Posts filed under ‘Cookies’
Inspiration has hit me again. Pretty hard. And this time I think it’ll be harder to shake.
I had some free time between classes, so I went to the store. For the first time in my life, I bought myself basic ingredients, starting with absolutely nothing. I tried to balance quality and price as I grabbed flour, sugar (white, brown, and powdered), vanilla, salt, butter, cream, and eggs… At the very last minute, standing in the check out line, I ran back to get baking powder and soda. Almost forgot.
When the total came up and I took out my wallet, I mentally calculated how many tables I’d have to wait to gain it back. Since when was baking such an expensive hobby?
This being-an-adult, shopping-for-your-own-groceries thing is tough. But I smiled the whole ride home.
As the week went on, the anticipation grew. I think this is what I discovered. When the only times you bake are for dinner with the neighbors, birthdays, holidays and paid orders, something is wrong. When you’re baking just because? Because you want to, because it’s Thursday, because there are four pounds of sugar under your bed? These reasons are happiness-generators, like fresh batches of Play Doh and abandoned fields of dandelions.
Faced with the freedom of no guidelines, I couldn’t decide whether to go crunchy or chewy, warm or chilled, chocolate-glazed or baked with fruit. On Saturday I was sure I would make a citrusy pound cake. Sunday I’d switched to some kind of breakfast scone, easy to share with the common room… By Tuesday I found myself wanting a few secret pots de creme in my mini-fridge, a midnight snack just for me.
Then, considering the mediocre fruit selection in the dining hall at lunchtime, it hit me. I took three ripe pears and looked up a recipe for clafouti. I packed all the ingredients and tools, plus a book and my camera. I lugged the ridiculously heavy bag down the street to the dorm building that has kitchens.
The kitchen was a bit of a letdown. There was no soap by the sink for dishes. The windows were blocked by buildings and didn’t let in any natural light, so no photographs. But I figured out how to work the oven, mixed the clafouti batter as best I could, and hoped for success. I sat down to read and discovered that, somewhere in Chapter 2, I could smell sugar.
I pulled the puffed, golden-brown custard out of the oven and experienced a more real satisfaction than I could have possibly imagined. My bones felt solid, my lungs felt full, and would you believe it, I felt starved. I washed the dishes and repacked the bag in a dream, and as I turned to leave, I grabbed the still-hot pan without thinking. My hand automatically opened and the clafouti splattered like vanilla-infused ink. The metal pan clattered against the linoleum and I thought it would never stop ringing in my ears and in the corners of the empty kitchen.
Empty-handed, without photos or a taste. Bitterness started to settle like steeping tea.
But then, in spite of myself, I laughed. No regrets, no tears. Because, let’s be real, it was a pretty stupid move on my part, but it didn’t take away any of the pleasure I got from the baking process. Blog post or not, for one afternoon, I felt unfiltered elation. Maybe there was a lesson in the unsalvageable clafouti – the joy comes from the process, not from being recognized as the “baking blogger” or from eating a lot of cream.
Instead, I’m sharing these Peanut Butter Pretzel bites with you. They’re easy enough to make from a dorm. Creamy peanut butter, sugar, and vanilla combine in a rich and addictive filling. Sandwiched between two crisp, salty pretzels and dunked in bittersweet chocolate, you end up with an incredible party snack that vanishes fast.
No mixer required. No fiddling with foreign ovens. You can even melt the chocolate in the microwave (which I did.) The result is a delicious, one bite contradiction of creamy and crunchy, sweet and salty, peanutty and chocolatey.
I knew right away they wouldn’t survive the weekend, but that’s okay. I’ve still got 3 ½ pounds of sugar under my bed. That’s reason enough for me.
This morning I woke up with an inexplicable craving for bubble tea.
Instead I ate a bowl of cereal and made it to class barely on time. I took notes, asked questions, and when I walked out the door, it felt like October instead of mid February. The temperature flirted with the low 40s. Cause for celebration! I wore a flowery skirt, smiled at strangers, and I still wanted bubble tea.
I didn’t even drop off my bags. I walked straight from the classroom, down the street into Boston’s Chinatown, knowing exactly what I was looking for.
A few weeks before Halloween, when I was still in the process of making friends in a big new world, my floormate M- and I decided to get lunch. We’re both half Asian, and we both missed Chinese food, so we headed into Chinatown together.
Chinatown is squeezed between Downtown Crossing and the South End. It’s small, but dense, stuffed with grocery stores, jewelry shops, and narrow brick alleyways. Heaps of snow stay frozen solid in the shadows of tall buildings pressed close together. Cars honk. The edges of sidewalks are congested with scraps of packaging and cigarette butts, and you can’t see what’s around the corner until you actually turn, but what can I say? I love Chinatowns. They’ve got a character you can’t quite capture anywhere else.
M- and I didn’t know where to get good food, so we explored until we found a tiny but promising café. There were no tables, just a laminated menu taped to a counter and a long line. We ordered rice, barbeque chicken, pork buns, and why not – two coconut bubble teas.
