How to make your teenagers happy, in three easy steps

Sunday, November 28, 2010

  1. Bake peanut butter cookies.
  1. Don’t be overly fond of peanut butter yourself, so you’re not muscling in on their supply.
  1. Don’t tell their father you’ve made cookies, so he isn’t muscling in on their supply.
If I had known making teenagers happy was this easy, I would have tried this recipe years ago.

It’s useful to know that a plate of peanut butter cookies can make your kitchen contractor happy, too.  If you find something that delights both your kids and the guy who is redoing your kitchen, then you've found the secret of life.

Work fueled by peanut butter cookies.
 Here’s the secret to your teenagers’ – and contractors’ – hearts.

Peanut Butter Crisscrosses
(from Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan)

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
pinch of nutmeg (I omitted this, as nutmeg makes one of my teenagers unhappy)
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
1 cup peanut butter
1 cup packed brown sugar
¾ cup sugar
2 eggs
1 ½ cups chopped peanuts
about ½ cup sugar, for rolling

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and nutmeg. 

In a separate bowl, beat the butter on medium speed for a minute or two.  Add the peanut butter and beat for another minute.  Add sugar and brown sugar, beating for two more minutes, then add the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition.  Add the dry ingredients, mixing only until just combined.  Mix in the chopped peanuts.

Pour the half cup of sugar into a small bowl.  Working with a level tablespoonful of dough for each cookie, roll the dough into balls and drop them into the sugar.  Roll to coat them in sugar, then place on baking sheets, leaving two inches between them.  Dip the tines of a fork in sugar and press the tines against each ball, first in one direction and then perpendicular, to leave a crisscross shape.

Bake for about twelve minutes.  Let them sit on the sheets for a minute before transferring them to cooling racks.

Thursday's Child: Casablanca

Thursday, November 25, 2010
The most perfect movie ever made is Casablanca.  That isn’t a statement of opinion, it’s a statement of fact.  Casablanca is the ultimate blend of romance, adventure and humour. Add a dash of self-sacrifice and you get a movie that you love more every time you watch it.

Visiting Morocco in 2007 was a dream come true, and not just because of the movie connection.  Names like “Marrakech” and “Casablanca” had beguiled me from the time I began perusing atlases and dreaming about where I’d travel next.  I could hardly believe that I would visit this magical country.

After our plane landed, we had one evening in Casablanca before we set off to explore the rest of Morocco.  There was never any doubt about what we’d do that evening.

Yes, there really is a Rick’s CafĂ©.  And we had dinner there.

Photo credit: The Usual Suspects SA/Rick's Cafe
“Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world …”

“Here’s looking at you, kids.” 

“You played it for her, you can play it for me.”

Photo credit: The Usual Suspects SA/Rick's Cafe
Rick: “I came to Casablanca for the waters.” 
Renault: “The waters? What waters?  We’re in the desert.” 
Rick: “I was misinformed.”

Photo credit: The Usual Suspects SA/Rick's Cafe

“I’m shocked, shocked, to find that gambling is going on here.”
I didn't actually see any gambling.  But I couldn’t miss posting my favourite Casablanca quote.

The Renovation

Sunday, November 21, 2010

I’ve been avoiding the topic.  I’ve been posting about cheerful things – The Sound of Music, my birthday, ballparks I’ve visited.  But now it’s time for me to share the bad news.

I’m about to embark on a kitchen reno.

Anyone who knows me will remember that for years I’ve said I’d never renovate my kitchen.  I hate the thought of losing it, even for a few weeks.  I would move first.

That was before our cold water supply pipe developed a leak while we were on holidays this summer, and deposited a small pool of water on our kitchen floor.  If we were fixing the ceiling and the floor, we’d might as well change the countertop, right?  And from there, new cabinets practically suggested themselves.

On Monday morning, I’m losing most of my cupboards and the oven.  I’m ahead a few recipes, so I’ll be posting those over the next few weeks.  If the reno goes longer than expected, I’ll have to find a dessert recipe I can make in my crock pot. 

In the meantime, a few photos from our reno:

Change we expected to see:

The floor has been removed to the cabinets.
The rest will come out when the cabinets do, on Monday!

Change we did not expect to see:
This was not the result of a recipe gone wrong.
If the drywall guy loses his balance and falls on your stovetop, this is approximately what will happen.  Luckily for him, when he fell I was not thickening the cherries for this recipe.

