Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Cookie Bake '08, Day Three

Overall, Cookie Bake '08 was a great success. Almost all the cookies were well received and they all got out of our house before we left on one of the best vacations in a long time. Here are all the recipes used and reactions to them.

Pecan Snowballs - First attempt at vegan baking a complete success. These taste exactly like pecan sandies and I even had someone think that I bought them instead of made them.

Banana Chocolate Chip Cookies - aka Breakfast Cookies. These were by far the biggest hit at my office. I think they would have been absolutely perfect with mini chocolate chips, but the big ones worked just fine. A co-worker took them home to his kids and they flipped out. Cookies and chocolate for breakfast?!? I am currently their favorite person. These were very moist and stayed that way for at least four days.

Cinnamon-Sugar Pinwheels - The second biggest hit in the office. These are also Matt's favorites. Super easy and quick.

Off to Bed Butter Cookies - Aside from a really lame name, and being a pain to get into a roll, these came out nicely. They took much longer in the oven than the recipe called for, but didn't dry out at all.

Hazelnut Shortbread Sticks - I really liked these, but I think the cookies should have been slightly smaller. I made them roughly the size of my pointer finger, and they probably should have been pinky sized instead. I also used semi sweet chocolate for dipping them in, and I would definitely use milk chocolate next time.

Earl Grey Madelines - I really liked these, but they weren't the biggest hit in my office. Based on some comments left in the recipe I doubled the amount of tea used for infusing the butter (which is something I would definitely do for another recipe) and it wasn't nearly as strong as I anticipated. I made this in a mini cupcake pan because I don't have a madeline pan. Make sure to use good honey and fresh lemon because you taste that quite a bit in the final cookie.

Chocolate Chip Cookies - I use the Barefoot Contessa recipe (which apparently has now been made into a mix you can buy). Classic, easy, but shouldn't be doubled in an Artisan stand mixer without a word of caution. Ideally I like to rest the cookie dough over night (it really does make a better tasting cookie and they keep their shape better) but I didn't have time this time around. Still got rave reviews on them.

Tip of the day - if you want browner cookies use a darker cookie sheet. It actually does make a difference, even if Matt thought I was full of it.

Hope everyone had a happy holiday season and Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Off Topic Once Again

Tomorrow is the funeral of my step-father's mother Isabel. She was a very sweet lady with more inner strength than I can imagine. She lived 88 of her 91 years in the same house in Santa Cruz, which is also where she passed away in her sleep two weeks ago. Isabel had a avocado tree in her back yard and made guacamole frequently for family gatherings. In her honor, here's my guacamole recipe.

2 ripe Haas avocados (the black ones - they're ripe when you can press on them and they give without leaving a mark)
1 plum tomato, seeded and diced
2 cloves of garlic, finely diced
2 TB finely chopped red onion
Juice of 1 lime
1 TB chopped cilantro
1 tsp salt (seems like a lot, but it really brings out the flavor)
1/4 tsp pepper

Slice avocado into 1/2 chunks and place in medium sized bowl. (If you're going to hold half an avocado in your hand and whack a knife into the pit PLEASE do yourself a favor and hold the avocado in a dishtowel. If you miss you'll be doing yourself a huge favor. Trust me.) Mash the chunks with a fork till they're a little less mashed than what you want the end product to look like. (They'll get a little more mashed as you mix in the other ingredients.) Combine remaining ingredients with avocado and mix till well combined. Taste for salt and adjust as necessary. Depending on the size of the lime, you may need a second one for additional juice. You want to taste a little of the lime, and lime flavored tortilla chips aren't going to cut it.

Out of my four parents, I now have only two living grandparents - my step-mother's father and mother are both still alive and driving themselves all over the Western US to visit family and friends. Here are their favorite food items.
Wendy's (Frostys especially)
See's Candy (Grandma likes the toffee, but I prefer Scotch Kisses)

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Cookie Bake '08, Day Two

Otherwise know as the day I realized I was in a little over my head. I had the following mini disasters last night/this morning. Thankfully the only thing left to do tonight is cook off one batch of cookies already set to go in the pan and waiting in the fridge. Because I don't think I could deal with anymore sugar tonight.

