Tuesday, February 28, 2012

To: New Mom, From: Working Girl

Being honest on the internet is tricky.  Assuming you successfully walk the line between too much information and vague rambling, there is always the good chance you'll come off either whiney or self-satisfied (see, even in saying that there is a certain smugness).   However, I am going to risk it, and write (briefly) about something that has been difficult for me: benevolance.

When I was growing up, there were a lot of new babies in our house .  And where there are new babies, there are benevolant people bringing hot meals and well wishes.  In turn, my mom took meals to new moms and others in need.  In the foggy future I envisioned for myself, I knew I'd be taking meals to people as well.

I never thought I'd be 29 and working full-time (let's face it; I never thought I'd be 29); but while most of my friends are raising babies, I am working at a desk from 8:30-5:00.  I appreciate the differences - they serve four people supper at 5:30 or 6:00; I serve two people supper at 7:30.  They run errands during the day with children; I run errands on the weekends with my favorite adult (and many, many more differences).  But I am a competative person, and it is easy for me to feel like I am less than I should be when my lifestyle doesn't align with their's. 

Friday, February 24, 2012

Rebekah's Brownie Pillow Cookies

In addition to being a busy tax accountant, my sister Rebekah is also a wonderful baker.  She kindly agreed to do a guest post on how to make her brownie pillow cookies.  Bake carefully; I can verify what she says - they are addicting!

During my junior year of university, I moved into a house not far from campus with my sister, Elizabeth, and our friend, Beth.  After two years of the exuberance of the dormitories, it was nice to have a little space to spread out and study in peace. Plus, we had a whole big kitchen all to ourselves!

It became a weekly tradition for my wonderful and adorable friends, Bekah and Rachel, to come over on Sunday afternoons for lunch and to study.  With The Corrs crooning in the background, we always lunched on the same thing, procured from the Fresh Market down the street--hot shaved ham, drizzled with honey, on Ciabatta rolls and sliced Munster cheese. For dessert, we would get brownie pillow cookies--a moist brownie center enveloped in a smooth butter cookie. They were pretty much heaven on earth.

After I graduated, I moved on to the wonderful world of tax accounting in Atlanta, rarely eating shaved ham for Sunday lunch, and (as impossible as this sounds) quite forgetting about the glories of brownie pillow cookies.

Until one day in December. 

A friend from work had suggested a pre-Christmas cookie bake.  We invited several other mutual friends and each submitted a recipe for the group to make.  To my chagrin, none of the recipes submitted were of a chocolate variety. Not having chocolate at a cookie bake being paramount to criminal activity, I planned to rectify the problem by submitting a chocolate cookie as my recipe.

And with that decision, the brownie pillow cookies popped out of some buried subconscious and into my brain.

I had always figured they were made by magic, since how else were you supposed to get a brownie inside of a cookie!  But since I had to have them (and I couldn’t very well bring else-where baked cookies to a cookie bake), I decided to see if my dear friend Google could help me out.  And, lo and behold, someone else had also experienced the wonder of Fresh Market’s brownie pillow cookies; and--like a scene from one of those antiques shows where someone finds they are holding a priceless treasure long-buried in a distant relative’s basement, attic or, in this case, recipe book--she had found a recipe.

I did make the cookies.  And I took them to work so I wouldn’t eat them all.  My co-workers now also dream in brownie pillow cookies.

Since the recipe Bakerella posted made pillow cookies big enough to dress a bed, I modified it some to make a more bite-sized variety. The recipe also contains chocolate chips in the cookie dough, which she and I both think adds something, but which can be eliminated for a cookie closer to those from Fresh Market.

Tomorrow, I am attending a get-together with several of the ladies in my neighborhood.  We are supposed to bring a snack and a beverage. Since these are the people who keep an eye on my house for me when I am out of town, I figured I’d better make them like me.  So I am taking brownie pillow cookies.  Because, after all, it is a brownie inside of a cookie.  What is there not to love??

Brownie Pillow Cookies

For the brownies

1 package brownie mix for an 8x8 pan (you can make brownies from scratch as well, but since I’m eating, sleeping and breathing taxes at the moment, that’s really not an option for me, no matter how much I love my neighbors).