The food was good, but the bubble tea was the star of the meal. Thick and fragrant, it used coconut cream, not powder. Every sip tasted tropical and real – like a spoon scraped against the white walls of a split coconut – as opposed to the suntan lotion taste of most imitations. It was good enough to remember months later.
I could recall the bubble tea fairly well, but I had no idea how to get there. I wandered into Chinatown and made lefts and rights at random, ending up on crooked side streets lined with shops like uneven teeth. Just when I was about to give up, I recognized the sign, innocently tucked between a row of restaurant windows. I ran through a puddle of melted snow and across the empty street, yanked open the door and bought myself a bubble tea.
It didn’t even survive the trip home. Not a big surprise, considering I got lost on the way back. I’ll have to adventure into Chinatown walkabout-style every time I want to rediscover this bubble tea, but I think it’s a worthwhile experience.
Back when I worked at Seastar Restaurant, with chefs all around me baking chocolate molten cakes and slow-cooking cedar plank salmon, coconut was my favorite smell in the entire restaurant. We’d spread flakes of coconut on a baking sheet and toast them, later to be sprinkled over the white chocolate coconut cream pie. After mere minutes in the oven, the most seductive smell wafted down the line. No matter what I was doing, I’d start to work in a daze, dreaming of paradise.
I can’t understand when people say they hate coconut. I can, however, see why some people don’t like coconut macaroons. Too often they’re over-the-top sweet and gluey.
But when you find a good macaroon you get something special. The cookie is light and chewy, with toasty crisp edges. The coconut flavor is pure, not masked by sugar. A dip in dark chocolate adds richness without cloying sweetness. It’s dynamite. How could you not want more?
[Writing, baking, photographing. Blogging. Waitressing. Radio-ing. A second job with the admissions office at my school. Homework. ...Sleep? I don't know how I managed to make second semester even busier than my first, but I'm really trying. Thanks for sticking through with me!]
I’ve missed this. I’m sitting on a Greyhound bus, long after sundown, and all I can hear is the quiet murmurings of other passengers and the soft clicks as I tap my keys. For the holidays, I’m heading to New York City, and then Pennsylvania, where my uncle and aunt and cousin live. It’s the first time in weeks I’ve had some quiet time to myself, without an assignment or shift or appointment. I’ve missed being able to sit alone with my thoughts and write.
Classes ended this afternoon, and it was unusually quiet on the floor today. Everyone was packing up, unplugging their lamps and emptying their fridges, stopping at every room down the hallway to say goodbye. We’re spreading out from California to Maine, retreating back to where we came from. It’s Thanksgiving break, and even though I’m not flying back to Seattle, it’s got me thinking about home.
I haven’t been in a bus or car in a long time. Back home I used to love, love, love driving alone at night – the way every turn of the car feels smooth and controlled, the open silence on the road, and the glittering pairs of lights in every direction, like cat eyes. Right now, in the dark, it’s easy to imagine I’m in Seattle. I look out the window and realize we’re on I-90, and that if we just kept driving west on this freeway until we hit the opposite coast, I’d be back.
It’s not that I’m homesick, because I’m truly not. There’s a soft spot in my heart for Seattle, but at the same time, home is in people, not places. Home is my mom, drinking jasmine tea on our patio. It’s my dad, who’s flying to Pennsylvania for Thanksgiving. And it’s the people on my floor. I can feel myself falling for the incredible people I’ve met here, and as everyone moves out, I can feel bits of my home scattering across the country. I’m reluctant to leave them, even for a week.
But I see the details of my old life everywhere. It’s begun to rain in Boston, a damp downpour that feels like hot breath on your neck. It makes me think of how green the air smelled and how dark the pavement became in Seattle. Sometimes, in line at Starbucks, I forget where I am. Then I step outside and suddenly realize I’m far away… watching the trees exhale burnt orange and crimson, the kind of seasonal change I always said I wanted to experience.
The other night at the restaurant, I decided to make small talk with one of my tables. They said they were just visiting Boston, and that they’d flown in from – Seattle. We talked a little longer and discovered that we live in the same region. In fact, their daughter goes to my old middle school, is in my gifted program, and is learning from my old teachers. I’d have never known, if they hadn’t sat at this restaurant, at this time, in my section.
I’m excited to spend time with my family, especially since I don’t frequently see my relatives on the east coast. I can’t begin to describe how excited I am to eat some real food. My college has been hosting Thanksgiving themed dinners, and somehow their canned cranberry jelly and paper-dry turkeys don’t do my favorite holiday justice.
And I’m ecstatic about getting some baking done.
Even though I have all my tools and supplies, and even an oven if I walk to another dorm, I haven’t had time to buy ingredients or spend time in a kitchen. It’s strange that people here are getting to know me without baking being a huge factor in my life. Maybe at the end of this weekend, I can bring a box of sweets back to my floor.
I’m thinking whoopie pies. I’ve met plenty of New Englanders here who are dead serious about the whoopie pie. Every time I hear someone get defensive about the dessert’s origin or characteristics, I can’t help but smile.
There aren’t a lot of whoopie pies on the west coast. Plenty of people don’t know what they are – just two soft cake-like cookies with some sort of filling sandwiched in between. While I’ve never had a “real” whoopie pie, I can tell you that these ones taste pretty incredible. Especially after a chill in the fridge, with a tall glass of cool milk, a scattering of crisp leaves at your feet and a friend at your side.
