Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Sick Sense

I've had the sinus plague for the past week + or so. That's the sick. I've been taking Alex's naptimes to relax and drink tea or feed the cold rather than writing. That's the sense. I'll start writing again very soon, I have ideas bouncing in my skull begging to come out. 'Til then, I'll be using the next few naps to clean my scary scary tissue laden house....

Friday, August 20, 2010

2010: A Cookie Odd-essy

The chocolate chip cookie. So so simple, yet so complex. It has deep seeded meaning for a lot of us as it is typical cookie of our youth. My mom makes awesome chocolate chippers... she has a deceptively simple recipe with one minor modification that makes them really good, but that's her secret to tell. A couple weeks back, my friend and fellow blogger Stephanie published a "before 30 list." My friend Nas is doing the same and it is with some small regret that it's too late for me to do the exact same. I figure that I have 6 years until 40 and was always a bit of a late bloomer, so I'll get to my version eventually. Back to topic, one of Stephanie's desires was to find an excellent chocolate chip recipe. I thought "oooo, fun!" and decided to play along. The weekend we were both going to try recipes, however, I got busy, then ended up making scratch brownies and she (no shame here, I too am an instant gratification junky) got some premade dough. I can't be trusted w/ premade dough, as none would end up in the oven and all would end up in my mouth raw.

So weekend one was a loss. With guests in and out all week and weekend, no cookies were to be made the next weekend either. Then Alex had to get a Pentacil shot which makes him fussy and sore, so there was a couple more days shot. In the meantime, I researched recipes. It was a pretty consistent recipe between all sources, including my professional pastry books. It was as if they were all trying to tell me that changing a classic like chocolate chips cookies would be akin to putting a squiggly mustache on the Mona Lisa. I thumb my nose at you all, pastry gods, I shall change it despite you!

Yesterday.... yesterday was awesome. Alex was an angel all day, sweet, snuggly and ready to play on his own some. The Sunbeam mixer was a callin,' so I dragged his jumparoo into the kitchen and pulled out ingredients.

I was short on one thing, made some decisions on modifications on others, and crossed my fingers. I knew there was no way I was going to make perfect cookies on the first try. I was soooo wrong. It was multiple things working against you to turn out the best possible outcome. Don't you love when that happens?? I think it started with the chips. I used a bag of Ghiradelli bitter sweet chips instead of the usual semi-sweet.

I like a bit of bite to my chocolate. And I realllly like Ghiradelli, can you tell? The chips themselves were shorter but had a fatter footprint. Of course I ate a couple before I even started, and boy were they good! It took a lot of will power not to forget the cookies and pop them like candy instead. I then dragged out all my ingredients and tools. My mom taught me that long ago, but it wasn't until recently that I put this baking "rule" to good use. I had everything but 2 tablespoons of butter. Just 2 tablespoons short! Argh. So I thought... WWDD? Yup, time to channel Dennis, my brilliant chef husband. While he may not enjoy baking like I do, I have picked up little bits and pieces from him in the kitchen. Now remember, baking is science. It's not like cooking where you have a lot of room to experiment. But I am professor Bunsen and will risk the soot on my face in order to get what I want.

So, knowing that olive oil has a higher burn temp than butter and knowing that the first thing in a cookie to burn is the sugar and butter, I said "screw it" and sub'd in 2 TBS of EVO for the missing butter. Then I had some decisions to make. I don't care for my cookies to be too too sweet. One of the ways to remedy this is to change sugars. Hmmm... do I use all brown sugar? Do I keep the recipe as is? I decided that since I was using bitter sweet chocolate, that a bit of sweetness in the cookie was okay, so I rebalanced the sugar from half and half to mostly brown, but I did keep some white in there to counteract the bitterness. Last but not least is my desire for all happy-place foods to have an element of sweet and salty. The sweet was already there, so in addition to the normally called for kosher salt, I used salted sweet cream butter. I'm a butter junky, so I recommend Land O' Lakes rather than store brand. Please, for the love of Roscoe don't use margarine. Best case scenario would be to use good Irish butter, but having neither the place to purchase nor the extra pennies to spare, name brand butter was good enough.

Here comes my lesson of the day, as I always learn something new when I bake. If your baking sheet looks like crap and you wouldn't put dough directly on it, DON'T USE IT. Using parchment or foil over a crappy pan will still yield you burnt cookies. Thank goodness I was making monster mutant size cookies, so I only lost 5 to this lesson, but they were the first 5 to come out of the oven. I shed one salty tear over their trashy grave and moved on.

