A moment of insanity and NYT chocolate chip cookies

You know that moment when it feels like your life collapses and you can’t breathe?  When people become irrelevant, and your surroundings appear wrapped in gauze, and the only speed you are capable of is reckless?  I know what you’re thinking.  You’re only 25, you’re not old enough to have a midlife crisis.  Well, I can honestly say I had an early life crisis yesterday.  Months of frustration cracked open a damn that left me shaky, nauseous, and tearful.  I thought I had set myself up better in life, but it turns out, the infinitely optimistic philosopher who coined the phrase: what doesn’t kill you will only make you stronger, forgot a crucial part.  It should be: what doesn’t kill you, will break you first, but leave you angry and desperate enough to re-assemble yourself into (perhaps) something stronger.  But what is stronger?  More able to block yourself against hurt?  More capable?  I’d like to believe the strength referred to is a greater strength and capacity of love for yourself and the people in it, but, in retrospect of how I normally feel in a time of distress, I don’t believe this was the intended meaning.  At this particular low – I was angry.  Vengeful.  Ashamed.  I did not feel strong until I was getting a hug from someone stronger.  It’s moments like those that make you remember the most important thing in life is love – not only for others, but also yourself.   These next few months are going to test me – and, because of the support around me, I will reach the finish line.  But, as the next half of the title implies, I will have to learn to enjoy myself along the way.   And part of that enjoyment means delving deep, deep into a batch of homemade cookies.  These, according to almost every food blogger that has ever attempted, is THE BEST chocolate chip cookies in existence.  This is the 24-hour, caramel-flavored, beauty gushed about in a NYT article from 2008.  (I encourage you to read the whole article.)  Believe me, the chocolate fortifies against sadness, the sugar quickens your pulse (even if artificially), and in the aftermath, you feel fuller and more energetic than before.  Yup – this is definitely a early-life crisis cookie.  I am not saying it’s perfect, by any means, but serves as an excellent jumping off point.

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I think creaming the butter and sugar is my favorite part – no wonder these ingredients are also the base for Momofuku Milk Bar’s Crack Pie.

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I was worried at this stage, I’ve never seen cookies turn this golden after so short in the oven.

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Yup, the day’s looking brighter already!  (It could be this balmy-75 degree weather were having, but I’m staying optimistic.)

A new job, a sick boyfriend, and Greek Yogurt Pancakes

What did Adam say to the first woman on earth?

It’s Christmas, Eve.

OK…that’s corny. And, it’s actually only Christmas Eve Eve right now. Nonetheless I have decided Christmas celebrations can creep into the week before. Speaking of the week before-on Monday I began a new job as a Development Assistant in the Engineering Department at University of Colorado, Boulder. Hold your applause. Naturally I began the week with a fresh batch of cookies to share with my new coworkers. Double Chocolate Mint cookies typically please >75% of a crowd (unless you’re one of those crazy holiday dieters…in which case you probably aren’t reading this anyway).

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Check this recipe out sometime.

So now that I’ve completed one whole week of work, here comes Santa and a 4 day weekend. I was looking forward to a lot of activity, perhaps some skiing, visiting a few local breweries…then BAM-my boyfriend gets miserably sick with a head cold (we hope). I’ve been playing doctor all weekend instead of just playing. But, everyone gets sick from time to time, and I’m happy to do all I can to alleviate his pain. Other than Mucinex and Ibuprofen-I opted for this lovely breakfast treat yesterday. Yogurt cultures are good for colds (I opt for greek yogurt for the protein), and who doesn’t love bananas and blueberries in pancakes? Step right up.

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Greek Yogurt Pancakes
Ingredients

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour (I use high altitude flour here)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 cups plain greek yogurt
  • 1/2 cup water (add 1/4 cup if needed for right consistency)
  • Sliced banana and blueberries (I also added some granola to mine!)

Directions

  • In a small bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and baking soda. In another bowl, whisk the eggs, yogurt and 1/2 cup water. Stir into dry ingredients just until moistened. Add water if needed for good pancake consistency (I probably needed 1/4 cup more because of the altitude).
  • Pour batter by 1/4 cupfuls onto a hot griddle coated with cooking spray. Place banana slices and blueberries in cooking batter (I like to make designs…). Turn when bubbles form on top and edges begin to stiffen; cook until the second side is golden brown.
  • Feeds one hungry man and his lady, usually with one or two left over.
  • **I had one as a snack later that day with some melted chocolate on top. YUM!

