Reflections on 2009

Despite parts of this year being pretty awful (I keep hearing people say they can’t wait for it to be over), this has been one of the most enlightening years of my life. I guess I thought that by the time I finished college I would know who I really was, but the truth is most of that education has come in my later 20s, and especially this past year.

I learned that it was possible for me to do what I loved. But that making it profitable was a much bigger challenge.

I learned I could teach Nia, and that there was an exercise that was right for me, and my body. I’m so grateful for that.

I got engaged to someone who truly loves me for me. And I’m pretty grateful for that, too.

I learned an incredible amount about how to run a crafty business, and saw it start to thrive by the end of the year. The business part was pretty humbling at times, and I had to start over on some projects more times than I’d care to admit. But I feel so much more confident now, and ready to grow Mary Marie even more.

I admitted to myself what I truly wanted to do with my life. And I realized that some things I thought I wanted to do, I didn’t want to do at all. Maybe I just thought I was supposed to. Regardless, I have to keep telling myself to stay on the right path, and close some doors so that others can open.

I spent a lot of time musing about the future. Mike and I had a lot of heart-to-hearts. We know we want to make some changes, but we’re not sure how it will play out yet. We thought we’d tackle the whole wedding thing first.

And about that. Though I’ve had world’s longest engagement, I still felt the many pressures to get caught up in wedding planning to the point of insanity, and I never let it happen. So far, it’s been fun (sans the budget part… OMG). And thanks to A Practical Wedding, I know it can still be fun, down to the last stressful minutes.

2009 was also a good year for this little blog. I remember how excited I was the first time I checked Google Reader and discovered I had 11 subscribers. Whoever they were, I love them for that. And whoever’s still reading, thanks for continuing to support me.

So here’s to more lessons in 2010. I’ll be celebrating the new year with a sushi dinner and night out at the Des Moines Social Club. And then, who knows. So many big things are set to happen in 2010 (the wedding, turning 30, watching some of my closest friends tie the knot, too), I can’t imagine it being just another year.

Oh, what a Christmas

I can’t remember a Christmas with such unrelenting weather, especially in Kansas, which rarely, rarely produced a white Christmas during my childhood. But on our way down we got rain, followed by fog, followed by an absolute downpour during the most high-traffic part of the trip.

By Christmas eve the rain had turned to ice pellets, which gave us a treacherous drive downtown for lunch with my bff and her fiance (and some last-minute pickups at the grocery store). I have to tell you, though, that icy walk was so worth it. We had lunch at Dempsey’s, which is a bar that serves gourmet burgers. Thankfully, they have veggie options, too.

I had the Romesco burger, a lentil patty topped with feta cheese, marinated green beans, nuts and some kind of lovely red pepper sauce.

Mike had the falafel burger with a whole pile of yummy on top. We both had the sweet potato fries, which are reason enough to eat lunch there.

And that was just the beginning of our holiday gorging. Just as the ice was turning into snow, we headed to my dad’s for Christmas eve dinner of poached salmon, green bean casserole and my dad’s amazing mashed potatoes. (Unfortunately I didn’t take any photos of this part – doh!) We had just enough time to throw back a few cheesecake bites before we realized my car was very close to not being able to back out of the hilly driveway.

So off we went, back to my mom’s to prepare our Christmas tradition, bubble bread. I know some people call it Monkey Bread (frozen rolls, rolled in butter and dipped in sugar and cinnamon, set atop more butter and nuts) but it will always be bubble bread to me. This is why!

It gets HUGE overnight, and then you bake it for 30 minutes in the morning. We have ours with veggie sausage patties and mimosas.

But wait! There was more cooking to do. We had to frost the rest of the sugar cookies that I didn’t make it to.

Mike handed me this little heart with my name on it (awwww) so I had to make one for him in return.

Thankfully it wasn’t this one, which cracked in transit.

Then we got ready for one more dinner at my aunt’s house in KC. Grandma grated potatoes for her famous gourmet potatoes, Mike chopped veggies, Darrell scrubbed pans, and Charlotte relaxed in her new Snuggie. (Oh yes I did!)

By this point we weren’t sure we were actually going to make it to KC because that snow turned into a blizzard warning. We could barely open the front door.

Thank goodness for a lot of shoveling and sheer force of will because we did make it. Mike made the most fabulous eggplant parmesan, which several people pronounced the best they ever had, and I got to hang out with my cousins and their adorable dog, Lucy.

So much fun, so much food, and waaaayyy too much white knuckle driving is how I’ll remember this year. Thankfully we made it back safe and picked up our doggies. Now I’m ready for a little bit of normal. You?

Favorite cookies: Pepparkakor

These Swedish cookies are kind of like gingerbread, but thinner, crispier and with less of the heavy molasses flavor. I first made them in junior high, after I came home from an international food fair at school with a half sheet recipe for these hard-to-pronounce cookies. My mom wasn’t able to find the original recipe, so I poked around online and came up with this one. The spice flavor is definitely a little stronger, but it was as close as I could come to my recipe, which made cookies that were very light in color and very thin and crispy.

