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Posts Tagged ‘memories’

I’m Minnesota born and bred, raised on summer sunshine, hot dish and 10,000 Lakes. Although there are times that I wish I had the experience of living in other places, experiencing other cultures, I can’t deny my roots, the ones that run deep. My entire family is from this area and I’ve never considered living elsewhere.

Almost all of my upbringing occurred in South Minneapolis. As an adult, I migrated across the river and took on Saint Paul, learning to love it’s unique fingerprint, then I packed up and ditched the urban landscape for the quiet of the exurban living, out where frogs sing to the glory of a spring night, coyotes howl and possum wander lazily under the bird feeders (and pick the underside of your sunroom for their demise- ugh!!) Deer are pretty used to seeing humans, and vice versa. But my heart, my life and all my stained glass mosaic of childhood are firmly rooted in the 55419 zip code. There isn’t a time of my entire life, from my first permanent memories onward, that did not include the tiny commercial corner of 50th and Bryant, the two brick buildings that lined 50th Street, home to an ever-changing parade of tiny businesses. It was a nod to “Locally Owned and Operated” before anyone even knew what that really meant, or how important it was to a community.

And it simply shredded me inside to watch it burn.

All photos courtesy of Kate NG Sommers of The Heavy Table

The power of social media and the internet reaches beyond almost any scope of comprehension. I turned on my computer around 1:30pm on February 18th and took in one Tweet from the local Twitter populace that said ‘Corner of 50th& Bryant in SMpls is scene of large fire” and something clutched deep inside me. I could see the area in my eyes, and as the tweets, news videos and updates began pouring through the internet, I sat utterly transfixed with tears streaming down my face. The heart of my upbringing was so deep in that area. I sadly posted the news on Facebook and the lifeline reached out even more.

My high school is just up the road from there- Washburn High School, of which I entered in 1978 as the first Freshman class, and exited in 1982. Through the magic of Facebook, I have gotten back in touch with all of my old high school friends and they are scattered around the US, and even in other parts of the world, but when they started seeing my update, the shock and grief overflowed. As did the memories. It was a flood. Between that and the Twitter updates, the scenes of devastation playing out live in front of me, it was all I could do to keep from laying my head on my arms and weeping uncontrollably.

I lived barely 1/4 of a mile from there as a child, and as a very young girl walked with my sisters and the neighborhood girls, nickels clutched tight in our hands to the tiny store that was once in that building. The owner, a crotchety guy named Paul, always intimidated us a little, but the candy selection gave us reason to face him. Back when candy was a nickel, we got off easy at that place, gleaming through bags of Sugar Babies, ropes of Bub’s Daddy bubble gum and Black Cow suckers. One of the earliest and most painful memories of my life occurred at that store; it had a huge heavy door that we always struggled to push open, and one day as I attempted to dart through it, it slammed shut on my hand shattering the tip of a finger. It was a ugly bloody mess that dripped all over the worn linoleum floor of Paul’s store. And the stain never went away. I could go back time and again only to see the shadow of my blood on the floor. Paul eventually passed away from a heart attack, and the store closed.

There was an incredible deli in that building at one point, named Zorka & Ollie’s. It was a tiny, tiny space that made monstrous and delicious sandwiches, slathered in their signature Zorka sauce that was both spicy and sweet. It was the first place that dared to sell thick cut potato chips, and I distinctly remember the initial magnificent crunch that hit my mouth. Z&O’s had wonderful coleslaw and terrific potato salad. It was way ahead of it’s time with the fresh made flavor, variety and personal touch that everyone craves, and these days actively seeks out. A sandwich from Z&O’s was a feast.

In the corner of the building, long before Patina took root- an event I remember feeling quite ambivalent about- there used to be a store called Punky’s Corner Consignments, and long before that, a gorgeous Antique store. That antique store was where I honed my love of antiques, and of classic old china to be exact. As a young girl I would go in there with my Mom and marvel at the patterns, the delicacy and the array of beautiful dishware and serving pieces. To this day that love remains. And Punky’s was a fun, funky and odd place that you could find any manner of interesting and unique items. My friends and I could roam there for hours.

