Tea Habits

I've been drinking more tea lately.  I'm enjoying peppermint tea in the late morning while writing, to keep warm after my usual two cups of coffee. 

In an effort to improve my restless sleep by decreasing caffeine, I have switched my afternoon tea from a black (Irish Breakfast is my favorite) to a white (Indian White) or Oolong. I am also trying to create more of a tea ritual by sitting down and drinking it while it's hot, maybe having a cookie along side to tide me over until dinner.

These Hamantaschen were actually Olivia's dessert the other day, but after she kept raving about them, I had to have one with my tea! 

Cookies, Cookies and More...

Our kitchen had a look of Santa's workshop about it this weekend.  Every year, my favorite part of the Christmas season is baking cookies.  We've had a pretty good run so far this year, and I expect to try a few new recipes before I declare us finished.

We had an early dispatch at a family birthday party over a week ago and today Olivia brought a box of artfully decorated snowflake sugar cookies to a dozen teachers. 

I love going about the giving of something homemade with an elfish excitement.  Recipients generally fall into two categories:  the "oh no, more cookies, what are we going to do with these?" and the ones who seem so truly appreciative, as if they can't wait for you to leave so they can dive into the bag.  They are the ones who thank us many times over and tell us which cookies are their favorites. 

In many, the homemade Christmas cookies seem to reach a memory, a chord within of a time from their childhood perhaps, or when their children were young and they cleared the calendar for a day of baking.  They are my people during this season of bustle.  The friends and neighbors who greet cookie bearers at their front door with a twinkle in their eye.

The Cookie Tin

This tin means Christmas cookies to me.   If I remember correctly it was a gift from my Aunt to my mother sometime during my childhood.  Even when my mother lived alone later in her life and never baked cookies, it sat on her kitchen counter next to the stove. 

Now it spends most of the year on my pantry.  At Christmastime when I bake cookies, I bring it out and fill it up.  There is a certain ritual in the pulling of the pail off the shelf.  A moment when my heartbeat quickens with a mix of excitement and nostalgia.

One day this week when I was rolling warm cookies in confectioner's sugar by myself with our familiar shuffle of CD's playing, I found myself reflecting on how I could set a clock, a timeline of sorts, by the staple of recipes I make each year.  Olivia remembers many of them now, which means her cookie timeline has begun.

The Chocolate Crinkles you see here in the tin are a relative newcomer to the rotation, this being the third year we have made them. They are worthy of this tin or should I say the tin is deserving of them.  They are rather addictive, and I'm afraid that only a few of our friends and neighbors will experience them!  I use regular-sized chocolate chips instead of the mini, but either way, you will be transported to a snowy hillside.

The Color of Love and Friendship

One October weekday I met someone very dear for lunch. We had never met socially before, our relationship being previously professional.

We met to talk about Aaron, to talk about how we are getting on, and to brave the no-rules ground of growing a friendship.

We had a long lunch, full of sharing, coffee, crepes and a cookie. We talked about her work, Olivia and her transition to fifth grade, winning Charlie, and what missing Aaron is making us think about.

It meant everything to me to hear how much he means to her. It felt good to talk about him to someone who knew him so well, and in a capacity no one else could.

When I returned home after our lunch, I stood in a sunny spot looking out a kitchen window over the garden and trees along the back fence. I stood there a long time wondering how I could creatively represent the gift that was that lunch.

I wanted to bottle it's essence. To be able to take out a drop when I need to feel the love that Aaron created.

As is natural for me, my thoughts turn to food. What could I make that would represent those feelings? I thought of the chocolate chip cookie from the cafe.

Does friendship have a flavor?

Romantic love does, at least most of us associate it with chocolate. I don't think friendship love has any particular flavor. It is probably best represented by what is shared and what memories are created.

What is the color of friendship? What possible colors could I create from? Again, romantic love has come to be associated with red, purple and pink. Valentine colors.

I thought over our lunch, the cafe, what we were wearing. Those colors would have to do. Dark green, burgundy, gold, purple, brown, and because it has to be there, what I now call Aaron's blue.

These also happen to be the colors of Autumn. Immersing myself in these hues has helped me hold on to that day.

If I think about what I brought to that meeting, I understand how the importance of a day or moment heightens awareness of our surroundings.

A few weeks ago, Olivia and I stopped into that cafe for hot chocolate and cookies as a treat after the dentist. It was a dark, rainy afternoon and the cafe was crowded. The opposite of the sunny, sparsely occupied space of that treasured lunchtime. The feel was so different--instead of cozy and worn in a comforting way, the cafe seemed grimy, the florescent lights harsh and blaring, making the space look in desperate need of renovation. Olivia spilled her hot chocolate across the table into my lap, over her homework and my magazine. Grimy turned grimier, and after we had cleaned up, we left.

