Thursday, February 25, 2016

old-fashioned molasses cream sandwich cookies

The winter I was 15, my friend's family sent us a Christmas care package. My memory is fuzzy, more flashes of images than clear details: the piano room, the tinseled evergreen...cold winter light flooding through the window...
all of us, jostling...someone, probably my mother, lifting out each item, one after the other...delight...

I don't remember the package's contents, but I can guess. Probably, one of their coveted Christmas cards—every year Shelah (or was it Carmen?) made a handful of Christmas cards by painstakingly cutting intricate designs out of paper—was nestled in the box. I imagine there was also a pair of homemade hot pads, and perhaps a jar of dried mint leaves for tea. I'm almost willing to bet money there were apple schnitzes that they had dehydrated on the wire racks that dangled above their basement wood stove. And then there were the cookies. These I remember, without a shadow of a doubt. A tall stack of old-fashioned molasses cookies, a pretty patch of white cream peeking out of the lid of each cookie where a little hole had been cut into the top cookie's center, and, tucked into the bottom of the bag, a cookie-sized circle of homemade bread to keep the cookies soft.

Fast forward to this last Christmas. I am visiting Amber in her home and we are talking about Christmas cookies and how we determine which kinds are worthy of our Christmas platters. Top of her list, along with the cocoa mints and peppermint cartwheels, is—you guessed it—those old-fashioned molasses creams, the same ones her family had sent to us in the mail a quarter century ago.

I still have a few in the cupboard, she says. Would you like to try one?

Oh yes! I say, but then the conversation moves to other things and the cookies are (unbelievably) forgotten.

It's not until I am back home that I remember the cookies, so I send an email: “Would you mind giving me the recipe for your iced gingerbread cookies?” I write. “The fancy ones we were talking about...? I've been thinking about them ever since and I'd like to see the recipe.”

She shoots back a photo of the recipe and I am in business.

The cookies are quite plain, actually, but so satisfying. They have a hearty molasses flavor, yet my children—the same ones who balk at the traditional Pennsylvania Dutch classics like shoofly pie and shoofly cake—eat these up lickety-split. The cookies come out of the oven soft. Once cool, however, they turn crispy, so they must ripen for a few days—just pop them in an airtight container with a bit of soft bread to provide moisture. When ready to eat, they have a soft-yet-firm texture. They keep forever at room temperature.

You know what? There's something deeply comforting about having a jar of soft molasses cookies always at the ready. Two batches of cookies later, this I know.

Old-Fashioned Molasses Cream Sandwich Cookies 
Adapted from Amber's recipe.

Amber's recipe called for just white flour, but the second time I made these I used half whole wheat and couldn't even tell the difference.

for the cookies:
¾ cup butter
¾ cup brown sugar
1 cup molasses (not blackstrap)
1 egg
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
2 cups white flour
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoons baking soda

Cream the butter and brown sugar. Beat in the molasses. Add the egg. Stir in the dry ingredients. Chill the dough for several hours (or several days).

On a heavily floured counter, roll the chilled dough until it is about three-sixteenth inches thick. Use a circle cutter to cut out the cookies. Place the cookies on greased cookie sheets and bake at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes, or until just set. Careful not to over bake them! For one half of the cookies: as soon as you take them from the oven, cut a small circle in the center of each one. Cool the cookies to room temperature.

for the icing:
2 tablespoons butter
4 cups confectioner's sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ cup boiling water

Put a cup of the sugar in a bowl and cut in the butter. Add the remaining dry ingredients. Add the boiling water and whisk until smooth. The icing should be like soft butter—easy to spread but not at all runny. As the icing sits, it will harden. Add more boiling water as necessary.

to assemble:
Ice the underside of each of the solid cookies and then press one of the cookie rings on top: bottom to bottom. Repeat until all the solid cookies have been matched with cookie rings. Eat the cookie holes.

Put the cookie sandwiches in a large jar. Place a piece of soft bread on a piece of wax paper, or on a jar lid, and set it on top of the cookies. Lid the jar and let the cookies ripen for four days before eating. Every couple days, check the bread—when it gets hard, discard and replace with a piece of fresh bread. 

Yield: about three dozen sandwich cookies.