All of these memories came roaring through my head, as I watched video and took in photos of the flames eating up a piece of history.  The loss of the current businesses is sorrowful; the two restaurants were stellar destinations in the local dining scene, and at the forefront of a whole movement bringing fine dining into neighborhood pockets of the city. I don’t doubt the area will be rebuilt, but the historical aspect of that building, with it’s artistic brick work and façades can never be duplicated again. Driving through there, even with the new businesses so well established and a more modern feel to the block, I never failed to sense the tremors of history, the laughter of my friends and I, the wonder of the small child in me as acutely as if those moments were still occurring. With the collapse of the roof, and the imminent wrecking ball, it likely will all be pulled down, memories gone for good. Hopefully a new generation of locals will come to know and love what stands on that corner in the future.

Even with such devastation, two high points are well worth mentioning; other than minor injuries to two firefighters, no one was injured and there were no deaths from the blaze. And the venerable Malt Shop, in a building across a tiny alley was spared any damage. The Malt Shop holds a vast sea of memories for myself, my friends and more people than I even care to imagine. My friends and I almost lived there in high school, and the wait staff knew many of us by name. One underlying current that came in from many of my old classmates flung far and wide was the urgent need to know that The Malt Shop survived. Some of these old friends of mine left Minnesota after graduation and have returned only for visits, but the history, nostalgia and a piece of their heart is still there with me in Lynnhurst.

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Mmm hmm….that’s right. Chocolate. Toll house. Bars. An unlikely sisterhood of fudgey brownie and the famous toll house recipe baked into a pan. I’m really a cookie lover at heart, but sometimes I just don’t want to scoop and bake repeatedly. Sometimes I just need to cream, stir, blend and fold myself into contentment, the end result being more easily achieved than what requires parchment, trays and repetitive movement. Take one recipe for your favorite version of a Toll House bar and stir some good cocoa powder into the dry goods. Take a bite and sigh with contentment. See? I would never steer you wrong.

I can bake. I love to bake. My lifeline to my guardian angel, my mother, lies in my mixer and flour container. With a spatula. I have no fonder memories of her than baking with her, the sunlight streaming in her kitchen window. I should recall her laugh, which was loud and shrieky, I mean, have you heard mine? She caused that, no doubt. My brother too. When he and I laugh together, people cover their ears. They wince. We get asked to be quiet in movie theaters, and we shock people. But her laugh, while amazing and warm was just a blue ribbon pinned on the strong and capable woman that she was, and that I strive to be. I may bend in the breezes, or twist against the savages of life, but no matter what happens, I am still the person she raised me to be, no more or less. With a spatula in hand. And cookies. They were her favorite. She made pies, bundt cakes (ooh, lime green ones sometimes. Eeek.) and she made bars too. But cookies were her specialty. Now I could do without the nuts that she loved, and to this day I haven’t been able to abide by the walnut, so overpowering was that in my youth and usually rancid if I am able to judge now. She put it in everything, and I picked them out of everything. If I was woe to forget to throw them away, the pile left behind would elicit one of her pretend indignant shrieks of “KATE!!!” because she just knew me that well. It was always me who carefully and diligently despised her walnuts. Or maybe my siblings were just better at remembering to dispose of the evidence.

One thing that Griffin does love to do is make cookies now and again. I like to keep everything on hand in case he gets a hankering for a homemade treat. The other day he was all set to make some Toll House bars when he discovered we didn’t have enough butter. With the saddest sigh that he could muster, he replaced all the ingredients he’d taken out and silently went upstairs. Mommy guilt overcame me. Although we had a few options available in the form of frozen commercial cookie dough, there is one thing that my teenager has inherited from me that sticks like glue: when he gets his mind on something he wants, he can’t settle for anything less. So the next day I went to the store and bought a lot of butter. Then when he was gone one night, I made a pan of bars and on a whim, added cocoa to the flour mixture.

My mom is probably smiling right about now.

Are there any alchemist secrets to baking? I’m really not one to ask, as for me baking is like looking at my right hand. It’s so much a part of me that I don’t recognize what might make it special. Or difficult. But plenty of people struggle with it. Baked goods fall flat, are dense and hard, they don’t rise enough or they balloon out of control. The fall when they come out of the oven. You know what? Mine do too. Even after a lifetime of experience, I can still often see fault in my bars. This pan, for instance, was so beautiful and fluffy when I pulled it out of the oven, and 20 minutes later, the center had collapsed like a mutual fund. It happens to me all the time but it never stops me from trying. They taste the same. And really, when I die, no one is going to be standing at my casket shaking their heads morosely and saying “Her bars always collapsed. It was so sad.”

