Two incredible women

If you were going to read any of the stories I wrote for Juice, I would have to suggest these two, part of a series that just ran. And you might want to have a Kleenex handy. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

A Mother Moves On

After the War

A (mostly) handmade Christmas

At some point this month I realized I had no shopping to do because my house was already filled with lovely handmade gifts. Usually I run to the store at least 3 times before I leave town for something or other, and regret it every time. This time, the only thing I shopped for was a book I needed to read for my book club. And I had a 40 percent off coupon. 🙂

In return I received some really wonderful gifts. L’Occitane green tea perfume (my favorite!) and a gift certificate for a facial which I’m so looking forward to. From family, mostly cash and gift cards which are always welcomed in my book. From my dad, a Breville juicer and a mondo huge vegetarian cookbook. Can’t wait to crack it open and share the results with you. Ooh, ooh and a subscription to Real Simple. This was an awesome Christmas, no?

This was also a good time for me to start evaluating what I will sell in 2009. I have so many ideas swirling around — if only there were enough time and money to pursue them all. But because the knitwear was so popular I will definitely be adding some new pieces and altering some of my prices. I’ve got some adorable new mugs and jars that I will fill with new candles, and I will continue to carry the thumb tacks and magnets made with rescued fabrics. One thing I learned (and I intend to blog in the future about more seller’s lessons learned) is that I have to be really picky about each item I make, because if I don’t love it I can’t expect anyone else to. And certainly not to whip out their wallet and pay for it.

Just thinking about it makes me giddy. I can’t wait to get started.

The greatest cookie of all time, in my opinion

I’m sure there’s a lot of sentimentality that goes into why I believe Nestle Tollhouse’s chocolate chip cookie recipe is the greatest of all time, but I don’t care. I have never, ever made this recipe and had it turn out bad. It always works, it’s always wonderful. And there’s something about that crunchy on the outside, chewy on the inside, slightly salty but very sweet flavor that makes me go ga-ga for these cookies. I always will. They’re just that good. Even the legendary New York Times fancy schmancy cookie can not beat this one, if you ask me. So there.

Last year I wrote a story about how you could take this recipe and make 6 different versions of it. I didn’t consult any other recipes to create those, by the way, I just threw in this or that, and because this recipe is so incredibly flawless, it worked every time. Well, almost. The coconut one managed to not taste enough like coconut. Maybe it needs an extract? But anyway, here’s what I made, and I’d encourage you to break out of the mold and try it too. I don’t recommend making six batches of this dough in one day, though. Yeesh.

-Good old chocolate chip
-White chocolate chips, dried cranberries and chopped walnuts
-Add cocoa to the dry ingredients, mint extract and swirled mint chips
-Split the dough in half, add cocoa to one half, chill the doughs, then roll them up and slice them for swirl cookies
-Add a cup of coconut and chocolate chips and bake as a bar cookie

And my favorite of the bunch, red velvet sandwiches with cream cheese frosting.

After you’ve mixed up the dough, leave out the chocolate chips and add a whole bottle (that’s right, a whole bottle) of red food coloring. Skimp on this and you will get pink cookies. The liquid will thin the dough, so add a little more flour and chill the dough before you bake them (you could also use gel paste food coloring, which wouldn’t affect the consistency).

Make the cookies smaller, maybe a teaspoon of dough at a time, and let them cool before you put a swipe of cream cheese frosting in between two cookies. I have no problem with store-bought frosting, if it means I don’t have to clean the mixer again.

See, so pretty. And tasty.

Tortilla Soup

Here’s part-two of our fiesta.

This is another recipe I adapted from a childhood fave. I believe it came from my best friend’s mother, Trish, the awesome cook who grew fresh veggies in her garden and made salsa and this wonderfully soothing soup with a kick. I always thought it was weird, the idea of tortillas in soup, until I realized you could toss in a handful of bottom-of-the-bag tortilla chips and call it good.

Or, for a healthier version, you could cut corn tortillas into strips and toast them for about 10 minutes at 400 degrees.

The original recipe also called for roasted chicken pieces and chicken broth. If you want to make it meaty, just bake some boneless chicken breasts with a little olive oil, salt and pepper, and cut them into 1-inch pieces. You can toss them into the soup at the same time as the beans and corn, or even leave out the beans altogether.

