Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Tennis, Hugh Jackman, and all the Rest.

...about Hugh Jackman.

Oh no, it's only one day until....shhhhh....don't say it out loud....T-E-N-N-I-S. Hold me.

Let's talk about something else.

So what did you all think of the Oscars? I didn't watch much of them, because I can't stay up that late, but I did notice that two of my favorite Hollywood moms, Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Garner, looked absolutely flawless. Didn't they look elegant, gorgeous, calm, cool, and collected? Reese and Jen, you are giving moms of young children a good name, sistahs! Wow. Love them.

Beyond that, I was so sad that Hugh Jackman didn't win Best Actor. How can anyone deny Hugh Jackman anything? He's like the perfect man. Have you ever read any interviews with him or articles about his personal life? Not only is he adorable and handsome and totally buff, but he adores his kidlets in the sweetest way, and you can really tell that family is everything to him. Also, much like Mark Wahlberg, he often states that his wife's job as a mom is harder and more important work than anything he could ever do (I may be paraphrasing here), so....he's pretty much 100% crush-worthy. Although I go on record to say I really, really want him to shave off his beard. Hugh! Truly.

Of course that's not why I wanted him to win Best Actor. I got off on a tangent there. Ahem.

You can tell it's a slow news day (week) around here. Basically, it's the end February, which in my book always ALWAYS means the slow march of drear and dread that is late winter in Minnesota. No matter how well the winter has gone previous, by the end of February and all through March I typically hate everyone and everything. There are occasional, fleeting exceptions of course. But mostly, despite my lightbox, this time of year makes me want to scream and run away. Carrying my stash of cookies under one arm.

On a positive note, I will say (very quietly so as not to jinx myself and invoke the irrational wrath of the universe) that this is the healthiest winter I can remember in YEARS. I haven't been even a little bit sick since Christmas, and that is truly a miracle for me--a mom with two children in (germ-infested) school all day, who also regularly volunteers at said (germ-infested) school. Now, pretend you didn't hear that, while I'm over here furiously knocking on wood.

What about you, dears? What's going on with you these days?

Friday, February 22, 2013

Game Set Match

seen all over the internet lately


Last evening after dinner, my girls started a little YMCA beginning tennis class for children ages 6 to 9. It was rough.

Both daughters cried. It was quite a weep-fest, actually. None of the other children were crying. In fact, everyone else appeared to be having fun. None of them knew anything about tennis, either; everyone was just running around being clueless, waving racquets and bouncing balls. My daughters wanted nothing to do with this experience.

Eventually both girls participated in the 45-minute class, but Vivi only when Christopher did the class with her. Yes, my poor husband had to go out on the floor, towering above the 6- to 9-year-olds, and do tennis drills with Genevieve. Otherwise she refused to approach the action. There was still quite a bit of crying and scowling.

The crazy thing is, once the girls got going doing drills in small groups with a teacher, they did pretty well. Like, they were doing far better than I would have done if I were out there trying to hit tennis balls. Their racquets were actually making contact with the ball the teacher was tossing in their direction. And yet, this didn't seem to help. Neither child cracked a smile the entire time, and on the way home and all the way to bed, both informed us over and over again that tennis class was "torture," that they didn't have even one minute of fun, that they hated it more than anything they've ever done, and, in the case of Genevieve, that she is "never picking up a tennis racquet ever again" as long as she lives. This in spite of bribery with candy.

I am afraid I have passed on my childhood gene for Intense Anxiety When Starting Something New. (This gene seems to become muted in adulthood, thank goodness.) The evidence has been clear since my children's toddlerhoods. (Remember swimming? And soccer? And preschool? And drop-off birthday parties? And playdates? And being left with a babysitter?) Had I been forced to take tennis as a child, I would have cried, too. However, I also may have ended up slightly less uncoordinated and un-athletic than I did, because maybe I would have learned a little bit about sports.

Speaking of sports, parenting is an endurance one, remember?

