about bliss

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

creme brûlée, part two: the truth about creme brûlée

Oh, for that first bit of creme brûlée: a marvel, a wonder. The complex interplay of hard and soft, hot and cold. The luxurious simplicity, the purity of flavor, the elemental richness, and utter too-too muchness...

And yet. Its seeming facility belies the potential for disaster: a failure of the elements to commingle, a custard that won't set, a crust that won't harden.

The danger of consuming creme brûlée with abandon, without context, and with--horror of horrors--artificiality or false pretense.

But, oh, when it's done right, it's sheer transcendence, ineluctable bliss, utter harmony.

Monday, September 29, 2008

twd: creme brûlée, part one

pre-bruleed espresso custard

Florida heat shimmered outside in counterpoint to the air conditioning blasting inside. A group of five diverse grad school friends, tense after two days of Fort Walton Beach escapades, sat down for a lovely meal at a restaurant whose name escapes me. The tranquil, marine themed ambience soothed the jagged edges of a too-long mini-break with too-many strong-willed women.

My friend S. ordered creme brûlée for dessert, and when it appeared, crackling and beckoning from its shallow ramekin, I edged my spoon closer. The magic of that crack of the sugar crust and the give of the custard, the pure vanilla bliss of that first bite, revealed a whole new world beyond cakes and pies and cookies. I was smitten.

Over the years I've baked creme brûlée at home with mixed success--the trick of any custard is tempering and not scrambling the eggs. Dining out, I used creme brulee as a litmus test of restaurants' dessert menu.

And so, this week's TWD recipe, a classic creme brûlée, chosen by Mari of Mevrouw Cupcake, revived memories of creme brûlées past. I decided to follow Dorie's recipe and cooking directions fairly closely to see if her method was more successful than hot stove top stirring and water baths of my previous attempts at creating a perfect custard.

I made just a few modifications:
1. I halved the recipe and set out three small porcelain ramekins
2. I followed the espresso variation, dissolving instant espresso rather than infusing the milk with freshly ground beans
3. I used one yolk from a jumbo farm fresh egg
4. I used skim milk in place of whole

Because of these changes, the custard didn't set quite as firmly as I would've liked, but Dorie's directions, unsurprisingly, produced the smoothest custard I've ever made. I'll definitely follow her tempering directions again.

I refrigerated the individual custards after baking, and last night after dinner I set one out to warm slightly before sprinkling with raw sugar and sticking under the broiler, as my kitchen torch is on the fritz.

I watched and waited, moving the ramekin with tongs to evenly brown under the broiler. The sugar crystals slowly fused into a slick, caramel expanse.

I hovered over the dish with my spoon, awaiting that magical moment of cracking the crust...

fabulous. The slight bitter acidity of the espresso contrasted and even accented the voluptuousness of the custard in a way that pure vanilla does not. I fought the temptation to a) lick the inside of the ramekin and b) fire up the broiler for another serving.

Dorie's recipe for creme brûlée is simple and rewarding--sheer elegance and depth of flavor achieved with minimal labor. Another delicious revelation!

creme brûlée bliss

Sunday, September 28, 2008

locavore quiche tart

quiche tart, prior to baking

My campus began a Locavore Challenge on Wednesday, and I've been wracked by guilt--I haven't been stretching beyond my pre-existing local boundaries. Eating locally is in some ways harder for vegetarians like myself; while we have lovely grassfed, organic, free range beef and chicken in these parts, local soy products, dried beans, and nuts have been nearly impossible to find.

And so today, with a little extra time, and an egg white left over from making this week's TWD recipe, creme brulee, I set about to make a quiche in my yet unused tart pan. (I lost my pan somewhere in the last year's two moves).

I made a simple Pate Brisee crust, roasted garlic, and caramelized onions with fresh thyme. I wilted handfuls of spinach, sliced roasted peppers, thinly sliced smallish tomatoes, grated stravecchio (wisconsin parmesan style cheese), and chiffonaded basil.

