Wednesday, August 20, 2014

How to Make the Best Chocolate Chip Cookies. Ever.

First of all, it helps if you have some pretty adorable faces to make them for.

And by adorable I mean fun. And/or goofy. And/or hungry.
These are my husband's cousins. They love our baby.


They wanted to know how to make the best chocolate chip cookies ever, and I told them it starts with Alton Brown's killer recipe. But it changes.
You do the whole wet and dry thing, creaming the unsalted butter with lots of brown sugar and a little white. 

Then the egg, +1 yolk, milk and vanilla. 


Then the easy, easy list of dry ingredients.


Tablespoonsful. 325 degrees. Ten to twelve minutes.


You can refrigerate the dough before baking, or just plop em on right away. Depends how hungry you are.
Mike and I used to freeze the dough and bake them on demand. Fresh, gooey goodness whenever you want it.


The white chocolate chip cookie is for my crazy husband who prefers white to dark. (What? It's not even chocolate, you say? IKNOW. TRYTELLINGHIMTHAT.)


In the good ones, I use three different kinds of chocolate chips (2/3 cup each): 60% dark, semi sweet and milk. I like to say it gives them a more complex chocolaty taste. But really, it's an excuse to buy all those kinds of chocolate and keep them in the house.
Either way, it's amazing. Get to baking. 


I adapted my recipe from Brown Eyed Baker's repurposing of Alton Brown's The Chewy recipe. Here's what I did:
Makes about 3 dozen.

Best Chocolate Chip Cookies Ever. 
2 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly to room temperature
1 1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 white sugar or baker's sugar
1 egg
1 egg yolk
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons whole milk
2/3 cup each: 60% dark chocolate, semisweet and milk chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Combine first three ingredients in a small bowl.
Cream butter, brown sugar and white sugar together over medium speed in a mixer.
In a small bowl, whisk together egg, yolk, vanilla and milk. Add to mixer and beat over low speed.
Gradually add dry ingredients to mixer over low speed until combined. Do not overmix.
Add chocolate chips to batter, stirring until just combined.
Drop by tablespoonsful onto a cookie sheet and bake for 10-12 minutes or just until golden brown.

Devour. Share. Wipe the chocolate off of your face when you're finished. Or not.




Monday, August 18, 2014

Home is Where the Baby Sleeps

My daughter wouldn't fall asleep at my brother-in-law's house last night. We'd planned for her to go to bed there (around 7) while we partied on. I breastfed her, she was sleepy. She fell asleep—I mean, OUT—twice in my arms and twice I put her down in her pack & play. Both times, she freaked.

You know how babies open their eyes just a tiny, tiny bit when you're putting them down? Apparently it's just enough for them to notice, "Hey, this isn't my house. I don't know this room. Oh God oh God am I ever going home again how dare you put me down in this strange place are you ever coming back Mom is that the last I've seen of the boob? THE BOOB?"

And so the crying goes on.

I was sad I couldn't stay; my husband stayed. I drove my daughter home and she went to bed here without any fuss. She wasn't even asleep when I put her down. She babbled and cooed a little to herself in her room and then it was silent.

It's silent.

Even though our house is little and there's no front door (Yep. Don't worry, putting a front door on our house is next on our big, save-up-for-it to-do list.) Even though her room is small and there's no cohesive nursery theme to it. Even though the glider intended for her nursery has become a fixture in our living room.

She knows home. I'd like to say that she loves home, but all I really can tell is that she's comfortable here. She's happy here.

All I want is for it to stay that way, even though there may be times when she grows older that she wants to run away. Even though she may sneak out, or lie to us about where she's going. Even though it may not be our house forever, our home is where she's happiest.

And that's about the greatest accomplishment of my life.


P.S.—I told you the other day there'd be news to come. Well, the kick-ass women writers at TheEpistolarians.com are going to feature one of my posts! It has to be original content, so I'm hard at work (while baby naps) on getting something awesome and fresh ready to go. That's another little accomplishment. Good days. Little things. I'll TAKE it.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

You're Not Alone, Sister

I want to hug you. I want to hug every mom. Every single one of you.

Yesterday was a particularly low day.

I couldn't stop crying on my way home from work. I took the wrong exit ramp. I had to ask my husband, on the phone, where I was going. He asked me, "Do you remember Hawaii?"

"Yes."

"Wasn't it the best time of your life?"

"It feels so far away now."