The cocoa gives these familiar and comforting bars an added depth. While Toll House bars are nice and all, they really lack the pizazz of their more colorful and opulent baked counterparts. They’re reliable and sound but they’ve been left behind for everything sweet and dotted with sea salt, doused in browned butter, lavender essence and gold leaf. Oh Toll House, those new millenium treats smirk,  you are so 1975. Place them on a table with something exotic, and the poor plate will get skimmed over. Turn it into a delicate brownie-like, cakey and soft square, and it will stand apart. If nothing else, it will just make your mouth pretty happy. In a less expensive way. And we like that, don’t we?

Chocolate Toll House Bars
by Kate, adapted from the original recipe. My version is a little different so read it through. Some new tips are included.

2-1/4 c. AP flour (i used half whole wheat flour)
1 t. baking soda
1/2  t. sea salt (this is a personal preference; I don’t like the taste of iodized salt in my baked goods. use what is right for you)
1/4 c. cocoa powder
1 c. softened butter – NO substitutions (or at least don’t tell me about it)
1/2 c. EACH white sugar and brown sugar (firmly pack the brown)
2 eggs
1 t. pure vanilla extract
1/8 c. (or about 3 T. ) whole milk or cream (i used vanilla soymilk)
1  12-oz package Chocolate chips of choice (i use Ghiradelli semi sweets)

Preheat the oven to 350°. Spray a 9×13 pan with cooking spray. In a large measuring cup, whisk together all the dry ingredients.

In a large bowl, or a stand mixer, blend the soft butter and both sugars until fluffy and light. Be sure to really beat these well. The more air you incorporate into this, the fluffier your finished product. Beat it, scraping the bowl occasionally, for at least 5 minutes. Longer if you can.

Add the eggs, vanilla and milk. Blend well. Now remove the beaters and scrape them into the bowl.

Add all the flour at once, and with a stiff rubber spatula, begin gently folding it into the butter mixture. Remember to scrape across the bottom of the bowl and gently turn it over. Don’t stir it or you’ll deflate all that air you beat into the butter. Watch what you’re doing and when you’ve incorporated about half the flour, stop folding and add in the chocolate chips at this point. Continue to fold the remaining flour into the mixture, along with the chocolate chips. There will be a single magical moment when it all comes together in a beautiful glossy homogenized mass, and at this point, make sure there is no flour at the bottom of the bowl and then stop folding. Scrape it into the prepared pan and gently spread it to the edges. It’s fine if it doesn’t look perfect. Bake it for about 25 minutes, checking with a toothpick to determine if it’s done. Remove pan and allow to cool before cutting.

KATE’S NOTES:
I know that all recipes for these bars tell you to incorporate all the flour and then fold in the chips. Somehow this has worked for decades, but once you incorporate the flour, the more you stir and mix it, the tougher it will get and the bars will come out denser than you might expect. If you add the chips partway through the flour step, the finished product is lighter and you get more distribution of the chips. If you’re like me, you prefer your chip ratio to be even, not clumped up in some spots more than others. Even with the beating and gentle folding, these bars collapsed but they aren’t dense, just moist and fudgey.

This recipe calls for less sugar than any recipe you’ll find in print. With the addition of the milk, and of course those chocolate chips, there really isn’t the need for that much sugar. I’ve realized as I get older and experiment with baking that many, many recipes are too sweet, and cutting back sugar is always a good thing, isn’t it?

And yes, most recipes don’t call for milk to be added but if you follow this one, the additional cocoa needs to be balanced by a little more moisture, and the milk adds a nice touch, making them sweeter with a bit of richness. Experiment with what you have on hand. Flavored coffee creamers might be lovely to add a hint of something extra. And if they fall while they cool, no one will notice because they taste simply amazing. Especially for breakfast with some really dark coffee.

