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Christmas Cookies

I have a cookie exchange on Sunday, and every year (no matter where we live) I make a variation on the recipe below. They have a chocolate batter and usually I add some combination of Craisins, white chocolate chips/chunks, and macadamia nuts. This year, after having the peppermint bark from Costco, I got a hankerin’ to make the cookies with crushed peppermint candy and even bought a box of candy canes in anticipation. Then my friend Lauren clued me in that Andes now sells pre-crushed peppermint candy, which will definitely be part of my Lazy Baker book if I ever write one, and Steve will make sure that the candy canes don’t go to waste. Anyway, the recipe is from Betty Crocker’s Cookie Book (one of my favorite wedding gifts) and fortunately I just googled the title and was able to copy/paste as I am not the only one on The Internets who loves this recipe. [I did add comments in italics.]

Outrageous Double Chocolate-White Chocolate Chunk Cookies
Yield: about 2 dozen [large] cookies1 (24-ounce) bag semisweet chocolate chips (4 cups)
1 cup butter or stick margarine, softened [I use unsalted butter]
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 (6-ounce) package white baking chocolate, cut into 1/4 to 1/2-inch chunks [or a package of white chocolate chips or pre-made chunks]
1 cup pecans or walnut halves or macadamia nuts, dried cherries, dried cranberries, or crushed peppermint candy. 

Heat oven to 350°.

Heat 1 1/2 cups of the chocolate chips in 1-quart saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly, until melted.

Cool to room temperature, but do not allow chocolate to become firm. [I microwave these in 30-second increments until just melted. I don’t usually have time to let that cool to room temperature, and the one time I did I seem to remember the dough getting too stiff anyway.]

Beat butter, brown sugar and vanilla in large bowl with electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs and melted chocolate until light and fluffy. Stir in flour, baking soda and salt. Stir in remaining 2 1/2 cups chocolate chips, the white baking bar chunks and pecan halves.

Drop dough by level 1/4 cupfuls or #16 cookie/ice-cream scoop about 2 inches apart onto ungreased cookie sheet. [I have stacked two 1″ balls with good results, or made 1″ balls and baked 2-3 minutes less.] Bake 12 to 14 minutes or until set (centers will appear soft and moist). Cool 1 to 2 minutes; remove from cookie sheet to wire rack.

——————Update after the exchange: I didn’t end up getting the Andes peppermint crumbles because the grocery store sold out of them long ago. The crushed candy canes worked well, although next time I’ll unwrap them first and put them in one bag to hammer all together. Oh, and one more thing: Have you seen all the flavors of Hershey’s kisses available now? I particularly like the peppermint striped ones, so if you’re going to make these cookies you could just chop those up and have your white chocolate and peppermint all in one.

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Weekend in the District

Steve has been traveling a lot and doing awesome at work, so I thought it would be fun to reward him with a weekend in DC.
We stayed at The Willard, a beautiful old hotel adjacent to the White House, replete with woodwork, marble, and mosaic tile.
Willard Lobby
Saturday was warm and beautiful, more like September than November. We got settled into our room and then Metro’d to Capitol Hill to browse through Eastern Market. There are tented vendors outside selling handcrafts, produce, and antiques, and inside there are food vendors. It reminded me a lot of Reading Market and Saluhallen.
Eastern Market
Next we Metro’d back to the Mall where there were probably ten different games of football and frisbee going on. We went to the National Gallery of Art to see some favorites by Seurat, Monet, and Gilbert Stuart.
Natl Gallery of Art
Dinner was one of the most awesome burgers ever (with sweet potato fries) at Capitol City Brewing Company, plus I have a new affinity for brewery-made root beer. I’m not really a bath person because I get bored, but my body was screaming so after dinner I soaked in the tub, wrapped myself in a luxurious robe, and watched the exciting Texas vs. Texas Tech game.On Sunday we passed on brunch at the Willard, opting for Kramerbooks in DuPont Circle. Blueberry pancakes, fresh fruit, fruit compote, home fries, scrambled eggs, coffee, and juice. I passed on the mimosa this time, but otherwise Yum!
Capitol Hill
It felt like a real fall day, sunny but cool. Unfortunately I was in so much pain when we went next door to Beadazzled that I didn’t even want to look at beads, people. Fortunately the Metro ride to the American Art Museum helped me feel a little better, so we got to see some pieces by Ansel Adams and Georgia O’Keefe. The last little DC treat was to see a helicopter land on the South Lawn of the White House while we waited for the valet to bring the car around. Then we headed home on a ribbon of highway flanked by yellow, orange, and red trees. It was a great weekend and I am so happy to have Steve home for a while.
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Pumpkin Spice

