Thursday, January 28, 2010

When life gives you graham crackers

...make these:

This was one of the LA Times' Top 10 recipes of the year. As soon as I saw the article I was salivating. Then, in an almost eerie confluence of events*, I happened to find myself with:

a) Stacks and stacks of extra homemade graham crackers
b) An obligation to provide dessert for a cocktail party at school**
c) Enough willpower not to dump the completely inferior Nanaimo Bars*** off at the party and instead eat every single one of these myself****.

Julienne's***** Graham Cracker Bars

Rich and chewy, deeply toffee flavored, with an amazing crunchy crust.


3 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/4 c. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
2 Tbs. flour
3/4 c. (1 1/2 sticks) butter, at room temperature

Heat the oven to 350. Using a hand or stand mixer, blend the crumbs, sugar, salt and flour together, and then add the butter, mixing until moist and well blended. Press the mixture firmly and evenly over the bottom of a 13x9 pan. Bake until the crust is golden brown, about 10 to 15 minutes.

Topping and assembly

2 1/2 c. brown sugar
4 extra large eggs
2/3 c. graham cracker crumbs
1 Tbs. butter, melted
1 Tbs. vanilla extract
3/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 c. pecans, chopped
prepared crust
powdered sugar, for garnish

While the crust is baking, in a large bowl whisk together the brown sugar, eggs and butter to blend. Add in the vanilla, salt, and baking powder and continue whisking until well blended. Stir in the pecans. Spread the mixture over the prepared crust, and return to the oven. Bake until the filling is dark-golden on top and jiggles slightly when tapped, about 20-25 minutes. Remove to a cooling rack and cool completely. Sprinkle cooled bars with a light dusting of powdered sugar, then cut into squares and serve. The bars can be made 1 day ahead and stored in an air tight container at room temperature.

Click to print this recipe!

* That fortune cookie was spookily on the money.
** You gotta love an elementary school that throws a cocktail party for a visiting accreditation committee. Shameless!
*** Didn't I say you should stay tuned? It was in the footnotes.
**** I only ate three right away, but I did keep all the little edge bits as a stash for later.
***** I have never visited, but this is a restaurant in San Marino which is now a "must go" outing for the Foodie Girls on the basis of this recipe alone. As soon as I bit into my first bar, I immediately ordered the cookbook. If the number of pages I tagged to try are any indication, this one will be firmly ensconced on my cookshelf in no time.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

If I lived in Nanaimo, I'd be really fat

After a two month haitus, during which I baked my butt off, but not audaciously, I rejoin the ranks of Daring Bakers in January. Hence:

"The January 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Lauren of Celiac Teen. Lauren chose Gluten-Free Graham Wafers and Nanaimo Bars as the challenge for the month. The sources she based her recipe on are 101 Cookbooks and"

Clearly, as with the oh-so-French vols-au-vent challenge, I needed some translation. I took it in steps:

Part 1. Gluten-free. Given the amount of flour in my pantry, this was the true foreign element of the challenge. Hopefully will be able to bluff my way through*.
Part 2. Graham Wafer. Hmm. "Wafer" sounds suspiciously like a former-British-Colony way of saying "cracker". Hold that thought.
Part 3. Nanaimo Bars. I was stumped. I read on. Aha!

"Nanaimo Bars are a classic Canadian dessert created in none other than Nanaimo, British Colombia. In case you were wondering, it’s pronounced Nah-nye-Moh."

Canada...which is, in fact, a former British Colony! Apparently the entire province, if not country, is overrun with super sweet chocolate sugar bombs disguised as bakery items. If you go to the town website, you get the recipe. If you go to the town itself, you will obviously get a heart attack**. Someone needs to warn the Olympic committee immediately about this threat.

The challenge further included a short description of the triple layer diet killer from the North:

1. A bottom crust made of crushed graham "wafers", cocoa, butter, sugar, nuts and coconut
2. A middle layer of flavored custard***
3. A top layer of chocolate ganache

The challenge was to bake fresh graham crackers, using an adaptation of Nancy Silverton's recipe. Then to take those crackers, crush them to bits****, and assemble our interpretation of Nanaimo bars. My mission clear, I went to work.

