January 20, 2017

Yesterday my daughter and I made oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. Aside from the fact that they are now staring at me from across the kitchen, I am happy that we took the time to bake them.

When I was young all of the treats that we had were homemade. My mom was an amazing baker and considered store bought cookies “trash”. Cookies, muffins, bars, loaves and scones. Yummy.

Oatmeal chocolate chip cookies were definitely a favorite for all of us and disappeared quickly. I remember my mom attempting to slow down the cookie consumption by putting them in the freezer. Wrong. That just made them better.

We should really bake more often. It’s easy, it’s fun and it creates great memories…..but it also creates situations like this. Me sitting in the kitchen being stared down by a plate of cookies thinking about my mom.

The Best Thing in Life is fresh oatmeal chocolate chip cookies.  Miss you mom.

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That’s Not Me

scary little monster

Do you ever see friends (or strangers) doing stuff and think.  “Why don’t I do that?”

I do.

It’s a bad habit but one that seems to just creep into my mind every so often.  It’s really part of the whole “grass is always greener” syndrome.  No matter what you do there is always going to be something that someone else is doing that you aren’t.

Don’t get me wrong, my life is good, it’s just that a small ugly part of my brain occasionally gets out of its cage and starts telling me I could do better.  Do more.

Who could bring that ugly part out you ask?  There are a few I can think of.

The Adventurer – this is the friend that is always just back from some incredible adventure.  Backpacking through the Costa Rican jungle.  Spending nights in grass huts and eating bugs.  Back county snowshoeing in Alberta…..with her three kids (one in a baby backpack) and husband.  It seems that they are capable of carrying on a regular life punctuated by these incredible, life altering adventures in exotic lands without batting an eye.

     That’s just not me.

The Business Maven – savvy and well connected, this friend has a constant stream of lucrative opportunities rolling around in her head.  None seems to require a full time commitment but always create an income.  I know that it takes some money to create these opportunities but somehow that isn’t an issue.  Admirable in that it takes guts to jump off the cliff into a business and actually make it work or accept its failure and move on.

     That’s just not me.

The Crafty Baker – with an account at Michaels this friend actually uses the coupons they hand out at the cashier.  Pinterest Fail is not in her vocabulary.  Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Easter are all just waiting for her to create some delicious and awe inspiring cookie that my daughter will talk about for days on end.  Able to create a full dolls wardrobe out of raffia and felt, they enjoy a quiet afternoon at home to create and sew.

     That’s just not me.

The Fashionista – impeccably and always appropriately dressed.  Wether it’s for a morning on the soccer field or a night out at a fundraiser, this friend has her finger in the pulse of what’s fashionable.  But, and here’s the kicker, it always looks effortless. Like she just threw something on at the last minute to run out the grocery store.  No mommy jeans on this one.  And it’s been my experience that these outfits are accompanied by perfectly coiffed hair despite the regular North Vancouver downpours.

     That’s just not me.

The PAC President – committed to our kid’s school and its programs with a never ending supply of energy and ideas for fundraising and improving classrooms.  Willing to give her time to any cause that helps the school.  Willing to sit through PAC meetings.  Every month.  Ugh.  This mom knows what is going on in every classroom and is always politically correct when discussing school business and other people’s kids.

     That’s just not me.

There are more but these ones seem to stick out in my mind.

So what is me? 

Me is a fear of flying, cookie burning, fashion challenged, business commitment scaredy cat, classroom averse blog writer.

The Best Thing in Life is being able to tell that ugly part of my brain to go suck it because I’m just fine the way I am.

 

Tradition and Baking

womantearinghairout

Baking is supposed to be relaxing right?  What part, exactly, is relaxing?  The precise measurements that if deviated from can spell complete disaster!  The timing which if off by minutes results in smoke, charcoal briquettes and the occasional visit from the North Vancouver Fire Department?  The hot oven that requires me to remove my glasses every time I need to open it?  What is it?

My husband’s family has a specific traditional cookie that needs to be baked every year.  And when I say need to, I mean HAS to. In our house it’s not Christmas until we have baked  the “Christmas Tree Cookies”.  They are actually almond spritz cookies.  Bright green tasty mouthfuls of almondy sweetness. I know it’s a big part of the impending holiday season so this year I have agree to suck it up and bake.  I’m showing my holiday spirit.

Half a pound of butter mixed with a cup of sugar then an egg and some flour thrown in to hold it all together.  Oh yes, and green food colouring.  Lots of green food colouring.  Sprinkled with red sugar and baked for a few minutes.  Sound good right?

If only it was that easy.

For starters it’s never just one batch.  It’s at least two, if not more.  Granted the cookies are only a mouthful, but in some ways that makes it easier to grab, say, a half dozen and snack away.  The huge mound I make each year disappears like St. Nick up the chimney.  So the kitchen becomes a bit of an assembly line of measuring and mixing the squishy dough.

Then  there’s the actual art of “pressing” them
out.  This involves a cookie press, a strong hand and some patience.  About sixteen or seventeen years ago I was given my first cookie press by my mother in law.  It took a little while to figure the contraption out but I eventually got the hang of it.  The cookie dough that has been chilling in the freezer needs to be warmed up a bit and then stuffed into the tube of the press.  Then the Christmas tree cutout is screwed onto the end of the tube.  Now that your hands are nice and slippery from all the butter in the dough, you need to squeeze the trigger until a perfectly shaped Christmas tree appears in your cookie sheet.