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Writing Material

I was just talking with a fellow mom/blogger friend the other day about how sometimes you feel like your material has dried up--for the time being anyway. My days are full of parenting moments and the unlikely adventures of stay-at-home motherhood to children who aren't home all day anymore, but those moments rarely seem interesting enough to write about. Perhaps I'm wrong. I still have a second book idea inside of me, but so far that's where it's stayed. In the meantime, for those of you who care (hi, Mom!), here are a few things going on with me these days:

I'm officially tired of winter. It hasn't been a challenging year, mood-wise; I've actually enjoyed winter just fine this time around. But we're currently struggling through yet another super-sub-zero spell, our driveway and front walk are still a treacherous sheet of ice, and it's just getting old. A snowstorm is predicted for tomorrow night into Friday, and while the kids would love more snow to play in or--even better!--a snow day, snowstorms are getting a little old too. It's almost March. It's time for the weather to be easier to deal with.

I'm still running in circles around the track. For the most part I still like it. I'm still completely surprised by this. I love not having to dress for the weather or be miserably cold for the first half mile of my runs. Awesome! Almost all my runs these days are great; then occasionally there will be one that's super hard, even though my mileage is the same as always. Sometimes I struggle through; sometimes I bail after a short run and call it a day. As all runners know, along with the great runs come the not-so-great ones. They are often a mystery. Thankfully, the bad runs are rarer than they've ever been in my running life, probably because I do a lot of strength training too, and when you've got strong muscles, running is easier.

I'm now involved with two kids' book clubs: one for each daughter. For Genevieve, I volunteer-lead a first grade advanced-reader group that meets once a week at school. Those little six- and seven-year-olds are so enthusiastic, I just love it. With Julia, I'm in a mother-daughter book club for third grade girls and their moms, organized by my friend Kathy and meeting for the first time this coming weekend. We are reading The Thirteenth Princess right now, and speaking of that, I'd better get a move on, because I've got several chapters yet to go! This group will meet once a month, alternating houses and book choices. I'm excited to have something special to do with my eight-year-old. As Kathy says, it won't be long before our older girls won't be as interested in hanging out with and talking to their moms anymore. So we'd better grab the opportunity to have quality time with these fast-growing girls while we can.

And, just for fun, a list of my current random obsessions, some of which are new and some of which are not necessarily: the ABC drama "Nashville," Jillian Michaels' Killer Buns and Thighs (wow, hard), this hair tool, "The Chew," pumpkin muffins, Hershey's Kisses, spending less, my super-stylish Momastery top (a birthday gift), Burt's Bees grapefruit lip balm, running in circles, Junket (or is that my kids' obsession?), Warby Parker eyeglasses (I owe you a photo of my new specs), the "Glee" cast version of "The Scientist," this running blog, vegetarian spin-offs of old-school comfort food dinners, homemade buttercream icing, my super-warm bright pink parka, Brooks Adrenaline ASR trail running shoes, homemade cards from my daughters, reading in bed, and Diet Cherry Coke.

Have a most wonderful rest of your week, stay warm, and hang in.



Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Food for Thought

For Valentine's Day, Genevieve made this picture/poster/card among the many other tokens of love she gave to Christopher and me. I taped it to the inside of our door so it's the last thing we see when we leave the house each morning.



After Valentine's Day, I decided to leave it up indefinitely. Wouldn't you?

Monday, February 18, 2013

Success.


image courtesy amazon.com

Very early on Saturday morning, shortly after dawn in fact, my husband left (in our only vehicle) for an all-day bike race in the snow (I know: pure insanity) in the woods a couple of hours from where we live, returning after the girls' dinner that evening. It was very cold on Saturday, so playing outside wasn't a great option for the kiddos that day. And without a car, we couldn't kill time by going to the library or the grocery store.

I pulled off a day of multiple kid activities for and with my daughters, including baking bread, painting with a dish soap-water-food coloring mixture, making pretend cookies out of homemade Gingerbread Play-Doh, doing two kids' workout videos, and watching a movie--in addition to the required weekend tasks like completing homework and doing a few chores. My mom said, "Why do you have to be a preschool teacher all the time? Why can't you all just be?" And I was like, "It has been many years since you spent 11 hours stuck indoors on a winter day with six- and eight-year-old children whose favorite activity when they're bored is to fight like rabid baby honey badgers, hasn't it?"