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Winter weekends sure can be a mixed blessing. You’ve got an entire day spread out in front of  you with endless possibilities; time on your hands and hours to make just the way you want, and yet, if you’re like those of us in Minnesota, you often wake on those long days to crackling cold air and sunshine thats full of promise but delivers nothing in warmth.

Those are the days that just require waffles.

There’s something about a crisp and aromatic waffle that deems it a culinary perfection for a chilly winter morning. A morning that you know needs to lead to a productive day. A morning where the coffee pot seems to be endlessly working, where your pajamas are often more desirable than a pair of blue jeans, mornings such as one that finds you casually sipping your brew, and noticing that the bright sunshine has highlighted your neglect of the vacuum cleaner, the dustmop and a Swiffer cloth or two.

I’m sure others can relate, right?

I grew up with Sunday morning waffles. It was eagerly anticipated to come down the stairs to the pungent scent of the percolator on the stove as it bubbled away, competing with the creaky old waffle iron, hissing emphatically, cranking out perfect rectangles of golden hued delectable treats. I do love pancakes, especially ones that stray off the beaten track of breakfast food; pancakes with shredded apples and yogurt in them, bananas and pecans in a whole wheat pancake, chocolate chip flecked ovals cooked to soft perfection and then topped with summer cherry sauce. Pancakes even spread with peanut butter and eaten out of hand. Oh, do we know about pancakes in this house, yes we do. But waffles, why there is really no other means needed to enjoy them other than good butter and syrup, because the waffle, in all it’s dented glory is the perfect palate to top with a few slices of cold butter and then drizzle warm maple syrup over to run through tunnels, cubes and edges to dress them in sweet buttery delight. Those edges crunch, the syrup absorbs and the bites come together in the mouth, a marriage to linger over, knife and fork in hand, coffee to the side. I’ll eat pancakes for dinner, and often we do, but waffles are strictly breakfast, and best on the weekends when their sturdy personality buoys you up for the long day ahead.

And who wouldn’t love the crunchy and wholesome addition of some cornmeal to the waffle?

I’ve made cornmeal studded pancakes before, and really, they’re pretty good and all, but there’s something about the added crunch of cornmeal on batter placed in the waffle iron that just sort of gets me right there. I don’t know how to describe it any more than that. And when I came across the recipe for these crunchy beauties on Kristin’s lovely blog, somehow I knew I would adore them like a treasured memory so I put together a double batch. People, I made waffles for hours, it seems. Hours. Did I care? Oh no, not at all. You see, after I made the first one and dressed it appropriately, I consumed it with gusto. My tummy, loving the introduction of it, politely asked for another. And I complied. The batter seemed endless, but I stockpiled waffles for the next few days and two packs to go into the freezer. We are happily away in waffle ecstasy. Don’t bother to look for us, ok? We’ll be fine, really and I will come back when they’re gone and do it all over again.

Oh yeah, and after I ate that delicious breakfast, it spurred me on to clean my house from top to bottom and boy, did it look nice in the dazzling but cold winter sunshine then. All thanks to a perfect little cornmeal waffle.

Buttermilk Cornmeal Waffles
(from Kristin at The Kitchen Sink Recipes, slightly adapted from Gourmet magazine)

1 cup sifted all-purpose flour (sift before measuring)
1 cup yellow cornmeal, preferably stoneground
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
2 cups well-shaken buttermilk
6 tablespoons vegetable oil plus additional oil for brushing waffle iron

Into a large bowl sift together flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Repeat sifting 2 more times.

In another large bowl whisk together eggs, buttermilk, and oil. Add flour mixture all at once and whisk just until combined.

Preheat a waffle iron and preheat oven to 200 °F.

Brush waffle iron lightly with additional oil. Spoon batter into waffle iron, using 1/4 cup batter for each 4-inch-square standard waffle and spreading batter evenly, and cook according to manufacturer’s instructions. Transfer waffle to a baking sheet and keep warm, uncovered, in middle of oven. Make more waffles with remaining batter in same manner, brushing waffle iron with more oil before adding each batch.

Serve waffles with syrup.

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Beyond the sugar, flour and butter of a good cookie, beyond the proper pan, the parchment or silpat on top and the tried and true recipes, even beyond the cookie jar on the counter, rubbed and worn from decades of hands reaching for it, cookies have become infused as a part of me from as far back as I can remember. Thanks to my mom, for certain.

