Even as I was writing that last post I thought, “Maybe you shouldn’t make any promises. Don’t smother the baby!” I’ve certainly been reading blogs long enough to know that any noise about posting more frequently is often followed by a long, unexplained silence.

But I’ve also been creating long enough to know that sometimes you just….lull. And sometimes life starts pulling your energy in a different direction. Which is exactly what happened in September, when I started working a full-time job after many months of unemployment.

Which isn’t to say I’m giving up this project. Just that my slightly diminished energy stores (OK, greatly diminished energy stores — getting cleaned up and out the door every day is hard when you’ve spent the last three years working from home) have been focused on behind-the-scenes stuff, like implementing this snazzy new design. (Thanks, RustyDog!)  And then there’s Twitter.

But onward.


Toward the end of last year, when the redesign was almost finished, I took a look around me and realized that my creative lull had extended into the kitchen. Somehow the massive change in my schedule had made planning, shopping, and cooking look like a chore again. I decided that one of my primary goals for the first part of the year would be to rediscover what I loved about cooking. Which brought me to chocolate chip cookies.

This was not the quest for the perfect chocolate chip cookie. I did not hunt down the definitive recipe, the finest chocolate, or the unexpected ingredient that would surprise and delight anyone who bit into them. I just decided I felt like making cookies, walked into the kitchen, and started mixing.

And you know what? They were good. Not the cookies of my childhood, or the best cookies I’d ever had, but solid. Good with a cup of tea. OK for breakfast in a pinch (with a glass of milk, so you can tell yourself you’re getting some sort of nourishment). A delightful reminder of the simple chemical magic that turns flour, eggs, butter, and sugar into something to enjoy and share.


Chocolate Chip Cookies with Oatmeal
Adapted from The Joy of Cooking

1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
2 sticks butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
2/3 cup brown sugar
1 large egg
1 1/2 tbsp milk
2 1/2 tsp vanilla
1 1/3 cups old fashioned rolled oats
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
3 oz milk chocolate, coarsely grated
3/4 chopped pecans or walnuts (optional)
Fleur de sel to finish (optional)

Preheat the oven to 375° F. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, beat butter until creamy. Add sugar, brown sugar, egg, milk, and vanilla and beat until well blended. Add flour mixture to the butter mixture and beat until smooth.

Coarsely grind oats in a food processor or blender (or skip this step if you want a heartier cookie). Stir oats, chocolate chips, milk chocolate, and nuts (if using) into dough.

Using a large cookie scoop, shape dough into balls and drop them about 2 inches apart on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Press on the top of each ball to flatten slightly, then sprinkle the top of each with a few grains of fleur de sel. Bake one sheet at a time for about 8 -12 minutes or until slightly brown. (You may want to rotate the sheet midway through cooking to ensure even browing).

The cookies will still be soft in center when you remove them from the oven. Let them stand until they firm slightly, then transfer to a rack to cool.

Makes about 3 dozen cookies


I didn’t grow up in a household that entertained; during the first 18 years of my life, the number of parties at our house could be counted on one hand. So the idea of throwing a dinner party is intimidating on its own, never mind that I regularly subject myself to lovely magazine spreads depicting the perfect get-together, one where all the guests look like a J. Crew spread, no one spills wine on the carpet, and everything comes out of the oven on time. As a result, even as my cooking skills advanced, I rarely shared them with friends. A dinner party seemed like so much work, for results that I couldn’t guarantee would be perfect.

This blog began as a way to combat that perfectionism. I figured that committing to a blog would help me learn to rise above my Martha Stewart tendencies and just create and share something delicious every weekend. And if I left something in the oven too long, sending my perfectionist dreams up in a literal cloud of smoke, well, that would at least be good reading.

But then the other perfectionism kicked in: you see, I create content for Web sites for a living. I know how it’s supposed to be done. I know what not to do. I have a vision for what this site will eventually become. And I struggled–continue to struggle–with the many steps between what it is now and what I know it could be. In culinary terms, I want to skip all the chopping and simmering and go right to the eating.

This all came to mind the other day as I made dulce de leche in the slow cooker. The simplicity of this recipe (from Slow Cooker Cooking by Lora Brody) astonishes: you just mix whole milk, sugar, a vanilla bean, and a pinch of baking soda in the slow cooker insert, set it to high, and let it cook uncovered for several hours. I stayed home while I was making it, so I was able to observe the sauce’s progress: After a few hours, it started to look like vanilla bean gelato, with its dark specks of vanilla on an off-white background, and it filled the kitchen with a sweet, musky floral smell. I was practically dancing with anticipation–until I checked back a few hours later and found a near-gray sludge topped with an odd froth that looked like dirty sea foam. The smell had gone from almost sickly sweet to the distinct odor of milk that was just starting to turn.

I seriously started to worry that something had gone wrong, that my caramel dreams would not be realized. But in the midst of my distress I told myself to just wait and see what happened next. Sure enough, my patience was rewarded within a few hours, when the sludge had transformed to a rich, sticky caramel. I warmed the last cup of milk and whisked it into the mixture, making it into a proper sauce. After it cooled, I transferred it to two clean jars: one for me, and one to give to friends.

As I think about this blog going forward, I hope to keep in mind the dulce de leche, which had to go through some pretty ugly stages on its way to becoming a deliciously sweet, aromatic sauce that enlivens everything it touches.


Butternut squash risotto

November 14, 2008

If wishful thinking were a vegetable, it would be the butternut squash I bought in October.
A bounty of butternuts had arrived at my local Trader Joe’s, promising the return of autumn vegetables and, by definition, cooler weather. After a particularly brutal summer, I was more than ready to trade in nightly grilling for soups, stews, [...]

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