Posts tagged ‘salty’

Soft Whole Wheat Peanut Butter Cookies (vegan)

Mmmm...

My dad picked me up at the Seattle airport when I flew home for winter break. Throughout the semester I’d grown used to the unfamiliar – a different hostel every weekend, foreign customs, menus I couldn’t read. Seeing my dad’s face and falling into a bear hug made everything else disappear, like I’d never left home at all.

I breathed in the chilly air and looked out at the silhouettes of pine trees. Dad unlocked the car and I threw in my bags, a little white carry-on and the replacement backpack I bought in Rome. He raised his eyebrows as I slammed the trunk shut.

“Only two bags?”

“Dad, I’m only home for a month,” I said, rolling my eyes.

I didn’t understand the strange look that passed over his face. He’d later tell me that was the moment he knew I’d come back different, even though I didn’t see it then. How much can a person change in three months, anyway?

Baking sheet

But now that I’m back on campus in Boston, little things are different. Last year I didn’t just love living in the freshman dorm with a roommate – I needed that sense of community so I wouldn’t feel lonely, so I’d feel a connection with people. But I think I left Europe with something else entirely. These days I’m living in a single, and I’ve finally learned that living alone isn’t the same thing as being alone.

My parents are living alone. I worried about my mom when I saw her over winter break – she was eating really simple meals and bundling up instead of turning on the heat. For the first time in my life, I wanted to take care of my family, instead of just relying on them to take care of me. And I found that the littlest things in the world made her happy.

Like grocery shopping. My mom and I opened our eating horizons this winter. No more instant noodles and steamed spinach. And while I can’t wait for summer produce – delicate asparagus and heavy, thirst-quenching peaches – the winter has a lot to offer. We discovered cara oranges, faint pink and tangy. Pomegranates cracked into a thousand faceted rubies and acorn squash caramelized in the oven, its skin curling like parchment.

Chilled dough

By January, my mom was back in the kitchen. She baked bread for the first time in months. The juicer returned to our kitchen counter (my favorite is apple-carrot, heavy on the carrot.) One afternoon she bought a strange fungus from a Chinese grocery store, learned how to cook it, and introduced it to our table for the first time.

Then she said, “I want a signature dessert so I can bake when you’re not here.” This coming from the woman who once told me my buttercream frosting tasted like cavities.

Then I remembered these amazing peanut butter cookies. They’re naturally vegan – no eggs, butter, or milk – and use whole wheat flour. Plus, the recipe swaps canola oil for olive oil and refined white sugar for maple syrup. The dough comes together in one bowl, and the cookies are as simple as preheating the oven and owning a teaspoon.

The first time I made them, I brought an oven-fresh cookie to my mom. She examined it from top to bottom, took a hearty sniff, and finally tried the tiniest bite. Fifteen minutes later, we’d consumed nearly half of the cooling cookies, and agreed that they were far too dangerous for their own good.

Soft Whole Wheat PB Cookies

We made these cookies together. I showed her my favorite way to scoop flour (fluffed with a spoon, leveled with a knife) and the best way to avoid over-mixing. She rolled teaspoons of dough into balls, flattened them with a fork, and sprinkled salt and sugar over each batch. All I did was taste test.

My mom makes these cookies for holidays, for dinner parties, for friends. She even baked six dozen of these gems for a cookie swap at work. When people asked if I’d made them, she got to smile and say, “These ones are actually mine.”

When winter break ended and I flew back to Boston, there were still four jars of peanut butter and three pitchers of maple syrup chilling in the fridge. And by the time I’m home again, asparagus and peaches and all my favorite summer produce will be in season, but there won’t be anything I look forward to more than a peanut butter cookie.

[Also - if you're reading this before 1/22/12, I'm going to be a guest tonight on Olivia Wilder Talk Radio! Click here for more info and the number to talk to me on air.]

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January 22, 2012 at 4:34 pm 87 comments

Peanut Butter Pretzel Bites (dipped in chocolate!)

Peanut Butter Pretzel Bites (dipped in chocolate)

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.

