Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Happy Holidays

And so the vacation begins. This year we're going to visit my parents and then his parents, so I'll be offline for a few days. Followed by a return to Home Sweet Home and a blissful week of staycation.

In a few hours I'll be there, enjoying the fire and the lighted Christmas tree, my mom's many tins of cookies, gazing out windows at blankets of snow, wrapping the last of the presents. Since we don't do much decorating at our apartment, it doesn't feel quite like Christmas until I'm there. I'm going to let other people handle the cooking, so I can lie around drinking tea and get over this illness that crept up on me yesterday. And indulge in more food than I should. But first, some last minute errands, some packing, and some cleaning so we come back home to a welcoming apartment.

Happy holidays everyone! I hope we all have restful and joyful holidays!

photos by my sisters

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Xmas Cookies

I haven't quite gotten into the holiday spirit this year. Instead, I've been feeling stressed and overwhelmed by holiday preparations and life in general. Maybe it's seasonal affective disorder. Who knows.

Anyway, every year I dream of mammoth cookie baking sessions, like the ones I remember with my mom when little, involving several kinds of cookies, sprinkles and decorations, cookie cutters, and Christmas music in the background. I dream of tins filled with a variety of cookies to give to all my near and dear ones. But as with most years, I instead wimp out and cheap out by just making a couple kinds of treats for just a few people.

Last year, I made truffles, but rolling out 60 some truffles was too time intensive and daunting for my jam packed schedule this year. What I chose to do instead was to make a batch of biscotti for my dad again, swapping in almond extract and out the chocolate chips for a pure unadulterated almond biscotti.

In addition, I made two batches of oatmeal cranberry cookies. Interestingly enough, I thought I used the same recipe, below, for both batches, but that came out oh-so-different. It's because the local Ronnybrook butter I typically use comes in tubs, not sticks, making it hard to measure out in tablespoons. I try to scoop out a tablespoon of butter at a time, but the butter typically isn't soft and pliable enough straight out of the tub and I guess I usually end up with a low approximation. My first batch of oatmeal cranberry cookies (sadly no picture), probably had just 1/4 or 1/3 cup of butter instead of 1/2, and came out tall and caky, like a dense mini muffin, but the sugary taste was amazing.

For the second batch, I used an actual stick (1/2 cup) of vegan Earth Balance, and what a difference it made. These cookies came out thin and crisp with an overwhelming taste of butter (er...vegan butter). I've never had cookies spread so much on the baking sheet, probably because I always skimp on butter. Clearly, I have much to learn in the science of cookie baking. Because I thought the buttery taste was overwhelming this time, I've lowered the butter in the recipe from 8 tbsp (1/2 cup or 1/ stick) to 7 tbsp.

My favorite part of these cookies, whether thick or thin, is the cranberries, which taste like bright jewel tones. Yes, I know jewel tones are colors, but yet I can't stop thinking of that word every time I bite into some oatmeal cranberry goodness. I also recommend trying to find raw sugar if you can, which adds an extra sugary spark to each mouthful. The spices make the cookies more seasonal. And with the goodness of some whole wheat flour, oats, and dried fruit, you can pretend these are good for you!

Oatmeal Cranberry Cookies
adapted from my friend Luke's recipe

7 tbsp butter (or Earth Balance)
1/2 cup raw sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup all purpose or white flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/s tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp ginger
1 1/2 cup oats
1 cup dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Whisk in one egg and then vanilla. Dump flour, baking soda, and spices over top, and mix dry ingredients into wet. Stir in oats and cranberries. Scoop out teaspoon sized mounds and place on greased baking sheets. Bake 10-12 minutes. Makes approximately 36 cookies.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The New Depression

I'm loving these two posters from Readymade - "ReadyMade asks five artists to reimagine the populist poster art of the first Great Depression." Not only are these messages that I believe in strongly, but I think these darling posters are pretty enough to hang on a wall. I'm running out of wall space in my apartment, but I have entertained the idea of starting a series of kitschy art hanging in my entrance stairwell.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


Lately all I want to do is be at home with my two guys (hint, one of them is actually the adorable pup below). Ever since we went to ikea for new furniture, and started decorating more, this apartment really came to feel like home. With a real bed! And a comfy leather reading chair! And things in their places. This place has come a long way from the bachelor pad it once was two years ago with a lone couch and old newspapers strewn all over the living room floor. Operation Homestyle, I've called it.

On the downside, this is limiting my exercise routine, because I just want to head straight home after work. Or even worse, I wish I could just hang out at home all day with the dog, my computer, and the kitchen.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Thanksgiving Recap

I got my chance to take the lead in cooking Thanksgiving dinner for my family this year. I spread the cooking out over a few days and it was surprisingly unstressful. Thank you to Lisa, my sous chef and my Mom for supervising. Here's the run down:

The turkey
My mom always gets a free turkey from Shoprite and I wasn't about to rain on her parade. I also wasn't about to bring a Greenmarket turkey on a 3 hour public transportation ride along with the rest of the food I needed to bring. Better luck going heritage and free range next year. Mom supervised the turkey, I just did what she told me to do.

Roasted butternut squash with parmesan and thyme
Replaced the traditional baked sweet potatoes that I never liked. These were devoured. Although I thought there was too much thyme and too mushy from too much cooking time.
Lisa's single-rise yeast biscuits with lemon, rosemary, and sage (before baking)
Replaced the traditional Shoprite from-a-can-slice-and-bake rolls. Couldn't taste the lemon. Didn't rise as well as in her test run. Surprisingly similar to the usual rolls = I still liked them.
My parents' remodeled wet bar
Replaced the old wet bar where alcohol was unwelcome and looked like a stereo closet crammed with science fiction paperbacks
Appetizers, including homemade rustic wheat crackers, roasted garlic and herb white bean dip, and hummus
Balsamic marinated roasted beets
My family is afraid of beets so these were not a hit, but at least my boyfriend ate up the leftovers.
Mashed potatoes
I tried to infuse roasted garlic flavor, but didn't use enough garlic
Steamed broccoli with balsamic-mustard sauce
To replace the plain traditional steamed broccoli. Could have used a little more tang.

Roasted green beans with lemon juice, dill, toasted almonds, and caramelized onions
I finally figured out why my mom serves green beans on Thanksgiving even though it's out of season - because she has a ton in the freezer from her garden and wants to use them. Defrosted green beans don't roast well. The dish also could have used more than one onion for a better green bean-to-onion ratio.
Pumpkin snickerdoodle cookies (before baking)
Not pictured: Stuffing with baguette, celery, apples, and onions (replacing the traditional Pepperidge Farm/Stouffers/whatever it is stuffing from a bag); two gravy dishes, one made with real turkey drippings and one made from a Shoprite gravy packet; Mom's cranberry-cider sauce (replacing the traditional canned cranberry); and most of the desserts: Mom's apple pie, Mom's pumpkin pie, Lisa's real pumpkin pie with whole wheat crust, storebought sweet potato pie, tiramasu, truffles, blueberry muffins, and banana bread

The best part about Thanksgiving: The leftovers

The worst part: My fat belly from sitting around eating and headaches from playing Minesweeper all week.