1) Stopped at Crate and Barrel outlet to buy Madeline pan. Wandered around for 20 minutes and could not find any bake ware. About to leave and realize that they're right in front, but on the opposite side of the store from the cookware. Because that makes sense.
2) Got home from work and decided to move a chair so my lovely assistant (aka sucker I somehow bribed with Chinese food) would have someplace to work. However that chair was apparently the only thing keeping my dining room table from leaning over and pitching it's contents on my feet. Did you know expensive French bottles of wine bounce? Which is good because I would have been seriously pissed if that had broken. It's a gift for Matt's boss. Thankfully my laptop had just returned from getting all the data off the hard drive, so it didn't matter when that bounced too. It's took about 20 minutes of moving around magazines, mail, and tools (WHY IS THERE A HAMMER ON MY DINING ROOM TABLE?!?) to get the table back on balance and clear enough to use.
3) Realized I did not have enough chocolate chips. Make Matt stop on his way home.
4) Are banana cookies supposed to smell like that? Because it's a little nasty.
5) Started making Earl Grey Madelines, manage to misread the recipe and add ingredients in incorrect order, then realize that the batter is supposed to rest for at least three hours before baking. Get lovely assistant to wrap for resting in the fridge for baking tonight.
6) Start last recipe of the night. Realize I do not have oatmeal needed. Decide to utilize now unnecessary chocolate chips Matt bought to make regular chocolate chip cookies. Decide to do double batch, because why not? Note - don't double the Barefoot Contessa chocolate chip cookie recipe in a Kitchenaid mixer. There's only barely enough room, but could have easily been giant disaster.
7) Entire night was not vigilant about not letting dog lick the floor. Teddy repaid me by vomiting on the bed, WITH ME IN IT, at 5:45 this morning. Comforter, sheets, and mattress cover all needed to be removed and thrown in the wash. Third time dog has puked on the bed in last six months, second time while I was in it. Thankfully the time she puked on my pillow was the time I wasn't in bed. She has yet to vomit while Matt is in bed.
8) Forget to grab banana chocolate chip cookie that was supposed to be my breakfast this morning. What? It's got fruit so it's a completely legit breakfast. Settle on a little leftover vegan chili at work.

Tomorrow I will post the last of the recipes and office reactions to them. Right now I need a nap and vegetables because if I even see sugar today I might gag.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Cookie Bake '08, Day One

Alas, no pictures because my computer died. Last night was the first night of Cookie Bake '08. I baked two cookies off and have two more doughs in the fridge. Tonight is baking off the two doughs and making 3 more. Hopefully Cookie Bake '08 will only be two nights, but a third is a possibility.

Last night's cookies.

Hazelnut Shortbread Sticks
I've baked these off and are ready for dipping in chocolate tonight. I'm not going to dip them in crushed hazelnuts, because I like the cleaner look. Without the chocolate, they're good but could use a little more sugar. We'll see how they are once finished. An easy recipe to make, it just took a long time to shape all the dough into cookies. This was the first time, in my entire life, that I portioned the cookies so perfectly that the last cookie was just the right size with no leftover dough. I did a little dance in commemoration of my awesomeness.

Cinnamon-Sugar Pinwheels
This recipe is something that I usually just do with leftover pie dough to make Matt happy. Generally I make the cookies in the shape of rugelach, but this time I did half the batch in the pinwheel method they describe and half as rugelach. The pinwheels I put on the pan standing up. Even though most of the cookies fell over onto their sides, I would still recommend that because they seemed to cook better that way. Or maybe that's just my oven. Either way, these are excellent and supper easy, especially with pre purchased pie dough.