Unlike sugar cookies, the dough for these is much more finnicky. It tends to crumble and crack, so you have to be a little more careful. But when you smell the aroma of cardamom and cloves wafting from your oven, you’ll be glad you tried them.

You can frost them if you want, but we always ate them plain.

Pepparkakor

from allrecipes.com

3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 cup butter (2 sticks)
1 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1 egg, beaten
2 tablespoons dark corn syrup

Combine the flour, baking soda, and spices in a mixing bowl.

Beat the butter with the white and brown sugars in a separate bowl until light and fluffy. Mix in the egg and corn syrup.

Gradually stir in the flour mixture. Divide the dough into 4 equal parts and wrap tightly with plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least one hour.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Using 1 portion at a time, work on a floured surface and roll out dough to 1/8-inch thick. Cut into shapes with cookie cutters, and place 1 inch apart on lined baking sheets.

Bake until light golden brown, about 5-6 minutes.

——-

That is the end of my holiday cookie collection (at least for this year). There are others in my file, but I must get on the road to spend some time with my family, and finish frosting all the sugar cookies. I hope you get a chance to make any or all of these recipes. I will never forget all the Christmases I spent up to my elbows in flour, and I hope to have many more.

Here are the rest of the recipes, in case you missed them:

Sugar cookies
Chocolate Suzies
Peanut blossoms
The million dollar cookie
Candy stripe cookie sticks

Favorite cookies: Sugar cookies

Is there any more quintessentially Christmasy cookie than this? We always decorated ours with frosting out of a can, and I have to tell you after fussing with royal icing last night, I’m not sure that the fancy stuff is really better. Better looking, if you get it right. But who cares?

Anyway, here is the cookie recipe. It’s from my grandmother, the master baker (Mary Marie). It’s so buttery and wonderful. The cookies taste even better on the second or third day.

Sugar cookies

1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup butter (that’s one stick)
1 cup sugar
3 eggs
3 1/2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons vanilla

Mix the dry ingredients in one bowl. I always whisk mine together instead of sifting, and you know, I think it works really well.

Cream the butter and shortening. Then mix in the sugar, eggs and vanilla.

Slowly combine the dry ingredients into the rest. At this point you will need to chill the dough for three hours, or overnight, if you can.

Once the dough is chilled, roll it out on a floured surface to about 1/4-inch thick (maybe even a little thinner), cut out your cookies and bake for 8-10 minutes at 400 degrees.

Just until the edges start to get browned.

Once the cookies have cooled, get to frosting!

Though this recipe is fantastic, I would add a few tips just to make sure you get the best result:

•I would divide the dough into fourths before you roll it. This makes a sheet that’s easy to work with.

•Flour absolutely everything. The surface, the rolling pin, even the spatula you use to scoop up cookies.

•Before you scoop the cutouts onto the cookie sheet, peel all of the in-between dough out and put it into a scrap pile.

•Put the scraps back into the fridge and start your next batch with chilled dough. When you have four re-chilled scrap piles, divide them in half and do two more rounds.

•Whatever I have left after that I usually just roll into balls, flatten into discs and have round cookies. If you overwork the dough too much it won’t have the same wonderful cookie texture.

•Just try to think of this like you would rolling pie crust. The colder the dough, the better. And if you get a tear from rolling too thin, just patch it up. No biggie.

As for frosting, I used the recipe that came in a can of meringue powder. You can also use Martha’s recipe for royal icing, here. I made mine way too thin, so I would hold back on some of the water next time.

This one came out beautifully, though.

Happy baking! One more recipe coming.

Favorite cookies: Chocolate Suzies

Isn’t it funny the ways you stumble on recipes that become your favorites? This one actually came from my fourth grade teacher, who’s first name was Sue. I guess she must have made them for the students one time, and then we recreated them at home.

This is really more of a technique than a recipe. You need a mini muffin pan and some adorable muffin liners like these.

One classic Nestle Tollhouse chocolate chip cookie recipe. Only for this one you’ll want to use mini chocolate chips.

And one bag of Reese’s mini peanut butter cups.

Unwrap all the peanut butter cups first. This way they’ll be ready when you need them (and you have to act fast before the cookies start to harden).

Preheat the oven while you make the cookie dough. Put a heaping teaspoon of cookie dough into each muffin liner. Resist the urge to make them too full. They’ll overflow when you squish the candy in. I might have overdone it just a bit this time…

Bake the cookies for 8-9 minutes and check them to see if they’re puffed up and just starting to get golden brown. At this point, remove them from the oven, press a peanut butter cup into the center of each one, and return to the oven for another minute or two of baking. When the cookies come out they should just be starting to get crispy on top and the candy should be nice and melty.

These cookies are so rich and indulgent. If you don’t love them you are not human.

Favorite cookies: Peanut blossoms

These cookies might be the ones that remind me most of holiday baking from my childhood. I can’t think of a year we didn’t make them. I don’t really like plain Hershey kisses, but there is something about biting the Kiss out of the center of a peanut blossom that I can’t resist.