Frozen butter bits, ready for their close up

The graham cracker dough comes together easily in the food processor.
The secret ingredient? Lots of honey...

Form a rectangle, and put in the fridge overnight.

Dough must be really cold when you roll it out.

I made circles, although traditionally, the crackers are square.

They seemed happy enough...
Little did they know those smiles would soon be crushed.

Melting butter, sugar, cocoa and an egg together.
I throw in some almond extract and Kahlua for good measure!

My "add ins" for that chocolate layer:
Crumbs, almonds, and rice Krispies (in place of coconut)

In the pan, ready for layer two

Fresh cream cheese Kahlua buttercream

Seriously out of control decadence here.
My favorite part of these bars.
Must use on the next carrot cake...or cake of any kind that I make!

Where they got the expression, the icing on the cake. Pure chocolate, butter, and a dash of espresso drizzled on top, then spread out to make layer three. The whole thing goes right into the fridge, and about an hour later...

A Nanaimo Bar, eh!

This is an extreme close up, as the actual size of that bar is about 3/4" x 3/4", and even with a tiny bite of that tiny piece, I thought my head was going to explode from the sugar rush. They are decadent and totally deadly. Who knew those polite and neighborly Canadians had such a stealth weapon ready to go?

* I was. Although we were required to bake our own graham "wafers" we were allowed to use regular flour in the recipe if we liked. I liked. If you like, try the gluten-free version by substituting 1 c. sweet rice flour, 3/4 c. tapioca starch and 1/2 c sorghum flour for the flour in the original recipe.
** This is unfair speculation based on this challenge only. I am sure there are actually lovely stands selling seltzer water and fresh lettuce there, too, but they are not on the town website.
*** Another translation: Custard (in Canada) = pure buttercream frosting (everywhere else)
**** Really? A day of work, just to make crumbs??? Sigh. Luckily, the recipe makes a lot more than I needed for this challenge, and I found an unbelievably delicious way to use the extra. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Fortunately, I got this on a Monday I have six whole days left to figure out what to do next week.

Monday, January 25, 2010

There's no such thing as free rent

When school was canceled recently*, I had two options for what to do with the kids:

A. Ignore them
B. Play with them

By a vote of 2 to 1, we went with option B**. The skies were darkly threatening, the rain was coming down in sheets, and an entire day stretched before us. Two faces looked at me expectantly. Had I been serious when I'd made the offer? Was this yet another cruel Mommy bait-and-switch where having fun somehow turned into no TV, homework and a shower? As I finished up the last of the morning chores, they were following me around in breathless anticipation. At last I turned to them, hands on hips, and spoke:

Me: Alright guys. We're going to play Monopoly. And we're going to play...
Them: (exploding with excitement and high fiving each other) YAY!!!!
Me: (holding up my finger for silence)...until someone wins.
Them: Whoa.
Me: That's right. We are going to attempt to do something that has never before been done in the history of our family. No time limits, no tantrums. We will go as long as it takes. We could still be here when Daddy comes home. In fact, I bet we'll be here for days. But we will finish this game.

Their eyes are like saucers and I see my daughter's lip trembling.

Me: And what I need to know, right here, right now, is -- are you with me?

They glance at each other. A quick, decisive nod passes between them.

Them: (solemnly) We're with you, Mom!
Me: OK then. Let's play.

Phase I: Getting Started

Her: Who's the banker?
Him: Mom's the banker.
Her: How come Mom is always the banker?
Me: Because it's fair that way. Hand over the money.

Phase II: Collecting Property

Him: Mom, you have like $6 left. Why are you mortgaging everything to buy Atlantic Avenue? I have the other yellow one anyway, so you can't get a monopoly.
Me: That's for me to know, and you to find out, Mr. Smarty Pants.
Him: You're crazy.
Me: Just roll.