Olivia said she didn't like it there. I tried to explain how on a sunny day, it's different. It's gold and green and burgundy. There are smiley faces on the cappucino's and the crepes are buttery and filled with things that some grown-ups savor, such a chevre, all soft from the hot batter.

She wasn't convinced. At home I told her I wanted to make a particular chocolate chip cookie recipe that had nuts. I knew she was still working her way through her Halloween candy bowl. I wouldn't make that recipe, though, if she wanted to eat cookies, too.

She said, no, to go ahead and make it. She had her candy to finish up before we started making our Christmas cookies.

These chocolate chip cookies bear no resemblance to the cafe cookies. I don't really prefer the ones they make. They are too soft and too sweet. Yet somehow I needed to make chocolate chip cookies to remember that day.

The shortbread? Well, I was after the color. All Olivia can say about these is "they are amazing!"

I'm glad I went after the gold. Even Michael who likes chewy cookies praised these, eating some on the drive home last Friday night from a performance of The Nutcracker. We had had such a good time that I even offered a surprised Olivia seconds.

Another lunch date with my friend is being discussed, and no doubt from the next one will emerge a color scheme all it's own. The flavor will be a concoction that two deeply connected people, a family and a little boy whip up on a whim that day, full of love for each other.

Bring in the Garden Friday with Rosemary Snaps

When we come home from school pick-up in the afternoons, I bring A. upstairs to his room to change. I take off my coat and hang it on the newel outside his room. For months my parka has been there, and sometimes my long, black wool coat.

Today that post holds a mound of coats and jackets. My parka and black coat are there, as is my canvas barn jacket, my shorter and lighter, blue wool coat and my rain coat. That pile reflects the bouncing temperatures of the past week.

Yesterday, I got out and turned the compost. I snipped my rosemary for these cookies, and noticed that my lemon thyme is coming back, as is my oregano. I have a patch of arugula that I planted last Fall that is growing taller in a sunny spot.

There are crocuses everywhere! Our Co-Op has seeds. It is time to start planning.

This gingersnap variation was apparently a "serendipitous" creation by the author of this recipe. These cookies have soft, chewy centers, and will make your home smell wonderful while they are baking. This recipe makes approximately 30 cookies.

Rosemary Snaps
adapted from The Original King Arthur Flour Cookbook

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 cups sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup dark unsulphured molasses
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Put the butter, sugar, salt and molasses into a saucepan and bring to a boil. Remove the pan from the heat and let cool. Transfer the mixture into a large bowl.

Add and blend in the egg. Blend in the spices and baking soda. Stir in the flour until all the ingredients are thoroughly blended. Cover and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.

Roll tablespoon-sized pieces of dough into balls between the palms of your hands. Then roll them in granulated sugar and place them on a slightly greased cookie sheet. If using a non-stick baking sheet, the cookies will spread nicely. If you are not using a non-stick sheet, press the balls of dough down with a glass before baking.

Bake for 12 minutes.

Chocolate and Ginger

These Chocolate-Ginger Crinkle Cookies were among our Christmas cookies this season. They are a new addition to our Holiday collection.

I'm still really enjoying giving Gingerbread my attention. Saturday evening we brought Grandmom Lindner's Favorite Gingerbread Cake, a recipe from the book, to a party. I would have shown you the results, but it wasn't ready until after the daylight was gone.

I had a moment of amusement at the party when bent over the dessert table to make my selection, I overheard one guest tell another that someone brought a delicious gingerbread that he should try.

I lifted my head and waved. Thank goodness I wasn't quietly slinking out of the room in shame!

These cookies have a zing to them, especially if you make sure that your ground ginger is fresh. I omitted the crystallized ginger in these, but if you like it, the recipe calls for a 1/4 cup, finely chopped.

Chocolate-Ginger Crinkle Cookies
adapted from Gingerbread

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature
7 1/2 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Confectioner's sugar for rolling

Whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, salt, ginger, and cinnamon in a medium bowl.

Combine the butter and 3 ounces of the chocolate, and melt in a double boiler or microwave, stirring periodically until it is melted and smooth.

Stir the sugars into the melted chocolate mixture using a wooden spoon or heatproof spatula. Drop in the eggs, one at a time, mixing briskly until smooth. Stir in the vanilla extract and gradually incorporate the flour mixture. Fold in the remaining 4 1/2 ounces of chocolate. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and set in the refrigerator to chill for at least 2 hours or overnight.