Hey Everyone! You know what time of year it is, right????

Any amount of time in my little obscure corner of the blogging world and you know that my love of baking goes deep. And long. I’ve eaten all manners of cookie; any and all types have passed these cookie-loving lips, of all shapes and sizes and styles and colors and proportions. I’ve had chocolate chip a thousand different ways and oatmeal cookies to swoon over. I’ve had double chocolate rebels and chewy chocolate bites and thumbprints of all manners and madelines that melt in my mouth. I’ve had cakey chocolate drops covered in mocha frosting that nearly made me faint. Gingersnaps both chewy and crisp, macaroons both airy and dense and cheesecake cookies scented with lemon. I’ve had exotic varieties from other lands, sugar cookies of all kinds and shapes, cookies with seeds and nuts and sprinkles and colored sugars and tiny hard candy dots, out of bags, boxes and freezer cases. With one bite I know whether you’ve used butter or not, whether it was built from a recipe or cut from a pre-made log with a brand name on it. I know my cookies. And I think the one item missing from my life, my kitchen and eventually, from my son’s memory is a cookie jar standing on the counter, ready for the next best cookie to fall into it’s fathomless interior. For whatever reason, we don’t have a cookie jar. I love my kitchen, the room where magic occurs and genuine smiles are formed, but my counter does not hold that memorable item.

I’m imbued with the scent of baking cookies, brought on by a lifetime of saturating myself in the process of making them, the rhythmic scooping, the whir of a mixer, the flour covered countertops that result in a hot tray of tiny fragrant orbs that’s sole purpose is to coat and soothe an otherwise hectic life down to a manageable roar. I recall days as a child where the call of the cookie jar would pull me forward, the familiar squawk of the metal lid being pulled off our old worn canister as I eagerly plunged my hand in to bring forth Mom’s comfort and salve. I would indulge until spent, broken and weary from the sugar high but otherwise calmer than when I entered her kitchen, bent on seeking a balm for what ills I had endured. From my cookie coma, I often wished to simply slip to the floor and lay in the sunshine, brushing the crumbs from my face. Likely I just lay my head down on the formica tabletop. If I thought of anything at all, it was when I would feel ready to eat more. My Mom knew that her cookies were our Achilles heel; she knew what each of us liked and didn’t like. She knew how she could draw us to her by simply announcing that she was baking cookies. She just knew. Through chocolate chips and chopped dates and broken nuts and some old worn cookie sheets warped with age and use, she could reach to us across any barriers we tried to put up and give us a piece of her heart. Mom was not so demonstrative with her love, but she made us cookies, and in turn, it gave me the first of many glimpses into the divine dance that occurs when one cooks for someone they love. She taught me to bake cookies and it taught me how to take care of someone’s heart. I make cookies for my family, but what I might be trying to do, at least in spirit, is to awaken in me the memory of her, to keep her alive and beside me, along with grasping a moment where my own child runs to my side, eyes gleaming and smiling wide to take in the cooling rows of cookies. To watch him eagerly reach for a handful, to see him dip into the container that holds them, eyes shut in his delight as he takes a bite is to see pure love.

[[All right, want the mother-lode of Cookies?? More than you can imagine?]]

Christmas comes, and in my life there’s a cookie exchange each year. I always want to offer something new and different, more to stretch my own concept of a cookie than anything else. There are endless variations to be formed through a bowl and a tiny scoop, or sliced from a chilled log. All manner of ingredients can be used. What’s important is the memory and feeling behind pulling out the stand mixer, getting down the ingredients, the smell of the oven and a hot tray of blissful bites on the counter.  This year, just prior to my annual baking frenzy, my tiny cookie scoop was broken and my search for a suitable replacement was futile. These slice and bake cookies saved the day. And opened my eyes. Life’s little surprises, in the shape of a sweet morsel in your fingers, continue to roll forward.

Earl Grey Cookies (bottom left in the photo above)
(courtesy of Shannalee at Food Loves Writing, and everyone’s friend, Martha Stewart)

2 c. AP flour
2 T. finely ground Earl Grey tea (from about 4 teabags. Can be crushed in a baggie with a rolling pin, or in a blender or coffee grinder)
1/2 t. salt
1 c. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 c. confectioners sugar
1 T. finely grated orange zest

Whisk flour, tea and salt in a large measuring cup.