Her: Hey! I'm collecting the railroads. Can you not buy that one?
Him: I kind of feel like buying this one. In fact, I think I love this railroad more than life itself.
Her: Mom!
Me: You can always trade him for it later, honey.
Her: I'll give you a thousand dollars not to buy that railroad.
Him: Sold!
Me: Sweetie, the railroad only costs $200. Plus, he doesn't even own the railroad, and you can't buy it until you land on it yourself.
Him: Mom! Shut up!
Her: A ha! Thanks, Mom. OK. I'll give you $800 not to buy that railroad.
Me: Sigh.

Her: (Screaming and running around in circles, waving the deed in her hand) I got Boardwalk! I got Boardwalk! I got Boardwalk! I RULE!!!
Him: We're doomed.

Phase III: Trading

Him: I've got Marvin Gardens up for grabs. Anyone except Mom interested? I thinking of someone who has Tennessee Avenue, perhaps?
Her: No. I want the Electric Company.
Him: I don't have that.
Her: Then we have nothing to talk about. Move on.

Her: Mom, I'll give you all my properties for the Electric Company.
Him: NO! She'll get like two monopolies and take all of our money! Don't do it! Stop!
Me: Honey, I can't take all your properties. How about if I just take the red one, the light blue one, and the orange one?
Him: Thank the Lord!
Her: But you can have the pink one that I got from him, because I don't like pink. Just take it.
Me: Thank you, honey. But I feel bad not paying you anything, so here's $100.
Him: I can't believe this.

Me: OK. I'll give you North Carolina for Marvin Gardens, plus free rent on the reds for two turns.
Him: Done!
Her: What? FREE RENT?!? There's no such thing as free rent! You can't do that!
Me: Yes, you can.
Her: I never heard of that. DAD!
My husband: I am so not playing this game.

[Seven and a half hours have elapsed since we started. It is very dark out. We break for dinner, sleep, and school the next day. The game resumes that afternoon.]

Her: (having not only accepted the concept of free rent, but fully embraced it) I'll give you $500 and free rent for the rest of your life on all my stuff if you give me that railroad.
Me: Honey, you can't win the game if you don't ever charge your brother rent. There's only two possible sources of income for you, and he's one of them! Plus, if he only has to pay me, he'll never run out of money. Don't you see?
Her: You'll still have to pay me, right?
Me: Yes.
Her: Then it's fine. Are we good here?
Him: Heck, yeah!

Phase IV: End Game

Me: I want to buy 12 more houses.
Them: Mom! Why are you doing this to us?
Me: Because I have to go pee.

Him: I landed on Boardwalk...but wait! It's free for me!
Her: (Gives him a high five)
Me: That is so unfair.
Him: Just get my 200 bucks ready. I'm about to pass Go.
Me: That's right. And land smack on my hotel on Baltic Avenue, which is most definitely not free for you.
Him: That fleabag? I'd rather go to jail.
Me: You should be so lucky.

Her: Six, seven, eight, nine...Community Chest!
Him: How does she do that!? I have every one on that side and she gets Community Chest again?
Her: I won a beauty contest, too. That'll be $10.
Me: When I landed there, it cost me a fortune.
My husband: (passing through) Serves you right, bloodsucker.

[We recess for basketball practice, sleep and breakfast the following morning. The dishes have been rinsed, and the game begins again.]

Her: Four, five, six...Chance.
Him: Sigh.
Her: Get this! I'm Chairman of the Board!

Me: Let's see. Illinois with three houses is $330. Thank you for stopping by!
Him: (Turning in despair to his sister) Now do you see why it wasn't a good idea to give her the red one just because it clashed with your green ones? It's killing me!
Her: I'm sorry! I didn't know!
Him: Well...just...never mind. Mom, you're evil.
Me: I'm not evil; I'm just a good property manager.