The final product was fantastic. I think the EVO substitution was the trick, as they were soft and chewy at the same time. I will tell you that it is really easy to over bake them as they don't brown as darkly as the full butter version will, so tread carefully. So here is my modif-antastic recipe:


2 large bowls (that fit your stand mixer if you have one)
Stand mixer or hand mixer (if you have to spoon blend due to lack of equipment, just make sure you mix and mix and mix and mix with a wooden spoon. Get your hands into it if necessary!)
1 rubber scraper
1 teacup or small bowl to crack eggs on
Clean baking sheets in good repair
Roll of Parchment paper or EVO cooking spray (not regular Pam, use the EVO kind to prevent scorched bottoms)
2 tablespoons (the kind you eat with)
Measuring cups and spoons


3 cups all purpose flour
1.5 tsp baking soda
1.5 tsp kosher salt (better than table salt!!)
1 stick and and 6 TBS good salted butter (don't be cheap!)
2 cups light brown sugar
.5 cup white sugar
3 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla
1 bag Ghiradelli BITTER SWEET chips (don't compromise, they just won't be the same)


Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 375°F. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment or wax paper.
Whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt in a small bowl.
Beat together butter, EVO and sugars in a large bowl with an electric mixer at high speed until pale and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Lightly beat 1 egg with a fork in a small bowl and add 1 3/4 tablespoons of it plus 2 remaining whole eggs to butter mixture, beating with mixer until creamy, about 1 minute. Beat in vanilla. Reduce speed to low and mix in flour mixture until just blended, then stir in chips.

Scoop 1/4 cup batter (or more for giant cookies)

for each, arranging mounds 2 inches apart, on 2 baking sheets. Form remaining cookies on additional sheets of parchment.
Bake, 1 sheet at a time, until golden, for 10 minutes to start, then check for color every 2 minutes thereafter. You know they are done when they are golden, not beige and not brown. Certainly not black! Transfer cookies to a rack to cool and continue making cookies in same manner using cooled baking sheets.

I hope you enjoy this, and if you try it and have feedback, let me know!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Man of the Cloth

About 4 months into my pregnancy, I started surfing the web with insane fervor. I wanted to know ALL my baby options. I'm a planner by nature (much to Dennis' chagrin, he thinks I have mental flow charts for everything) and being on the road all day every day I wasn't in the mood for actual store front shopping. So off I went down the information highway. The first thing I did was Google "L & D Checklist." This gave me my suitcase packing list for the hospital, which contrary to popular belief, I did NOT use until my 8th month. Okay, it took some restraint to wait, but wait I did. Once that checklist went into the baby file (yes, there was an actual manilla file folder) I started surfing actual baby things. I looked at carseat/stroller combos. I looked at swings. I looked at pumps. I looked at first toys. You start to get the picture... and to keep track of all this browsing, I decided to start my registry.

It's a weird thing registering for things in your thirties. I registered for my first wedding at the tender age of 20 or so, but we had nothing and felt no compunction in relying on the generosity of others. But when Dennis and I got married, we were over thirty, had each been living on our own for many years, then together for several more. We didn't want to register for anything for this reason, along with the fact that we were "eloping" and didn't feel it was fair to ask for wedding gifts from people we weren't inviting to our nuptials. So when it came time to register for baby things I felt weird. Like I was begging. I know it's a traditional thing to do, but I've never been one for blindly following baseless rituals. So at first, I created one just to keep track of what I needed to get. As the list grew, so did the requests from family for info on "what to get." So I sent a link around for those who wanted to get items. I got over it because I figured it was for the baby, not for me.