What ended up actually helping me was his walking me through my surroundings: "Do you see signs for Howard Avenue? Just keep heading west until you get to the freeway, then you head..."

"I know where to go from there. I haven't completely lost it."

A funny choice of words when I lost myself on my way home from work, in an area I've lived in for three years.


I thought I'd had PPD this whole time, because there have been spells of weepiness here and there. Yesterday showed me that I haven't had PPD this whole time. It's hit hard now. It's made worse by bad days. External stressors make the internal struggle a wreck. A mess out of me. I took the wrong ramp. I almost didn't know who I was.

But I did know. There was sane, happy, regular old me somewhere. Taunting me, almost, with the promise of the fact that I know what a normal life feels like. That I can be present, that I can be smart, that I can be on the ball.



I continue to make jokes. I continue to laugh. I continue to pretend things are normal to the people who don't know, mostly for the fear of bringing them down. For fear of scaring the pregnant woman at work about what may be (1 out of every 8 moms, y'all) to come. For fear—that's been justified—that people just don't know how to handle this truth.
I continue to enjoy the beautiful moments. I toss my daughter in the air and I hold her so close I'm sure she can't stand it. But she does. There's not a second I'm with her that I regret. Not a second that her smile doesn't bring one to my face.

I'm not broken. I'm not weak.

I mean to say that despite the beautiful sunset rainbow I'm looking at as my baby sleeps, I am sad and conflicted. I mean to say that some people don't know how to handle someone with PPD. Or any mental illness.

But I'm grateful for the national conversation sparked this week about depression. Admittedly I am just now starting to consider it a physical illness. I hope that the paradigm is shifting. I hope.
I want you to know that most moms hate and love their lives. I want you to know that no one's Pinterest version of their lives is the whole truth. Behind the perfect-looking recipe is a messy kitchen counter and a sink full of dishes. You are not alone. Not a single one of us is perfect.

I want you to know that I made it home. And good news was waiting for me there, news that made my day, along with a long, long hug from my husband and playtime with my daughter. News to come.

For now, I'll try to rest. Another therapy session tomorrow. This time I'm looking forward to it. I like that.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

How NOT to Make: Mini-Chip Cupcakes

Wanna make some of these? Uh-huh. Thought so.
Maybe just rather eat a few? Good news: they're easy. I made these little gems before church on Sunday, they cooled while we were out, and I whipped up the frosting when we got back. Half the batch was eaten by the end of the day.
I have to admit, I'm a little bit of a rebel when it comes to following instructions (especially if I don't see a point to said instructions). You can follow the recipe here, but I'd like to give you a little crash course in what you don't want to do* while making these pretty cupcakes. Learn from my mistakes.
*Whatever. They'll still be delicious. They're cupcakes.

 1. Lining the muffin tin.
Don't wait until your beautiful batter is sitting there, waiting to be baked into delicious glory, to fumble your fingers over the edges of cupcake wrappers, peeling them apart. No, no. Get it done while the oven is warming up.

2. Butter
Don't use salted butter, adjusting the added salt accordingly. Nope: Make sure you have some unsalted on hand so that you can best control your salt.



3. Filling the muffin tin
Don't use a teaspoon (too small!) to fill the tin while sitting on your kitchen floor in front of your baby, two dogs circling the batter like they've been watching too much Shark Week.
Go for a tablespoon and fill 24 regular-sized muffin cups about 2/3 full.

4. Frosting
Don't cut a really conservatively sized hole in the corner of a plastic sandwich bag. Don't be afraid: Make that hole as wide as your thumb. Otherwise, you'll get these little wormy tubes of frosting on top. 


Seriously, though, whatever you do, these are gonna be good. DO share them with everyone you love. I mean, really love. Not just like. You're better than that.









The Recipes

Cupcakes:
From ghirardelli.com:
Mini Chip White Cupcakes
Yield: 24 cupcakes
INGREDIENTS
1 3/4 cups +2 tbsp. all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (1-1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups granulated white sugar
3 large eggs
3/4 cup whole milk
3/4 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
INSTRUCTIONS
Preheat the oven to 325°F. Paper line or grease 24 mini cupcake molds. Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. On medium speed, beat the butter and sugar in large bowl until light. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Stir together the milk, lemon juice and the vanilla. On low speed, add half the milk mixture. Mix until well incorporated. Add the remaining milk mixture and the dry ingredients in the same manner. Add 1 cup mini chocolate chips to the batter and stir. Fill each cavity to the top. Bake on the middle oven rack for about 20-22 minutes or until a tester inserted in the center of the cupcakes comes out clean. Cool cupcakes in their pans for 10 minutes. Then unmold and cool on a wire rack. Frost the top of each cupcake and sprinkle them with the remaining ¼ cup mini chocolate chips.
Read more at http://ghirardelli.com/recipes-tips/recipes/mini-chip-white-cupcakes#PqYR63DEHZwOw2gp.99





Frosting:
From foodnetwork.com; I used half this recipe for 24 cupcakes. It was plenty. Also substituted whole milk in place of whipping cream.