Also: 11 hours, people. If you think that list of activities above took up the entire day, you haven't spent much time with small children lately. Believe me, we had plenty of time to just "be." But since my slate of planned activities was 100% successful in helping me meet my stated aim of preventing all meltdowns, tantrums, and sibling fights (holla! major mama success, people!), I feel compelled to share a small fraction of them with you. In case you find yourself alone at home on a frigid winter day with two young children anytime soon.

Dish Soap Painting:
This was an idea that came home from school with Julia from a classmate's mom. It was supposed to be for making art by blowing bubbles through a straw onto paper. However, since the note didn't include proportions, we couldn't get that to work. But it didn't matter; I mixed up a hefty squirt of dish soap, added enough water for it to get liquidy, dyed it with food coloring (I made four separate bowls with four different colors and a separate paintbrush for each), and the girls made a ton of watercolor-type paintings with it.

Below is the bread recipe we made. This recipe is from Quick Vegetarian Pleasures, by Jeanne Lemlin, only I omitted the caraway seeds (yuck). It is easy, super nutritious, and despite any misgivings you may have (whole-wheat flour, no sugar, etc.), it is moist, delicious, and my kids gobble it up. It's great plain, but even better with butter or cream cheese. Because I put our sliced loaf in the freezer so it would last all week for school snacks, I don't have a photo for you; I'm sorry. But really, you should try it. It is SO good.

Whole-Wheat Molasses Bread

Ingredients:
2 cups whole-wheat flour
1-1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. salt
1 large egg
1 cup buttermilk or plain low-fat yogurt (NOT Greek style)
1/2 cup molasses
1/4 cup vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray a standard-sized loaf pan with nonstick baking spray, or otherwise grease the pan.

In a large bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In a separate bowl, beat the egg; then beat in buttermilk or yogurt, molasses, and oil. Scrape wet mixture into dry mixture and stir until just combined. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake 35-40 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the middle of the loaf comes out clean. (Check pan at about 30 min. and lay a sheet of aluminum foil over it if the bread is browning too fast.)

Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then remove loaf from pan. Cool completely (about 1 hour) before slicing.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

A Home for my Heart

 
I don't know how you feel about Valentine's Day. I was pretty indifferent to it before having children. I mean...meh. That's sort of how I felt about Valentine's Day. Not bitter or anything (after all, I was married), just not that into it. After all, before we had kids we had plenty of time to go out to dinner and to the movies and plenty of money to buy chocolate and flowers any day of the year, so February 14th wasn't that exciting. Plus, it's so close to my birthday. By the 14th I'm usually full up on sugar and presents.

But having children changes all that, because by the time they're preschoolers, kids know what Valentine's Day is and they get really excited about valentine cards, heart-themed arts and crafts, pink sugar cookies, school parties, and another excuse to eat candy. Can you blame them? Plus, when you're a mom, you experience daily the unique kind of love that accompanies motherhood--the love for your babies--that's larger and more powerful than any love you've ever experienced before. And it's pretty much all-consuming. So a day dedicated to love, especially with excited kidlets in the house, seems kind of nice.

At least that's my take on it.

Speaking of love, I am super late to this party, but my goodness you all, do you know that beautiful love song "A Thousand Years," by Christina Perri? Unfortunately it's from the "Twilight" movie(s?) which is disturbing to me, but let's just ignore that for a moment.

I am hopelessly oblivious to most popular music (this is because I do not listen to popular music with my children around; I do not approve of most pop music lyrics for children's ears, so I have fallen far out of step), so the first time I heard this song was actually just the other week on "Glee." ("Glee" is how I find out about most popular songs, to tell you the truth.) And, I'm sorry, but I prefer the "Glee" version. Because I've watched the Christina Perri video, and I am just so not into Bella and Edward.

This song is gorgeous, though. I mean, come on: how many pop ballads do you know that are in waltz time? And, of course, while you can take it as a conventional romantic love song, what really grabs my heart is how it describes exactly how I feel about my children.

I've heard other mothers describe the moment of seeing their babies for the first time as one of deep recognition and culmination, as if they'd known all along, for years and years, that this baby was waiting to be theirs. As if everything in life had led to that moment of becoming a mother to that baby. ("Every breath, every hour has come to this... All along, I believed I would find you; time has brought your heart to me; I have loved you for a thousand years. I'll love you for a thousand more.")