That’s the great thing about this soup – it is awesomely versatile. If you like it mild, skip the jalapeno. If you want it to burn your face off, throw in that jalapeno seeds and all.

But here’s how I like it. This recipe is super healthy and vegan. I ruin that by adding a few shreds of cheddar cheese. But, like I said, up to you.

Tortilla Soup

1 large onion, chopped
2 T. olive oil
1 green pepper, seeded and chopped
1 red pepper, seeded and chopped
1 jalapeno, seeded and chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 T. spice blend of cumin, chili powder and salt (a taco mix would do)
1 32-oz container no-chicken broth
1 28-oz. can diced tomatoes
1 14 oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup corn

Add-ons: Tortilla chips, cheddar cheese, sour cream, avocado slices

Heat a soup pot to medium, add the oil and saute the onions and garlic. Toss in the bell peppers and jalapeno and cook a few minutes until the onions are translucent and the peppers are soft.

Mix in the spice blend. Then add the no-chicken broth, tomatoes, beans and corn. Simmer for 15 minutes. Then turn off the heat and serve.

There’s no way it could be that easy, right? Well, it is that easy, and that’s why you should make it, and then crunch up the chips in your hands and lick off the salt. Or don’t – it’s your soup.

Holy Guacamole

Because Mike and I felt like having a little fiesta in this 30-below weather, and because avocados were so surprisingly ripe at Hy-Vee today, I give you the only recipe for guacamole you’ll ever need.

But first! I give you my most frequently used spice blend, which you’ll need for this recipe, and it goes like this:

3 T. ground cumin
3 T. ground chili powder
1 T. Celtic sea salt

Why so little salt? That particular kind goes a looong way because it’s in a very natural form, and that’s a good thing, right? I buy my spices from Penzeys, or at Mexican or Indian grocery stores where they usually have a wide array of affordable bulk spices.


3 ripe avocados
2 cloves garlic, minced
About 1/8 of an onion, diced
As much fresh jalapeno as you can handle, diced (I use maybe 1/4 of one, seeded)
The juice of half a lemon
2 T. of your spice blend
10 grape tomatoes, halved, or half a seeded tomato, diced

As you can see, this is a very imprecise recipe, so if you have more avocado, add a little more of each ingredient. The important thing is to use fresh ingredients. If you get a little too much garlic, so what?

Scoop out your avocados and dice them up. Squeeze in the lemon juice so your avocados don’t turn brown.

Add the garlic and mash it all together with a fork.

Add the onions and jalapenos, then the tomatoes.

Mix in the spice blend. Taste it. If it needs a little more seasoning, adjust it here.

And for God sakes don’t feel guilty about eating guacamole. Avocados are full of good fats. This recipe is vegan, raw even. If you’re not going to eat it with other veggies just go easy on the chips. Lots of guacamole on a little chip. Cerveza. Tortilla soup (recipe coming). Perfect dinner for a ridiculously cold night.

Oh my

I love my dogs, but this cracks me up.

Internet hugs

I’m having one of those “you like me, you really like me!” moments.

Last weekend I added some items to my Etsy shop, thinking I should at least have a bunch in there for holiday shopping time. And here I am, 10 sales later, thinking how awesome all of you are that read my blog, follow me on Twitter, promote my shop in your blogs, tell you friends, shop at Craft Saturday, etc. etc.

As cheesy as it sounds, you are really helping one of my dreams come true.

I was not so sure buying handmade would still be important to people who are keeping their money as close as ever. I mean, I know you can buy a knit hat for a lot cheaper than one of mine at a discount store. But it turns out the opposite is true. You seem to value knowing the maker of your goods more than ever. Super cool.

So, I’m gonna keep doing this. God knows I’ve had items that didn’t sell, glue gun burns, candles I’ve had to trash or remake (even multiple times). I’ve knit until my eyes went cross. But here you are, asking for more, holding me up on tough days. I can’t say thank you enough.

And I have to also give major credit to my mom for supplying all of those adorable mugs, and everyone else who’s greeted me with a bag of half burnt candles or a box of Mason jars. I love that you all want to be a part of my little business. And I need your help to make it work!