I made these pumpkin whoopie pies with chocolate cream cheese filling before I left for college, and they strike such a great balance of richness and spice. The pumpkin cookies are soft and tender, dense, dark with spices, like autumn in your mouth. As for the chocolate, I just can’t get enough, and the cream cheese filling adds a bittersweet tang to complement the cookie.
If I make these again this week, it’ll probably remind me like crazy of Seattle. I’m not sure yet if that’s a good or bad thing. Whatever the case, it’ll cheer up my floormates, and bring a little bit of one home to another.
Yesterday, for the briefest moments, it started to feel like June for the first time.
It’s the last weekend before I’m done with high school classes forever, but rain has drizzled coolly for the past week. The temperature has dipped into the fifties, the wind has blown pine needles all over our damp cement patio, and the moss is drenched with icy water that seeps into your socks. It’s June, and I’ve worn my red rubber rain boots to school twice.
But yesterday the sun was bright enough to warm up our garden bench, nestled between the spindly apple tree and the velvet plum-purple irises. The sky was the kind of blue that makes you crazy – “turn up the radio” blue, “now pull over and dance” blue. Thin clouds stretched out like ferns, and it made you see the sky’s overwhelming vastness, a rarity in hilly Seattle.
On paper, my Saturday certainly wasn’t memorable. I woke up and drove to a friend’s house to work on our environmental science project. Then I drove home, had lunch, took some photos, and lounged outside all day. Somehow, though, it was one of the most perfect days I’ve had in a long time.
I drove home with music swirling inside the car like a snow globe of sound. I even honked at a cute boy on the sidewalk, and he winked at me as the light turned green. At home, my parents were working on the yard. My dad was up on the ladder, trimming the trees that tower throughout our backyard. My mom brushed up leaves and debris – under her watch, the yard is cleaner than my bedroom. I settled onto the bench and tried to write this post.
But it was so hard to be with a computer screen. I thought about everything but the checkerboard cookies. Like the lunch we’d had. Mom had made avocado and sundried tomato egg rolls, creamy and chewy and crisp. Dad came up with a cool Sriracha dipping sauce. I made a strawberry salad with home-grown chocolate-mint, lemon, and dark chocolate shavings. It’s a meal I’ll remember someday in college when I’m longing for home, with nothing to eat but a bruised apple.
I almost began to write something for 17 and Baking, but then the laptop died. And I could have moved inside, plugged it in, and typed it up at the dinner room table. But I closed the screen and pulled out my macro lens instead. I photographed the spidery veins of leaves, the peachy curve of a lily, and the tattoo of woodpecker drills circling up a tree. I stayed outside with my skin as sun-warmed as our garden bench until twilight fell.
This morning I woke up to the sound of splashing raindrops on our roof. I poured myself some cereal and looked outside – our stone path was dark mahogany and black, in the way that wet rock always looks richer. All of our plants were slick and alive. They stood up taller, leaves fanned out and saturated with color, quenched. When I opened the door and took a quick walk outside, it smelled green. Somehow, the rain didn’t seem so bad.
Now I’m bundled in a fleece blanket, curled on the rocking chair, typing this. It’s been too long since my last post, I know. But there is too much beauty in my life right now, in my family, in the garden, even in the moments of silence. These are the times I don’t want to forget, down to the last drop. Even now, though the sky is like white paint and the house is cold as a carton of milk, life is perfect. I didn’t do much this weekend, but the little things are making it extraordinary. The little things are essential to remember.
I’ve made these checkerboard cookies a total of four times – they’re that good. The first time I made them, the checkerboard pattern wasn’t quite even, but the taste! Buttery, a little crisp, a little chewy, and an indescribable flavor that came together like magic. I photographed the cookies, but I didn’t like them. I made them again a month later, but the texture wasn’t right. I’d somehow messed up. A third time, and they were still off. I’d messed up somewhere, and the wheels didn’t all align.
But today, all the little things came together. My butter was at just the right temperature, soft enough to yield to a fingertip but cold enough to keep its shape. I used a ruler to form the checkerboard pattern and though it isn’t perfect, I almost like the imperfection. And the photographs? The lighting was off the first three times. Yesterday I used the dragonfly-wing light on our kitchen counter and it was just right.
It’s rare for me to make a recipe multiple times, but I know I’ll make these cookies again before summer finishes. As simple as they are, they’re unforgettable.
[PS: I know it's been a while since my last post. The last week of school, and it's catching up to me with finals and projects. Won't happen again over the summer!
Also, since I'm getting a lot of questions about it, I wanted to talk about college. Unfortunately, I can't reveal which school I'm going to (at least at this time.) It's simply an issue of privacy. Here's what I can say, though - it's a great school for communications in BOSTON! and I'll study to become a print journalist and writer, just like I always dreamed. In August, I'll move into my dorm and 17 and Baking will continue like always, from the City on a Hill. I'm starting to miss Seattle already, but I can barely contain my excitement about this next big step in my life. Thanks for sticking with me!]