I felt that way too, and still do. That's why I love this song.

So, whether you're celebrating with your honey or your babies, Happy Valentine's Day. There isn't just one kind of love, after all.

Click on the video below if you're prepared to cry. Or if you're not a gigantic sap like I am.

(FYI: the performance of this song in the clip from the show below is a slightly abbreviated version of the actual "Glee" track available on Amazon, iTunes, etc. So if you want to hear the whole song, buy the mp3.)

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Things You Need to Know (in My Opinion)

 A few random things I need to tell you. 

First, I just read this HILARIOUS AND CRINGINGLY ACCURATE article from The Atlantic by writer Sandra Tsing Loh about perimenopause/menopause, and so should you. Particularly if you are in your forties or fifties. Especially if you are a husband of someone in her forties or fifties. It's long, I admit; but so worth it. A bit ironic that I read it after a three-consecutive-night Hot Sweat-Fest (which, honestly, is not sexy like it may sound).

The paragraphs about insomnia, especially, slayed me:

Even more unsettling is how, at night, the depression and anxiety are so much stranger and more intense than the minor quotidian irritants that seem to be tipping you off into hopelessness (the overflowing laundry basket, the $530 car-repair bill, the fact that the scale says you’re up—what is it?—eight pounds). The other night, I was awake at 3:24 a.m. as usual (melatonin, Tylenol PM, Ambien, forget it—I could take them all at once, paired with a bottle of wine, and still drive an 18-wheeler). As I lay in the darkness, all at once, the name Brian Hong surfaced in my consciousness and I experienced not a passing wave of despair, but despair simply moving in as a cold, straight tide.

I have no idea who Brian Hong is—I was filled with gloom simply because of the name. Perhaps there is, in fact, a lone forgotten yellow Post-it, somewhere on my rolltop desk with its gas bills and Discover-card solicitations and Blue Cross health-insurance forms, that reads Brian Hong. Perhaps Brian Hong is the head of a small Asian nonprofit who several months ago earnestly if a bit keeningly e-mailed me, citing as a referral the name of a mutual friend, to ask if I would drive an hour down to San Pedro to give a free speech at a fund-raising benefit for a flailing youth center for depressed gay minority teens at 10 a.m. three months from now on a cloudy Wednesday. 

On the one hand, as a longtime veteran of the nonprofit world, I can no longer afford to humor the endless requests to do everything for free, particularly because no one treats you worse than the penniless. On the other hand, though, for me to categorically say no seems like a kick in the teeth to all the kids in the world who are already down; the result of this discomfiting indecision being that I NEVER REPLIED TO BRIAN HONG AT ALL, and so now, like that forgotten spongy corpse, he has come after me in the middle of the night to gently (because that is Brian Hong’s passive-aggressive way) but persistently (because that is also Brian Hong’s passive-aggressive way) haunt me. Brian Hong! Brian Hong! Brian Hong! 

Oh my. Wait till you read the part about Aunt Carol and the leg of lamb.

On a completely different note--a very sad one in fact--one of my favorite mama-writers, Glennon Melton of Momastery, wrote yesterday that she and her husband have separated. If you are a regular Momastery reader, as I am, you know the trajectory here, and it is nothing short of heartbreaking. But, it is life. Glennon is carrying on like the warrior she is, but it's so sad.

Finally, because I can't just leave you with all that tragedy and horror and night-sweating, check out this Valentine's Day cake

image courtesy VeryCulinary.com and BlogHer


Seriously, have. you. ever???? OMG. And to answer your next question, no, I'm not making it this year, but only because we have birthday cake AND Valentine's cupcakes in our freezer, chocolates in a jar on the table, and Girl Scout cookies in our pantry, and I've recently gained five pounds from eating all of them for the past week or so. So, you know. Just can't do it. But next year, for sure. (Because I'm sure everything will be different next year, what with my birthday, Valentine's Day, and Girl Scout cookie sales still happening at the exact same time as this year, ha ha ha...)