Place butter, sugar and orange zest into bowl of a stand mixer. Mix on medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Scrap the bowl occasionally to insure uniformity. Reduce speed to low and blend in flour, only until incorporated.

Divide dough in half and place each piece on parchment paper. Shape into logs and place in fridge until firm, 2-3 hours. Dough can be chilled overnight too, and frozen for up to a month.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350° and line two cookie sheets with parchment paper. Remove dough from refrigerator and slice into 1/4″ slices. Place on cookie sheets and bake for 13-15 minutes, or until browned at the edges. Cool on sheets on wire racks. Store in airtight containers.

KATE’S NOTES: The Stash tea I used came very finely ground already. I did not have to crush it any further. I strongly recommend a good quality tea for this cookie. Don’t fear the tea leaves in this cookie; the flavor of these is fresh and lovely, chock full of orange essence. The tea is barely noticeable. I am certifiably crazy about this cookie. As soon as the last one was gone, I wanted to make another batch and I better hurry up and do it quickly before I drink up all the delicious tea.

Vanilla Spice Cookies (top right in the photo above)
(from Shannalee again)

1/2 c. butter, softened
1 c. firmly packed brown sugar
1 egg
2 t. vanilla extract
1-3/4 c. AP flour
1/2 t. baking soda
1/4 t. salt
1/4 t. ground cinnamon
1/4 t. ground cardamom

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat butter at medium speed and gradually add sugar, beating well. Add egg and vanilla and blend. In a separate bowl, combine flour, soda, salt and spices. Add this to the butter mixture on low speed and blend only until incorporated.

Shape the dough into two rolls, about 12 inches long. Wrap in parchment or wax paper and chill until firm, 2-4 hours or overnight.

When ready to bake, heat oven to 350° and line cookie sheets with parchment. Unwrap rolls and slice into 1/4″ slices. Place on cookie sheets and bake for 10-12 minutes. Cool on wire racks and keep in airtight containers.

KATE’S NOTES: I added extra cinnamon and cardamom to these to amp up the spice flavor. They tasted like Chai tea and were just lovely.

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Growing up in South Minneapolis, there was a bakery that my Mom went to regularly on W. 50th St. between Aldrich and Bryant called Meyer’s Bake Shop. It was a tiny little place with decorated cakes in the windows and mirrored cases along the walls, loaves of yeasty breads in baskets on the countertops and long glass front cases that held every imaginable delight, right at eye level for a kid my age. I remember the decisive creak of the door as we pushed it open; the warm of the room, the smells…oh the smells!…. that rushed forth in the humidity inside to meet us. My head swoons just recalling what it was like.  Mom would load up on sandwich breads, rolls or buns and chat with the friendly ladies behind the counter as me and my sisters would oogle the baked goods, the luscious cupcakes, fudgey topped brownies and petit fours, waiting until the expected moment when Mom would tell us to pick out our cookie. We always got to choose one. Karen wanted Oatmeal Raisin, Kris usually took Chocolate Chip. I asked for a Sugar Cookie every single time.

sugar cookies 012

Meyer’s had the finest sugar cookies. They had scalloped edges that had the perfect crispy snap to them, with centers that were soft and moist. The cookie nearly melted in my mouth and was rich in vanilla and butter, with crystallized sugar covering the surface. I never refused a trip to the bakery with Mom. Meyer’s meant Sugar Cookies. Getting just one was a wonderful experience, although I easily could have eaten as many as I could hold, if just once given a chance. It was perfection in waxed paper.