Phase V: Victory

Him: That's it, I'm done.
Her: But wait! You can't lose! Here...have all my money and stay in. You don't even have to pay me back! We can still beat her, but I can't do it alone! PLEASE!
Him: I'm too far in the hole, and Mom's like the landlord from hell. She's everywhere, and she's not afraid to charge us. Face it. We're toast. Let's just stop now and go to In N Out.
Her: (wailing) Noooooo!
Me: (patting her back as I put away my stacks of money) I'm sorry, honey, but the game's over. Just think how much fun we had, plus it took me three whole days to win. That's a record for sure. So, how about if I pay for the cheeseburgers, and everybody has a shake, too. OK?
Her: (sniffling) OK.

Her: (in the car on the way to lunch) Can we have a rematch when we get home?

* Because it was raining. LA is already an object of ridicule in the rest of the country, and now this? My sister's entire class of college students was rolling in the aisles in Michigan.
** There was a third option, "shoot them", but as convenient as that sounded while they were screaming at each other over piles of discarded clothes and leftover breakfast plates, I quickly dismissed it as impractical. Not only is there some kind of waiting period for a handgun, but I'd be kicked out of carpool. I have a really good carpool.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Divine intervention in Massachusetts

I was relieved to hear from my mom that the election of Scott Brown was more proof that God is indeed looking out for the president.

Mom: I know that everyone is upset about this thing in Massachusetts, but I think it's so good for Barack.
Me: How is that?
Her: It shows that he just shouldn't have had his name on that bill. God is protecting his legacy from bad legislation.
Me: But...
Her: Of all the things that history is going to write about him, that health care one was going to be bad. So God took it off the table. And now, he can move on and do other stuff instead. Isn't that great?
Me: But...
Mom: The only thing is, he needs to stop going places.
Me: Um, why?
Mom: First, he went to Denmark, and we didn't get the Olympics. Then he went to Massachusetts, and we lost that one. He's smart. He didn't want to go. But he listened to his advisers and look what happened. Next time, he should just trust his instincts and stay home.

She might have something there.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

I think that last storm was my fault

Apparently, LA, too, has sinned*, and the wrath of the Lord hath brought down four storms in a row upon us. And we were sore afraid, and did quail in the face of the mud.

And lo, our repentance was great and genuine, and we did offer to bake up a batch of warm and gooey cinnamon rolls as a sign of our willingness to stay home and eat and be lazy instead of joining the foolish heathens going forth into the streets of brown and slushy water.

And the Lord was most pleased, and did cause a break in the deluge such that we could take the dog out to go pee.

But alas, we are imperfect mortals, and didst forget to saveth a cinnamon roll for the Lord.

And the Lord did cancel school**, so great was his fury.

Sacrificial Sinful Sticky Cinnamon Buns

Of all the things I learned to make in my Pro Chef class, these were far and away my family's favorite. Mine, too. I've included the yeast dough method, which you need to decide to make the day before, and the quick dough method, which you can whip up within an hour of deciding you are in need of redemption.

Follow these steps to make your rolls:

1. Make your dough, and set it aside.
2. Make the cinnamon filling and set it aside.
3. Get out a 13x9 rectangular pan, or two smaller round baking pans.

4. Make the caramel glaze. Pour it into the bottom of your baking pan, or if you are using two round pans, divide it between the two. Set the pans aside and preheat the oven to 375.

5. Roll out your dough on a well floured board into a rectangle about 16" by 13" and 1/3" thick. Trim edges if you need to in order to have a neat rectangle.

6. Spread the cinnamon filling over the dough using a knife or small spatula. Filling should go right to the edge on all but one short (13") side of the dough. This is the edge that will seal up the roll.

7. Roll the dough up like a jelly roll, starting at the other short end. Pinch the dough lightly to seal, and turn so the seal is on the bottom of the roll.

8. Using a well floured, sharp serrated knife, cut into 12 slices, slightly more than an inch thick.

9. Place the rolls, cut side down, in the pan(s) on top of the caramel glaze.
10. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until golden brown.
11. While the rolls are baking, make the icing.
12. Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the pan for a couple of minutes, so the glaze will set. Carefully invert onto a serving platter. Glaze will be very hot and will dribble over the sides.