More love coming tomorrow, of course, so check back. In the meantime, hug your babies, take your estrogen, eat your cake, whatever. Much love to you!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Short Takes, Updates

On my birthday last Friday, my best mom friends took me to my town's new cupcake shop for (of course) a gourmet cupcake. OMG, you all. Words fail, so just go here and ogle the cupcakes. I tried the Salted Caramel. It was divine. Let me tell you, there is possibly nothing better than starting off your birthday with your favorite girlfriends at a cupcake bakery. These friends brought me completely unnecessary gifts that were each a perfect reflection of who I am and what I like, and gave me lovely birthday cards that I will keep for those inevitable future times when I need some shoring up. My friend Laura wrote, "You are a treasure," and I think that is one of the nicest things anyone has ever said to me.

Later in the day, my family feted me with a different sort of cake. The kind that was made from scratch by two small children and a culinarily-challenged dad. And it, too, was perfect, in its own crooked, sliding, questionably-frosted way. (I posted a photo taken with my phone on Facebook, but today for some reason the laptop won't import the photos on my iPhone, so I don't have a pic for you. Sorry. Ugh. Technology.)

Plenty of other, more mundane things happened this weekend, including an 8-mile run on the indoor track on Sunday late-afternoon that left me so sleepy that it was a true fight to stay awake through the (surprise) two-hour episode of "Downton Abbey." I mean, come on, people: 10 p.m. is WAY TOO LATE for me. Especially on long-run day. (Does anyone else get super sleepy after long runs? Regular runs do not do this to me; it's only long ones. They don't even leave me physically sore; they just conk me out in the evening.) I had to chain-snack Twizzler bites (from another perfectly-in-tune girlfriend, thanks Jess!) just to stay up until the end.

Blah, blah. Kind of boring. Sorry! Tell me what's going on with you. What did you do this weekend? Was cake involved?

Friday, February 08, 2013

Plenty of Cake

Today is my birthday. I would like to say I'm turning 39, but that happened a few years ago.

Now that I'm in my forties, I guess I should accept the fact that I'm "middle-aged." Except that term has absolutely nothing to do with the way I feel. When you were a kid, didn't "middle-aged" mean OLD? Didn't you picture old, tired, boring parents when you heard the term "middle-aged?"

I tell you what, when I was a kid, "middle-aged" parents were usually the parents of teenagers or college students. Nowadays most of the people I know in their early forties have toddlers, preschoolers, kindergartners, or young elementary school-agers. Maybe that's what keeps us young? And by "young," of course, I mean "chronically sleep-deprived."

There are a lot of things about my life as a fortysomething mom that I would never have guessed when I was young(er). When I was a kid, for example, I never would have guessed that at age 42 I'd be in the best shape of my life, able to run 10 miles at a stretch and do 30 "real" push-ups. Or that I'd be a fulfilled stay-at-home mom and housewife. (Who knew?)

Or that I'd love my small Minnesota college town more than any other place I'd ever lived, including exciting places like Chicago. I never would have guessed that by my forties I still wouldn't have any gray hair. (Middle-aged people were OLD, remember?) Or that my first book would be published on my last day of being 40. (I hoped, of course, but I never truly thought I'd ever be a published author.)

When I was young, I never would have guessed how hard parenting is, how hard marriage is, how hard being a grown-up is.

Didn't being a grown-up seem rather glamorous when you were a child? OK, maybe not the "middle-aged" part, but adulthood in general definitely seemed exciting, full of freedom and promise and untold adventures.

Nowadays I know that "freedom" is a very relative term. Let me tell you, younger self, if you consider mountains of bills, obligations, and worries about retirement "freedom," then yes, adulthood is full of freedom. On the other hand, the freedom that actually comes in your forties is far more important than the type of freedom you imagined as a kid: not freedom from stress and rules and chores you hate, but rather freedom from self-doubt and insecurity and worrying what others think about you. (My favorite quote: "What others think of me is none of my business." --Martha Beck in O Magazine; not sure if she made that one up or was quoting someone else.)

And with that, I start a new year.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Pure Craziness

image courtesy carleton.edu

I have been running on an indoor track recently, and I have come to (almost) love it. You guys, this is CUH-RAY-ZEE.