Quick Vanilla Buttercream Frosting
Total Time:
12 min
Prep:
2 min
Cook:
10 min
Yield:10 to 12 servings
Level:Easy
Ingredients

3 cups confectioners' sugar
1 cup butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 to 2 tablespoons whipping cream
Directions

In a standing mixer fitted with a whisk, mix together sugar and butter. Mix on low speed until well blended and then increase speed to medium and beat for another 3 minutes.

Add vanilla and cream and continue to beat on medium speed for 1 minute more, adding more cream if needed for spreading consistency.
Advertisement
© 2014 Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Read more at: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/quick-vanilla-buttercream-frosting-recipe.print.html?oc=linkback

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Thank you, Robin

It seems slightly trite to write about Robin Williams.

But he's on my mind.

My brother called me last night and said, "Make me feel better about this."

For some reason, my brother felt that I was the only person who could relate to how he felt about Williams. You know what, I'm going to go ahead and refer to him as Robin from now on. I like to think he wouldn't mind.

My brother asked me if all young(ish) adults, of the twenty-something to thirty-something persuasion, felt this way about Robin Williams—that he was a fixture in their homes, and for some weird reason in our case, a father figure.

I get it now. Just now. In Mrs. Doubtfire, Robin played a divorcing father who would do anything to be with his kids. I read Scary Mommy's Facebook post about his courtroom monologue in which he pleads to not be separated from them.


And I'm willing to bet that the vast majority of us many children (at that time) who were experiencing their parents' separation or divorce never heard a monologue like that. How could we? The eloquence? The Hollywood timing? The delivery from an actor who no doubt knew pain and expressed it so well on screen?

For us kids of "broken" homes, I'll say thank you, Robin, for showing us (in whatever fictionalized way) that our fathers do care, for delivering those lines that we wished our fathers would have said, for showing us that we weren't being abandoned.

I don't think I'm the only one who can relate. And I don't think Robin would mind.

Monday, August 11, 2014

I Knew it Was Bad When Coffee Couldn't Make it Better

Though chocolate might make it better. I will take that kind of help.

It knots up my chest to think about telling my boss I have PPD. I guess there's no need for her to know. But it might help in explaining why I'm leaving work early every now and then (for counseling appointments) and I'm afraid it may turn into something bigger. I guess it can't hurt for her to know. There are times I feel like I just might break.

I hope this is PPD and not just motherhood. What if I go to my counseling session tonight and the therapist tells me that this is just what being a mom is? This constant state of feeling awful but loving your child so, so much? It can't be motherhood. It can't.

I mentioned the other day how I wanted to avoid medication if I could. The doctor offered Zoloft to me like it was candy. He said "This is a chemical imbalance, something with a very physical basis and solution." But I guess I don't agree with the solution part. I'm glad he's not my doctor (my doctor sent me to him because she was booked through the afternoon but wanted me to see someone right away).

I'm excited but also all up in knots about the appointment tonight. I'm taking my baby. I'm not giving up time with her for these sessions—I mean, it's counterproductive to my PPD to spend less time with her. And she's so well behaved most of the time that it won't hinder our session. I don't think. (Watch, I just jinxed it.)

I'll let you know how it goes. I hope the knots and the courage and the scheduling and the running around are all worth it. She's worth it.



UPDATE: Worth it. My fears about the therapist were unfounded. She did what she's there to do: Validate my feelings, encourage me to talk through it, give me hope that it will get better. She did even more than that. It's strange but I have to admit that I went there so full of hope, so excited that I would be making the best sort of friend—the kind that's paid to listen to you. Well, I don't think we'll be best friends but I believe this will be extremely good. In fact, I don't know what I would do without it.

My baby breastfed during my session, like the angel that she is. My therapist asked, "Have you been tired?"

"Exhausted."

"Trouble concentrating?"

"Extreme. I've never had that problem before in my life."

"Withdrawn from things you normally enjoy doing?"