Off-To-Bed Butter Cookies
I tasted the dough, and it seems like these are going to be good, but I'm reserving judgement. The dough was a massive pain in my bum to get to hold together into a log for cutting tonight. I ended up using a bunch of plastic wrap to manhandle it so we'll see how it ends up (Seriously - buy yourself a $40 thing of plastic wrap at Costco. It's the best cling wrap without sticking to itself and you can use tons of it without feeling guilty. I've had mine for 5 years and it's showing no signs of being anywhere near finished.)

Pecan Snowballs
This is my first attempt at vegan baking. I liked this recipe because it only called for one ingredient I didn't already keep around. The dough is fantastic and I'm looking forward to trying these when they come out of the oven tonight.

I'll update tomorrow with the results of tonight's extravaganza.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Beating the Flu 101

Grilled cheese sandwiches with tomato, a bag of chips, and ginger ale have restored my color. With a little bit of help from drugs.

Which is good because I have to make a bunch of cookies for work next week, including some vegan cookies. I'm a little tired of standard chocolate chip and sugar, so I'm thinking about going a little wild. Pistachio and Dried Cherry Mexican wedding cookies anyone? Maybe Peanut Butter Kisses? Pineapple coconut cookies are a definite, if just to tick off Matt.

Any other suggestions?

Monday, December 8, 2008

Favorites from 2008

I'm trying hard not to just write all of 2008 off, so here's a list of my favorite food related items from the last year. What have your favorites been?

Cheestique's new wine and food bar - A Del Ray classic and the street cleaner sandwich is fantastic.

Let's Meat on the Avenue - an old fashioned butcher within walking distance. Bonus for selling dog bones that Teddy adores.

Grape and Bean - coffee and wine shop in Old Town Alexandria. They have the Clover coffee machine, and while I'm not sure how it works, it makes a great cup of coffee.

PX - swanky cocktail lounge that requires a secret password and flies a pirate flag.

Proof - wine bar in Chinatown. While they didn't have any wines from Argentina, they still had a great wine list and fantastic food.

Matchbox - while not new, it just opened a location on Capital Hill. Great infused vodkas and rums. Just try not to mix them.

Billy Goat Tavern - a Chicago institution and the inspiration for a John Bulushi SNL skit. One of the few times in my life I've been the only female in a restaurant.

Lusso Restaurant - a Toronto restaurant on the waterfront. Felt comfortable eating by myself and just enjoying the view.

St. Lawrence Market - old school market with vendors selling everything from produce to t-shirts.

nine one five - wine bar in Key West with bacon wrapped dates. Amazing and a nice alternative to the rest of Duval Street.

Herbs in a tube - I always have basil and ginger in my fridge without worrying about them going bad. Actually I keep the ginger in the freezer because I use that one less.

Smoked Turkey - my uncle grilled the turkey for Thanksgiving this year. I had imagined it cut up and grilled in parts, but his was done whole. And it was one of the best I've ever had.

And last, but certainly not least, Del Merei Grille. I honestly haven't had a bad meal there, and I'm there a lot. I could live off their spinach salads and mac and cheese. Oh, and the grilled donut. Because it's the best thing ever.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The one where Alicia goes bananas

I read something that I shouldn’t have. I read the comments section of last Sunday’s New York Times magazine piece. And now I’m pissed.

The article was about a New York socialite, and apparent former plastic surgery addict, and her decision to use a surrogate and what that experience was like. The pictures that accompany the article change the framework of the story and should not have been published. The one that seems to be drawing the most criticism is of the author on her lawn, with her son in her arms and her baby nurse in the background. The house is plantation-looking place in the Hamptons and the baby nurse is African-American. Yeah, someone messed that one up. There’s also a picture of the surrogate mom on the porch of her house, which is a little run down. Bad combo of images. I freely admit that someone looking to get sympathy about her struggle with infertility probably shouldn’t be posing with baby nurse in the background, but I don’t have any problem with her having one. Unfortunately the pictures changed the story from one woman’s struggle over 5 years, 11(!) IVF cycles, and 4 miscarriages, to one about a wealthy woman paying someone she considers poor to have her child. That’s not what the article is about, but that’s what it came across as.

And now to the rage.