Recipe modified from tasteofhome.com

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That’s a jar of homemade pear honey. Recipe due to arrive sometime in the near future-once I get it out of my aunt!

It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

Can it be…is it true?  Has lustrous red, green, and gold been draped over anything stationary?  Strangely, I find that Christmas has crept up on me this year.  ABC’s Christmas specials have started without me checking the line-up, the tree in Marion square has already been ceremoniously lit, and Christmas confections have already packed on an extra layer of insulation on my thighs.  Most years (in fact, every year I can remember) I start prematurely pining for Christmas sparkle and light in November, shamefully glancing at my Christmas playlist.  You might be thinking, November’s not that early, what’s so wrong about a little Carol of the Bells?  So I’ll be a bit more clear: I think of Thanksgiving as a speed bump to Santa’s sleigh.  The appearance of department store’s specials and Starbucks holiday cups make me positively giddy.  People cite Christmas as stressful.  Why? I ask.  “Shopping is so stressful!!”…What??  I LOVE holiday shopping.  If people would hire me to do their shopping, I would do it.  Baking got you down?  I’ve already made a gingerbread house, 3 batches of pizzelles, lemon drop cookies, and chocolate toffee bars.  And the music…so happy.  Apparently, my parents did a really good job on Christmas, because I still feel like a child every time I catch a glimpse of something festive.

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*Gingerbread house was based off a house in The Gingerbread Architect by Susan Matheson and Lauren Chatmann.

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**The recipe for these pizzelle was (every so slightly) adapted from Brian’s Grandmother’s recipe.

Not to mention that because I started shopping in October, I already have 7 people checked off my to-shop-for list.  What makes this year even better?  My advisors aren’t advising me, so I’m left to dream about my imminent freedom, and apply to any internship with the words “ocean” or “policy” in the tagline.  This attitude is going to fiercely bite me in the butt, but, for the moment, I am pretty content hanging out  (yes, I do that now) with my hubby or scouring Pinterest for more things to gawk at.

Oh yes, we also have a tree.

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***Antlers are from the Reindeer Run last year.  This year, the pain from the Gobble Wobble the weekend before was too fresh for me to sign up.

What’s the best part of Christmas for you?

From East to West

Just over a week ago, I was in Charleston, SC with my best girl-friend Emily. We went to my favorite restaurant, Five Loaves (my boyfriend was mighty jealous), went on an Art Walk on Broad Street, and ate her Pumpkin Chocolate Cheesecake bars. The week I spent in Charleston, I was on the beach and in flip flops. I ran, and I actually sweated.

Now I’m back home, in Boulder, Colorado-and since my return it has snowed and frozen over. Last weekend the temperature dropped 32 degrees in 4 hours. I’ll just say it went from comfortable, to windy, to freezing. I woke up the next morning to what? Snow. Welcome to our first October in Colorado. Cooper (the adorable puppy pictured below) wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. I can’t blame him-if I had only been alive for 4 months, 3.9 of which had been warm or hot-I would be confused too.

So what do girls like us do on weekends when we are trapped inside? Especially when they just received a KitchenAid as a gift from a mom’s friend?? Bake, cook, obviously. Here are a couple recipes I tried out:

Light* Baked Spaghetti

*Tim grew up in southwest Virginia, and occasionally craves the flavors of down-home southern cooking. I typically search out the slightly healthier options of his favorites, so I won’t feel quite as guilty about eating twice as much as a should.

Ingredients

  • Kosher salt
  • 6 ounces whole-wheat angel hair pasta
  • 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/2 pound sweet Italian chicken sausage, casings removed
  • 2 green bell peppers, diced
  • 1/2 pound button or cremini mushrooms, sliced
  • 1/2 teaspoon seasoned salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • 1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 cup torn fresh basil leaves
  • Cooking spray, for the pan
  • 1/2 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
  • 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Directions

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook according to the package directions; drain.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until soft, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook 2 minutes. Add the sausage and cook, breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon, until browned, about 5 minutes. Stir in the bell peppers, mushrooms, seasoned salt and Italian seasoning and cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables are soft, about 4 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes, 3/4 cup water and the basil and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium low and simmer until the sauce thickens slightly and the flavors are blended, about 15 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Spray a 2-quart casserole dish with cooking spray. Add the pasta to the skillet and toss to combine with the sauce. Spoon half of the pasta mixture into the casserole dish. Sprinkle with half of each cheese. Spoon the remaining pasta mixture on top. Sprinkle with the remaining cheese and cover loosely with foil sprayed with cooking spray (do not let the foil touch the cheese). Bake until the cheese is melted and bubbly, 20 to 25 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.