My whole running life, I have detested running indoors. I was the one who would run at a snail's pace in a blizzard or on solid ice just so I could exercise outside.

But a few weeks ago my town turned into one big ice rink, and it has stayed that way. I'm too scared to run outside even with my YakTrax on. I don't need a broken wrist or ankle. So I renewed my staff-family privileges card for the Rec Center at the college where my husband works and ran on the track one day. And I've been running on the track ever since.

This week I even did my long run--eight miles--on the track. That's 64 times around, people. (I don't count. My pace is dead-on consistent, so I always count mileage by time. No, I don't use a Garmin.) While that may seem crazy-monotonous (which it sort of is), I make it tolerable by breaking it up into 20-minute segments and stopping for a drink of water and a stretch or two at the end of each. Somehow this makes running a zillion times in circles seem perfectly fine.

No one is more surprised by this development than I. I'm not saying it's thrillingly interesting, but I like it. I've got my tunes, there's usually some college fitness class or sports practice going on in the center of the track for entertainment, and I don't have to dress in a million layers and pieces of winter gear to go running. Because I'm not plowing through a snowstorm or frostbite-inducing wind while wearing an earband and a winter hat with my eyes watering the whole time from the cold, even after eight miles my hair and makeup remain largely still put-together. (Usually when I come in from a winter run, I look like I've survived an Arctic expedition. Not pretty.)

The one thing I don't like is the lack of solitude. There are always other people at the track, so I don't get my usual dose of getting into my own zone and feeling alone and peaceful while I run. I must admit it's distracting to be constantly passed by young, fit, fast college-student runners. They're so youthful! And fit! And fast! Whatever. Let's see how fast they are when they're 41 and have birthed two babies.

Anyway. It's not like I'll keep doing this when my outdoor trails are fair game again in the spring, but for now it's pretty good.

Truth be told, that is the most exciting thing that's happened to me lately. Which isn't a bad thing. I've been busy cooking, baking, seeing friends, volunteering at my children's school, and all the usual. When I'm not running in circles.

Have a great day, friends. Tell me: are you a mama runner? Do you run outside in the winter, or indoors? Track or treadmill? When do you run? When your kids are at school, like me? Or in the early a.m. or evening? I'm curious.

Monday, February 04, 2013

Jar of Happy Memories


 I'm usually pretty good at remembering the larger joy-bringing experiences in a year (who isn't, I guess?); I'll be the one who'll be sighing and saying dreamily to my kids in January, "Ahhhh.....Remember hanging out at the pool every day last summer?" and smiling. I still say things like, "I remember when you two were toddlers and we walked around that path every single day in the spring with the double stroller! Aw, loved that." (When what I'm also thinking is, "Aw, I remember the rare and blissful day when the two of you took simultaneous naps! Loved THAT.") I also have a knack for recalling entire seasons of discontent in a sort of vague, hazy way that blocks out any memories of the good stuff--or threatens to.

When it comes to remembering the tiny, heart-leaping moments in a year--the time a stranger on the street paid you a compliment, or the day you all went outside and watched the sunset together, because it was just so beautiful--most of us fall short. As happy as those moments are when they happen, they generally get crowded out of long-term memories by all the other things we're supposed to remember: the field trip permission slips and what you actually came to the grocery store for, for example, or how to log on to your child's online school account.

Which is exactly why I fell in love with this project I'm doing with my kids this year the second I heard about it on Facebook. (Doesn't everything interesting come from Facebook, really? Just kidding. There's always Pinterest. (Kidding.))

On New Year's Day, I put an empty Mason jar on the kitchen counter in reach of the children. Next to the jar I placed a tiny notebook and a pencil. Then I explained to the girls that this was our Jar of Happy Memories for 2013. Every time something really nice happens to us--not the expected, quotidien things like, "I had a playdate," or the jar would be filled up by March, but the unexpected or unusual moments that really make a difference in our days--we write it down on a small slip of paper and put it in the jar. On New Year's Eve next December, we will open the jar and read all the slips of paper. We will remind ourselves of all the wonderful things that occurred in 2013.