After freezing and then blind baking the tart crust, I assembled the tart. I slipped it into the oven and headed back to the business of answering work emails and preparing for another week of classes.

quiche tart, in its golden, baked splendor

I served the tart with roasted yukon gold potatoes and roasted broccoli. The only items in the entire meal not locally produced and sourced: flour, olive oil, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes. A vegetarian locavore success!

a delicious locavore feast

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

romance and locavores

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

I'm taking a break from baking and baking blogging today to share some exciting news: two fun presentations this week!

1. On Friday I'm giving a talk at my College on popular romance fiction, my current research (and creative) specialty and interest. I'm hoping to share my enthusiasm for the genre and to "redeem" this genre in the face of common charges of formula fiction that's simply wish fulfillment fantasy written by "the damned mob of scribbling women" (said by Nathaniel Hawthorne about the 19th century domestic novelists like Fanny Fern, whose books were outselling his, but echoed in many a review and casual conversation even today). I'm making some classic ganache truffles and bringing sparkling wine, and a friend is making other romantic treats.

2. I've been asked to speak at our farmers' market on Saturday on our campus green initiatives, particularly our Locavore Challenge that starts tomorrow! I'm so excited--I love the farmers' market and I'm so passionate about local foods. I'm also thrilled to represent my school and to hopefully build positive connections between the campus and the community.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

p.s. dimply peach cake...

...tastes caramelly from the brown sugar, and rich from the organic valley pasture butter. The cake puffs up around the sunny peaches, which cook just enough that they're soft but intact. What a lovely before bed snack with a mug of strong Cafe Fair French Roast decaf coffee. Good night, y'all ♥

twd: dimply peach cake

And, here I am again raving about peaches...

Friday night after we drove back to my parents house from the ferry dock, Mom surprised Dad and I with a delicious little nectarine galette. On Saturday, Mom and I were too busy soaking up the late and next-to-last summer sunshine to fuss with pastry and a full blown peach pie. Instead, we made a peach crisp to follow a dinner of farmer's market veggies and Grandpa's stories.

Today I carried a heavy paper grocery bag filled with Michigan fruits and veggies on the car ferry, and when I stepped off on the other side of the Lake feeling a little blue, and a little alone, I decided to use some of the peaches Mom sent home with me to make this week's TWD recipe: Dimply Plum Cake, chosen by Michelle of Bake-en. Dorie suggests peaches as an acceptable alteration.

I buttered and floured my favorite and under-used green Emile Henri pie plate, since my 8 inch baking dish is at a friend's house. I set about mixing the dry ingredients and allowing the cold ingredients to reach room temperature while I washed, peeled, and halved the peaches.

I decided that today was a day to dip into my Organic Ancient Snow Sprout Green Tea, a special occasion tea (read: ridiculously expensive) that I purchased at Great Lakes Tea and Spice in Glen Arbor, Michigan earlier this summer. This shop is actually two little refurbished "out buildings," which are charmingly and simply equipped with shelves of tea and spices and various high tech tea machines and quaint pots. Besides the high quality tea, the best part about the shop is the proprietor, who brewed a pot of the aforementioned tea for us, shared its story, and generally left us--no, not H, because she is happily married (as is, I should mention, Tea Guy), but rather ME--smitten.

And such a lovely green tea asked to be steeped and served in an authentic cast iron Japanese tea pot, so I dug that out too. I eschewed my Japanese tea cups in favor of my pretty, cottagey, vintage Johnson Brothers Rose Chintz tea cup and saucer. I brought the water to a boil, then removed it from the heat for 3 minutes. I poured the hot water over the full tea petals, and allowed it to steep for 8 minutes.

I set about whirling the butter and sugar and eggs and flavorings together, and finished assembling the cake as my tea reached perfection.

I turned on the Americana radio station on my new digital cable and relaxed to Alison Krauss and Shawn Mullins.

I pushed the cake in the oven, sipped my tea, and made a batch of Mark Bittman's crunchy granola for the week: oats, flax meal, walnuts, coconut, dried cherries, maple syrup, and vanilla.