Don't worry if they don't come out in a perfect little formation...they're sticky buns and looks are the least of your worries!

13. To cement your goodliness in the sight of the Lord, drizzle vanilla icing over the rolls, and serve.

Sweet Roll Dough (yeast method)

1 pkg. dry yeast
3 Tbs. warm water (about 105 degrees)
1/2 c. whole milk, warmed to about 105 degrees
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 c. butter, melted
1 egg and 1 egg yolk, at room temperature
2 1/4 to 2 3/4 c. all purpose flour

Mix the warm water with 2 tsp. of the sugar in a small bowl, and sprinkle the yeast on top. Stir gently and let stand about a minute to dissolve. In a large mixing bowl, combine the warm milk, the rest of the sugar, the salt, the melted butter, the egg and the egg yolk. Beat well and add the yeast mixture. Add 1 cup of flour and beat until smooth and well blended. Add another 1 1/4 c. of flour and beat until dough holds together in a rough mass. Turn out onto a lightly floured board and knead for a minute or two. Rest 10 minutes. Resume kneading for 8-10 more minutes, gradually sprinkling on additional flour a tablespoon at a time if the dough is too sticky. Place in a greased bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk. Punch down. Dough is now ready to be shaped and baked.

Buttermilk Sweet Roll Dough (quick method)

3 c. flour
3 Tbs. sugar
4 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1/4 c. butter, at room temperature, in small pieces
1 c. plus 2 Tbs. buttermilk

In a large mixing bowl, or in the food processor, whisk together the dry ingredients. Cut in butter so mixture resembles coarse flour-y crumbs. Stir in buttermilk and combine until mixture forms a soft dough.

Turn onto lightly floured board and knead gently just until dough is no longer sticky.

Cinnamon Filling

1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 c. (1 stick) butter, softened
1 c. dark brown sugar
1 Tbs. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. salt

Combine all ingredients in a mixer or food processor until creamy and well blended.

Caramel Glaze

1/4 c. butter
1 c. brown sugar
1/4 c. light corn syrup
1/2 c. whipping cream
1/2 tsp. salt

Boil all ingredients in small saucepan until thick, about 5 minutes. Do not allow mixture to caramelize.

Vanilla icing

1 c. powdered sugar
2 Tbs. milk or cream
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Combine in small bowl until smooth. Adjust consistency by adding milk or sugar until it is in a state where you can use a spoon to drizzle it in thick ribbons over the rolls.

Variations and options:
  1. Grate a little almond paste into the filling. Really good idea!!
  2. Skip the caramel glaze. If you do this, butter the pans really well before baking, and stop reading this blog. We can't be friends anymore.
  3. Add raisins and/or nuts by sprinkling them onto the filling before you roll the dough up. Again, I will miss you.
  4. Forget the vanilla icing, it's just too much. Fine. I'll let you get away with that one.

* But not as much, as we were not being universally oppressed by the French.
** The Lord also arranged that the selection of kid friendly movies at the local theater that day did suck.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

As Miss Clavel says, "Something is not right"

My mom is a very wise woman, and convoluted as they may be, conversations with her usually have a message in them that is good for me to hear. So I am at a complete loss as to how to interpret this one. We are driving home, and the discussion (naturally) turns to Oprah.