I have been dealing with infertility for 2 ½ years and I wouldn’t wish that experience on my worst enemy. It is a heart breaking experience that you live with every single day. It’s not just something that you deal with at holidays, baby showers, and being around other people’s kids. You hear it in the quiet of your house, you see it in the absence of baby pictures on your walls, and you feel it in the aching of your arms to hold your child. You are reminded of it not only when you get your period, but every time you go to the bathroom because you check to see if you’re bleeding. While I hope being infertile will not be the defining characteristic of my life, it is the defining characteristic of my life right now and will be till it comes to whatever resolution there will be. And since I have lived this particular horror, I can say with authority that no one should ever judge how someone else creates their family. You don’t know what steps someone else should take to create their version of happiness. What you would endure, or finance, to create you family is a decision that each person arrives to on their own. You’re lucky enough if your partner agrees with you. Everyone else should keep their damn mouth shut.

Would you be willing to endure weeks of shots and hormonal mood swings? Would you be willing to be poked and prodded in the most intimate areas? Are you willing to give up your sex life? Would you give up your chance at seeing your smile on your baby if it could still have daddy’s eyes? When do you think life begins? What does your God think? How many embryos are you willing to take a risk on? Could your body handle 4 babies at once? Could you live with yourself if you had to selectively abort after everything you’ve gone through to get pregnant? What if there are no reasons why but there’s still no baby? How many miscarriages can you handle? How much grief is too much? Don’t you dare judge someone else and the decisions they make. So far I have taken drugs, had surgery, and lived through the nightmare of miscarriage. I don’t know how much more I’m willing to do, and the ultimate answer might not even be one I get to make. How many years of my life will I devote to this? Is 6 too many? Is 3 too few? There are no right answers here, only making the best of a horrible situation.

The answer isn’t that God thinks I would be a bad mother and that’s why I can’t have kids. If God thought that about me I wouldn’t be the oldest of 7 kids. The answer isn’t that I should just adopt. The choices for adoption are varied, but it’s not an option for everyone. I honestly don’t know if I could adopt, but that doesn’t mean I’m against adoption. I have friends in the midst of adopting and I could not be happier for them. Happiness, like family, is not one size fits all.

What the commenters don’t see is that maybe the constant activity and outings were the only thing she could do to keep her going. When you’re so far into grief , pain, and panic, sometimes you just keep moving because the moment you stop it all becomes too much. Granted, my way of dealing with my miscarriage grief was to make pizza dough three times a week and drink copious amount of wine, but that’s no less valid than her river rafting trip, yoga classes, and bourbon. The idea that because of what she was doing she wasn’t hurting is absurd. Money doesn’t buy happiness, it just gets your nicer shoes and a better brand of scotch.

Beyond the infertility bone headedness, the comments section displayed a massive amount of hatred towards the author because she had a baby nurse. The feeling expressed was how could she go through this entire thing and then hand the baby off to someone else, therefore she clearly doesn’t really want the child. That makes my blood boil. There is more than one way to raise a child and how dare you tell someone that they don’t love theirs because they have help. Doing it on your own or with help is a decision that’s generally dictated by finances, but if a person can afford help they are not a lesser parent for it. Being a full time stay at home parent is not for everyone (Jess and Cat – you’re saints) and children are best served with happy parents however they work out the feeding schedule. In my lifetime I have been cared for by nannies, au pairs, and babysitters and I still know my parents love me. I may think that my father could use a lesson in tact and my mother has brain damage, but I have never doubted that they love me. Ever. Having help allowed my father and step mother to work in jobs they love. By going to work and being a success my step mother taught me that being smart and in charge didn’t mean that you couldn’t also be funny and sexy. Because of his work my father has shown me parts of the world I probably never would have seen on my own. Money doesn’t solve every problem, but it also doesn’t make someone less of a parent.

I will get off my soap box and go back to work now. But I quickly want to say thank you to the friends and family who have helped us get through these past 2 1/2 years. Your support means more than I'll ever be able to tell you.