My house is toasty, and while grey skies and fog linger outside, inside I have the clarity of a Bodhisattva.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

fruit flies and peach pies

peach watercolor painting, circa 1895, courtesy of wikipedia

I've been craving peach pie now that peaches are in season. Several years ago--more like 5 or 6, when I was still living in Alabama and visits with family in Michigan were sparse-- my Mom and I made a scrumptious peach pie. Something about that pie, that time spent together, and the sweet card that Mom sent me afterwards, when I was back in the sweltering South, lingers in every bite of peach pie I've eaten since.

Last Saturday I bought 25 peaches at the farmers' market. Our peach person sets up big boxes of peaches, arranged by variety, and a big stack of paper bags, and people line up to fill the bag with however many peaches fit their fancy. I like this system--some weeks are a 7 peach week and others, like this week, are 25 peach weeks.

My intention was to make a pie and to freeze some peaches for a chilly winter day.

Then the first rhino virus of the season descended (incidentally, just in time for the first round of one-on-one meetings with my freshmen composition students. coincidence? i think not, when considering this has happened with a fair degree of regularity the past 4 fall semesters...). The peaches sat on the counter, happy in brown paper bags. I used one each morning, sliced and cooked with my oatmeal.

Pie seemed a little too touchy-feely for a girl with cold germs--I'm firmly in the blend-the-crust-with-your-fingers camp of crust making.

But today, I unrolled the bag: fruit flies! One overripe peach had sprouted mold, so I removed all the peaches from the bag and decided to make a quick peach crisp. I followed Mark Bittman's recipe for the crisp topping, using the oat variation with maple syrup and a lot less butter. Since he suggests blending the topping with a mixer or food processor, I could rest easy knowing my crisp was prepared under the best hygienic conditions for someone with a stuffy head and scratchy throat. I added cinnamon, vanilla, whole wheat flour, and a touch of nutmeg.

**I also want to rave about the butter I found at the Woodlake Market: Organic Valley Pasture Butter, limited edition, available in a half pound. A brighter yellow than most butters, it is also fragrant and extra creamy.**

Back to the crisp...it was delicious and peachy and rather virtuous for a dessert, but I'm still dreaming of pie. Peach pie.

I'm heading to Michigan for a short visit with my family this weekend, and just maybe Mom and I can take to the kitchen and make another baking memory together.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

twd: chocolate chunkers

dharmagirl with a bowlful of chocolate chunkers

Friday afternoon grey skies threatened rain and temperatures plummeted, marking a clear transition to FALL. I'm still dreaming of summer, and these early fall days bring a certain amount of sadness. To combat my blues, I headed to the Weather Center Cafe for a steaming bowl of soup and a creamy cafe au lait. I read through a stack of rough drafts and started drafting another blog entry.

Then, I went to the Woodlake Market, one of my favorite grocery stores in the region. It's a favorite because of their chocolate selection--Scharffen Berger bars, Vosges mini bars--their wine selection--and their wide array of Alterra coffee. I was in search of a decent unsweetened and white chocolate for this week's recipe, from Claudia of Fool for Food, Chocolate Chunkers. I had hoped for Scharffen Berger unsweetened chocolate, but settled for Ghiradelli.

I mixed up the dough on Saturday, starting with chopping all that chocolate--6 oz. of bittersweet (Lindt excellence); 1 oz. unsweetened (the aforementioned Ghiradelli); 3 oz. milk chocolate (Scharffenberger); and 3 oz. white (Ghiradelli). I toasted walnuts, and splashed a cup of craisins with a little Maker's Mark to push the cookies a bit over the top. The dough came together easily and tasted like a loaded brownie. I let it chill for an hour or so, and then set out baking.

Once again, I established a rhythm of filling the cookie trays, reading student essays while they baked, and then starting the cycle over again as I emptied the cookie tray and filled it again.

On Sunday I shared the cookies with my friend B and her sister M who's visiting from California. We sipped coffee and tea, munched on these delicious, lovely textured, and completely chocolate cookies while talking politics and forgetting about the never-ending rain outside.