One of the reasons I love fall so much is it inflicts The Cozy (cozy 1 a: enjoying or affording warmth and ease : snug). Sweater season, mug season, call it what you want. Steve and I mark the advent of fall by plugging in the Instant Hot faucet and lighting the fireplace pilot for the season.I’ve blogged before about my love for all things Pumpkin Spice, which two years later are still everywhere with more new products being added each year. Case in point, Pumpkin Eggnog. (I’m sure it helps living 2 miles from an HP Hood plant, but look for it and other Hood nog flavors like Gingerbread and Sugar Cookie!) This product gets extra points for actually containing pumpkin and not just the spices, much like Cold Stone Creamery’s ice cream pie. I even took a picture, in the first light of morning, to share with you the Pumpkin Spice Muffin recipe that doesn’t even call for additional pumpkin. The Nog tastes like licking the bowl after preparing pumpkin pie, and it also makes a heck of a coffee creamer. We just got the first seasonals shipment from Gevalia with 4 boxes of Pumpkin Spice coffee, after which Steve confessed that it’s a flavor he doesn’t really like, so I’ll be slowly working on those all winter. Anyone want to come over for coffee?(P.S. Steve: Cheryl said to thank you for not liking it. More for her.)

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Chocolate Mug Cake

I saw a recipe for 5 Minute Chocolate Mug Cake on Kate’s blog that sounded awesome, so tonight I tried it and I was not disappointed. Make sure you read the comments about beating the egg and gently mixing – it makes a difference.

Those of you who know me know I have (ahem) a bit of a sweet tooth, so it takes a lot to reach my limit. I am currently chocolate drunk and NOT sorry, although ask me again when I’m lying in bed wide awake at 3am. And get this – I don’t usually like chocolate cake. I did have a glass of milk and frosted it with the remnants of a previous project which made the mug cake that much better, so now I feel compelled to share The Frosting recipe. It was actually part of a chocolate cake recipe from BHG, the results of testing recipes for the “moistest, richest, chocolatiest cake” but didn’t do it for me. They obviously didn’t try Chocolate Mug Cake.

But they were so right about The Frosting recipe. If I had to choose one food to have while stranded on a desert island, the food of which I would ne’er grow weary, it would be Chocolate Sour Cream Frosting even if I had to make it myself. I even scanned my yellowing, greasy, pieced-together magazine clipping just for the delicious photo.

Chocolate Sour Cream Frosting
12 oz (2 c) semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 c butter
8 oz sour cream
4 1/2 c sifted powdered sugar (that means sift, then measure)

In a large saucepan melt the chocolate and butter over low heat, stirring frequently. Cool for 5 minutes. Stir in sour cream. Gradually add powdered sugar, beating until smooth. Makes 4 1/2 cups of frosting, enough to generously frost a multilayer cake. (It may look runny for a few minutes after you finish, so just keep beating it until it cools a little and stiffens up.)

