A New Cookie. An Old Habit.

What’s that saying? Old habits die hard—which just makes me think of Samuel L. Jackson in Die Hard with a Vengeance saying, in his most perfect of a voice, “Bro? Get away from the goddamn phone!”

But moving on from my distracto moment, old habits do seem to linger on. And on. This past weekend, I decided to try a new cookie recipe I had saved from an email newsletter from The Splendid Table. I feel like I’ve pretty much mastered my basic chocolate chip and pecan cookie, so it was time for another trial.

The original recipe for these Sour Cherry and Dark Chocolate cookies is by Yasmin Khan of The Saffron Tales. It peaked my interest because of a recent education by a friend on the benefits of tart cherries. So I thought, instead of drinking tart cherry juice, why not put them in a cookie? It’s gotta be about the same, right?

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Gathered up the ingredients, which did look delicious all on their own, and thought I was set to go.

Well, that old habit I thought I had finally kicked to a curb far, far away came strolling back around the block and didn’t even knock. Next thing I know I’m partway through the recipe realizing I never read it all the through. DUH. Hi, habit. How’ve you been?

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At that point, everything came to a screeching halt as the recipe called for the dough to chill for at least an hour. Really, people. I can’t say it enough—read recipes through once, twice, three times a loon. Luckily, I had actually started baking far enough in advance of Sunday dinner that I had the time to spare.

In my late rereading of the recipe, I also figured out that I hadn’t used all the sugar that was called for. Now, it’s true, I usually do cut sugar content anyway, but this time it wasn’t on purpose.  I also didn’t chop up the dried cherries…but the dough looked and smelled amazing, so I wasn’t going to stress about it.

20170626_192329After an hour or so of reading with intermittent Instagraming and doing random tasks in the garden, I got the dough out of the fridge and balled it up. Dough balls are fun. BALLS. Speaking of dough, last week I had a discussion with coworkers about doughnuts/donuts/dough nuts. I decided I like it spelled separately and also wondered why they aren’t called dough nuts & bolts instead of doughnuts and holes.

Anyhooooo, the dough made 12 big balls. Recipe said use an ice cream scoop, I think. I don’t have one, so I just rolled them up into 12 equally-ish sized nuggets of yum. Popped those buddies in the oven at 325 for 7 minutes. They were just beginning to unball and melt out a bit, so when I turned the pan, I also sprinkled them with sea salt. Back in for another 10 minutes and they seemed done.

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I let them cool almost completely before the taste test. They were decadent. A heavy weight of a cookie, but not overly sweet—I think my sugar mishap and the addition of sea salt balanced it out. The texture was somewhere in between a cake and a brownie. Hard to describe, really. In retrospect, I may do a hotter oven for less time when I try them again. I’d prefer a crispier edge/bottom and keep them gooey in the middle.

Overall, I’d call them a success and the Greeks were pleased. Another Sunday family dinner dessert dynamo.

Original recipe by Yasmin Khan here:

Sour Cherry and Dark Chocolate Cookies 

My habit rearing it’s ugo head:

I used dried tart cherries, which I didn’t chop up (next time I definitely will), and left out the extra tablespoons of granulated sugar…I also didn’t have a full 1/4 cup measured out either. Whoops.

READ THE RECIPE ALL THE WAY THROUGH FIRST

Wheeeeeeeeee!

 

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Jenn Gin Cookies: An attempt to bring the happy back to the hour.

The funtastic start to the long weekend quickly took a turn by Saturday night when I started having some psychologically deflating side effects from the high dose of Prednisone I was put on last Wednesday. I had forgotten how intense this level can be and ended up feeling awful on Sunday. By Monday, I needed something to get me back on the positive mental track and since gardening out in the heat was out of the question, I went to the other space where I can always find something to invent, experiment with, or edit— my kitchen.

The drive to edit doesn’t stop when I leave the office. I’ve realized that it infiltrates most of my life. From the high-walled, razor-wired personal stuff to the blatant spray painting of an antique chandelier, I’ll make a tweak if I see fit.

Baking is not immune to my editorial revisions, to be sure. As I’ve said many times before, I can’t seem to follow recipes to the letter. It must be some sort of mental block. Or I’m just too damn stubborn.IMG_20170529_131438_897

So when I needed a pick-me-up on Monday, I searched the kitchen to see what I could create from what was on hand. I knew I needed a dessert for the Greek family Memorial Day dinner, so I first gathered up the basics of flour, sugar, and butter. Found three limes that were leftover from a gin and tonic weekend…and then it hit me—new cocktail cookie! I already knew a good iced-lemon cookie recipe, so I decided to adjust it into a liquored-up treat.