Peanut Butter Pretzel Bites

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.

Peanut Butter

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.

Peanut Butter Pretzel Bites

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.

Peanut Butter Pretzel Bites (dipped in chocolate)

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.

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March 25, 2011 at 12:07 am 132 comments

Crackly Crackers

cracker1

I spent my last day in Seattle with my parents. We woke up early and got pancakes at one of our favorite dives, a run-down little restaurant near the airport. I spent the afternoon at home with Dad and the dogs, looking through old photo albums. We shared some good sushi for an early lunch, and ice cream sundaes for dessert. Even though sleet fell and dirty puddles collected, damp leaves sticking to our soles, I couldn’t have felt happier about my last afternoon.

At home after dinner, I watched my mom boil water for tea, facing away from me. I sat at the table and checked my email as she talked, only half listening. She stopped mid-sentence, and I finally noticed that she’d been crying – so quiet I hadn’t heard from three feet away.

She left the kitchen and I heard the closet open down the hall. She came back with a white cloth napkin with sky blue trim. “Recognize this?”

The last time I saw my parents before winter break was in Boston, a few days before classes started. We had dinner at a fancy seafood restaurant in the North End, a light meal before I left in near tears and caught the next train to my dorms. We didn’t say goodbye for very long because I didn’t want my parents to see I was upset.

cracker3

“After you walked out, I started crying,” my mom said. I unfolded the napkin and turned it around in my hands. It was so neatly folded and wrinkle-free that it looked new.

“Your father and I left soon after you. We walked down the street and he gave me the napkin – he stole it from the restaurant. He said he thought I might need it.”

And here it was now, a seeming lifetime later, in our chipped little kitchen.

“We walked a little further and went into some of the stores. Your dad, he picked up this jar of something and said ‘Oh – Elissa would really like this.’ He just kept looking at it and finally he bought it. He said, ‘We should give it to her.’”

“The fig spread?”

cracker5

I remembered this. I thought I’d said goodbye to my parents for the last time, but later that night, my dad stopped by the lobby of my dorm. He had a box of water crackers, a thick wedge of creamy brie, and a small glass jar of an incredible fig jam. It was the last real quality food I had before I settled into my routine of café sandwiches and dining hall chicken fingers. It was the last little bit that felt like Seattle as I settled into Boston.

The first week of school, I passed it around the common room and shared it with my floor. Nobody had eaten anything like that fig spread before, and I saw people right, left and center falling in love. Between my roommate E- and I, the jam lasted a few weeks. When it was gone, I washed out the jar and set it on the windowsill. That’s where it is now, catching the fleeting light that filters into my room.

When it was gone, I craved more, but I wasn’t about to buy more on my college student budget. One afternoon E- came into the room with a grocery bag. She pulled out a package of crackers. “I keep thinking about that fig spread,” she admitted. With or without it, the crackers satisfied us, and now our room is always stocked with a box or two.

cracker2 (Left to right: Parmesan Cheese Crackers, Orange Sugar & Spice Crackers, Lime Thyme Crackers)

Mom was smiling now. “After the hard time your dad gave me about being upset, he was the one buying stuff for you half an hour later. He said we should go to Whole Foods and get something to go with the jam. I thought he was being ridiculous but he was so stubborn about the idea.”

They didn’t know where Whole Foods was, but they took a train and managed to find it. I can picture Dad walking up and down the cheese aisle, like he used to when we shopped together, looking for the particular brie I’m so smitten with. I imagine him looking at shelves and shelves of crackers, deciding which box would go best with the spread.

As I thought about all the work behind that simple gesture, a paper bag with a last-minute snack, I started to feel sad for the first time about winter break ending. I gave my mom a long hug and told her not to cry. I folded up the napkin, following the creases, and handed it to her.

“Hang onto this. I’m serious. Keep this forever, okay?”

“Okay.” She paused, and then smiled. “I’ll use it at your graduation.”

cracker4

She put the napkin back in the linen closet, Dad came and sat down, and the two of them talked at the dinner table as I finished packing.

