A month ago I got to take a quick trip to New York City, and hang out at the FeedFeed studio. They had a cookie exchange (sponsored by Bob’s Red Mill) and I brought a long some of my pan-banging chocolate chip cookies to share. I had a great time – there were a lot of other food bloggers there that I had wanted to meet forever and finally got to, and also met a lot of lovely bloggers that were new to me. Everyone brought cookies to exchange, and there were several demonstrations (including my pan-banging technique), a cookie decorating station, a wreath making station, and tons of great food. My husband got to tag along as well (yay, frequent flyer miles!) and we spent a total of 40 hours in NYC – mostly just walking around neighborhoods and eating great food.

Thank you so much FeedFeed and Bob’s Red Mill! You can find the recipe to my cookies here.

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Somehow we are already on the front steps of 2018. The door is open, and another January welcomes us in with a glorious smile, reassuring those waiting out in the cold that right inside, just through that open door, things will be better. The new year will bring hope, and change. So we resolve to evolve, and put our faith in the dropping of a ball, a countdown from ten, and then number one. Two weeks in, however, we realize it’s still all the same, January is December, minus the Christmas tree. The list of resolutions gets shoved in a drawer, we turn on the news and are still groaning, trying to find our voice. There was no wizardry to wash away the sins of the previous year. We remember about the importance of time, and hard work, and continuing to keep at something even though no one is watching.

But although the New Year doesn’t contain magic, it’s a good idea to make a cake at the end of it all anyway. We can still celebrate the previous twelve months: observe how far we’ve come, make plans for the coming days, or just share time, enjoying ice cream, with those we spend our days. And while I walk into this next month knowing everything is not new and fresh, I will still look around for hope, and change, and progress, and help propel those things forward as best I can.

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I’ve teamed up with Land O’Lakes for a few posts over the rest of the year. I’ve been a big fan of their butter for years; I love how my baked goods turn out with it, and as they are a Minnesota-based company, it seemed like a natural fit. I’m happy to report that the Land O Lakes® Heavy Whipping Cream is delicious, too – here it’s used in the chocolate no-churn ice cream, but I also use it in whipped cream, cheesecake, and any other application, both sweet and savory, where I need heavy cream.

I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes.

Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re Doing Something.

So that’s my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before. Don’t freeze, don’t stop, don’t worry that it isn’t good enough, or it isn’t perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life.

Whatever it is you’re scared of doing, Do it.

Make your mistakes, next year and forever.

-Neil Gaiman

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(The text for this post is taken from an old post with no recipe. I was feeling similar this year, and decided to share it again, along with a recipe.)

I spent ten Christmas Eves in a row working various retail jobs, everything from barista to Barnes and Noble. The holiday season started the day after Thanksgiving, with mile long lines continuing to Christmas Eve at 4pm, when the store gates finally clanged shut and stayed that way for one whole day. Work shifts in December were spent answering the constantly ringing phone, running around the store trying to find would-be presents, standing at the cash register hour upon hour swiping credit cards, dreading every 30 minutes when Paul McCartney’s Wonderful Christmastime would come on again, and cleaning up gigantic messes left by frantic customers. Then, at last, the night before Christmas, when the store gate was shut (although often people were begging outside it: please, can I buy just 1 pound of coffee? I just need one more book for my sister-in-law, will you let me in?) all the employees would feel that smack of exhaustion, the same one that comes at the end of finals week, when you are finally driving home for spring break. It would take hours to clean the store, and almost everyone could feel a serious cold coming on. Someone would order a pizza, and we’d munch in silence before taking off to our various celebrations, usually arriving sneezing and crazy-eyed, just wanting to crash into a bed.

I’ve now had ten years off on Christmas Eve. It is spent at home, quietly listening to holiday music, baking a batch of cookies, snuggling with my little ones watching White Christmas, and heading to my parent’s house early for festivities. I have a no-shopping on Christmas Eve rule for myself, but I must admit I feel something lacking each year without the craziness. The month of December doesn’t feel as sparkly and exciting to me without all the noise, the crowds of people, Mariah Carey singing Christmas songs through loud speakers all day long, racing up and down stairs trying to find books for exasperated customers. The thing I didn’t want to make the holiday about has now ended up defining the holiday to me. Those formative years of my teens and twenties, working hard all December long now shape how I need Christmas to feel to me as an adult. I can’t escape that, somehow.