Knowing that this was my last weekend to bake for a while, I wanted to make something that I love.  I could have gone with a lot of recipes, but when I saw the cherries in my freezer my search was over.  I knew I’d be making cherry cobbler.

Depending on our summer schedule, I freeze as many different kinds of fruit as I can. But the one kind I always freeze is cherries.  It’s partly because I love them, and partly because it’s impossible to buy frozen cherries.  If I run out of strawberries or blueberries in February, I can pick them up at the grocery store.  But if I run out of cherries, I’ll be waiting until the following July.  And I’ll be freezing cherries again next summer – assuming I make it through this reno.

Cherry cobbler, posed decoratively on packing paper.
Do I know how to stage a photo?

Sour Cherry Cobbler
(adapted from

4 cups sour cherries, pitted
2 Tbsp cornstarch (if you’re using frozen cherries like me, you’ll need about 3 Tbsp)
2/3 cup sugar (first amount)
1/2 tsp almond extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp sugar (second amount)
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
6 Tbsp cold unsalted butter, cut into small bits

Combine the cherries, cornstarch, 2/3 cup of sugar and almond extract in a medium-sized pot.  Stir at medium heat until thickened.  Pour into a buttered 8” x 8” baking dish.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl stir together the flour, 2 Tbsp sugar, baking powder, salt and butter.  Add 1/3 cup boiling water, stirring until the batter is just combined.  Drop the batter by heaping tablespoons over the cherries and bake the cobbler in a preheated 350 degree over for 45 minutes, or until the top is golden.

Thursday's Child: The Sound of Music tour

Thursday, November 18, 2010
"Let's start at the very beginning,
A very good place to start."

Is there anyone who doesn’t love The Sound of Music?  When I was a kid, I remember sitting around the TV with my family watching it and singing along with the music.  We owned the official movie soundtrack, and my sister Gwen and I spent hours poring through the booklet that came with it, full of pictures from the movie and behind the scenes.  And on a family trip to Vermont when I was eleven, not only did we have dinner at the Trapp Family Lodge, we met the real-life Maria Von Trapp.  Gwen and I raced across the park to meet her, then stopped abruptly upon reaching her, speechless in the face of true celebrity.  She was gracious and kind enough to carry both parts of that conversation.

I've been lucky enough to take the Sound of Music tour in Austria twice in my life.  The first time was when I visited Salzburg in 1987 between stints at university.  (A special shout-out to Ruth and Jenn, both of whom I met on that trip.)

And we visited as a family in the summer of 2006.  By this time I had two daughters who loved the movie too (they'd been watching it since they were babies) and I had even converted Andrew into a super-fan.
The gazebo from Liesl and Rolf's "Sixteen going on Seventeen" scene.
The girls would like me to remind you that this picture was taken four
and a half years ago, and they are much older now.
The first thing we did when we arrived in Salzburg was sign up for the "Sound of Music tour".  And we visited all the major scenes from the movie:  the facade of the Von Trapp residence, the Do-Re-Mi bridge, the chapel where Maria and the captain got married.  We even enjoyed a plate of crisp apple strudel when we stopped for lunch.

Remember the gnome from Mirabell Garden in the Do-Re-Mi scene?
We had a lot of fun in Salzburg.  We visited the Mozart museum, took a funicular to the fortress overlooking the city, and caught a performance at the Salzburg festival.  But the high point was borrowing the movie from the front desk of our hotel, and watching it that evening, squealing with excitement when we recognized a place we'd been that day. And we sang just as loudly and earnestly as I did when I was ten years old, watching the movie with my parents and Gwen.

Unfortunately, interior scenes in the Von Trapp residence were
filmed in Hollywood, and so I was unable to photograph
my family in the "So Long, Farewell" pose.
Next week: another moment on a trip that was inspired by a movie!

Orange you glad it's my birthday?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

For my birthday a week and a half ago, I wanted to bake my own cake (of course).  But when it comes to desserts, I’m not really a cake person.  I toyed with the idea of baking a birthday Apple Pear Cherry Crisp, but in the end tradition won out.  And I found a gorgeous recipe for Orange Chocolate Chunk cake in Barefoot Contessa Parties.

Cleverly I decided that, rather than baking a regular size cake, I’d make half a recipe in a 6-cup bundt pan, avoiding the leftovers and the temptation that come with a full cake.