Boston, here I come.

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January 16, 2011 at 1:23 am 64 comments

Bacon + Chocolate = World Peace?

When I was in 5th grade, my class went on an overnight trip to a pioneer farm. We took a tour of the farm, learned about the equipment and tools, and slept that evening in a real pioneer cabin. The next morning after breakfast, we were given our authentic pioneer chores. Mine was cleaning up after the farm’s pig, Susan Bacon Anthony. I was not amused.

While some of my friends pressed apples into cider, and other classmates tried out the tools at the blacksmith house, I trudged through the mud towards the barn. Susan Bacon Anthony was a huge pig, bright pink and vivacious. My mood lightened considerably even as I raked out her pen, and by the end of the morning, I was in love. I considered the possibilities of owning a pet pig.

By the time my parents arrived to pick me up, I had an announcement to make – I was becoming a vegetarian so that I never had to eat a Susan Bacon Anthony, or any of her friends, ever again.

My parents seemed complacent enough throughout the drive home. When they started on breakfast, though, my dad asked casually, “This means no bacon for you, right?”

As a child I was passionate about bacon. I couldn’t get enough of its smokiness, its crisp and chewy texture, its salty goodness. But at ten years old I stood my ground and agreed – no bacon. I told myself it was a sacrifice I’d have to make, and I pictured Susan Bacon Anthony’s corkscrew tail and thin, floppy ears.

As the pan sizzled and the house filled with the smell of bacon, I ended up going outside. I clutched a glass of orange juice and sipped it fervently, trying not to give in. Ten minutes into our breakfast, I caved, and took a piece of bacon from the center plate. We all knew the two hour vegetarianism had only been a half-hearted attempt at best, and I haven’t tried to play the vegetarian card since.

I’m not fooling anybody.

When faced with bacon brownies, I think many people are divided. Some might have seen the unusual combination of bacon and chocolate before in fancy restaurants or among foodie circles. But more commonly, I think most people think the idea of bacon and chocolate together sounds disgusting. You are not alone, but you might want to give it a fair chance.

My friend M- is very conservative about food. Once, when I was just starting to bake, I brought a cake with me to a friend’s house. We had cut the cake, transferred the slices to plates, and passed around the forks. My friends had the first bite halfway to their mouths when M- casually asked, “So what is this exactly?”

I answered truthfully and replied, “It’s a chocolate cake with a chocolate-sour cream frosting.” I looked up and saw that M- had put his fork right back down onto the plate, and my other friends followed his lead. “Sour cream?” He just couldn’t wrap his mind around sour cream in dessert, despite my protests, and not a single bite of the cake was even tried. Frustrated, I had to transfer all the slices back to the cake carrier and bring the untouched cake home.

The following day, I made a sour cream banana pound cake with sour cream frosting and brought it to my friends. With an entire cup of sour cream in the cake alone, they were truly about to eat their words. When the cake was fully consumed, M- having had his second slice, I told them the truth. Sour cream is delicious, and you’d like it if you gave it a chance.

After I made these brownies, M- happened to stop by. Since I began baking he’s become more adventurous, and he agreed to try one of the brownies even though he was repulsed by the combination of bacon and chocolate. He accepted the piece, examined it carefully, and then took a small bite. He proclaimed it “pretty good.”

Chocolate and bacon actually make a natural combination. The brownies are dense and fudgy, and the crumbled bits of bacon add a bit of texture and a hint of smokiness. In the same way that coffee provides a solid foundation for chocolate, bacon adds something special and elevates a simple brownie to something more.

And I can’t help but think that if maybe everyone gave Bacon Brownies a chance, we could all stand together on something, despite our differences. Bacon and chocolate = world peace.

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December 29, 2009 at 1:47 pm 56 comments

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Elissa Bernstein



I'm Elissa: a 17 (now 21) year old baker in Seattle Boston juggling creative nonfiction workshops, subway maps, and my passions for writing, baking, and photography. Photo above © Michelle Moore

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