I remind myself each year that just because something feels a certain way, it doesn’t mean that’s how it actually is. This is usually easier said than done. As a parent, I now determine how the holiday will look for my children. I start traditions and routine both for enjoyment and for recognition. I see my kids feeling so many things, and getting swept up in what makes Christmas so exciting. But my mission as a caretaker is more than that. It’s to teach what the reason behind this month long, money-spending, jingle-belling really is. At the very core, it’s to look to others, to give with no expectation of getting anything in return, and to remember that we all belong to each other, all of us, across this spinning round snow globe that’s so easily shaken. No matter how the actual days of December end up shaping my two little ones, I want them to still always be able reach past how they feel, and know, deep down, the joy and hope of Christmas, and their capacity to bring it everywhere they go. “If the world seems cold to you, kindle fires to warm it.” —Lucy Larcom

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If you follow along on Instagram, you know I’ve been working on a ginger-molasses version of my pan-banging cookies. I finally have the recipe for you, although I’m going to be completely honest – I’m so nervous to share it! I’m terrified you won’t love them as much as the chocolate chip version, so I’ve been obsessively  making them trying to get everything just right. I also know that most everyone has a strong opinion on how they want their molasses cookie to be (soft! hard! chewy! dense! coated in sugar! no sugar! fresh ginger! just ground spices!) and this cookie will not appeal to everyone. I did make my dear friend Zoë test them out and she gave them her approval, so I’m going to go ahead and put the recipe out into the world.

Some good news: this particular version doesn’t need to be refrigerated. The molasses and butter in this cookie helps them to spread just fine without the added chill. I also make these a little bit smaller – 2 ounces, instead of 3 ounces. A few things to note: these taste best when the centers are under baked, just like the chocolate chip cookies. Because they are smaller, I bang the pan only 3-4 times instead of 5-6. If you do cook the centers, the outside will be slightly tough when they cool, and they don’t taste as good on the second day. If you get things just right, the outside will be crispy, the centers soft and slightly chewy, and they will still taste great the next day. If you try them, let me know how they turn out for you!

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I have a two-part gift guide for you. Today is favorite baking books and favorite kitchen items, next week is more cookbooks and Holiday music. So let’s get to it. First up, the baking books I use all the time in my kitchen.

***(Also: Holiday Playlists! My Holiday Mix from last year is here. My Classic Christmas Mix is here. And my Quiet Christmas Mix is here.)***

FAVORITE BAKING BOOKS

The Village Baker’s Wife  by Joe Ortiz and Gayle Ortiz – This book is a classic, and you can only find it used, but there are so many great recipes among it’s pages. I highly recommend seeking it out. From the Library Journal: Here are recipes for the croissants and Danish pastries, pies and tarts, cookies, muffins, and other delicious delicacies sold at Gayle’s Bakery in Capitola, California. The recipes are well written and thorough, and techniques are often illustrated with whimsical but very clear line drawings. Highly recommended.

The Vanilla Bean Baking Book by Sarah Kieffer – Yes, I snuck my own book in here. But, it does contain all my favorite recipes, and I use them all the time in my own kitchen. You can find my Pan-Banging Chocolate Chip Cookies in here, but my other favorites are Pumpkin Scones, Burnt Honey Buttercream, Quick Danish Dough, and Peach Caramel Pie.

Pure Dessert by Alice Medrich – Alice Medrich is the baking cookbook queen. I appreciate all her books, they are so well done: flawless recipes, and solid writing and research. Pure Dessert is the first Medrich cookbook I ever owned – all the rest had been checked out time and time again at the library, when I couldn’t afford my cookbook habit. This one is special, and helped pave the way for baking with alternative flours as flavor flours. The Nibby Buckwheat Butter Cookies are holiday favorites.

Sweeter Off the Vine by Yossy Arefi  – Here are beautiful photographs, recipes that always work, and a unique perspective on baking. I absolutely love Yossy’s book, and turn to it often. Favorite recipes: Yossy is known for her pies, so anything involving pie crust is a winner (see Cherry and Rhubarb Slab Pie, Pear Pie With Creme Fraiche and Caramel, and Tangerine Cream Pie),  I also love her Old-Fashioned Blood Orange Donuts and Apricot and Berry Galette With Saffron Sugar.

Sarabeth’s Bakery by Sarabeth Levine – This might just be my favorite baking book. It’s definitely the one that made me fall in love with laminated doughs. The photographs are quiet and beautiful, there are process shots to help with complicated recipes, and everything I’ve made has turned out perfectly. I’m especially smitten with the puff pastry dough as well as the danish dough. It’s a gorgeous book, and a good addition to any baker’s library.

Handmade Baking by Kamran Siddiqi – Another really great baking book. Kamran’s Quick Puff Pastry recipe is fantastic, and his Everyday Chocolate Cake is A++. The photographs in this one are stunning, and the recipes are classy but approachable, which sort of reminds me of Kamran. (We’ve never met, but he comes across online as kind and classy and thoughtful.) Another book I use all the time.

New Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois – If you’ve been following along here for awhile, you probably already know that I contribute to Jeff and Zoe’s Bread in Five site quite frequently. I worked on this book with them as well – a week long photo shoot in Zoe’s house with lots of baking and food styling and washing dishes and laughing hysterically. It was a blast. This edition is revised and updated with new recipes. I use this book all the time, and am obsessed with the Challah dough – it’s perfect.

Cook’s Illustrated Baking Book – I appreciate Cook’s Illustrated and all the rigourous testing they do to make sure a recipe is fool proof. I turn to this book often when trying something for the first time or if I’m stuck on a recipe in another book. There is good advice and helpful hints among the pages, as well as recipes for all the classics.

Bouchon Bakery by Thomas Keller – I’m slowly working my way through this book. It’s gorgeous, and inspirational, and can double as a coffee table book.

Mauviel 10.2-inch Round Copper Pan  – This pan by Mauviel is gorgeous, and I use it for everything – baking, cooking, serving. I’ve made buns, cinnamon rolls, gratins, crisps, and all kinds of other goodness in it.

Nordic Ware for Amazon Kitchen – I’ve been using Nordic Ware Bundt pans for years and years (and love that they are a Minnesota-based company!). They just came out with these pretty colored Bundts – blush pink, champagne, and metallic blue. I have two pans in this series and my pound cakes have turned out perfectly every time I use them.

Kitchen Aid Pro Line Copper Mixer – This is the Queen of mixers. I recently upgraded to this beauty, and have found it to be worth the extra price. It is much quieter than the 5-quart (which I had previously), the the 7-quart bowl fits everything nicely. Also, the copper finish looks amazing in any kitchen space.

Linen apron from Enrich & Endure – Aprons handmade in Northern Ireland, made with quality materials, longevity, local craftsmanship and top-class design. The colors are gorgeous and vibrant (I have one in lava).

Bake Tea Towel – I love tea towels, and baking, so this is a perfect addition to my kitchen.

Le Creuset Oval Dutch Oven – A good Dutch oven is a great tool to have in the kitchen; I use mine several times a week. If you haven’t invested in one yet, I highly recommend doing so.

The Weekender from Blue Bottle Coffee – This is the perfect gift for any coffee lover – neatly packed in this custom Timbuk2 bag is everything you need to make delicious coffee during any weekend getaway.

Star Wars spatulas  – I have a lot of spatulas from Williams-Sonoma, and use them on a daily basis. This Star Wars edition with Princess Leia is on my wish list – I’ve got a family full of Star Wars fans who are all eagerly awaiting episode 8 .

Breville Ice Cream Maker – An ice cream maker may not be a necessity, but it sure is a nice piece of equipment to own. This fancy machine is a welcome addition to my kitchen – it produces velvety frozen treats with no prefrozen bowls required. If you love making your own ice cream, this is for you. (Pair it with David Lebovitz’s The Perfect Scoop or Hello, My Name Is Ice Cream by Dana Cree).

It’s my favorite time of year: THE HOLIDAYS! The snow is snowing, the bells are jingling, and there is a constant buzz of excitement everywhere. The 10 year old in me still tends to get caught up in all the buzz; often forgetting to focus on the present, and enjoying each moment with gratitude. Often the Christmas season is about what we get, instead of what we give. The older I get, the more I let go of the getting aspect, and am working on teaching my littles the same. It’s a work in progress.

One thing that helps me in this regard is baking. I look for pastries with multiple steps that require some focus, and I find that the act of concentrating on a specific task not only helps me slow everything down, but also opens up an important door – the door that cares about the quality of my soul. I find myself thinking through things that often get pushed aside in the rush of life. Pie is one of these solaces; while it is a slice of self-care, it also is the best way to share. My family alone can’t (well, shouldn’t) eat an entire pie, so sharing some is a great way to interact with family, friends, and neighbors. It’s the perfect way to give.

I’ve teamed up with Land O’Lakes for a few posts over the rest of the year. I’ve been a big fan of their butter for years; I love how my baked goods turn out with it, and as they are a Minnesota-based company, it seemed like a natural fit. I often use their butter in my baking, and find the flavor to be heads and shoulders above other grocery store brands. The pie crust for this apple crème fraîche pie was made with Land O Lakes® Unsalted Butter, and as usual, it was a hit. The crust was tender and flaky, and held up well to the gigantic pile of apples placed upon it. My children declared it their favorite pie, ever, which is saying something.

“Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.” – Epicurus

Sources: Copper Sauce Pan by Mauviel || Fine Mesh Strainer by Rösle

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(This is another recipe lost in the archives I’m bringing back to life – it’s a great cake to make around the holidays. I’ve kept the original text.)