Somehow, these words, when written, DO seem like a script. Like something unfeeling out of a textbook. And maybe they are. But I suppose it means she's either a really great therapist or I am desperate for some sort of help that I felt like they were the right human questions to ask. They're what I've needed to be asked, rather than all the unfeeling demands that surround life as a mother.

She's confident we can make progress without medication, and if we need that extra boost, we'll use it. I'm confident. And I'm confident any mother can do this.

We just have to be able to accept the help.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

CrabFest in Your Kitchen

I hardly need to write. Thank you, photos!
So, my husband had been craving crab legs since seeing all of the recent Red Lobster commercials on TV. So we decided to have CrabFest at home.

Go on, drool. Here's the recipe I use for these at-home Cheddar Bay Biscuits. (Shh, they use Bisquick.) I prefer the chunkiest shredded cheddar out there, so that you get a little cheddar bite. A little texture. They're so easy. You'll seriously never have to go to Red Lobster to satisfy that cheesy biscuit craving again.


I fed my daughter butternut squash for the first time while I was cooking. She was not a fan.




The only thing I did differently was to use whole milk and pre-minced garlic. Maybe a little extra salt, and pepper if you like. I suggest using the brightest, freshest red potatoes you can find at the grocery store. They're still a bargain.



This is when she took her bib off. Rebel.


Those legs... Maybe you already knew this, but I didn't: Crab legs are almost always pre-cooked (ON THE BOAT. WHAT) and THEN flash-frozen (also on the boat) so that they're super fresh. Don't be like me and ask the pimply kid working at the seafood counter if they have any uncooked crab legs. He'll laugh at you. And then you won't know why until you read up on cooking crab legs. Yeeeah.



Any reddish legs like these ones are already cooked. Yup.


Boil 'em in a big old pot. Just for a few minutes. Really, you're re-heating them. I added a big squirt from the lemon juice bottle to cut the fishy/salty smell and flavor.

Biscuits. Taters. Legs. Get outta here.




Oh, and that's just the biggest, tenderest, juiciest piece of crab meat I've ever seen. From a claw. At my house. Red Lobster, it's not you. It's me. And this crab meat.





Cheddar Bay Biscuits (from abcnews.com):

Ingredients:

 2 ½ cups Bisquick baking mix
 ¾ cup cold whole milk
 4 tablespoons cold butter (1/2 stick)
 ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
 1 heaping cup grated cheddar cheese

Bush on Top:

 2 tablespoons butter, melted
 ¼ teaspoon dried parsley flakes
 ½ teaspoon garlic powder
 pinch salt

Directions:

1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.
2. Combine Bisquick with cold butter in a medium bowl using a pastry cutter or a large fork. You don't want to mix too thoroughly. There should be small chunks of butter in there that are about the size of peas. Add cheddar cheese, milk, and ¼ teaspoon garlic. Mix by hand until combined, but don't over mix.
3. Drop approximately ¼-cup portions of the dough onto an ungreased cookie sheet using an ice cream scoop.
4. Bake for 15 to 17 minutes or until the tops of the biscuits begin to turn light brown.
5. When you take the biscuits out of the oven, melt 2 tablespoons butter is a small bowl in your microwave. Stir in ½ teaspoon garlic powder and the dried parsley flakes. Use a brush to spread this garlic butter over the tops of all the biscuits. Use up all of the butter. Makes one dozen biscuits.
Recipe courtesy of Todd Wilbur, "Top Secret Restaurant Recipes 2," Plume Books.

Garlic Mashed Red Potatoes (from Tasteofhome.com):

6 ServingsPrep/Total Time: 30 min.

Ingredients

  • 8 medium red potatoes, quartered
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 cup fat-free milk, warmed
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Directions

  • Place potatoes and garlic in a large saucepan; cover with water.
  • Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes or
  • until potatoes are very tender.
  • Drain well. Add the butter, milk and salt; mash. Stir in cheese.
  • Yield: 6 servings.
Nutritional Facts: 1 cup equals 190 calories, 5 g fat (3 g saturated fat), 14 mg cholesterol, 275 mg sodium, 36 g carbohydrate, 4 g fiber, 8 g protein. Diabetic Exchanges: 2 starch, 1/2 fat.



For the crab legs:

Boil pre-cooked (frozen or thawed) snow crab legs for 5-7 minutes, adding a tablespoon of lemon juice to water after it reaches a boil, if desired.

CrabFest at home! Save money and eat. Really good.