This TWD adventure has been a joy, connecting me to other baking bloggers, but also connecting me to my friends and colleagues through the fruits of my labor. And, I'm enjoying trying new recipes that I would probably admire but never actually bake. So far I've enjoyed all the cookies I've baked, but this week's cookies are a real winner. Next time I'll use pecans and dried cherries, and hunt down all Scharffen Berger chocolate.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

veggie one hundred

The Vegetarian Hundred from Barbara at Tigers and Strawberries

Bold any items you've eaten, and strike through any items you'd never eat (okay, the Safari version of blogger does not allow strike-throughs, so I shall italicize items I'll never eat).

Have fun!

1. Real macaroni and cheese, made from scratch and baked: the ultimate comfort food
2. Tabouleh: fresh and summery
3. Freshly baked bread, straight from the oven (preferably with homemade strawberry jam): i once made brioche, which takes 2 days, loads of butter, and a powerful kitchen aid mixer
4. Fresh figs
5. Fresh pomegranate
6. Indian dal of any sort: i really want to play around with indian food more this fall and winter
7. Imam bayildi
8. Pressed spiced Chinese tofu
9. Freshly made hummus: yummm. i make a white bean hummus.
10. Tahini
11. Kimchi
12. Miso
13. Falafel: i really wish that we had a falafel joint around here
14. Potato and pea filled samosas
15. Homemade yogurt
16. Muhammara
17. Brie en croute: a favorite of mine at Beggar's Banquet in East Lansing, Michigan
18. Spanikopita
19. Fresh, vine-ripened heirloom tomatoes: from my favorite farmers
20. Insalata caprese: pure summer
21. Stir-fried greens (gai lan, bok choi, pea shoots, kale, chard or collards): i love chard!
22. Freshly made salsa: i make an avocado and grape tomato salsa with a touch of red onion
23. Freshly made guacamole: one of the few non-local staples in my kitchen
24. Creme brulee: hahaha. my friends and i have an elaborate creme brulee joke:)
25. Fava beans
26. Chinese cold sesame peanut noodles: something i've always wanted to try
27. Fattoush
28. New potatoes
29. Coleslaw
30. Ratatouille
31. Baba ganoush
32. Winter squash: i love butternut squash soup and ravioli in late fall and winter
33. Roasted beets: but i don't like them
34. Baked sweet potatoes: with a little olive oil and sea salt
35. Plantains
36. Chocolate truffles: i make these for special occasions, and often for christmas gifts
37. Garlic mashed potatoes
38. Fresh water chestnuts
39. Steel cut oats
40. Quinoa
41. Grilled portabello mushroom: i don't really like them, though
42. Chipotle en adobo
43. Stone ground whole grain cornmeal: my friend M sends me a bag of fresh stone ground grits from georgia every fall
44. Freshly made corn or wheat tortillas
45. Frittata
46. Basil pesto
47. Roasted garlic
48. Raita of any type
49. Mango lassi
50. Jasmine rice (white or brown)
51. Thai vegetarian coconut milk curry: one of my favorite foods that i don't eat often enough
52. Pumpkin in any form other than pie: pumpkin soup, pumpkin lasagna
53. Fresh apple pear or plum gallette: and how about peach?
54. Quince in any form
55. Escarole, endive or arugula: arugula with parm slivers, salt, pepper, and lemony olive oil dressing
56. Sprouts other than mung bean
57. Naturally brewed soy sauce
58. Dried shiitake mushrooms
59. Unusually colored vegetables (purple cauliflower, blue potatoes, chocolate bell peppers…)
60. Fresh peach ice cream
61. Chevre
62. Medjool dates
63. Kheer
64. Flourless chocolate cake: i am a master of chocolate baking:)
65. Grilled corn on the cob
66. Black bean (or any other bean) vegetarian chili
67. Tempeh
68. Seitan or wheat gluten
69. Gorgonzola or any other blue veined cheese
70. Sweet potato fries
71. Homemade au gratin potatoes: number 2 comfort food
72. Cream of asparagus soup
73. Artichoke-Parmesan dip
74. Mushroom risotto
75. Fermented black beans
76. Garlic scapes
77. Fresh new baby peas
78. Kalamata olives
79. Preserved lemons
80. Fried green tomatoes: southern classic
81. Chinese scallion pancakes
82. Cheese souffle
83. Fried apples
84. Homemade frijoles refritos
85. Pasta fagiole: winter staple
86. Macadamia nuts in any form
87. Paw paw in any form
88. Grilled cheese sandwich of any kind
89. Paneer cheese
90. Ma Po Tofu (vegetarian style–no pork!)
91. Fresh pasta in any form
92. Grilled leeks, scallions or ramps
93. Green papaya salad
94. Baked grain and vegetable stuffed tomatoes
95. Pickled ginger
96. Methi greens
97. Aloo paratha
98. Kedgeree (the original Indian version without the smoked fish, not the British version with fish)
99. Okra: coated with corn meal and pan fried, yummm.
100. Roasted brussels sprouts