Early Monday morning I found myself in the kitchen, baking this pound cake. It was almost as if I didn’t have a choice; my mind and heart had been there all night, anyway, stirring and sifting flour, breaking eggs and pouring cream. The evening before our hearts had been broken: the lovely and dear Michele passed from this world. It is one of those tragic stories, the kind that you can never come to terms with, the kind that make you wrestle for answers. She was in her early 40’s, a mother to eight children, and had suffered the past 18 months from an inoperable brain tumor [glioblastoma]. Now she is gone, resting at last, but we are here, here on the other side of the door. Here letting our tears fall into cake batter.

Several years ago Michele asked me for this cake recipe.  She smiled her sweet smile, asking for a recipe with cardamom to celebrate her daughter’s birthday. I had been making this pound cake for years at the Blue Heron Coffeehouse, where the recipe had been snagged off the back of a spice container. I emailed it to her, and soon it got sent around from one friend to another; everyone was falling in love with cardamom. When I saw her months later, she came up to me and gave me a small bag, a gift. I was instantly aware that the tiny sack was full of ground cardamom – the smell wandered to my nose and overtook me. Ever since she placed the spice in my hands, whenever I add cardamom to anything, there is a moment where Michele comes to mind. Michele, with her dark, thick hair, Michele with her honest and sincere smile, Michele with her steadfast heart. Michele, in the kitchen, baking cakes for her children.

Baking this cake, so early Monday morning, brought me some comfort. The cardamom filled my kitchen and washed over my senses. I talked to my little ones about her as we creamed the butter, as we added the eggs one at a time; remembering her as we moved  hands and arms to bring things together; all of this easing my heart for a moment, silencing the questions. In those few scattered hours making cake in her memory, I was acutely aware of the significance of food, of caring about food. There is an importance to what specific ingredients we put in our bodies, but there is also such value to what we are actually making. The dishes and meals we make for loved ones, and the act of preparing them: to cook and bake and eat them together connects us beyond the physical. It’s not about eating or creating just for the sake of doing so. There is something deeper, something soul-ful that happens when we slice the cake, when we break the bread. There is taste and smell that draws out memories, binding us to those present, those past. There is purpose in our food: both the physical and the unconscious, the labor of our hands, the labor of our heart. This, to me, is real communion: the act of sharing, the act of receiving.

I know
Not these my  hands
And yet I think there was
A woman like me once had hands
like these.
-Adelaide Crapsey

(Pretty blush pink Bundt pan from Nordic Ware/Amazon Kitchen)

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I have a few recipes tucked way back in my site archives that deserve the light of day again. Here is one of them – pumpkin pound cake with chocolate. This recipe also made it into my cookbook, but since it originally debuted here, I thought I’d make it shine with some new photos and feature it again for the holiday season.

This cake been a faithful to me for over 20 years. It always turns out tender and moist, with so much flavor; perfect for snowy morning get-to-gethers, afternoon coffee breaks, and late night nibbles. And for those of you new to baking or wanting to feel more confident in the kitchen, this is a great recipe to start with. The cake is easy to put together, doesn’t have any hard-to-find ingredients, and doesn’t need a lot of babysitting in the oven. Plus, it lasts for several days, so you can make it ahead of time.

Products Featured

Copper Pound Cake Pan from Nordic Ware

Strainer/Powder Sugar Duster from Rosle

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I know, I know, it’s Wednesday night, and you’ve probably already made your Thanksgiving pies, or have your recipe all set. I apologize for posting this so late. Several people asked for this recipe after I posted a photo of the pie on Instagram, so I thought better late than never? This is the pumpkin pie I’ve made at the last couple Thanksgivings, and it’s gone over quite well my family gathering. It is dreamy-creamy, and boasting of pumpkin flavor.

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Ages and ages ago (at least, it feels that way) my husband, Adam, and I spent a few days in Los Angeles. It was a thoughtful Christmas gift from Adam – I could pick any city in the country to spend a long weekend in. Since it was winter in Minnesota, I had a friend in Los Angeles with an Airbnb (see below!), and visiting Joshua Tree National Park was on my lifetime bucket list, we decided to head West. It was a lovely weekend, despite getting burnt to a crisp at the ocean. I also got to spend time with an old friend and her family (the cute littles pictured above) and have coffee with Nicole from Eat This Poem and Alana from Fix Feast Flair.

Some places we ate/visited:

Ramen of York
Grand Central Market
Habitat Coffee Shop
Joshua Tree National Park
Amoeba Music 

Also! If you are looking for a great Airbnb to stay at in Los Angeles, check out this one!
We loved our time here: everything was so clean and comfortable, and it was a great location.

The Airbnb photos directly above were taken by Jessica Isaac.

 

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