I needed to figure out where I was going to register, which was also a bit of a chore. We were will still living in Florida, just north of an overhyped, over-money'd, over-plasticized area called Aventura. Aventura had my most and least favorite places to baby shop right up the road from each other. I loved the Target as it was next to my favorite Whole Foods of all time (shout out to Vanessa and Anthony!!) and a Petsmart. The Target was well stocked and the staff was pretty friendly as far as superstores go. The Babies R Us down the road was my personal hell. For some reason, anytime Dennis and I went into that store, we would get the heebies. Big time. Later in the pregnancy I had to go out to another Babies R Us and realized they aren't all that way, but the Aventura store left a deep dent in my Psyche. Along with these experiences was the practical reasoning that I wanted to register somewhere more generalized. That way if I got doubles of things or gift cards, I wasn't locked into specific baby items. So Target it was. Once the decision was made, I was a woman on fire. I wanted to know everything about any baby item ever made. I looked up recalls, reviews, and related items (gotta love built in suggestive sells on these websites.) Along the way, I started digging through the diaper wars. Much like Coke v Pepsi, there was Pampers v Huggies et al. I looked at prices and reviews trying to decipher which would be the better buy, when low and behold... here comes a "related item." It was a cloth diaper! But not your mama's cloth diaper. These came in colors, didn't need pins, and were cute. Yup. Cute diapers. It makes sense as diapers invariably stick out of the bottoms of onesies. Cute is not enough to sell this mama though. The first diaper brand I came across was BumGenius. I liked the idea and dug into the reviews. The vast majority of purchasers liked the cloth diapers in general, but I saw a lot of references to the velcro tape fastening mechanism. Seems that washing fleece diapers with velcro is not without its issues. The company provided "backing" tape to attach to the exposed hook side of the velcro, but who needs an extra step when trying to wash a giant pile of ammonia soaked nappies? Many reviewers made reference to FuzziBunz diapers. FuzziBunz come with snaps rather than velcro, eliminating the issue.

So off I sped to the FuzziBunz website. They had tons of information on how cloth diapers of any kind can keep millions of TONS of slow decomposing waste out of the earth. If that wasn't motivation enough to do extra laundry and take the leap, the fact that one set of diapers costs approximately $300 and disposables cost about $2500 over the baby's diaper wearing years. We have already established in previous blogs that I'm a serious cheapskate. So it was a no-brainer. I also had a friend or two that had experience with the brand and had nothing but glowing reviews.

Once the brand decision was made, I had to figure out whether I wanted the "One Size" diapers which were a little more bulky when the baby is under 9 months and required adjustments to the leg elastic, or if I wanted the "Perfect Size" diapers which came in different sizes for a more trim fit. So it was my sense of stinge v my sense of style. Crap. In the end, the decision was made for me by funds. Or lack there of. You see, when you move, even if the company is awesome enough to help with the costs, it's still really really expensive. Especially if you're moving halfway up the east coast. So while disposables are more expensive in the long run, when you are counting every penny and doing the check to check thing for a while they tend to be the only choice.

Now that we have settled in, the size choice is easy. We are finally getting diapers a bit at a time. Two to start just to make sure we are happy with them, then we'll take the plunge and get two dozen as they are cheaper that way. Alex is now at the 15 lb point, so we're getting the Medium sized Perfect Fit diapers. They are supposed to last him from now until he hits 30 or so lbs. At that point we'll be trying to potty train, so we ended up with the less bulky diaper without having to buy two sizes. I've been using the two we have as his night time diapers, cuz it was go big or go home time. If they were awful overnight I don't know if I'd still be sold, but they've been great! I wash them every day so I'm looking forward to having two days worth. Alex doesn't seem mind the change. When I change him before his 6:00 am feeding the quiet nature of the snaps opposed to the sound of disposable tape ripping seems to allow him to stay in sleepy mode which is great for getting him back down for an hour or two after his feeding.

Best of all: he looks really cute in them :)

Friday, August 6, 2010

Tech Support

What the hell did I do before Facebook? I hate to admit that I'm so addicted, but I am. I don't use the games or the "villes" or anything of the sort. I use it for it's most basic function: Social Networking. When I first started using it, I only signed up as a favor to a friend. My dearest friend Nate gently chastised me for being behind the times in using My Space. So to keep from being a techno pariah, I signed up. What I didn't expect was the enormous number of connections I could make just by catching up with a few people. It was like when you play the old game minesweeper. You know how you hit just the right spot and the playing field blasts open with tons of options? That was exactly how it worked for me. And it was in a perfect reverse chronological order. First I connected with the current people around me. Co-workers, long time friends, family. From there, people started popping up one at a time from old jobs, then college, then high school. With each person who connected there were others that came with the deal. One college friend would have 5 others in their list that I hadn't seen in years, and it was a pattern that kept repeating itself.