Monday, September 08, 2008

blueberry season

blueberries, courtesy of wikipedia

In late July through early August, the sky buzzes with the whine of perilously low flying crop dusters and the groan of irrigation pumps. Welcome to rural western Michigan blueberry country, nestled between sand dunes and flat land. The sun burns bright and warm, turning the fields dusty and dry. The air smells of harvest--berries, corn, a hint of Lake Michigan--taking me back to childhood and those summers shaped by berry picking...

This was no idyllic time, even through my genuinely idealistic, optimistic child's view of the world. I longed for cool, rainy days when I could read with abandon, draw dress designs, or go back-to-school shopping at Rogers Department Store in nearby Grand Rapids.

Instead, long summer mornings and afternoons of my childhood were filled with field time. In the early days, my family and I composed the work crew. I even remember one afternoon that only grandma and I were in the field, picking berries and telling stories. As the fields multiplied and grew--from our off season work potting and planting new blueberry bushes--our labor force also grew. Neighborhood kids not working at another farm, kids from the now defunct Port Sheldon Presbyterian Church, and friends from school strapped buckets to their waists, eager to earn $.22 per pound. With a group of peers joining me in the field, picking became less of a chore and more of a social occasion. As the farmer's daughter/granddaughter, I thought I had special immunity from grandpa's gruff warnings and rules. When he yelled at my cousins I realized it was because of my follow-the-rules-don't-make-waves personality and not my last name.

By the time I was in high school, I started hauling a boom box into the field, pumping popular music into the fields. Discussion of how we would spend our hard-earned wages volleyed between the bushes. One year, when I was still in elementary school, I saved all summer to buy a pair of Calvin Klein jeans. Another summer I contemplated saving for a Gunne Sak dress. Always, my mind turned to fashion, even as I was wearing my oldest, berry stained clothes.

We would break for lunch, and I would eat sandwiches and drink pop from grandma and grandpa's garage fridge. Then I would lead the other kids in elaborate gymnastics routines, flipping and twisting and leaping across the front yard before heading back out into the fields for a few more hours of work. At the end of a long, hot day, I was happy if I picked 8-10 pails full, which would add up 50-70 pounds. There were legends of people who could pick 100 pounds a day. I was well on my way to buying one lovely fashion piece for the year to come.

As the bushes grew taller and bent with ripe fruit, hand picking gave way to machine picking, and my job moved indoors to the packing shed. I would stand along the conveyor belt picking out green, red, soft, diseased berries; twigs and leaves; and the occasional slimy slug (which I would only scoop up with an errant blueberry leaf). The wages were higher, the work less grueling, though perhaps more tedious and a little grosser, and more grown-up in nature. My mom, aunt, grandparents, and neighbor lady B all had our favorite positions along the belt...

The vinegary, dusky smell still wafts through my memory, and late this summer I could smell that distinct fragrance as I drove along the familiar roads of my childhood. One night Mom and I were driving back from town behind a truck, out of which debris was flying. We conjectured at the contents, and when we rolled down the windows and smelled that familiar processed berry cocktail, we knew for certain that the truck contained the detritus of machine picked and cleaned berries--a sludge of waste, headed perhaps to a local pig or turkey farm to continue the food cycle.