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More Fall Baking

Lauren and I went to Marker-Miller Orchards yesterday for apples. The weather was gorgeous and we had nothing else to do the rest of the day. Honeycrisps are picked out for the season, so we picked Nittany (go Big Blue) and Crispin. Then we went back to my house to make apple dumplings the traditional way. We used the “Never Fail Pie Crust” recipe that the marching band used to make when we did our huge pie & dumpling fund raiser (this one is similar), and the dumpling recipe was pretty standard. I love how my apple peeler also spiral slices the fruit because it makes the dumplings easier to eat. Steve came home from watching football with the guys just in time to help out with quality assurance.

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Remembering Grandma

My paternal grandmother lived in tidewater (southeastern) Virginia, several hours away, so it’s not like we grew up going over to her house every week. The visits we did have were always fun and there are several things that still immediately bring her to mind. Granddaddy passed away when I was little but we had my grandmother until about 10 years ago, and I miss her. I want to give her a hug and kiss the top of her head (she was a little lady), to hear her genteel accent and sing-songy, “Ooo-oo” when I walked in the kitchen in the morning.

  • Roses. Any time I smell a rose, even at Costco or in a hotel lobby, I am transported back to Grandma’s rose garden that bore what must have been dozens of plants in all different colors. She would cut and arrange them on the dining room table whenever they were blooming. Her Christmas arrangement would contain boxwood, the smell of which also reminds me of her.
  • Squishy white sandwich bread. White bread toasted in a shiny, chrome toaster with real butter was a luxury my parents allowed only at Grandma’s. Most of our visits to her house were in the summertime when aunts and uncles and the ten cousins would gather at Grandma’s house. We’d spend a day at Virginia Beach, and in preparation the night before we’d line an entire counter with slices of white bread and make PB & J sandwiches in assembly-line fashion. Each variation went back into a separate bread bag: type of jelly, type of peanut butter, raisins or no raisins… By the time we had lunch at the beach the next day the bread would be soaked through (and never better).
  • Chinese checkers. We played countless hours of this with Grandma.
  • Little glass bottles of soda, especially orange soda. This isn’t something I see very often now, but I took a glucose test last week and had to drink exactly that. And of course it made me think of Grandma.
  • Coconut cake. I was always impressed that she would have cake on hand *just* for our visit, but I later found out she made them for bridge club or something and the leftovers were what we got. Come to think of it, the cake was wrapped in waxed paper and stored in the freezer, but it was always good and coconut cake still reminds me of Grandma.
  • The smell of a paper mill. Strange, but true. The mill in West Point, VA was close enough to give Urbanna a unique smell on certain days. On other days we got the seashore smell that comes with a tidal area.
  • Scuppernong grapes. Grandma had a grape arbor with this variety, located next to the rose garden. Even though we rarely visited in the fall, the taste of one of these grapes brings me back to childhood. This variety is not common, but Steve and I happened on some at a farm stand in NC when they were ripe. Half of the ones we got went to Mom and Dad and the other half I baked into a pie. (Halve grapes to de-seed, add 1/2 c. sugar, 1 T. lemon juice, 1 t. cinnamon, and 1/2 c. golden raisins, line pie plate with premade pie dough, fill with grapes, top with crumb crust, bake at 375 for 25 minutes. I made up this recipe because the ones I found online were too much work. See The Lazy post above; this recipe would be in the book The Lazy Cook.)
  • Blue crabs. During our summer visits we’d sit all the cousins and aunts and uncles at long tables on the screen porch overlooking the water. Steamed crabs would be piled high on red checkered paper tablecloths. We’d pick crabs for what felt like hours, somehow managing to get full, then we’d roll up the tablecloths with all the shells to throw away. Then the kids would slide down the hill toboggan-style on cardboard boxes and my cousins were known for putting on skits.
  • Three-part dinner rolls. These were served at Thanksgiving, buttery deliciousness (at the opposite end of the spectrum from oyster stuffing). I remember watching them be made: roll 1″ balls of dough and put three in each cup of a muffin tin. Always heard at the end of the meal: “There’s always room for one more roll.” My aunt made copies of Grandma’s recipe collection, but I have yet to figure out which of the “Hot Roll” recipes was The One. (Update: Thanks for the help, Karen! I’ll let you know if they turn out.)