These memories don't have to--and likely won't--be life-changing events like getting a puppy (no) or buying a new car (no). In fact, they shouldn't be those types of things, because we tend to remember that level of happy memory without help. The Jar of Happy Memories is for the moments we'd likely forget if we didn't write them down.

We've each put a slip of paper in the jar so far: the time my friend Ulrika told me she would never have guessed I'm in my forties (love her forever!); the compliment Julia got on her new haircut at school; the fact that a new boy at school told Genevieve that she's his best friend. The children choose what moment is jar-worthy for them; I do the same for me.

Won't New Year's Eve be fun? Can't everyone use a Jar of Happy Memories? I think so.


Friday, February 01, 2013

Simple and Delicious Family Cooking: Soft and Chewy Ginger Cookies


They really do turn out that perfectly round by themselves. Amazing, right? 
Also, please ignore the soft-focus photography. Gah! I need a real camera.

Yesterday was a truly frigid January day--the kind of day that forces you to drive your children to the bus stop half a block away because the windchills are too dangerous to walk and wait for the bus in. By afternoon, when I'd finished my (indoor!) run and all my boring chores, the wind was still howling outside and I could feel the chill just walking past the windows. It seemed like the perfect time to heat up the kitchen and fill the house with the warm scent of homemade molasses cookies.

At Christmastime, my friend Trisha (who is a mama of two now, but who I USED TO BABYSIT WHEN SHE WAS JUST A WEE THING OH DEAR LORD I AM OLD) gave me her addictive and delicious gingersnap recipe. At least, she told me they were addictive and delicious, and of course I believed her. But I didn't have time to make them then, because I was drowning in gingerbread men at the time. So I made them yesterday. And they are divine. I thought I'd share the recipe here, because a friend requested in on Facebook and Trisha so kindly told me I could post it.

A few important notes: the recipe below is the full recipe, but I halved it when I made them. As you can see, it's a big recipe. I think my half recipe made about 3 dozen cookies? It's hard to remember since most of them have already been eaten by hungry kiddos after school or given away to friends. You may wish to make the whole thing, if only because you may find yourself sneaking tastes of the dough and using up half the recipe that way. Ha.

Second: I don't know how you feel about shortening. I don't generally use it. But you may want to set aside any biases you have against it, and make this cookie anyway. Or, experiment with butter? I don't know. I used the recipe as-is. I did, however, increase the salt to the equivalent of 1-1/2 tsp. for the full recipe. I like a VERY SLIGHTLY salty-sweet cookie. Trust me and try it. Oh, and I didn't bother to mix wet and dry ingredients in separate bowls, nor did I sift. Probably the cookies would have been even better had I sifted. You decide for yourself.

Third: UNDERBAKE. Or, rather, follow the directions and start with the lower time. THE COOKIES WILL LOOK UNDERDONE in your oven at 8 minutes. Ignore this, and take them out anyway. You may need to let them sit on the pan for a minute so you can remove them without having them fall apart. But they set quickly and determinedly, and if you wait until they appear done on the baking sheet, they will turn out hard and crispy, not soft and chewy. Still delicious, but a different thing entirely.

Lastly, wrap and store them well. Use Saran wrap and a good Tupperware or similar. You might want to wrap them up while they are still slightly warm. This will also enhance the soft-and-chewy factor.

Trisha's Soft and Chewy Ginger Cookies
makes about 6 dozen (?)

Ingredients:

1-1/2 cups shortening
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
8 T. molasses
2 T. ground ginger
2 tsp. cinnamon
4 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt (see my note above)
4 cups flour

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cream shortening, sugar, and eggs in a large mixing bowl. Add molasses and mix well. In a separate bowl (see my note above), sift all dry ingredients and then add them to the wet mixture and mix well.

Pour some white sugar on a plate. Roll a level T. of cookie dough into a ball, then roll it in the sugar to coat completely. Place on baking sheet WITHOUT flattening. Repeat with remaining dough.

Bake about 8-9 minutes (maybe even less, if your oven runs hot like mine does!), or until cookies have flattened, have pretty cracks, and STILL LOOK SOFT AND UNDERDONE. Carefully remove to a rack to cool; cookies will be very delicate when hot but will set as they cool.