Make sure the brownie package is for a small square pan (8x8 or 9x9).  Prepare brownies batter according to package directions (I also like to add chopped pecans to my brownies, just make sure to chop up anything added to be very small so you do not wind up with large chunks on your brownies) or your favorite recipe.  Pour into a 9x13 pan.  It will create a thin layer, so you will need to spread out to the corners and smooth.  Bake just until set (about 7 minutes).  Cool to room temperature and then put in the freezer.

For the chocolate chip cookie dough

This amount of cookie dough will make about three dozen small (1.5”) cookies and will use up half the pan of brownies.

1 cup butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs, plus 1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon vanilla
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
12 oz. bag miniature semi-sweet chocolate chips

Beat butter with a mixer until creamy. Add brown sugar and beat until smooth. Add eggs, yolk and vanilla. Beat until smooth.

Combine flour, baking powder, soda and salt in a medium bowl and stir together with a wire whisk.

Add flour mixture to butter mixture and beat until combined. Stir in mini chips. Let dough chill covered in the refrigerator for at least an hour. This will make it easier to handle when you’re wrapping the brownies.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Remove the pan of brownies from freezer and cut into small squares (about a half-inch square).  I do cut away the very edges first so as to not wind up with any harder bits in my cookies. I was worried about the edges going to waste, but somehow they manage to disappear, so I stopped worrying about it.

Cover each brownie square with a thin layer of chocolate chip cookie dough.  I do this by rolling a small ball of dough (1+ tsp) and then creating an indent with my thumb into which I put the brownie piece.  I then work the dough around the rest of the brownie piece and form it back into a ball. If I’ve done it right, I won’t be able to see the brownie at all (See! It is magic!).

Place the cookie dough balls on a baking sheet (I line mine with parchment paper) and smoosh them down (they do not spread much).  Place in preheated 350 degree oven and bake until light brown (about 7 minutes). 

Cool on cooling rack.

Try to refrain from eating them all in one sitting.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Newly Organized Cotton Swabs

For the past three birthdays, my mom has given me a year subscription to Martha Stewart’s magazine Living.   Usually, I get most of my information (news, recipes, organizational and decorating ideas) from the internet.  But nothing can replace the magazine experience – from finding it in the mailbox to turning the glossy pages to passing it along to someone else.   I make a point of doing at least one thing from each issue whether it is trying a recipe or craft or following some quip of advice. 

This month, an organizational idea caught my eye.  For one thing, it made cotton balls and q-tip easily accessible.  For another thing, it used glassware.   When you get married in the South and invite 700 people, you end up with a lot of glassware and crystal.  I am thankful for all my pretty things, but until I have a tea party for 1000 people most of it goes unused.

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Best Grilled Chicken He's Ever Had (and I made it!)

We bought a new grill. Not just any grill – a Bayou Classic Cypress grill. Maybe it is my Michigan sensibilities, but the name of this makes me picture a man in denim overalls and a red trucker hat, grilling road kill as he takes in a view dank and heavy with Spanish moss. Recently it has been me in black dress and sweater, barefoot, grilling chicken as I gaze out over the rooftops of the office park next door. My high heels shoes are inside, resting haphazardly where I kicked them off under the dining room table on my way out the door with the 20 lb bag of charcoal (not just ANY charcoal – cowboy charcoal).

My friend Jennifer commented that if lightening struck our grill tomorrow, we'd still have gotten our money's worth.  In the one month we have had it, we have grilled two steaks, five chickens, one pizza, a bunch of asparagus, two racks of ribs and countless marshmallows. I even went so far as to make my own marshmallows. (I later saw in a magazine that homemade marshmallows are a rising food trend for 2012. Who knew I was trendy?). I’ve had to make the chicken five times because not only is it easy, delicious, and quick; but I’ve been determined take it from “the best chicken we’ve ever had” to “the best chicken anyone has ever had.” I obsess.

Follow the jump to read more!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A Valentine's Orange

Most evenings, Matt grabs two oranges from the fruit bowl and brings one to me.  I peel my orange, my peelings littering the coffee table like an elephant graveyard, and eat it.   But Matt is still carefully pulling away white pith from his orange.  His long, deft fingers patiently turn the orange over and over looking for the stray pieces of rind.  Using his thumb, he edges each imperfection off the surface until the glow of the fruit is visible through the skin   He breaks it in half and sets one half down besides his circumspect pile of peelings.  Slowly, he pulls off a wedge.  Then, he turns and hands the first wedge to me.