But then life as we knew it ended, and suddenly there were no more trips to the tiny neighborhood bakery, no more moments of sugar cookie bliss. We moved too far away, life became more about making it through each day than about bakery breads and kindly chatting. And even when Mom made me a batch of specially requested Sugar Cookies, the flavor was flat and uninspiring. I ate them, but they didn’t have the same snappy crunch or sweet tender bite. Sometimes I would ride by Meyer’s and see the decorated windows, and think in my mind that I had to get back there and buy myself a sack of their Sugar Cookies. A sack that would be full of the nostalgia I sought, and craved. When I was in high school, which was about a half mile or so from that bakery, I went down there one day after school and pushed open the big heavy door. The creak was still there, and the smell of yeast and sugar came rushing to my nose like I hoped it would, but my teenage eyes took note of the worn countertops, the dusty curtains in the window and had I ever realized that those cakes were fake? The ladies behind the counter weren’t very friendly, mostly they looked tired and worn. The glass cases were scratched and one had a long crack in it. The selections of breads were minimal, but in the cookie case lay the prized scalloped sugar cookies like always. I bought six of them and eagerly dug into the bag as I left the store, yearning for the first buttery bite. I was going to stuff myself with each one of those golden discs and no one was going to stop me.

sugar cookies 005

But the cookie that came to my mouth was nothing like I remembered. It was pasty and dry, and left a coating on my tongue and lips that could only have come from shortening. The butter was gone, a wisp of memory. It was crunchy through and through. There was no soft interior or moist crumbs. It looked the same, but it was wrong. All wrong. And it was a crashing disappointment. Somewhere along the way life had veered off into the direction of adulthood, and the whimsy of simpler days ends up left behind in nothing more than shadowy memories. What I wanted from that cookie was to be taken back to something that no longer existed; a trip to a neighborhood bakery, holding on to a trusted hand and the sweet buttery bite of love. I know that life has to change, and we have to grow and move on, learning hard lessons along the way and laying waste to a warehouse of memories, but really, do the beloved flavors have to go with it? Maybe the cookie was exactly the same, but my mouth, having now experienced the bitter plate that life pushes our way, had become jaded and sour. It’s probably a combination of the inevitable change for both the cookie, and the hands that consumed it.

sugar cookies 008

So it would stand to reason that I’ve looked long and hard for a recipe that closely duplicates that flavor and crunch. It has to be with butter and just the right touch of vanilla. The edges need to be crispy, the interior moist and soft. And it needs the scent of my childhood. I’m fairly certain that what was in that cookie memory from days back when wasn’t much different than any recipe out there, but surrounding the standard butter, sugar, egg, flour and vanilla was the cozy cocoon of a life that had yet to break at the edges, where trust was all you needed that from the moment you awoke to when you lay to sleep at night, someone had your back, and was holding your hand. At some point we’re all cast out into the chasm, finding our footing and learning how to navigate a life we know nothing about. We seek comfort in our foods to help remind us that it wasn’t always this way. This recipe comes awfully close

Sugar Cookies
1 c. softened butter, no substitutes (reserve one of the wrappers)
1-1/2 c. white sugar
2 t. pure vanilla extract
1 egg
2-3/4 c. AP flour
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. baking powder

Heat the oven to 375° and line two cookie sheets with parchment paper. Place about 1/3 of a cup of white sugar on a small plate and set aside.

Cream butter and the 1-1/2 cups of sugar together until very light and fluffy. Add in egg and vanilla extract and blend thoroughly until smooth and creamy. You really can’t overmix at this point. You want a base that is smooth and creamy as it makes the end result stupendous. Stir together flour, baking soda and powder, and with mixer on low, gradually add to butter until fully incorporated and mixture is in large, somewhat dry chunks. It will not be a smooth batter, but granular, like pie crust. The dough should hold together when pressed between your fingertips. If it doesn’t, give it a few more turns with the mixer. Here’s where you don’t want to mix more than necessary. The dough will come together when it bakes, I promise.

sugar cookies 003

Using a small scoop (I used a #60 sized) press dough tight into a ball and drop onto cookie sheet. With your butter wrapper, wipe the bottom of a smooth glass, then dip the glass onto the sugar you’ve set aside. Gently press down on the cookie dough, dipping the glass before each one. If any dough falls loose, lightly push the pieces into the sides of the cookie.

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The cookies will bake up just fine if you don’t wish to flatten them; that’s just my preferred method. Bake for 8-10 minutes, reversing trays from front to back, and swapping top to bottom about halfway through.

I like to remove the cookies right way, on the parchment to a cooling rack. These are pretty sturdy once baked, and will slip off the parchment easily with a gentle nudge. You simply must eat at least a few of them warm. Of course, a glass of cold milk, or a nice cup of coffee or tea is an excellent accompaniment. The cookies will become firmer as they sit for a day or two.