Mom: She had the most amazing show today. Totally unexpected.
Me: Really?
Mom: Yes. There were these twin boys. Even in the womb they were holding hands. They did everything together. And then one boy got brain cancer. He got better for a while, but then he died. His brother was inconsolable, and the parents were so afraid, because all he wanted to do was leave to be with his brother. So they took him to the pediatrician. I think God told the parents to do that. Because the doctor, instead of giving him drugs like anyone else would have, asked that little boy what he liked to do. He said he liked baking cookies. And you know what she did?
Me: I have no idea.
Mom: The doctor gave him $20, and told him she wanted to invest in his cookie baking business. And you know, the very next week, he came back with a tray of cookies and an itemized list of how he spent the money. And he's been baking ever since! They give the cookies away to help the charities that helped his brother. Nate originally thought he was just going to help them with the business plan, but as soon as he met this boy, he knew his real job was to help them understand how to cope with grief.
Me: Nate? Who's Nate?
Mom: Nate! That's Oprah's designer! He's a genius, really. So gifted. He can take a house, and transform it, but it's still your house. How many designers can do that? I can't believe you don't know Nate. We all love him. And his partner died in the tsunami, and it was just awful when that happened. So of course he was the one to talk to this family and this little boy, and it was amazing how much he was able to help, because he had been through the grieving process so recently himself.
Me: Ah ha.
Mom: The little boy's favorite cookies are from a recipe by a famous chef. The gray haired lady from the south?
Me: Paula Deen?
Mom: Yes! Well, she came on the show with these incredible chocolate cookies she had baked just for him. The family is getting a brand new kitchen from Lowe's, and the audience got gift cards, too. Plus the company is making a huge donation to the charities.
Me: That's so great! What an inspiring story!

As the tale unfolds, I am thinking that Mom's message for me could be one or all of the following:
  • Cookie baking is therapeutic. I am therefore doing God's work, and Mom is proud of me.
  • Find a pediatrician who won't drug your kids, but will instead pay them to start companies. A little tougher, but I can agree with this in concept. Mom and I are on the same page.
  • Don't go to Thailand during tsunami season. Check and double check.
  • Paula Deen's cookies looked really delicious. I will download the recipe and make them immediately, and give Mom half of them to take to the people in her building.
  • Be in the Oprah audience when a corporate sponsor is granting wishes to a family in need. This seems risky to bet on, but I get it.
  • You should buy something at Lowe's. They seem like such a nice company. I might do that. Is there an Oprah viewer discount?
But it is none of the above. Instead, she concludes with this.

Mom: The whole thing made me realize how important it is for you and your sister to have a plan for what to do if something happened to your kids. Grief is a terrible, terrible thing, and it can rip you apart. You can't let it get you. If you have an idea for a lifeline ahead of time, it just might save you. It just might.

She sits back, and we listen to the radio as I drive on through the dark.

Mom: And Oprah doesn't look good, Sharon. I'm worried about her.

I'm worried, too.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Paving the way

If you couldn't already tell from the ratio of cookie baking posts to those with uplifting thoughts from my kickboxing studio, I took a bit of a break from working out over the holidays. But nothing says "January" quite like hauling a bunch of extra pounds to class and trying to get them all off in one day. And nothing says "you're a delusional idiot" like the way your thighs feel when you try to get out of a chair later that night*. Sigh.

At least my fingers aren't sore. It would be a shame not to pass on this week's message about pre-paving your path through 2010. To paraphrase:

Now is the time to create a vision for how you want the year to go. Imagine yourself in December. What are your finances like? How's your relationship going? What's happening with your career? Your body? Don't worry about the how at the moment**. Go ahead and dream as big as you like. Put it all together, and that's your destination. Just setting that vision in your mind is like pre-paving a road*** that can take you there.

After all, you wouldn't just hop on a plane for vacation without knowing where you were headed. Why get up tomorrow without a direction for your life?

Cool idea, huh? I'm going to do some dreaming while I soak these aching muscles.

* Especially since there is a lot more of your thighs to hurt now.
** Pretty easy to see what's coming next week, though.
***By the way, make it a good paving job. Not like this guy's.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Snack mom has religious experience at Episcopal school

It was my turn to bring snack for the basketball team on Friday, and I asked my son what he thought the boys would like. Brownies had been done, but otherwise the field was wide open.

Me: Krispy Kremes?
Him: No.
Me: Grapes and apples?
Him: Mom, be serious.
Him: (trying to be constructive) How about Skittles? The entire Jr. High is obsessed with Skittles.
Me: No. I will not be the mom who brings candy for snack*. Granola bars?
Him: I'm not going to dignify that with an answer. You know better than that.

The impasse has us both stumped for a minute or two.

Me: Cookies?
Him: Yes! Chocolate Chip! Thanks, Mom!