Happy Valentine's Day, dear friends.  May your day be as happy as mine!

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Small Things and An Apple Cake

In the early (earlier) years of our marriage, when I would bake, my tidy husband would watch with wide eyes.  He'd slowly shake his head and say, "You get flour everywhere."  I would survey my counters and see the same kind of flour dustings I'd seen on my mom's counter when she baked.  Nothing to warrent the disbelief and amazement in Matt's tone.   Recently, I asked my mother-in-law if she ever gets flour on her coutertops when baking.

"No," she explained.  "I cover the entire counter with plastic wrap and tape it to the edges."

I just blinked a few times in response.

So these days, I make more of an effort to not spill flour on the counters.  I measure and pour my ingredients over a plastic cutting board. And Matt, in turn, turns a blind eye to the messes I make when I express myself with flour and sugar.  It is a small compromise.  But I am learning that it is the small things, one hundred a day, that make a marriage, a relationship, a life. 

In our case it is literally small things: crumbs of cake or coffee or bread from a sandwich I make for Matt in the evening.  Or the bobby pins that I seem to shed everywhere and Matt collects from the couch cushions, his car and the kitchen drawers and patiently puts away.  I remember when I was ten (and knew everything), I planned on having a husband who would buy me flowers and chocolates.  Matt has been known to buy me flowers, but it is the way that he looks down and sees flour on the counter, says nothing, and smiles that makes me feel loved. 

Follow the jump to read more!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Love Believes All

One Saturday morning my mom came in and sat at the edge of Rebekah’s bed.  She had gotten a call from the mother of some students we knew from our high school biology class.

“They say you were using a bad word.”  The creases in her forehead reflected the doubt in her voice. 

I watched from my side of the room as Rebekah, dumbfounded, searched her memory for any ideas of what they could be referencing.  In most high school biology labs, swearing might not be out of place, but in our tight-knit, home school community peers were pressured into conservatism.  My mom asked me, but neither of us could come up with what could have troubled this unknown accuser.

This put my mom in the unfortunate situation of having to tell us the word.  It is difficult to say who was most embarrassed.  We stared at her blankly.

"What does it mean?"  Rebekah asked

We had never heard it before, but it did clear up the mystery. 

Follow the jump to read more!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Pickle Opportunity

Mugs habitually appeared and disappeared in my house. They would come from friends, Sunday school teachers, gift exchanges; and they would disappear as those things mysteriously do. There was always a varied assortment crammed into the top cubby of the cupboard. One day Rebekah, looking for a mug for her coffee, pulled out one we’d never seen before. It was white and had a bright green pickle surrounded with wiggle lines indicating that the pickle was moving. Next to it was written, “Give ‘Em the Pickle!”

It made us giggle. Which is likely why the slogan has been so successful all these years. However, it meant nothing to us at the time. Rebekah carried it to my dad’s office and asked what it meant. He told us the story about the ice cream shop that served sandwiches with pickles on the side. One day a customer came in and asked for a second pickle. The waitress told him there would be a charge. Disappointed, the customer wrote the owner of the ice cream shop. The owner, Mr. Farrell, gave the company a new mantra: give ‘em the pickle! Because he knew that customer service was more important that the value of the pickle.

It is a solid business technique and the whimsy of the pickle makes it memorable. It has stuck with me. It was not the only lesson in good work ethics my dad ever gave me. But it is a concise summary, a catch-phrase or slogan to help me remember the selflessness and thoughtfulness my parents tried to instill in me. The same attributes my dad exhibited in sitting down to explain that funny little mug to us.

Now my office is offering a customer service training seminar. We are showing a video of Mr. Farrell telling his pickle story and outlining his principles. I’ve been asked to organize it and lead the discussion afterwards. I am qualified for this because I am not shy about expressing my opinions in front of others. But as I was cutting out “pickle bucks” (yes, those are real) this morning, I had to smile to myself. Because while Mr. Farrell’s video is both entertaining and informative, nothing gives those principles more emphasis than being backed by a person you’ve seen exhibiting them all their lives.
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