This time I fancied up the recipe a bit by using crunchy raw sugar crystals and dark chocolate Kisses. But feel free to use regular sugar and milk chocolate Kisses, as we always did.

Peanut Blossoms
(you may want to double this recipe, by the way)

1 3/4 cup sifted flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1/3 cup creamy peanut butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 bag Hershey Kisses

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Start by unwrapping about 3 dozen Hershey Kisses.

Combine dry ingredients in a bowl. In a separate bowl cream butter and peanut butter. Mix in the sugars, then add the egg and the vanilla.

Slowly blend in dry ingredients until the dough is sturdy enough to form a ball.

Pinch off pieces of cookie dough and roll them into 1-inch balls. Roll them in a bowl of sugar and place them about 2 inches apart on a greased cookie sheet.

Bake for 8 minutes. When the cookies have puffed up, remove them from the oven.

Push a Kiss into the center of each cookie (this will crack the surface, but that’s OK). Return to the oven for 2 more minutes of baking.

**Or, if you don’t want the Kisses to get too melty, bake the cookies for 10 minutes and omit the second oven time. That’s what I did, and it worked out fine.

A breakfast treat

This morning I tried to recreate my new favorite breakfast, from the lovely French bakery where some girlfriends and I have been having breakfast get-togethers.

The original breakfast was two eggs over medium with a slice of crusty bread covered with cream cheese, sprouts and avocado slices. I didn’t have any avocado or artisan bread, so I substituted wheat toast and some strawberry jam.

Oh man, was it good. You should really try it. Just a little salt and pepper over the eggs and they’re heaven.

How to eat a pomegranate

I tried soaking a pomegranate in water to see if that would make it easier to get apart, but it didn’t make any noticeable difference to me.

What I do is peel some of the skin off and then take out one chunk at a time and pluck out all the seeds. That way I can sort out the bad ones as I go and have a neat little pile of seeds. I can’t believe how much is left at the end!

One pomegranate is really more like 5 servings of fruit. It takes a while to separate all the seeds, but it’s worth it. If you haven’t had pomegranate seeds before, they’re sweet, tart, and have a crunchy seed in the middle like raspberries.

I just like to eat the seeds plain, but you can use them as a topper for cereal, yogurt or oatmeal. Or they’re really good in a cocktail. You can squish ’em up to get the juice out. Just be careful because it really stains.

Sleeping beauty

Caught Sadie sleeping on her Nylabone. How could that be comfortable?

I should also mention that she’s sleeping on the dogs’ early Christmas present. It’s a Molly Mutt dog duvet cover. They’re so cool. You buy the cover in one of many adorable patterns and stuff it full of old clothes, towels, blankets, or even an old dog bed. The duvets are very affordable, and they come in the mail with a button and a sweet handwritten note. Our doggies took to it right away.

Favorite cookies: My take on the million dollar cookie

There’s been a lot of buzz about Pillsbury’s million-dollar-winning cookie recipe for Double-Delight Peanut Butter Cookies (get it here), so I thought I’d see if it was all it was cracked up to be.

I’m normally a natural peanut butter girl, but for the sake of accuracy, I went with Jif, plus the already made peanut butter cookie dough log. They only had the family-size log at my grocery store, so I’ll tell you later what I did with the extra half.

I did make one adjustment to the recipe, though. I left out the crushed peanuts. It’s just a personal preference, kind of like choosing creamy peanut butter over crunchy. I think plain peanuts are sort of dry and not all that tasty so I just left them out. I also think if I had it to do over, I would leave out the cinnamon and instead roll the dough balls in a coating of turbinado sugar. Perhaps the recipe would only be worth half a million then, but that’s what I’d do.

Anyway, here’s a peek at the assembly process.

First you have to make the sugary peanut butter balls that go in the center of the dough.

It looks like the powdered sugar will never mix in, but eventually it does and you get this.

I found the best way to divide the big ball into 24 even little ones was to divide it in half, then half again. From those pieces you know you have to get six little balls, and that’s pretty easy.

Then you divide the dough log in the same way. Take a piece of dough, flatten it in your palm, and drop the peanut butter ball inside. Then you sort of wrap the edges of dough around till they meet and roll it smooth.

Followed by a coat of cinnamon sugar (and nuts if you like them).

When you have all your dough balls lined up on a cookie sheet, then you’re supposed to smash them with the bottom of a glass coated in cooking spray.

Just for kicks I skipped that part for one tray just to see what would happen and I could see that if you leave them rounded, they end up very puffy in the middle and somewhat burnt at the edges. You can see the difference on the tray. My second batch was a little smaller, too.

The final cookies were very tasty, I have to say. I’m a huge fan of sugary peanut butter (hello Reese’s!), so I loved the soft centers of the cookies. I’m sure you could do this with regular peanut butter cookie dough from your own recipe and it would be just as good.

Oh yeah, and about the other half of that cookie dough log. I had some Reese’s pieces that I wanted to use up, so I just mixed them into the dough. My other version of peanut butter on peanut butter cookies was pretty awesome. I don’t know why the standard seems to be to make them with regular cookie dough.

How do you like your PB cookies? Have you tried the million dollar recipe?