20170529_132811I always like a splash or two of whiskey or bourbon in a pie, and I’ve done a cookie with tequila, so gin seemed like the natural next step in editorial experimentation. Starting with the original recipe, I changed the call for lemon zest and juice to lime, added a big dousing of gin and an extra egg white (because it was there and needed to be used). I’m no chemist, and I barely math, so this was risky and I knew it. But it felt right and I was starting to feel better myself. The dough came together nicely. Perhaps a bit sticky, but the taste was spot-on. Sweet tart scrumptious. As with the lemon cookie recipe, it was hard not to sit there and just eat all the dough raw. I controlled myself and rolled out tablespoon-sized clumps onto the cookie sheet.

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While those sticky, little dough balls were in the oven, I whipped up the icing for their tops. Knowing the liquor in the dough would mostly bake off, I decided to bring back the full strength in the icing. Powdered sugar, lime zest, lime juice, and gin—what could go wrong?

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Nothing. Nothing went wrong with that. It was delicioso! Meanwhile, the dough balls were puffing up into what looked like wee biscuits. It was bizarre and I wondered if it was the addition of the gin or the extra egg white. Either way, they were looking almost fancy and I was getting excited. The previous day’s pains and discomforts were melting away as this new baking adventure was coming together.

Ding! The cookies were done, out da oven, and onto a cooling rack to set a bit before drizzling with the icing.

The smell was like the feel of summer evening drinks with a sweating glass pressed cool against a hot brow.

20170529_140426.jpgOnce they were cool enough to drizzle, the idea of a drizzle wasn’t enough anymore. I coated those biscuity looking babies to the hilt. I mean, why not? They ended up sitting in puddles of ginny sweet goodness and it was glorious to gaze upon.

The final cocktail cookie had a texture that carried the heft of the glaze well and the combination felt just right. The full-force gin in the icing gave it a kick that everyone was surprised with but enjoyed…especially my coworkers. What? *Clears throat*

Moving on…the pick-me-up experiment is going down in the books as a success, and I’ve named them Jenn Gin Cookies. Gin and tonics are restricted to a glass no longer!

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Jenn Gin Cookie Dough:

2 cups all-purpose flour, spooned and leveled

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons finely grated lime zest

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1 stick of unsalted butter, room temp

1 cup granulated sugar

1 large egg (plus one egg white if you want to do what I did)

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 tablespoon Gin

Gin Glaze:

2 cups confectioner’s sugar

2 tablespoons lime zest

1/3 cup fresh lime juice with a big splash of Gin in it

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, and zest in a bowl. In another bowl (I used my KitchenAid), beat the butter and granulated sugar until fluffy. Add the egg, vanilla, and lime juice, gin, and combine. Finally, add in the flour mixture gradually with the mixer on low.

Drop heaping tablespoons of dough onto the cookie sheet about 1 inch apart and bake until golden on the edges. About 15-20 minutes depending on your dough ball size. Be sure to flip them halfway through.

Let cool completely and then “drizzle” with the glaze. They should set for about an hour before devouring.

Bottom’s up!

 

Jet the Wonder Dog–A Story of Foster Failure

Today was Jetski Kev T. Bronson’s Gotcha Day celebration. His true adoption date was May 22, but that was a Monday and who can have a proper party on a Monday? So today, we celebrated Jet. The wonder dog.

The story of how Jet, and his numerous nicknames, came to our humble home is not a long one, but was a giga coaster on emotional rails.

It started with a death. Jet came into the rescue because his human dad died and the family couldn’t keep him. At 13 1/2 years old, we knew it would be hard to place him in a new forever home, but we try to save as many as possible regardless, so we jumped on the opportunity to take in the old guy. My previous foster, Bugsy, had just been adopted by my next door neighbors, so my home was open and I’ve always had a soft spot for the senior dogos. Those who know me, know I can’t not love a grey face.

Old man Jet arrived at my house mid-March. We had just started our busy season at work and I thought a senior dog that was already trained and used to another dog and cat would fit in fine even with my long work hours. The granddaughter of Jet’s former pop brought him over and told me everything she knew about his personality and quirks. After an introduction to my girl, RJ, and a stroll around the yard, it was determined that he would do well with us.

I pretty much knew immediately that he wasn’t going anywhere. There was something in20170423_164023 the way his ears bounced when he walked and his foggy eyes that made me know he was home.

And he did fit in well. He learned our routines and went right along with the feed times, work schedule, treat times, bed times, and walks. During the day he’d sleep in the front room that he claimed as his own and at night he’d sleep across my doorway. We were now a pack of four and we were all happy.