As I headed out the field the next morning with my aunt and young cousins, I gave into the pleasure of recreational picking--scatter picking the bushes, seeking out the most luscious berries to make our favorite "double good blueberry pie." I was glad to be home, my fingers remembering one activity so intrinsic to my formative years that my pail filled faster than anyone else's. I walked slowly back up the pine needle strewn path back up to my parents' house, swinging my full pail ever so gently, headed for the sanctuary of my parents' porch, a glass of ice tea, a J-Crew catalogue, and a half-finished novel begging to be read.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

s'more pie: an over the top treat for a lonely sunday

All day Saturday, visions of a pie from one of my cooking magazines danced through my head: S'mores Pie. Imagine the crunch of a graham cracker crust, the smooth creaminess of chocolate pudding, and the sticky sweetness of bruleed marshmallow topping.

When I was still thinking about the pie during my long walk on Sunday morning, I decided it was time to make the pie. I couldn't find the exact recipe, and the one I found on epicurious.com wasn't exactly what I had in mind. It was time to improvise.

While so much of baking is an intricate chemical reaction, pie begs for freestylin'. Just watch the fabulous film Waitress if you need a little inspiration.

I bought an Arrowhead Mills graham cracker crust; while the graham flavor is a little assertive, this crust contains NO high fructose corn syrup and NO trans fats. I also bought a jar of marshmallow fluff, which is almost 100% high fructose corn syrup. I figure they cancel one another out.

I searched epicurious.com and Cooking Light for chocolate pudding recipes, and decided to adapt an recipe from epicurious.

Heat the oven to 350 degrees and bake the crust until it is golden brown. Next, make the pudding.

Dark Chocolate Pudding
1/3 c sugar
1/3 c cocoa powder (I used Valrhona)
2 TBS cornstarch
1/8 tsp salt
2 c fat free organic milk
3.5 oz. bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped (I used 70% Lindt Excellence)
1 TBS espresso (I used espresso powder dissolved in hot water)
1 tsp vanilla

Whisk together first four ingredients in a medium saucepan. Add 1/3 cup milk to make a paste. Then add the remaining milk and whisk over medium heat. Cook until the mixture bubbles and thickens. Remove from heat and stir in the chocolate, espresso, and vanilla.

Pour the hot pudding into the crust and allow to cool for one hour at room temperature. Cover the pudding with a piece of plastic wrap or waxed paper, pressed down over the surface of the pudding. Then refrigerate the pie until chilled--overnight would be splendid if you can wait (I couldn't).

When the pie has chilled, and right before you're ready to serve, turn on the broiler. Spread a generous layer of marshmallow fluff over the pie (it will be sticky and tricky so be patient). Stick the pie under the broiler and brown the marshmallow topping. Your home will fill with the scent of toasting marshmallows, minus the campfire smoke.

You may want to very briefly chill the pie before serving so it has time to set and will hold together better when you cut it (although this is highly theoretical. I did chill my pie at this point but it still spilled out over the crust when I cut it).

Enjoy with a mug of strong coffee and conversation with friends.

twd: chocolate whopper malted drops

chocolate whopper malted drops, courtesy of my web cam

This week teachers, students, and professors returned to school as summer sun gave way to crisp fall breezes. I embarked on a full semester of teaching two writing classes, American Literature, and first year seminar. The amount of energy required to move from inertia to full activity never ceases to astound me. This week was exhausting and fun as I met my classes and reconnected with friends after summer vacation.

Thursday night I stopped by the grocery store to buy the necessary supplies for this week's TWD recipe, Chocolate Whopper Malted Drops (on page 85), selected by Rachel of Confessions of a Tangerine Tart. I quickly located Carnation malt powder next to the Ovaltine and Hot Chocolate, Whoppers in the candy section, and my favorite 60% Ghiradelli chocolate chips in my favorite aisle--baking! After baking the cookies and eating way too many Whoppers as I was chopping them, I decided that next time I would splurge for candy store malted milk balls, which seem to have an extra layer of higher-quality chocolate.