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

Shape the chilled dough into walnut-sized balls, roll in confectioner's sugar, and arrange them about 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheets. Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until the cookies have spread and the tops are cracked.

Cool the cookies on the baking sheets set on wire racks for about 2 minutes before removing them to the racks to cool completely. Store the cookies in an airtight container for up to 4 days.

Makes 40 cookies

Guest Cook: Miss O.'s Special Chocolate Chip Cookies

My daughter, O., is my guest here on Hearth Arts today.

Clarice: Hello, Miss O. Thank you for joining us.

O.: You're Welcome.

Clarice: Will you tell our readers how old you are?

O.: I'm nine.

Clarice: Can you tell us about what you made?

O.: Well, I decided to mess around with some ingredients, and they turned out as cookies. I'll tell you how that happened. I put in some sugar, flour, chocolate chips, butter, milk, water. I'm not sure how much I put in, but I mixed all the ingredients together. I put them on a baking sheet, and I baked them, and they came out very yummy. They were also very hard to chew. In the middle they were chewy, and on the edge they were crunchy. But my family really liked them.

Clarice: Is this your own recipe?

O.: Yes.

Clarice: Have you ever made up your own recipes before?

O.: No.

Clarice: Were you pleased with your cookies?

O.: Yes.

Clarice: Would you do anything differently next time?

O.: Yes. I would make the dough thicker, and I would add less sugar.

Clarice: Do you know how you would make the dough thicker?

O.: I would add more flour.

Clarice: Well, thank you for joining us today. Will you join us again sometime?

O.: Yes. Goodbye then.

Oh, Rosemary, I'm So Glad You're There, Part One

I wanted to bring you something from the garden.

Yes, I know, it's February in Pennsylvania.

When I went out before the most recent snowstorm to dump the compost, I saw crocuses coming up. Amazing, I thought. Impossible, really. 51 inches of snow has fallen this month alone. I suppose it is their time, however. It's their job to come up now, snow or not.

Seeing them made my breath quicken. Maybe there is hope, yet. Hope that maybe soon there will be room for two cars to pass each other on our street. Hope that I can get A.'s stroller out onto the sidewalks again.

In my garden, in Winter, there is one loyal friend I can count on. It's my rosemary bush growing ever larger in the garden bed next to the garage. It's in a sunny, protected spot, against the brick wall.

I planted that rosemary when we moved to this house 5 years ago. It was a tiny herb plant, in a plastic pot. That first season, it was too small to use. I didn't have great hopes for it surviving the Winter.

I had always marveled at those huge rosemary bushes that I would see in gardens. I longed for one of my own that would let off it's aroma when I brushed up against it. I wondered how long I would have to live in one place to have one of those.

Now, mine is threatening to take over my herb garden. Last Summer I anxiously looked at how it was pushing the sage to grow in a different direction. I wondered if it was time to divide it, but I am afraid of causing harm. Maybe I will use A LOT of rosemary instead.

Part of me just wants to let it go. Let it grow to it's hearts content in this sunny, hilly spot. Let it grow so I can feel like I obtained that vision of something I wanted. A little like looking a catalog, and wishing your house looked like the picture. Wondering what it would take to get that look.

I have my rosemary bush. I can cut long sprigs and put them in a vase. It seems almost decadent! There is something about that bush that screams of the person I hoped to be. Back in the days when all I had was a container garden on a deck outside our bedroom.

That rosemary never made it to Winter. I would bring it inside and that fuzz would grow on it's leaves, and that was the end.

This week I wanted to make something that wasn't my typical rosemary repertoire of roast potatoes, roast chicken, or focaccia. I found this recipe, and gave these cookies a try yesterday.

I'm not sure if this is my favorite shortbread dough. I like my shortbread a little sandy, a little crisp. This is tender. The flavoring however, is perfect. The lemon and rosemary compliment each other so well that neither is dominant, yet each is present.

I used all-purpose flour, suggested as an alternative to White Whole Wheat flour. I chose the snowman cookie cutters as a nod to the snowstorm that arrived while I made these. The choice of trees were in sympathy of our trees whose branches have been struggling to handle the weight of so much snow. Many of our beloved trees lost big branches, particularly our old, white pine by the driveway, that is so fragrant.

So, give these a try, and see what you think of the dough. Maybe it was me, overmixing. To change the dough may mean never getting the flavoring quite so exact. I'll have to eat a few more and mull it over.

Update: A day later after baking, I tried these again. I give a thumbs up! Maybe the shortbread were tender because they hadn't cooled enough. The texture was exactly what I like. I hope you feel the same way.