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (2.23.15), the quotidian (2.24.14), roasted cauliflower soup, Oreo, birds and bugs, the quotidian (2.25.13), bandwagons, for my daughter, food I've never told you about, part three, creamy garlic soup, reverse cleaning, and Grandma Baer's caramel popcorn.      

Monday, February 22, 2016

the quotidian (2.22.16)

Quotidian: daily, usual or customary; 
everyday; ordinary; commonplace

Pantry fruit salad.

Pork loin with garlic and rosemary.

Dog food: I fed the family bad meat (not that pork loin) (to no ill effects, THANK GOODNESS).

Gray and soppy.

Sick for a week: only good for paperwork.

EMT practice.

Disturbing: digging for trash.

The kid who doesn't like to make repeat trips.

The Sunday Night Smoosh: family weirdness captured.

This same time, years previous: lemon cheesecake morning buns, peanut butter and jelly bars, pan-fried tilapia, the quotidian (2.20.12), toasted steel-cut oatmeal, the case of the whomping shovel, dulce de leche coffee, blueberry cornmeal muffins, the morning after, and Molly's marmalade cake.

Friday, February 19, 2016


There are a stack of National Geographics on a stool by the toilet in the downstairs bathroom. This one is at the top of the pile.

Every time I sit down to pee, I do a double take. It's totally my younger daughter, age eight. See?

Here, let's put them side by side.

If Icelandic girl smiled, she'd look just like this, I bet:

Have a great weekend, friends!

This same time, years previous: in my kitchen: 11:50 a.m., almond cake, in the eyes of the beholder, digging the ruffles, homemade Twix bars, creamed chicken with cheese biscuits, and pain and agony.    

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Jonathan's jerky

Remember when my family went to Pennsylvania over New Year's? Remember when my friend served me and my husband a bedtime snack of her homemade beef jerky? Remember how I dug the gallon jar of jerky out of the cupboard the next morning to show my children and how my older son clutched it to his bosom and wouldn't let go? No? Well, here. This should jog your memory:

Between chewy mouthfuls of dried beef, my son declared that he would go home and make his own beef jerky. Get the recipe, Mom, he said. So I snapped a photo of the recipe.

A couple weeks ago, my son went to Costco with me so he could pick out a cut of beef.

"Wow, it's expensive," he said, leaning over the trough of frosty meat. He selected a seven-pound boneless cut for thirty-eight dollars: "Ouch."

By the end of last week, my son had all the ingredients compiled. (It took two tries for the liquid smoke—the first time my husband came home with a liquid smoke marinade.) Saturday afternoon he mixed up the marinade and set the meat in a pan by the fire to thaw. That evening he spend a couple hours slicing the semi-frozen meat into thin slices. He divided the meat into sections—too-thin pieces, average-sized, and chunky-big—and smooshed in the marinade. 

“Shouldn't it have brown sugar, too?” He asked.

“It called for white, so you should probably stick with that,” I said.

“But all the good meat sauces call for brown sugar," he argued. When I turned around, he was already sprinkling brown sugar onto the meat.

The next morning, he got up early to lay the meat onto the dehydrator trays before church. I suggested we experiment with some black pepper-crusted jerky; I ground a bunch of pepper over a strip of slices, he flipped the meat, and I ground some more.

All the time my son was gearing up for his jerky, we couldn't figure out where to put the dehydrator while the meat dried. My friend had warned us the smell was overpowering, so we knew we couldn't leave the dehydrator in the back hall. If we moved it to the basement, the smell would rise straight through the floor. The attic seemed too tricky (and potentially still too smelly). We were afraid the animals would get the meat if we left it outside. The Sunday morning when he was to run the dehydrator, the outside temps were in the single digits. Would the dehydrator work properly in such low temps? And then I hit on a solution: the truck! We could back my husband's truck up to the porch, stick the dehydrator in the back cab, and hook it up with an extension cord. I was such a genius.

Mid-afternoon the jerky was done. As my son peeled the pieces from the trays, we crowded round, stuffing the pieces of spicy dried meat in our mouths as fast as possible, fearing the moment his generosity would end. (It held out longer than I thought it would, sweet kid.)