I know it doesn’t take much to make me cry (a trait that may have actually come from her as my dad and aunt are the same way), but when Steve and I were driving near Urbanna on our trip to the beach I was overcome with how much she meant to me and how many memories are associated with her. And my face is streaked again now just thinking about it (so don’t get me started on Grandpa in Oklahoma). It makes me appreciate that I did grow up knowing my grandparents, even though neither set lived nearby, and even though I can no longer hear them chirp on about something funny. I am hopeful that our kid(s) (and our siblings’ kids and our cousins’ kids) will be able to create this kind of memories with their grandparents, regardless of how far away they are.

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This weekend was the perfect weather to go camping with our Cornerstone group. First we had a marshmallow war with PVC guns and mini-marshmallow ammo.


Then we and set up tents and started the campfire for dinner. If you ask me, the reason to go camping is not so much the sleeping-on-the-ground part as the food part… Dinner: Hot dogs, Pizza Pockets, Banana Boats, S’mores, and Mountain Cherry Pie

pizza pocket

Breakfast: Campfire Biscuits with cinnamon butter, Breakfast Pie, bagels with cream cheese.

Campfire biscuits

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OBX Babymoon

Steve and I just spent a wonnnnnnderful getaway in Duck, NC. Relaxing on the beach, relaxing at the pool, side-by-side pedicures, good food, our kind of vacation. My favorite thing was to sit in beach chairs to watch the nature video: sand crabs digging holes, sandpipers looking for dinner but avoiding the surf, pelicans flying in formation, schools of dolphins, seagulls checking out the seaweed… Our hotel room was so pretty, with birds and eggs and seashells everywhere. And when I walked into the bathroom my first thought was, “This looks like our bathroom at home.” Aqua-gray walls, sandy tile, glass shower. The staff was helpful and friendly, amenities were plentiful, restaurant was delicious, weather was perfect for bathing suits, plus they serve hot/iced tea & homemade cookies in the afternoon and offer turndown service (with chocolates and a forecast) at night.

Vitamin D Sunset on the sound2 What volcano cake Afternoon tea Currituck Lighthouse DuckBabymoon08

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More Fall Baking

I apologize to the jewelry people… I just don’t have that much to share lately in that department. I haven’t told you about the 8-month saga of a website redesign that recently ended miserably; maybe I’ll share when I have more perspective or a better ending.

On a happier note, I like to cook with my friend Lauren. First she had me over for Phad Thai, then a different week I did Japanese Crusted Chicken. Living in apple country in apple season, tonight she did apple-nut stuffed chicken and we made a new (to me) kind of apple dumplings, thanks to a suggestion by our friend Reid. Up until now I’ve always done the traditional rolling-dough-pinching-corners-whole-apple kind of dumplings. They are so good, but a lot of work. Reid’s version is simply refrigerator biscuits wrapped around apple quarters: much easier and just as good. Lauren and I made some with Grands buttermilk biscuit dough squished flat (1/2 biscuit per apple quarter), and the rest with crescent rolls. Liked both, but ultimately crescent rolls win out for me because of the dough shape (flat).

Lauren also tried a different Pumpkin Chocolate Chip cookie recipe and they tasted great but different than mine, so now we’re each going to make another batch and do a side-by-side taste test. In the name of science. And antioxidants.

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Fall baking

Molly came over yesterday… She’s a great help and full of ideas when it comes to sewing and knitting projects.

She’s working on a seat cushion, apron, wedding favors, and a knitted elephant. I’m working on a quilt, valance, crib skirt, and knitted hat.

We brainstormed but didn’t actually work on any of those projects this time. Instead we made Pumpkin Chocolate Chip cookies. For the fiber, antioxidants, and beta-carotene, of course.