Sometimes it does…….and sometimes it doesn’t.  Sometimes your “tree” looks a bit like, oh I don’t know, let’s say a pigs snout.  Or a green cow patty.  Anything but a tree.  So then you scrape that cookie up and dump it back into the bowl and try again.

Relaxed yet?

Over the years that first press has been used a lot and last Christmas I pretty much gave up on it.  After about half a cookie sheet done my hand started to cramp up and the profanity coming out of my mouth was not very jolly.  My husband had to finish up and I swore I would never make Christmas tree cookies again.

Some months have passed now and for some reason I have agreed to revisit the cookie press.  A quick trip to Bed Bath and Beyond and voila I have a shiny new cookie press that promises easy use and perfect cookies.  We will see.

Things start out well.  The dough comes together easily and the new press gets filled with green buttery goodness.  Then human error comes into play.  As I squeeze the trigger and await the outcome the dough oozes out the side of the metal tree cutout.  Damn.Xmas tree Cookies

I try again.  Same outcome.  As I’m taking it apart for the third time my lovely husband hands me a glass of wine and asks if he can help.  I hand him the two pieces  and explain the outcome.  He asks me if I’ve been putting the disk in the right way.  Double Damn!

Not sure if was the wine or the fact that I had finally put the press together correctly but the next 200 cookies came out without incident.  (Pretty much).

The Best Thing in Life is keeping a tradition alive………no matter what.

 

It’s Just Pastry

lady baking

Yesterday my friend Jane and I made soba noodles. We had been complaining about the price of 100% buckwheat noodles so Jane had the brilliant idea that we could make them. We both had bags of buckwheat flour going unused in our cupboards so why not give it a try. As we mixed our dough and started to knead it into cones (why it needed to be a cone we are still not sure) Jane mentioned that I looked like I knew what I was doing and that I must be a good pasty maker. I laughed because pastry is the one item that I have never been able to master. I’ve had people offer up “no fail” recipes and yet still, I’ve failed. Maybe, June surmised, it’s because you are such a perfectionist. Wow, you know what, she couldn’t be right. Later in the day I was thinking about it and thought. Really? I can’t make pasty? Okay, tomorrow I am not going to be a perfectionist and I am going to make pastry.

So I pull out my somewhat ratty copy of Martha Stewart’s cook book that my dear friends Karen and Geoff gave to me twenty years ago. ( yes, she’s been around that long). Holy cow there are a LOT of different types of pastry. Once I figured out which one to use, I gathered the ingredients. Flour, salt, butter, lard and ice water. Five ingredients. How hard could this be? The instructions mentioned that for best results everything should be cold. Bowl in freezer, ice cubes in water, butter and lard, well chilled. Okay, ready to go. Am I really this nervous about making pastry? Given my past record of doing it, I think I’m just afraid or failing again. Come on. It’s just pastry right?

cookbook

Everything goes as planned. Sift flour and salt together. Cut in lard and butter and crumble together until it resembles a course meal. The next step is typically where things don’t work out for me. My expectation is that I will add the water and the dough will magically come together in my hands and form a lovely smooth ball. As I tip in the ice water I try to remember that it doesn’t need to be perfect and once it forms a ball I should just wrap it up and put it in the fridge. As Martha points out, you shouldn’t overhandle the dough. And then it happened. I felt like Tom Hanks in Castaway except instead of fire, I Had Made Pastry! Okay, so it was still just a ball of dough, but I had never felt this confident before that it actually might make it into the oven as a pie.

crumbleball of dough

I moved on to making the inside of the pie. This, for me, is the easy part. A bit of this and a bit of that. Sauté the onion and garlic, make a rue and pour in the chicken stock. Taste the gravy and throw in the chicken and the veggies. If it isn’t quite right, adjust and taste again. There is room for personalization. The insides can have lots of sage or just a little. Be spicy or slightly sweet. Be chunky or more refined. You get to pick the ingredients and season it to your taste. Lots of room for interpretation. Pastry seems so…..exact. Either it is or it isn’t. Not a lot of wiggle room.

And now the true test. Rolling the dough out and actually making a pie crust. Flour the board and turn the chilled dough out. It starts out a bit wobbly as I think it should be a bit less cracky and I start to knead it smooth. No wait, Martha said not to overhandle it. Let it go, let it be cracky. Let it be imperfect. And as I rolled and turned and flipped and rolled I realized, after all these years, that it really is “just pastry” and that the end product doesn’t need to be perfect ( see right side of top crust) it just needs to be pastry. I made pastry. Imperfect, buttery pastry. Watch out Martha Stewart, I’m on a roll here.  Yummy chicken pot pie for dinner. Not only have I made pastry, but I have made my family dinner.

pie

So, yes I am a perfectionist and over the years it has probably held me back from doing things and driven more than a couple of people (mostly my family) a bit crazy. The Best Thing in Life is that it is just another piece of who I am. A perfectly imperfect person who can now make pastry.