I had noticed that Jet limped a bit and really didn’t like you to touch his side or his stomach. Figuring the limping and touchiness was due to age-related issues, I started him on high quality food and supplements of glucosamine/chondroitin and Wobenzyme. In a few weeks, there was a clear turn around in his ability to walk without a limp and get up off the floor easier. Seemed like we were on the right path to keeping him as mobile as possible.

Then he went in for his checkup and microchip. Our vet informed us that he had never been neutered, at some point he was shot and the bullet was still in him, and something bad was going on in his stomach. This was a Monday They wanted to do x-rays before the neuter, which was scheduled for Friday. Friday came and they put him just in twilight to do the x-rays first. They were shocked by what they saw—a softball-sized and shaped tumor in the area of his spleen and possible swollen pulmonary arteries. There would be no neuter that day. I remember, I was stuck at work where I couldn’t check my cell phone or email, but a note was sent to me that he was “okay.”

After the call to tell me the full facts, we immediately scheduled an appointment for an echo-cardiogram and ultrasound for the following Monday. These showed that he had a slight heart arrhythmia, but his pulmonary arteries looked okay. The tumor was clear and it was on the spleen. Once they had the results, our vets wanted to go in and do the surgery Tuesday morning. No waiting. It was too risky with a tumor that size. Even if benign, it could have burst  at any moment causing him to internally bleed out.

By this time it was the first week of May—our absolute busiest week at work. My emotions were out of control and I’m not one to ever show much emotion. I was so scared that I would lose him after he just came into my life.

Two amazing vets went into surgery to remove the spleen, tumors, and do the neuter on Tuesday morning. Again, I was away from all communication at work and having to try and focus on what was happening before me instead of getting caught up in my thoughts of what was happening to my Jet boy right then and whether he would make it through. At his age, putting a dog under is dangerous, but I knew he was in the absolute best hands for the job. And I was right.

20170505_113129They took the spleen with the massive tumor, which also had two other smaller also perfectly round tumors on it…and his balls. So in total, Jet lost five balls that day. But he made it through the tough surgery and was awake and grumpy! I took his grumpiness as a good sign. The next day, another note was delivered to me at work where I was once again away from communication that read, “Jet is eating, but only if hand fed. He’s being spoiled.” He ended up spending the rest of the week at the vet’s office and they continued to spoil and fall in love with him. It’s really impossible not to. By the end of the week, we were all missing him at the house, even RJ.

Jet was home. Finally. Again. He started his slow healing process with a lot of rest and painkillers.20170416_093556 Each day he got a little more mobile, ate more food, and his personality started coming back. I remembered his Easter morning face that I captured right as he woke up. He had the biggest smile and looked like my own little pun dog pup. That boy was coming back little by little. The biggest difference was his mobility. Once off the heavy duty painkillers, he was walking without any limp and even trotting a bit! Another new revelation, he enjoyed a belly rub. Before, I couldn’t get near his belly.

And then, on my birthday, I got the call from the vet that the tumor was BENIGN. Best birthday present ever!

Needless to say, Jet has made a wonder-dog recovery. He demands nightly walks now and is so much more comfortable. No more constant panting or barely being able to make it up one stair. He still has some pretty intense arthritis in his spine, but we’ve got the right combo to keep him pain free and moving.

The emotional roller coaster seems to have rolled back into the station. For now. Nobody knows or is promised the future though, so today we celebrated Jet and his official adoption into the Bronson family. And it truly has been a family trip. Without the emotional and financial support of my huge-hearted parents, none of this would have been possible. It’s things like this that make me believe in the connectedness of everything. Jet landed exactly where he needed to be. And more so, where I needed him to be. The pack grew unexpectedly, but we can’t imagine how we were before him.

Jet’s Gotcha Day party included his sister, Ruby Joon, and two former fosters, Lolly (and her mom) and Bugsy. Ol boy didn’t really want to play or have anything to do with the young’uns, and he wasn’t overly thrilled about the doggie cake with the candle, but I did catch him a couple times with a smile on his face.

We all wished for many more healthy years for Jetski Kev T. Bronson when blowing out the candle on his Gotcha Day cake.

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Pi(e) Day: the most wonderful day of the month.

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Today was an obvious choice of a day for me to make a pie. I don’t math, but I do know what pi means and since I’m pretty all right with letters, I knew that adding an ‘e’ would really level up this day. *insert Link opening a treasure chest music here* Also, I can’t remember the last time I made one, which is true sadness.