You would think this would be a breeze for me, but I have to confess that as much as I love to bake cookies, chocolate chip is one of my least favorite varieties. Maybe it's because I have a daughter who avoids chocolate like the plague, and it seems unfair to torment her. Maybe it's because I'd much rather use my personal calorie allowance gobbling up handfuls of oatmeal cookies. It could even be an aversion based on spending hours in a frat house kitchen making huge batches of the things night after night** during my formative years.

But I had to put my reluctance aside, and, to paraphrase coaches everywhere, make some for the team.

Fortunately, a little bell was ringing in the back of my mind about a blow-up in the blogosphere on just this very subject. Was I foresighted enough to have...Yes! God bless the web! Here was a recipe I'd e-mailed myself after reading a blog*** that referenced an article in the NY Times just in case someday I decided to, in fact, make chocolate chip cookies. The descriptions in both places (perfectly crispy on the outside, chewy gooey on the inside, the word "consummate" bandied about) made even my jaded mouth water.

A 1/2 hour before the game, the cookies came out of the oven, and we headed to the gym. The final score was not, unfortunately, in the team's favor****. These cookies, however, were BIG winners!

I'm Now a Convert Chocolate Chip Cookies

I used the recipe from SmittenKitchen (I think the melted butter and the egg/egg yolk combo is a winner), but applied the techniques from the article (resting time, sea salt sprinkle). The combination is unbelievably great. If I had been a chocolate chip cookie person from the get go, I may have cried when I ate one. As it was, I became an instant convert that afternoon. Praise the Lord and pass the cookies!

2 cups all-purpose flour
scant 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
generous 1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup butter, melted
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 egg
1 egg yolk

1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
Sea salt, for sprinkling
1. Sift together the flour, baking soda and salt; set aside. In a medium bowl, cream together the melted butter, brown sugar and white sugar until well blended.
2. Beat in the vanilla, egg, and egg yolk until light and creamy. Mix in the sifted ingredients until just blended.
3. Stir in the chocolate chips by hand using a wooden spoon. (I cheated and used the mixer. I also used mini chocolate chips because I had a bunch. No matter what size you use, choose very good quality chocolate chips!)

4. If you have the time, refrigerate the dough for at least 12 hours, or up to 36. Even an hour or so will help*****. This fridge time is the "special touch" that the NY Times article found gave the cookies a rich, dark toffee flavor.

5. Preheat the oven to 325. Using a small ice cream scoop or a large spoon, form dough into balls a little smaller than a golf ball, and place 2-3 inches apart on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper or a silicon baking mat. Pat the cookies down just slightly with your fingertips, and sprinkle each cookie with a little sea salt.

You can just see a light sprinkle of salt on the tops

6. Bake for 10-11 minutes, or until edges are just brown and center is light golden. Cool for a few minutes on the baking sheet, then transfer to a rack to cool further, if you have enough self-restraint.

* Although apparently I am fine with being the mom who brings Krispy Kreme doughnuts for snack.
** My first stab at entrepreneurship came as a junior in college, when my best friend and I started a business where we baked hot cookies in the kitchen of one of the fraternity houses and delivered them, with cold milk, anywhere on campus. Our rent was minimal (a tray of cookies for the guys in the frat), and we even had customers who would stop by and pay for a scoop of dough to eat on their way home from the library. We had a secret recipe (this one is better), our logo on sweatshirts, a delivery moped, and even a staff newsletter with hand drawn cartoons! Eventually we had to close when the frat realized we were actually earning money. They decided to kick us out and start making and delivering sandwiches themselves instead. Come on! Who wants a cold sandwich in the middle of the night? That brilliant business idea lasted a less than a month.
*** Specifically, SmittenKitchen, an incredibly well done food site that I admire to no end. You should see the photo from her post of this recipe showing the chocolate chips literally cascading into the mixing bowl. Stunning!
**** It's going to be a long, long season, I'm afraid.
***** You can also scoop out the cookie dough into balls, and freeze them to cook whenever you want a fresh batch. You can cook them straight from the freezer: just add a couple of minutes to the baking time.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

It would have been a good plan after all

As our time with my niece began to come to an end, I took her aside a few days ago to discuss the plan.