I hadn't baked a bundt cake before, so I was nervous about unmolding it.  After some research, I found a great technique for removing bundt cakes from the pan that worked perfectly. I’ve included it at the bottom of the recipe.

What I should have worried about, given that I was guessing at baking time, was whether the cake was actually done.  The girls were watching as I took it out of the oven.  Our “Oooh”s at seeing the perfectly formed cake pop out of the pan turned into “AAAAH!”s when the squishy insides started oozing their way out.  I propped the shell up with a few ramekins and stuffed it back into the oven so it could finish baking.  But, flattened and misshapen, it wasn’t camera-ready.  So I made the recipe again last week, thereby nullifying any benefits of making half a cake.

The great news is, I loved it!  It was so orange-y, every bite tasted like summer sunshine. I kept the same amount of orange glaze called for in the original recipe and it was just perfect.  Next time, I might even make it without the chocolate ganache.  The sweet orange cake studded with chunks of chocolate was so wonderful, it didn’t need an adornment at all. 

Orange Chocolate Chunk Cake
(adapted from Barefoot Contessa Parties)

1/2 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
zest of two oranges
1 1/2 cups flour, plus one tablespoon
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 Tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
6 Tablespoons buttermilk
1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup good semisweet chocolate chunks

For the syrup:
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice

For the ganache:
6 ounces semisweet chocolate
6 Tablespoons heavy cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and flour a 6 cup bundt pan.  Cream the butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer for about five minutes, or until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs, one at a time, then the orange zest.

Sift together 1 1/2 cups flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl.  In another bowl, combine the orange juice, buttermilk and vanilla.  Add the flour and buttermilk mixtures alternately in thirds to the creamed butter, beginning and ending with the flour  Toss the chocolate chunks with 1 Tbsp flour and add to the batter.  Pour into the pan, smooth the top, and bake for 40 to 50 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean.

While the cake is baking, make the syrup.  In a small saucepan over medium low heat, cook the sugar with the orange juice until the sugar dissolves.  Remove the cake from the pan as specified at the end of the recipe, set it on a rack over a tray, and spoon the orange syrup over the cake.  Allow it to cool completely.

For the ganache, melt the chocolate and cream in the top of a double boiler over simmering water until smooth and warm, stirring occasionally.  Drizzle over the top of the cake.

To remove bundt cake from the pan:

Just before the cake is done baking, place a folded towel in the sink and saturate it with steaming hot water.  When the cake comes out of the oven, set it on top of the towel, pan side down, and leave it for ten seconds.  Immediately invert the cake onto a cooling rack.  The cake will come out clean and whole without sticking.  Be careful because cakes are very delicate when hot and can break apart easily.  If it starts to break apart, leave it in its pan to cool for 20 minutes and try again.

Thursday's Child: Ballpark figures

Thursday, November 11, 2010
You may be surprised to hear that I was once a diehard baseball fan.  Between 1983 and 1994, little mattered more to me than major league baseball, and the Toronto Blue Jays in particular.  One of my university friends told me I acted as if the rest of the newspaper was protective covering for the sports section.  In fact, it was one of the reasons I started dating Andrew:  he knew more about baseball than anyone I’d ever met.

Many of our first dates were spent watching games at old Exhibition Stadium in Toronto.  We went to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, on our honeymoon, and posed for a photo in Blue Jays’ uniforms.  Yes, we were adults at the time.

I’ve been lucky enough to visit thirteen baseball parks, four alone on a west coast trip in our second year of marriage.  Here are some observations:

  1. The worst (and funniest) heckling I’ve ever heard was directed at an umpire by two nuns at Wrigley Field.  Sorry, I can’t repeat what they said – this is a G-rated blog.
  2. When we watched a game at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, the earth moved for me, mostly because we sat through a minor earthquake.
  3. The least attractive ballpark I’ve ever visited was the Kingdome.  I’m calling it “least attractive” rather than “ugliest” to avoid hurting the feelings of any northwestern U.S. fans reading this blog.  This domed concrete stadium was so dark, it may have actually inspired Samuel Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner.   (Don’t forget his woeful infielder who “stoppeth one in three”.) The citizens of Seattle must love Safeco Field – they certainly paid their dues waiting for it.
  4. The smallest crowd I ever saw was in the biggest stadium.  Andrew and I attended a double header in Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium on a blustery September day in 1990.  The capacity of the stadium was over 74,000; there were about 12 people there that day.  However, my dad had been a huge fan of the Indians and I was thrilled to visit their stadium.
  5. Best food I’ve ever eaten at a ball park?  Tradition dictates that I should choose Dodger dogs, although the chili we ate on a freezing night at Oakland Coliseum was terrific.
  6. I’ve been to each of the old and new Yankee Stadiums once, and sat through a rain delay both times.  What are the chances of that?
  7. I hate the Detroit Tigers so much, it’s impossible for me to admit how lovely Tiger Stadium was. 
  8. I’ve been to more games at the SkyDome (now Rogers Centre) in Toronto than I can count.  One of my favourites was the All-Star game in 1991, when I came this close to catching a foul ball hit by Cal Ripken.