Straight out of the dehydrator, the jerky was crunchy-crispy (by the next day it had turned chewy). It had a delightful kick from the chipotle pepper, and the black pepper version was an enormous hit—it was gone in minutes.

So now my son has a gallon of jerky in his bedroom. Actually. make that a half gallon.

The stuff is good. Wicked good.

Jonathan's Jerky 
Adapted from Amber's recipe.

Amber says you can use venison in place of the beef.

Amber's recipe called for 5 tablespoons white sugar, but my son recommends using all brown sugar and slightly increasing the amount (his changes are reflected in the recipe below). Also, Amber used cayenne pepper and only ¼ teaspoon of it. We used a whole teaspoon of chipotle powder and found the heat pleasantly kicky. If you're into scorched tastebuds, feel free to add more.

This is the dehydrator that we used. We love it to pieces.

5-6 pounds beef
1¼ cups Worcestershire sauce
1/3 cup liquid smoke
7 tablespoons brown sugar
4 tablespoons sea salt
2½ tablespoons Old Bay seasoning
5 teaspoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons granulated garlic (or garlic powder)
1¼ teaspoons black pepper
1 teaspoon chipotle powder

While the meat is still partially frozen, remove any extra fat and then slice the meat across the grain into three-sixteenth or quarter-inch slices. Combine the remaining ingredients to make a marinade.

In a couple glass pans, layer the meat with the marinade. Using your hands, stir the two together so that all pieces of meat are coated with the marinade. Cover tightly with plastic and refrigerate for about 12 hours.

Lay the strips of meat on the dehydrator sheets. Place the dehydrator in a secure place away from the house and set the dehydrator to 150 degrees. Start checking the jerky after 6 hours. (Alternately, you can dry the jerky at lower temps, but it will take longer to dry.)

Store the jerky in a glass jar. This recipe yields about a gallon, though warning: it will disappear far too quickly.

For Pepper-Crusted Jerky: Lay the meat onto the trays. Grind lots of black pepper over each piece. Flip the pieces and grind over more pepper.

PS. To rid the dehydrator of the meaty smell—because you don't want your dried nectarines and apples to taste of beef and smoke—scrub it to within an inch of its life. Rinse and repeat.

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (2.16.15), in the last ten months, the quotidian (2.17.14), Monday blues, sweet, ginger lemon tea, chicken pot pie, snippets, coconut pudding, food I never told you about, food I never told you about, part two, odd ends, and tortilla pie.        

Monday, February 15, 2016

the quotidian (2.15.16)

Quotidian: daily, usual or customary; 
everyday; ordinary; commonplace

No sugar cereal involved: the birthday boy's requested breakfast.

Ice cream cake. Always ice cream cake.

A new cornbread: needs more work.

A Greek sweet: also needs more work.

For all the salads: quinoa!

Early morning scribbles.

Ready for work.

In another world.

Outsourcing the metric system lesson.

Headphones forever.

Scrub a-dub dub.


Sky candy.

This same time, years previous: it gets better, colds, busted knees, and snowstorms, chocolate pudding, how we do things, the quotidian (2.13.12), Shakespeare in church, the outrageous incident of the Sunday boots, just stuff, life interrupted, potato gnocchi, slow thinking, and cleaning up bad attitudes.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

chasing fog

The other day when fog swirled through the valley, I hopped in my car (petulant teenager in tow) and set off to capture it with my camera.

The fog was temperamental. Sometimes it seemed to hang in place, and other times it moved so fast I could see it whipping by, tendrils flying like hair in the wind. I drove around one of my running loops, stopping whenever I found a beguiling patch of thick air. I kept having run-ins with school buses: once I met one head-on and was forced to drive backwards down the curvy country road until I found a spot wide enough to pull over and let it pass; the other time I was snapping a photo when I heard the telltale roar coming from behind and had to leap into my car and stomp on the gas.

Sometimes I wonder why I keep working on this book. What drives me? The publisher that kicked off the whole process is no longer in business (and I had never signed a contract), so there's no outside motivation, no one holding a cracking whip. Yet still, on I plod. Two, three, four mornings a week spent sending my (younger) children away so I can write a book about the homeschooling I'm not doing.

