Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Cookie Legacy

My mom is a chemist.  When I was young, this caused me some consternation.  I didn't think of myself as math or science minded, and I wanted to make her proud.  I didn't excel at numbers, Erlenmeyer flasks and graduated cylinders bored me, and my grades came with effort and not ease like in the language arts.  After high school, I dismissed science with a wave of my hand and set off to study music.  I chose a program that didn't have room for any science classes.  I knew my place in the universe, and it was in the arts.

Thankfully, with time comes perspective.  I understand now that an artist can't avoid the sciences any more than a scientist can avoid the arts.  And I also understand why my mom, and probably most of us, love chemistry.

Stress baking is nothing new.  Debbie Perelman of Smitten Kitchen wrote a piece for Martha Stewart Living in which she talked about dealing with the anticipation of childbirth by making brownies for the labor and delivery nurses.  In the movie Julie & Julia, Julie Powell is making a chocolate pie and says, "I love that after a day when nothing is sure . . . you can come home and absolutely know that if you add egg yolks to chocolate and sugar and milk, it will get thick.  That's such a comfort."

There is comfort in absolutes, and there are absolutes in chemistry.  I can't control how people act towards me.  But I can control the ratio of flour, sugar and butter in oatmeal chocolate chip cookies.  I know that the lemon in a lemon meringue pie naturally fights with the bonding agent and has to be proportioned correctly.   And knowing that the temperature of the butter affects the quality of pie crust and biscuits makes me feel just a little bit more in settled.

I used to be an absolute dunce when it came to making cookies.  I didn't like to eat them and I didn't like to bake them.  I had no idea what I was doing, but now I do. Did you know that refrigerating the dough for 36 hours causes the oils in the butter to break down and absorb more of the salt and sugar?  It's chemistry.

Thursday, I had a bad experience at work.  It was exacerbated by the soup I had spilled down my front at lunch.  As I spent the afternoon giving my side of the story, I was always conscious of the streaks of crusty soup on my clothes.  So when I went home, I pulled out the mixer, the unsalted butter, and the chocolate chips and made oatmeal, chocolate chip cookies.

A calm settles over me when I'm baking.  I am reassured by the predictability.  And I feel close to my mom seven hundred miles away.  Because in the sifting of flour and leavening and the creaming of cold butter and sugars, I know I understand her better than I did fifteen years ago when I was so anxious to make her proud.  I better understand the wonder that chemistry has for her, and I'm grateful to share that wonder with her in the kitchen.  It is in these little things - not my bachelor's in music - that I begin to really know my place in the universe.

The recipe comes from here, and I saw it first here.  Here's the recipe as I made it:

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

2 cups of all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup of unsalted butter
1 cup of granulated sugar
1 cup of light brown sugar, packed
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (Original recipe calls for 2 teaspoons, but I'm using some seriously strong vanilla these days.  Thanks, Charise!)
2 3/4 cups of rolled oats
2 cups of semi-sweet chocolate chips

If you're going to bake the cookies immediately - preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Cream the butter and sugars until smooth.  Add vanilla and mix to blend.  Add eggs one and a time, mixing at medium speed until thoroughly combined.  In a small bowl, combine the first four ingredients (all the dry ingredients except the oats and chocolate chips).  Slowly add to mixer and beat until just combined.  Add rolled oats and chocolate chips and mix with a spatula until combined.  

Refrigerate at least one hour and up to 48 hours.  (Obviously, you can skip this).

Place generous spoonfuls of cookie dough on your prepared sheet and flatten with your hand.  Bake for 10-12 minutes.  It was 12 minutes for me - but my spoonfulls were pretty generous.  You want to remove them with the edges are starting to brown but the middle is still a little undercooked.  Let them sit on the cookie sheet for about 3-5 minutes then remove to a cooling rack to completely cool.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Little House in the Deep South

We looked for over a year and a half, but nothing we looked at even came close to having all of the specific characteristics we wanted.

2. Flat pasture
3. One story
4. Wide door-ways
5. NO open floor plan.
6. Laurens County
7. Reasonable distance from work,

The houses with wide-doorways had small kitchens and open floor plans.  And the houses with acreage were hilly and mostly wooded.  Looking back, I should have know that any house we found that matched all these parameters would be unique and require work.

But then Matt and our realtor George found this house on fifteen acres.  Fifteen flat acres.  It fit all of our requirements and it was in our price-range.  As you know, we made an offer and finally moved our lives here.

It is, of course, a work in progress.  But for now, here is a photo tour of the house that has been the cause of so much consternation and excitement in our lives.

View of the front room looking in from the living room:

The kitchen is directly across from the front door:

To the left of that is a closet, the guest bath, utility room, and the stairs leading up to the loft:

Looking up at the loft and into the living room:

Another view of the loft with doorway between the front room and living room closed:

That glass paneled door leads to a bedroom that we are currently using to house lizards and spiders.  No tours of that!

Going through the pocket doors, here is the living room:

The master bedroom is off the living room:

So there is the first floor our farmhouse.  Pictures of the outside and loft to follow!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Life Lately

I didn't have to work today.  I always end up washing a lot of dishes on my days off, and today was no exception.  It started with the bundt pan for roast chicken at 9:30 this morning and ended with the bundt pan for banana cake cake at 9:30 tonight.  My day of dishes has come full circle.

In case you're wondering, I did not eat roast chicken at 9:30 this morning.  At least, I didn't intend to when I roasted it.  I wanted to roast a chicken to shred for some meals this week, and decided to try out a method for roasting that Jennifer had sent me last week.  When I saw that crispy skin, I couldn't resist cutting off pieces and eating them with my toast and coffee.  Possibly the weirdest and best breakfast I've ever had.

In spite of my snacking, I ended up with three bags of chicken for this week.

Chicken for chicken and biscuit casserole, chicken quesadillas and this bbq chicken quinoa salad I'm obsessing over right now. I used the carcass to make broth.  It was a good excuse to use the wilted celery and sad looking leeks in my produce drawer.

I am pretty excited to try this roasting method again - but with vegetables and to eat for dinner.  Have any of you roasted a chicken in a bundt pan before?

Thank you for all the encouragement after my last post.  The house is feeling more like home. My cousin Laurie (cousin by marriage - but I totally claim her) gave me some really good advice my first week here.  She said, "Remember in Night at the Museum how chaotic everything was on the first night?  And then at the end of the movie he's just saying goodnight to everyone and everything is calm?  Pretty soon, this will all seem normal, just like in Night at the Museum."  I don't think I'm quite to the end of my movie yet, but I am certainly more comfortable with Teddy Roosevelt and Sacajawea than I was four months ago.  Today I unpacked my last box.  Hooray!  I didn't realize how much that would go towards making me feel settled.

I took advantage of the sunny weekend to take a photo tour of the house.  I'll share that on here soon!

In the meantime, here is a picture of some new additions at the farm:

I call the lamb Sacajawea.  And I tell her goodnight every night.
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