cookies and milk you plan to demolish later that day.

Pepparkakor Make Jinger Happy

Even though it’s not the first thing that I’ve made and photographed since moving back to the house in New Orleans, I thought that it would be fitting to open up with a ginger-themed cookie.

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People always give me bags of gingersnaps and candied ginger and ginger tea for presents (especially Christmas), and I always feel bad because I’m not a big fan.  I know that it’s ironic (or whatever word would be used to describe a situation where you don’t like a food that is very similar to your given name…I doubt that there is a proper descriptive term for that) for me to not like ginger, but it’s just weird to me.  It’s a bit overwhelming and too savory for my tastes, but there is one exception to this rule.

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A few years ago, a friend bought me a huge container of pepparkakor from Cost Plus World Market for a Christmas present, and I was hooked from the first bite.  Pepparkakor are thin Danish gingersnaps, and the best kinds are super thin and crispy and ridiculously spicy.

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I decided a long time ago that I needed to learn to make them for myself so that they could be a more constant presence in my life, but never found a recipe that seemed worth the effort.  Recently, after secretly stalking one of my favorite blogs, Tea & Cookies, through her archives, I found a pepparkakor recipe that looked delicious, and my fate was sealed.

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The recipe is here for interested parties (Do it. Just do it. Make a big mess.). It’s a decent amount of work, and it’s really important to keep the dough cold and use flour liberally to keep it from sticking while you’re rolling out the dough. I feel like my body temperature must be oven-like because I only had 3 minutes top before the dough was getting tragically sticky.

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My countertop and my hands and the fridge handle and the oven handle and my apron are thoroughly coated in flour, but I think it’s worth it. I’m waiting for a cold glass of milk this afternoon to really enjoy these, but I may have tasted one right out of the oven and declared it delicious.

These aren’t quite as sweet and crispy as I want, but the spice and molasses is just right. I think that I need to just get more adventurous and roll out that dough as thin as possible to really get that effect that I want. I also shied away from the salt sprinkle on top (which is weird for me because usually sweet & salty is my jam, yo), but I think it would have been the way to go.

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It’s not like anyone’s going to have to twist my arm to make these again. I’ve got plenty of time to perfect these for Christmas.