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No meal — or weekend — is complete without dessert. One of Tim’s favorite cookies are fig newtons. I enjoy them quite a bit myself, and wanted to see if I could improve the goodness with a bit of homemade twist. The results were spectacular. A big hit at home, and the office, where I took half of them. The orange zest and juice really bring out the flavors of fig and brown sugar. Emily will be proud, I’m sure, to read that I have eaten about 15 cookies in the last three days.
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Whole Wheat Fig Bars

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup vegetable shortening, I use butter or 1/3 cup margarine
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon orange zest
  • 1 pinch salt

Fig Filling

  • 1 (8 ounce) packages dried figs, stems removed
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 3 tablespoons orange juice
  • 3 tablespoons granulated sugar

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F.
  2. In a large bowl, beat together shortening, brown sugar, eggs and vanilla until creamy.
  3. Add all purpose flour, whole wheat flour, baking soda, baking powder, orange peel and salt, beating until blended.
  4. Refrigerate dough 1 to 2 hours.
  5. Prepare fig filling and set aside, see below.
  6. On a floured surface, roll dough into 14 inch square.
  7. Cut dough into 4 equal strips, each 14 inches long and 3 1/2 inches wide.
  8. Spoon 1/4 of fig filling in a 1 1/2 inch wide mound down center of each strip.
  9. Using a long spatula, lift sides of each dough strip over filling, overlapping slightly on top.
  10. Press edges together to seal.
  11. Cut strips crosswise in half for ease of handling.
  12. Place, seam side down, 3 inches apart on greased baking sheets.
  13. Brush off any excess flour.
  14. Cut each strip into 7 (1 inch) crosswise pieces, but do not separate.
  15. Bake 13 to 15 minutes or until puffed and firm to the touch.
  16. Cool 5 to 10 minutes on baking sheets; then cut apart and remove to racks to cool completely.

Fig Filling.
In a medium saucepan, combine figs, water, orange juice and granulated sugar.
Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally.
Reduce heat and simmer 5 to 10 minutes or until thickened, stirring occasionally; cool.

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I didn’t have time to take pictures of this round of cooking. I will in the next post, definitely.
Until next time (and I think next time is Apple Turnovers and something with the pie pumpkins we got at the farm this weekend), Annie out.

Change is in the air

So.  I have to present for journal club tomorrow on a subject that is not my area of expertise.  I’ll be presenting an article on titantium dioxide, a nanoparticle that is an emerging contaminant, found in sunscreens, cosmetics, sporting goods, stain-resistant clothing, tires, electronics, and medicine.  Needless to say, aside from witty commentary and sparkly powerpoint animations, I’ve been trying to think of a way to distract from my obvious lack of expertise.  And then I realized: FOOD!  Food is an excellent distraction for most people, and if it’s not a distraction, at least they’ll be sugar high and too happy to point out my erroneous citations or flawed thinking.  I’ve also been pinning about 10 different pumpkin recipes a day since October started, and have already bought 6 cans of pumpkin since the official first day of fall.   I ended up picking Pumpkin Nutella Bread, because I thought it was finger-friendly and appropriate for a mid-morning snack.  I also love this blogging duo, and have found that all their recipes are foodie-tested, boyfriend-approved. 

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So they came out of the oven, and of course I had to try one to make sure it could knock their socks off and render them defenseless against my scientific brilliance.  Well, the first time could have been a fluke, so I had to try again.  Heck, I’m a scientist, so why not just try them in triplicate?

Needless to say, their power has been fully tested.  I surrendered completely, sliced a huge piece, plunked a dollop of ice cream on top, and enjoyed it properly.  Mmmm.  Heavenly.Image

I am definitely making these again.

The Beginning.

This is a blog about the lives of two women with very different lives, but share a love for adventure, laughter, and a friendship that currently spans 1,725 miles.    It’s unpredictable and unscripted…with no format and no consistency, this is our blank canvas.  And so it begins…

Tsunami in Charleston, 2010