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Here’s to the Dads of life, no matter what form they take.

Here’s my Dad
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That’s me, yup…on the right; kid sized anyway. My sister Kris is on the left. I must have been 7 or 8 because I still have my original front teeth which were broken in an accident when I was 9. I vividly recall that sweat shirt I was wearing as being one of my favorites. Funny how you can remember things from so long ago.

I have a very fond memory, food related, of my Dad. When we were younger one of our most requested dishes that he would make for us was Fried Chicken. I don’t recall how he did it precisely, I just remember that it was so delicious and moist that I could eat it until I was about to burst. The smell alone was enough to make me crazy. It wasn’t anything fancy, but we loved it. Time with my Dad meant pizza, pigs in a blanket, lots of ice cream and plenty of fun.

My Dad taught me to swim, patiently teaching me to arch my back with my arms out to the sides, relax and breathe as I tried to float. Over the course of one winter, he would regularly take us to the pool and play all afternoon with us, and I got so good in the water that in high school I was on the swim team, and I recall that he told everyone he knew that his daughter was a swimmer and that I had got my start as a skinny little kid learning how to swim at his side.

Each Spring my Dad would take us for a fun leisurely walk from Minnehaha Falls in Minneapolis, to the edge of the Mississsippi River. It wasn’t very long, but we were pretty young and it seemed like to took forever. We would linger on the riverbank, tossing stones, watching boats and exploring the water’s edge. The day always ended at the Dairy Queen nearby, with an ice cream cone or a Root Beer float. Those were my Dad’s favorite.

One of my very earliest memories involving my Dad was from when I was 4 years old and learning to ride a bike. My brother Mike was teaching me, running up and down the sidewalk with me as I pedaled frantically, picking me up after I wiped out and soothing my scrapes and bruises with graham crackers before taking me back out to try again. This is, by far, my fondest and most beloved memory of childhood. I was riding that bike by the time my Dad came home, and as he pulled into our driveway, he stopped to watch me come pedaling down the sidewalk, bobbling around like the novice I was, and of course, without even understanding what was going to happen, I pedaled right into the side of my Dad’s car and crashed to a heap. Mike helped me up and pulled the bike upright. My Dad looked at him, and at my shining face, bruised and scraped knees and elbows and said  “It’s a good idea to teach her how to stop too.”

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This is my brother Mike, with Griffin, who is maybe 9 or 10. Mike has been a doting Uncle, and a wonderful father figure to Griffin from the time he was born, and they have a wonderful bond. Mike is famous for teaching Griffin Apple Baseball, using the abundance of the fallen apples from his backyard tree to enjoy a rousing and loud game of Baseball, complete with exploding apples. Never have I seen Griffin having so much fun as I would see on those Fall weekends, the yard rich in colored leaves and Griffin, at about age 3 or 4 with a giant plastic yellow bat, standing with his favorite Uncle smacking rotten apples around their yard. It was a sad day indeed when Mike had to cut down the old apple tree as it meant the end of an era. Mike and Griffin golf together, take in current sci-fi movies and other hits and enjoy all kinds of fun together like sleepovers, bowling and Boys Day Out at the Twins baseball games. My brother has been a rock in Griffin’s life, and the love is very apparent.

Dads come in all forms, you know; it isn’t just the ones that create the life that can be a “Dad”, in fact, sometimes it’s in the ones who see the need and step in to fill it that I feel are more worthy of the title. My husband, my Mike, is one of those people, and I’ve extolled the merits of his attention to Griffin many times. It takes a very special person to look into the eyes of a child and accept them into their hearts and soul even when they’ve missed out on the first seven years of that child’s life, nor share one scrap of genetic material. These two have formed their own unique form of father-son love, and it’s wonderful to me to listen to them guffawing over old videos of Red Dwarf, seeing them glued to Mythbusters or The Dirtiest Job or find their heads bent over any number of projects and the basic everyday stuff of life that they’ve decided to try and figure out.

Griffin is so very lucky to have not only a great Dad, but a wonderful doting Uncle and a terrific Grandfather. Happy Fathers Day to you all, and my heartfelt thanks at making my son’s life so much more rewarding and fun.

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