When discussing what kind to make, Yvonne, who knows I always bring them into work for taste testing, said any kind but blueberry because that would turn her teeth blue. So to me that meant it was definitely going to be blueberry. Luckily for her, blueberries weren’t quite in season yet, so they were still ridiculously priced. The strawberries and raspberries were on sale and to add in a color and texture variant, I threw a pack of blackberries into the cart. A lemon for fresh juice and I was ready.20170314_192753.jpg

Shockingly, I actually planned ahead for this day and made my dough the night before. I’ve seriously mastered that pie dough, yo. As seasoned bakers already know, the quality of butter makes ALL the difference in it coming together. When I got home from the store, I rolled out half of the dough and pressed it into the plate.

The dough went back into the fridge while I prepped the filling. Sweet, sweet berries, come to momma. I cut the strawberries into 20170314_193128.jpgdifferent sizes and left the blackberries and raspberries whole. A bowl of beauty. The recipe I loosely followed called for adding granulated sugar, lemon juice, and salt to the berries. I cut the sugar by about a quater cup and added in an overflowing tablespoon of good quality maple syrup. Once that was mixed, add in the thickener, flour, and then it was time to get the other half of the 20170314_192702.jpgdough out of the fridge to roll out for the top crust. I knew I wanted to do something to represent pi, so I stared at the rolled out dough and contemplated how to do it without just doing the pi symbol. The problem is that I’m still an amateur with creative pie lattice tops. The brainstorming resulted in an idea I thought I could handle, so I filled the plate with the berry delicious filling and got at it. After some serious finangling, I finished my top and popped that heavy baby into the oven.

About an hour later, my gooftastic Pi Day pie was done. As usual, it was juicier than I’d like it to be. I think this happens because I usually add more fruit than the recipes call for, I can’t abide a sunken belly, and then forget to compensate with more thickening agent.

Do you see my pi representation?

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The taste testers were pleased—the pi pie disappeared with a quickness. I did get a slice and I have to admit that regardless of the slightly pooling liquid, the taste was spot on. Not too sweet or too tart. I’ll mark it as a success and make yet another note to watch the thickener when making fruit pies.

I didn’t get a “pretty” picture of a cut piece, but here’s a jank one with sliding crust on a Target brand generic paper plate because we can’t care about everything…

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Pie Dough:

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour

1 tablespoon sugar (I used slightly less)

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup unsalted butter, chilled and cut into 1/2-1 tablespoon pieces (I used Kerry Gold)

1 1/2 cups cold water

Put the cold water into a 2 cup liquid measuring cup with a spout and handle. Set into the freezer. Measure out the flour into a mixing bowl, add the sugar and salt, then the butter pieces. Lightly toss them until they are coated and then take handfuls of the mixture into your hands, pressing the butter into the flour between your fingers until it’s incorporated and the butter pieces are pea to walnut size.

Next, get the water from the freezer and drizzle it in for a count of about five seconds. Then toss it like you’re tossing a salad. Don’t knead. Keep doing that with the water until you can put together a small ball of dough, toss it in the air, and when it lands in your hand it stays together. At this point, make two thick discs of dough, wrap in plastic wrap and keep in the fridge for up to three days.

Pie Filling:

5-5 1/2 cups of mixed berries of your choice

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1 heaping tablespoon maple syrup

2-3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

pinch of salt

1/4 cup flour (or more if you add extra fruit)

2 tablespoon chilled, unsalted butter cut into small chunks

1 egg white for wash

Demerara sugar

Preheat oven to 425.

Mix the berries, sugar, syrup, lemon juice, and salt together. Taste and adjust to your preference. Stir in the flour and set aside while you roll out the top crust. Pile the fruit mix into the dough, dot with butter, and then add your version of the top. Brush on the egg white wash and heavily sprinkle with the demerara sugar.

Middle rack for 15-20 minutes, with an edge protector. Then turn oven down to 375, rotate pie, and bake for another 35-45 minutes. Take the pie edge protector off for the last 10-15 minutes.

Cool on wire rack for at least an hour and then devour.

 

 

Wordless Wednesday (almost): It’s not Just a Smile

2016 has bent the universe over and is taking us all on a rough ride. I decided with all the crud going on, when small moments of good happen, I will blow them up into much bigger deals than they really are to make up for all the bad.

So…

My doctor smiled today. Doesn’t sound like much, eh? Well, this is my notoriously emotionless (which is why I have a crush on him) kidney specialist who for three years has been straight forward about what was going on, how we would treat it, and was pleased, in his quiet way, the times the treatments worked. Seriously, though, his emotional control is goal worthy for me. But today? Today, he let go. I guess he was so pleased with my most recent lab results, he couldn’t keep his usual slightly caring but mostly blank face straight. He exclaimed that my labs were good, not just good, excellent. They are not just normal, like a person without any medical conditions at all, but even better than average.