Most days I feel like I'm trying to do the impossible: harness fog. My experiences and ideas swirl heavily through my mind, pressing me into my seat (or making me want to hide under it). How to seize the elusive and distill it into something tangible, logical, readable? This baffles me. Frustrates me, too. My ineptitude looms, jagged and terrifying. I feed myself lies: you've got this, I growl through gritted teeth. Forever hunting clarity, I toy with mere wisps of ideas, twisting and turning them into words, willing them into something bigger than the sum of their parts.

So many hours spent stubbornly tugging at tendrils. It's foolishness, yes? So why do I persist? My answer, the only one I can think of, is this: hope. Crazily enough, it really does spring eternal.

This same time, years previous: a taste, one-pot macaroni and cheese, and then I turned into a blob, school: the verdict, blame it on the cats, to read, addictive and relaxing, a round about compliment, chai-spiced hot chocolate, hauling wood, and my me-me list.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

a horse of her own

About two days after Leslie died, one of Leslie's former students told me that they were looking for homes for the horses. I thought “looking for homes” was a polite way of saying “selling,” so I just nodded along, but then she said, “Would your family be interested in one of the horses?” I said I'd check with my husband.

So I did. His response was immediate: DUH, YES.

I called back and said that yes, we would take a horse. I didn't tell my daughter, though. What with all the chaos and confusion, I worried that wires were getting crossed. As the dust settled, maybe Leslie's relatives would discover they needed to sell the horses, or that Leslie had specific plans.

But then at work a couple days later, one of Leslie's good friends mentioned to my daughter about the horse she'd be getting. Right away she called me, through the roof. “They want me to take Velvet!” she squealed.

“Yes, honey. We already said yes.”

“So am I going to be allowed to have her?”

Shocked by my measured acceptance, she asked the can-I-have-her question about three different ways. And then she flew into a tizzy. There was so much to do! Every time I sat down at my computer, there were at least a half dozen horse-related pages open, such as the schedule for deworming, how to measure a horse's hooves, and searches for half pads, saddle pads, grazing muzzles, and polo wraps.

Days passed. Boarders claimed their horses and buyers came to inspect others. My anxiety rose. It would be a double grief if my daughter lost first Leslie and then the promised horse.

But then my daughter called from work to report that she had talked with Leslie's sister and she was, indeed, going to get Velvet. After that, things started moving forward. She came home with Velvet's papers. She paid for Velvet's last farrier visit at the farm (she had him remove Velvet's shoes to save money), and she paid for the final vet visit. We made a run to the local saddle store (who knew we had a local saddle store?) for necessary supplies: feed, polo wraps, lead rope, and halter. And then last Thursday afternoon at three o'clock, our neighbor's trailer pulled to a stop in front of our house and Velvet backed out onto the road.

Velvet had never seen sheep before, so at first she was terrified. She alternated between trying to make a break for it and planting her feet and staring them down, her head up, blowing air.

Scared that the first halter might break, my daughter put on a second one.

Eventually Velvet calmed and allowed herself to be coaxed into the field.

Velvet is a great jumper (other stats: she's a bay roan and 14 years old, the same age as my daughter), so my daughter is using logs to make a jumping course in the second field. She doesn't have a saddle yet, so she's riding bareback for now.

astride Leslie's horse, wearing Leslie's boots: carrying on

This past weekend, my husband tried to ride Velvet. It didn't go so well, the kids reported (I had been at a conference in NYC). Without the stirrups, he could hardly stay on. Defeated, he dismounted. My daughter promptly leaped atop Velvet and galloped off across the field. “She makes it look so easy,” he grumbled (happily) to me later.

Last night the sheep were out grazing in the yard when my daughter got back from riding in the neighbors' ring. (The neighbors have given her access to their adjoining field and riding ring whenever she wants.) “Just stay on Velvet and drive them in,” my husband hollered.

What a hoot it was, pure, happy chaos.

I sat on the deck steps and snapped pictures of my daughter's mini ranch: the sprinting (pregnant!) sheep, the excited dogs, and in the middle of it all, my daughter, on her very own horse.

Can you believe it?!

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (2.9.15), eight, dear Mom, and corn and wild rice soup with smoked sausage.