Any other baseball fans (or former fans) out there?

Ethel Merman

Sunday, November 7, 2010

When I started this blog, I vowed that I’d only post recipes that I couldn’t do without.  Recipes that make me smile when I thought about them, and smile even more when I made them.  But I’ve had to revisit that plan on the basis of these cookies, and a softball team of thirteen-year old girls. 

Although I liked these cookies, I wouldn’t rank them among my favourites. But I can’t tell you how many of my daughter’s friends told me they love them, based on the batch I took to their final tournament.  One of the girls even asked for the recipe.

I prefer baked goods in which chocolate plays a supporting role.  Think Viola Davis in Doubt, or Patricia Clarkson in any role.  Not drawing attention to herself, but subtly making the whole project better by her presence.

However, I know some of you prefer chocolate in a no-holds-barred starring role.  Chocolate as Ethel Merman belting out “There’s no Business Like Show Business”.  These cookies are Ethel Merman, singing the words “Everything about me is appealing” at the tops of their lungs. 

Serve these cookies to anyone who loves chocolate, or to your favourite thirteen year old.

"Let's get on with the show!"
Chocolate Cookies ‘n’ Cream Cookies

2 cups all purpose flour
½ cup cocoa
½ tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp baking powder
1 cup butter, room temperature
¾ cup sugar
¾ cup brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
¾ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
¾ cup white chocolate chips
1 ¼ cups chopped Oreos

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. 

In a medium bowl, sift together flour, cocoa, salt, baking soda and baking powder.  In a larger bowl, cream together butter, white sugar and brown sugar.  Beat in eggs one at a time, followed by vanilla.  With the mixer on low speed or by hand, stir in the flour mixture, mixing just until no streaks of dry ingredients remain.  Stir in chocolate and crushed cookies until evenly distributed. 

Drop 1-inch balls of dough onto prepared baking sheet, allowing a little room for cookies to spread.  Bake for 9 – 11 minutes, until cookies are set at the edges.  Cool on baking sheet for two to three minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Thursday's Child: Trip moments inspired by the Beatles

Thursday, November 4, 2010
Photo used courtesy of Lighthouse Picnics
When we visited Newfoundland three years ago, one of our favourite experiences was a family picnic at The Lighthouse. (Note:  for my readers in Australia, Malaysia, and other distant locations, Newfoundland is the easternmost of our Canadian provinces.)

Located along the southeastern coast in the charmingly-named community of Ferryland, the lighthouse operated until the late 1970s, when it was abandoned and fell into disrepair. The current owners saw its potential, and fixed it up as a beautiful home base for serving their picnics.

Photo used courtesy of Lighthouse Picnics
When we arrived, we placed our order, choosing from a number of sandwiches served on homemade bread with tempting fillings.  We also ordered lemonade that was served in individual mason jars.  Once we decided on our food, the servers gave us a couple of blankets along with a flag.  We ventured onto the rocky hills beside the lighthouse and found a grassy spot on which we spread our tartan blankets.  We placed the flag beside us so the servers knew where to bring our lunch.  After we had eaten our wonderful picnic, we walked to the edge of the cliff and watched whales swimming in the ocean below. 

And the Beatles connection?  With our desserts of strawberry rhubarb fools, we indeed enjoyed “Fool on the Hill”.

This got me thinking: what other trip moments have we experienced that can be described by Beatles’ songs? Anytime I give Andrew road directions from the passenger seat, it’s “Nowhere Man” (and sometimes “The Long and Winding Road”).  And in France this summer, when I enjoyed a croissant every day for breakfast, it was difficult not to think, “I am The Walrus”. 

How about you?  Any trip moments – or life moments – best described by Lennon and McCartney?