And that is all awesome news, but he smiled and he kept smiling until we left the room heading our separate ways. So I’ll take it. I’ll take that moment and make it into something much bigger than a good report and a grin from doc. I’m going to let it erase some of the recent bad stuff and also let it carry me into the unknown days ahead.

The picture for today is of zinnias from my garden. Because smiles.

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38th Rotation Ruminations

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Today, my grandmother would have turned 98. In twelve days, my dad will turn 78. Four days ago, I turned 38.

Today, I went to my kidney specialist.

I’m thinking that having a chronic illness that people can’t visually see the damage being done by it, and more so by the treatment, is mentally taxing. Finding myself trying to act normal because that’s what everyone expects, since I don’t look differently on the outside other than flushed, chipmunk cheeks and a raccoon eye mask. Considering the short list of side effects I’m feeling–extreme fatigue from the relentless insomnia, physical weakness from the muscle waste, and near constant, unfocused anxiety–all caused by the steroid treatment. Having to do the entire six-month regime, regardless of the quickness to remission, steroids building in my system along with the rage. Raging at having to continue with these devil meds knowing my body is already working right again.

Today, I’m exhausted on all the levels.

I’m recalling last weekend’s birthday celebrations in my mind. Reliving the moments with two of my best friends and my doggie daughter. Road tripping with Ruby Joon doing her dog thing sniffing all the sniffs out the back window, ears flapping, the playlist blasting, and the sun shining in on us. Highway 27 blanketed in patchwork quilts of pink, white, yellow, purple, and red wildflowers. Quietly rolling and winding through agricultural lands spotted with grandfather oaks, pine forests, cow pastures, and small towns that sported more confederate flags and crosses than common sense. Seeing a billboard saying, “She’s your daughter, not your date” gives a…perspective of sorts. Turning off the highway and stopping for lunch at the place with the best New York-style pizza outside of New York. So good. So, so good. Heading south over the Sunshine Skyway, dough and cheese-filled bellies, salt air inflated lungs, riding the waves of the suspension bridge like that dragon-themed kiddie roller coaster at the county fair, knowing I was almost home. Our theme song had become Road to Nowhere along the way, but I knew exactly where we were headed.

Home. “I live in Tallahassee, but my home is Sarasota” has always been my response to people when I’m asked where I’m from. I guess even though I’ve now spent more of my years in Tallahassee, the only way that statement will change is if I ever stop waiting to leave. One reason Sarasota will always be home in my head and my heart is the person I was going to see at the end of that drive–my longest time friend, who happened to be home from London. On my birthday weekend. Yes, sometimes the universe really pulls through when you need. Sometimes.

Today, I was told I will have to wait for the med I need.

I’m seeing the blues of the jays and reds of the cardinals, hearing the bizarre squawks of the black grackles jumping from the dew-soaked grass to the limbs of the Jacaranda. Cattails waving from the creek’s edge and I am tasting the bitter coffee and fried eggs of those mornings. There was no feeling of waiting in those days. Each moment held its own importance and melded into the next like a watercolor painting itself.

Ruby Joon racing, hips and tail tucked, throwing herself down wiggling to scratch her back in the lawn, legs flailing. Smiling. Laughing. Laughter when she tongue-kissed Becca on the revamped double decker coffee bus downtown. Laughter when we were making a pie, balancing and piling more and more apples into the crust as Mikey manned the music and drew us–drew me to look like an old man, while they looked like cartoon supermodels. Laughter with hard root beers in the pool. Laughter with Bloody Marys by the pool. There’s no feeling of waiting for anything at all when hearing the laughter of two people that are at the core of making you who you are. Who you were. Who you will always be.

Today, doc said that this next step will only be for one year. Not for always. Whew.

Our feet are back in the white powder sand. We’re all agreeing that this sunset won’t be as pretty because there are no clouds in the sky. Pictures at the tidal inlet. Pictures at the water-lapped edge. Pictures of the awkwardness of the couple near us with the lady that might or might not be topless. More laughter. Pictures of the sun sliding down the horizon, melting into the dark chop, a boat crossing its path, lone chair in the sand, sinking. It’s all sinking. Take another picture to keep it. Hold it right here. Take this last selfie with the fading light of the most beautiful sunset I’ve ever seen behind us. It’s 8:08 p.m. on May 8th and I’ve finished my 38th rotation around that sunken sun.

Today, I want to hold it all still. Just for one more perfect moment.

Let’s Be Still …

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