I am working on some custom orders and Christmas presents right now, but I will get a few more items uploaded to my Etsy shop this week.

If you make it, they will come. 🙂

Kitchen must-haves

I’ve read a lot of top 10 or most-essential lists about what tools every cook should have, but I don’t always agree with the picks. Everyone seems to go ga-ga over a Microplane, which I do think is a handy tool, but I probably only use it once every few weeks. I guess I just don’t seem to require citrus zest and nutmeg as much as other cooks. So here is my list. If it helps you with your Christmas or birthday list, good!

*A good knife. If nothing else, spend the money on a high-quality knife that feels good in your hand. We have a Wusthof 7-inch santoku knife that we’ve had since about 2005, and I think if our house was burning down I’d run back for that knife. It is awesome. We recently added a couple of smaller knives to our collection with a 40 percent off coupon from Williams-Sonoma.

*A set of 5 or 6 non-stick pots and pans. When I got my first apartment I bought a mid-range Calphalon set from Target for about $200, I think. I added a large omelet pan (basically a deep skillet) a while later. You can skimp on crappy pots, but as much as I use these, I can’t imagine being constantly frustrated by uneven heat, a handle that gets too hot, a sticky surface, etc. Some people, like Mike, are partial to cast iron. Me, I like my Calphalon.

*A food processor. We have a good blender and a Kitchen Aid mixer, but I think if I had to pick the best grinder of things, I’d go with the food processor. It makes hummus, it blends soups, it mixes doughs. It’s a fabulous pesto maker in the summertime.

*A good set of mixing bowls. I don’t care if it’s glass, metal, plastic, ceramic. Just get a good quality set that nests, so they don’t take up too much room in your cabinets. I always liked the Kitchen Aid set that has a pour spout. Smart!

*A Silpat. It doesn’t matter what kind of baking sheets you have (and we have all kinds). Slap on a silicone baking mat and you can bake anything without worrying about it sticking. This has been indispensible to me, and I probably only spent $20 on it.

*Kosher salt. Fancy salts got really popular in the last couple of years, and I definitely upgraded from regular table salt. But you don’t need anything more than a $2 box of Morton kosher salt poured into a dish on top of your stove. It’s a little stronger than regular salt, and blends perfectly, I think.

*A spoonula. I think we have a Le Creuset version, which looks like it’s been put through a meat grinder, it’s gotten so much use. Not only do you not have to worry about it melting because it’s silicone, you can scrape the sides of a pan and reach into casserole dish corners with this spatula/spoon.

*Peeler. I love my little green Kuhn Rikon peeler. I thought I’d lost it once and could not find a replacement, so I bought another one. Then I found the original, so I have two great bright colored peelers that fit into the palm of your hand. These are less than $10 at most kitchen stores.

*Compost bin. In our kitchen, we make a ridiculous amount of compost, from coffee grounds to egg shells to potato peels and on an on. We also have a garden, so instead of tossing it in the trash, we fill up a little ceramic container and take it out to the backyard once a week or so.

So that’s my list. I’m sure everyone else’s list would be different, depending on what you make often. I am still pining over a mandoline slicer and a grill pan. And of course someday I’d love to have Le Creuset baking dishes and All-Clad pots and pans. A girl can dream.

Chocolate Sandwich Cookies

Hello, lover.

I was looking for a new Christmas cookie to make, and I remembered I saved this recipe I had come across checking Web sites for my freelance work. I think I saw the name Todd English, and after going to his restaurant, Figs, in Boston, thought instantly of one of the best dinners I’ve ever had. Just simple and good food, and so I hoped his recipe for Chocolate Sandwich Cookies would be simple and good cookies.

They are. Yum.

I did have one issue with the recipe — the dough was way too loose, even after I put it in the fridge for much longer than the 30 minutes it called for. I would just recommend using less water at the end, lest you end up with overly chocolatey fingers.

I also skipped the homemade frosting (I really hate getting out the mixer and washing all those components if I don’t have to) so bought a can of Pillsbury cream cheese frosting and called it good. To cut out the circles, I actually used a little biscuit cutter. If you wanted to do a less messy cookie day with little kids than the elaborate sugar cookies we used to make, this might be a good substitute.