As my friend list grew fat, my life took a few quick turns. First we moved to Winston Salem, NC for 6 months for my husband's new job. Wow, was THAT in the middle of no where. Don't get me wrong, it was absolutely beautiful... shades of green that were so fresh and untouched as to look like they were glowing. I also got the chance to take another glass working class with some really talented teachers. The best part of the time there was meeting my awesome friend Colleen (one of two Colleens who are some of my favorite people!) She has since moved to Charlotte, but we keep in touch through (you guessed it...) Facebook. From Winston, we moved to South Florida. I had lived in SoFla before years before and thought I'd like being back there. Once we arrived in Hallandale which is halfway between Miami and Fort Lauderdale, Dennis had to go to Orlando for what we thought would be 4 weeks. I was alone, jobless, lost and sad. Facebook helped a lot. I was more of an observer at that point, looking at pictures and laughing along with my friends in their daily status updates. I was playing World of Warcraft at that point too, which helped me keep up with a few specific friends in an avatar sort of way. Dennis' 4 weeks ended up being 3.5 months. I would drive out to see him and he would come home, but it was seriously rough. I ended up with a job as an admin assistant which I won't go into. If you can't say something nice.... The one great thing that came out of that job was my friend Kristi. How in the world we never met before this point is beyond me. I had to move to Florida to meet someone from Baltimore! Toward the end of my time at that job, I was a naughty girl and took internet breaks a little more often than I should. I signed single Kristi up for a free online dating site and shopped men for her. I spent A LOT of time checking out facebook, still playing the part of the voyeur. Fast forward through my next job at Lola's on Harrison (I love you guys!!!) to the thing that turned me from observer to full participator. One week after I got my dream job with Shipyard Brewing I went on a cruise for my year late honeymoon. And immediately got pregnant.

Why would this change things? Well, my closest family member with a baby at that point was my cousin Sandy, and her baby is 17. All of my "in person" friends either weren't at that point in their lives yet or allergic to babies. I needed help! Between the little pitfalls of pregnancy like the heartburn and sciatica to the big issues like a low lying placenta and the discovery that I have a Mitral Valve Prolapse. I had no idea what I was doing, had a million questions and very little help at hand. My family was awesome with advise and support, but I needed peer group help.

Enter the ladies that I consider my momma expert council: Donna Fox, Erica Short Berge http://lifebythehandful.blogspot.com/, Caitlin Callahan Robertson, Becky Marcoux, Katelyn Rosenburger (cousin extraordinaire!) and more recently Stephanie Mansueto and Kelly White Mix. Oh the questions I have thrown at these chics... True greatness comes from these friends, some of whom I hadn't seen in a looooong time. They've supported, encouraged, suggested, answered. And if they didn't have answer, they would either try to help me figure it out or would refer me to someone who did. In addition to these amazing women, I had two friends who were due about the same time I was. Emily Phipps who was great help as she had gone through everything already with her son Tyler, and Sarah Yarborough. Sarah saved my butt in many ways. Not only was she new to all of this like I was, but seemed to have a similar perspective and similar plans. I could ask her things and not feel like an idiot (not that the other ladies would ever have made me feel dumb) because she was going through mostly the same stuff.

The funny thing is, out of the entire group the two women who are the farthest away and that I knew the least in person have become very special to me. I went to high school with Erica and didn't really travel in the same circles. We knew each other and spoke here and there, but it wasn't until we reconnected through Facebook that we really started to become friends. She has a fun perspective on mommyhood, meets her challenges head on and maintains her faith and composure throughout. I met Stephanie for the first time at our friend Adam's birthday party. We were all pretty schnockered (this was pre-pregnancy) and there were soooo many people packed together that we really didn't get to talk much. I was curious about her though, especially since I found out later she was also pregnant and due a few months before me. I also worked with her boyfriend in the beer industry. Chris is a pretty cool dude and it stood to reason that his girlfriend would be super awesome as well. So I started reading her blog and found myself laughing about pickles and waistlines. I liked what I read and I really started to respect the person writing it. I'm just sad that I didn't really start commenting on her blog or emailing until I moved back north. It would have been really cool to get her son Cameron and Alex together. My consolation in this is that we are now the proud partners in an endeavor to create the perfect chocolate chip cookie. Of course we will both post the results in our blogs but if you want the real thing, you have to be present at bake-time...

To sum up, I just want to say "thank you" to all the above mentioned goddesses and all the moms, women and friends not mentioned. You have made my road a lot more smooth. You all have gorgeous, clever, fun children; which is a testament to your parenting and why you are my much treasured tech support.