The dough came together easily with a mousse-like texture, and an utter deliciousness when scooped up and eaten raw! Several TWD bloggers suggested that the dough was too chocolatey, but I was fearless and even used my favorite "mahogany gold" Valrhona cocoa powder instead of my standard Ghiradelli cocoa. Although Dorie doesn't specify to chill the dough overnight, I did anyway.

Friday afternoon I set about baking the cookies while emailing my students about their first writing assignment. I set up a baking station and a computer station on my kitchen island and seamlessly moved between the two. The rhythm of forming balls of dough to fill a baking sheet, emailing while the cookies baked, and lifting their molten goodness on to the cooling rack soothed my agitated soul.

In addition to the fun of being back to school, our campus community was saddened with the news that one of our colleagues lost both of the babies she was carrying when she went into labor way too early. The memorial service was that afternoon. The warm smell of baking chocolate wrapped around me, holding me tight against the sober truth that, as my friend B. so eloquently stated, "mother nature can be a real bitch."

As the first batch of cookies cooked, I brewed strong coffee and heated milk on the stove for a cafe au lait--the perfect counterpoint to the caramelly, chocolatey wonder of the cookies and the heavy sadness in my heart.

My thoughts turned again to C and the sadness of the memorial to come. I thought about the complexity of issues regarding women and motherhood, thrust once again onto the collective consciousness with political events of the week.

There's never been a week when I both wanted and didn't want to be a mother so much.

I ate another cookie, loaded up the baking sheet, and returned to my laptop to help my students, and steer my mind into more practical and less complicated emotional waters.

On Saturday, I packed up the cookies and gave them to my friends A and J, who were hosting an open house to share their new, beautiful home with friends and colleagues. They--the cookies, though also the party and the home-- were a hit, and more than one person admitted that they ate more than 4 cookies. Another TWD success! Thank you, Dorie, for a recipe that brings comfort, joy, and chocolate to those in need when life is full of sadness and elation.

Monday, September 01, 2008

twd: chunky peanut butter and oatmeal chocolate chipsters

Hooray--cookies! I stocked up on the few ingredients I didn't already have: non-natural peanut butter (though it nearly killed me to buy such an adulterated product), light brown sugar (I'm almost out because I put a big spoonful on my oatmeal every morning), chocolate chips (ghiradelli 60%, not on hand because chocolate doesn't fare well without AC and I pledged not to use it unless absolutely necessary), and dry roasted unsalted peanuts.

I mixed the dough on Saturday afternoon in my trusty pink mixer. The dough was a little wet because my eggs are super powerful and larger than normal, from my friends at the farmers' market. I chilled the dough the requisite two hours and then baked one cookie sheet full to take to my friends' house, leaving the rest to chill overnight.

B and I ate (devoured?) the cookies whilst working our way through a bottle of Conundrum, one of my favorite wines--all floral, creamy, and well-bodied for a white without devolving into the flabby oakiness of a rich Chardonnay. Meanwhile, her two sons slept and her husband S declared a bottle of Pinot Noir to have a "pvc aftertaste." He settled on a Malbec instead, which prompted me to tell a story about how I once went out on a magical first date with a Malbec-quaffing Irish man on St. Patrick's Day! We gathered steam, discussing politics (family, national, feminist) and the ironic goodness of Neil Diamond. How wonderful to have friends to be at home with, who keep inviting me over even when our conversations extend past a reasonable bedtime for parents of an energetic three year old and a newborn.

Tonight, after I finished painting my bedroom sea glass green a la martha stewart, working on back-to-school prep, crafting a delicious farm market pizza, and biking eight miles, I baked the rest of the cookies. Their egginess translated into flatter, crispier, lacy cookies, studded with peanut and chocolate goodness. The peanut flavor is muted, despite the added nuts. The raw cookie dough is addictive. I trust the cookies will be a welcome addition to first day of school festivities; the H-Hall Hipsters are kicking off the year with a coffee ritual involving a big box of Starbucks to Go, milk stashed in a contraband mini fridge, and the aforementioned treats from my TWD ventures. What a lovely start to the school year, and a delicious tradition.

***p.s. for any non-H-Hall Hipsters reading this blog, you're welcome to join us:)