Me: I have an idea. What about if you don't go back to Michigan? On the day you are supposed to leave, I'll hide you in a closet, and we'll let mommy just take your stuff on the plane and you can stay here.
Her: (Eyes shining) Really? You can do that?*
Me: Sure! But you'd have to be very quiet and not tell her ahead of time about the plan. Can you keep a secret?**
Her: Yes!
Me: OK. So what we'll do is let her take all the things that we won't be needing with her. What about that big heavy jacket? You won't need that in California, right?
Her: Mommy can take it.
Me: The Uggs can go, too, huh?
Her: Yep!
Me: Anything else?
Her: (Thinking hard) I think maybe she can take the books that I already read, but we can keep the new ones here.
Me: Good idea. I like it. So, we're all set then?
Her: YES!

She brings my kids in on it.

Her: Guys, I'm going to be locked in the closet.***
Them: Um, OK.
Her: But I'm not going to have any boots.
Them: Um, OK.
Her: Don't tell my mom.
Them: No problem.

There is a lot of winking and nodding amongst us conspirators, and we're having a great time. We even discuss detaining her mom in the closet, too, and just letting all the luggage go by itself. That variation meets with universal enthusiasm, but we are stumped on how to exactly do that without her finding out. No matter, it's now our working operational mandate.

Then, this morning, I catch her staring at me hopefully, glancing meaningfully at the jacket her mom has put on top of the suitcases, and I know I have to come clean. I take her aside again.

Me: You know our plan about you staying here with me?
Her: Yes!
Me: Well, I realized that I was being really, really selfish when I made that plan. You have teachers in Michigan who are waiting to see you tomorrow, and they will be so sad when you don't come to school. And all your friends will miss you terribly. Your grandma in Michigan will be sad. Your cousins in Michigan will be super sad. It's unfair for me to keep you to myself when all those people will be sad without you.
Her: [Silence]
Me: So, I think we might have to cancel the plan, and just have you come back here as soon as you can instead. How does that sound?
Her: (grudgingly) OK.

We have a wonderful morning walking the dog, feeding the ducks, and generally soaking up the sun before they have to head out for the airport. The trunk is stuffed with four bulging suitcases. Plane snacks are in the backpack. All systems are go. We pull out onto the freeway and are soon mired in traffic on the way to drop them off.

A voice comes from the back seat.

Her: Auntie Shar? I don't actually have to go to school tomorrow. My teachers have a lot of other kids in the classroom besides me. So I could stay. If you want.

I want.

* I am all powerful. When she first arrived, her 6th birthday was coming up on Sunday. She was counting the days:

Her: Friday. Saturday. Sunday!
Me: There's no Sunday this week.
Her: There's always a Sunday! Listen to this song, Auntie Shar.

She proceeds to sing a "days of the week" song.

Me: I know that one! It goes, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Tuesday!
Her: (Laughing, but a tiny bit worried). No. That's not right!

We go back and forth, me consistently skipping Sunday and throwing in Wednesday or Friday or whatever, and eventually we move on to other jokes. Over dinner later that night, her mom asks her to finish her carrot sticks.

Her: Mommy, if I finish my carrots, will Auntie Shar let it be Sunday again?

** Until this plan was formulated, she had never kept a secret in her life. For example: as soon as she saw my mom, she yelled, "Grandma! We got you a Snuggie for Christmas! It's a surprise!

*** I said hide, not locked. I don't want to live to be 105.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

I resolve to have more days like this

Photo credit to my sister.
Idea of going to the beach today credit to my niece.
Getting sand all over the car on the way home credit to the dog. (Partial credit in this category should also be given to my kids)

Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy New Year

Today's schedule, per the family message board when we arrived home*

* We were an hour late. Not sure how the rest of the list is going. Will check in with my sister, the author of said schedule, and report back.