Cookie Tradition

For the third day in a row the pond has remained frozen over, though not enough for Dan to don his ice skates and do some figure 8s across the icy surface, but enough to hold some geese, ducks and an occasional Great Blue Heron. And when the day’s highs are just above single digits, I tend to stay inside more (except to put out feed for the birds) and look for warmer activities; books, magazines, playing piano or maybe watching a little college basketball on TV.  Today though I decided to sit down with a Christmas gift- a dessert cookbook from a couple of years ago that never fails to inspire me; not to make one of it’s incredible recipes but to admire the sheer joy and creativity of the author and his artisan abilities.

The book is The Secret Recipes by renowned pastry chef, Dominique Ansel, out of NYC. The descriptions, photos of the desserts and ingredients are wonderfully marvelous and inspirational.  But it is Ansel’s philosophy about baking applied to life that astounds and amazes me.  Would I ever attempt any of his fabulous featured dessert pastries? Probably not, but perusing his book from time to time gives me a passion to bake the simple dessert recipes from my childhood for family and friends and the desire to pass these recipes on to my kids and grands.

My own introduction to baking was with my mom and older sister Sharon.  My mom’s pies especially were legendary in our family, the crusts flaky, the fillings magnificent! I was an adult before I could recreate her pie dough recipe with any consistency (it did not help that everything she cooked or baked was done by “look and feel” never by measuring…)  But my sister and I baked cookies-chocolate chip or my maternal Grandma’s sugar cookie recipe with a little “Mom guidance”.  We probably licked spatulas and ate sugar coated bits of Crisco too when our mom was not watching!

But as an adult my first fellow “cookie baker” was my son Evan, who by the age of three was fascinated with baking cookies at Christmas time.  He was especially fascinated with eating dough (chocolate chip cookie dough was by far the best according to his taste buds).  We made probably 6-7 kinds of cookies and even rolled out our own little marzipan pear and apple shapes to be included in care packages for friends and neighbors.  We never missed a year of baking at Christmas time until he went off to college and then I would usually send a care package with a more select number of cookie varieties.

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Cookie Baker Evan at 3…rolling out the dough.

So when Dan and I traveled to do a little grand baby sitting a couple of weeks ago, I decided it was time to introduce a new generation to cookie baking.  I have a wonderful healthy cookie recipe these days that I use when I feel like I really need a cookie, plus it is easy to make- perfect for the first time baker!  That morning a chilly kitchen warmed by the heat of the oven, the air redolent with the scent of chocolate chips, cherries and walnuts;  small hands stirring, tasting, helping ….Magic all over again!

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The C Man and Grammie making cookies…photo by PopPop, cookie supervisor!

Humbly and in honor of Chef Ansel, Cookie Bakers extraordinaire, Evan and Connor, I will share this recipe:

Two Chocolate, Cherry Cookies with Nuts*

1 cup whole wheat flour, 1/2 cup rolled oats, 1/2 tsp baking soda, 1/4 tsp cinnamon, 12 Tbsp stick butter-softened, 3/4 cup brown sugar, 1/4 cup granulated sugar, 2 eggs, 2 tsp vanilla extract, 3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips, 1/4 cup white chocolate chips, 1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts and 1/2 cup dried unsweetened cherries.

Heat oven to 375 degrees.  In a bowl combine dry ingredients (except for fruit, chips and nuts) .  In another bowl cream sugars and butter until fluffy.  Add egg and vanilla to creamed sugar and butter mixture and beat until smooth. Then blend flour mixture into creamed butter mixture. Gently blend chocolate and white chocolate chips, cherries and walnuts into the cookie dough. Drop 1 tsp sized dough balls onto an ungreased cookie sheet about 2″ apart and bake for 10 minutes or til golden brown. Remove from oven, let cool on baking sheet for 3 minutes and then transfer to rack.  Makes about 42 cookies.

*Based on a recipe from a Self magazine a few years ago. Approx 100 calories per cookie.

Winter’s Grace

The calendar indicates a couple more weeks  before Winter’s official arrival, but it is December, the days have grown short, cold weather is settling in and the landscape is stark, revealing its “bones” or as I rather like to think- revealing its architecture.  I love to view the limbs of trees and shrubs when devoid of leaves- the measure of a summer’s season growth, intricate bark texture, color and small secret bird nests now all disclosed.  The russet browns, muted greens and gray tones of Fall’s end allow my eye to travel the length and breath of tree, shrub or field without the distraction of summer’s intense hues. The monochromatic movement of deer or a coyote across the field, the evening horizon flight of a Redtail or the silhouetted outline of a Kestrel swaying on a utility wire; all  profoundly graceful, keenly visible in the barren space and fallow color.

These were my views on my way back home from a rehearsal this last weekend. I still play in a small community symphony I became a part of 26 years ago.  Now I travel about an hour each way to play and contemplate and observe a bit out my car windows on the drive.  The Red Tail Hawks and Kestrels were plentiful on the drive last Saturday as it was a gray, overcast day, cooling very quickly in the sunless afternoon.  The hawks were out intently searching for a late day meal before the early dark descended.

The Redtails perched high on the tops of the utility poles with their superior views surveying the fields below.  The smaller raptors hung tight to the utility wires scanning beneath their swaying lookout.  I wondered who would be brave enough or maybe hungry enough to be out of their burrow or hiding place at this late time and in the cold.  The barren dead landscape is somewhat deceptive as the quiet, lonely fields are actually full of winter life; small vermin warily scurrying about, seeking dried seeds and remnants of grasses- the raptors intent on any movement. Deer and coyotes would be roaming  soon and I hoped to be home before they appeared in the coming dark.

These glimpses of Winter to come had me thinking how much I will enjoy seeing new visitors in my own yard.  Who will come to the ice laden pond, perch in the bare willows and cottonwoods?  Who will stay for the duration of the season, who will stay only to rest and then journey on?  I will look forward to first snow, piercing cold on my face and seeing if I can out bundle the Kansas wind. And then I will long for Spring and its color, hints of warmth and a new change of season. But today it is early December, I am excited and reminded of a favorite little Winter poem:.

I heard a bird sing In the dark of December.  A magical thing And sweet to remember.

“We are nearer to Spring  Than we were in September”,  I heard a bird sing In the dark of December.          Oliver Herford

I hope you enjoy this cold season too, Winter’s grace is upon us!

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December at Green Heron Pond

It is a time to contemplate, remember and to look forward