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My face in thine eye, thine in mine appears,
And true plain hearts do in the faces rest;
Where can we find two better hemispheres,
Without sharp North, without declining West?
Whatever dies was not mixed equally;
If our two loves be one, or thou and I
Love so alike that none do slacken, none can die.
-John Donne, The Good-Morrow

This past week I found volumes A-F of the Norton Anthology of English Literature at my local thrift store, and I gleefully tucked them into my cart and took them home to read. I had a gigantic hardcover anthology that I carried around all through college, but since graduating the books have been updated tremendously (YAY), and I’m happy to find better translations, women authors, and helpful commentary. I’m a sucker for sixteenth century literature; I fell in love with Shakespeare in high school and enjoy reading the poetry from that time period (as you can see in the above poem). However, I’m starting at the Middle Ages and working my way through. It’s always a good sign when you pick up a book before an iphone; I haven’t enjoyed reading this much in quite awhile.

I also received a new cookbook recently – Hello, My Name is Ice Cream, by Dana Cree. This worked out perfectly, because Williams-Sonoma was very kind and sent me a Breville Ice Cream Compressor in August, and I have been making waaaaay too much ice cream with it. (Side note: I LOVE the ice cream compressor. It’s dreamy and quiet and so fun to use.) I decided to make my chocolate chip cookies into ice cream, and the results were, as you can imagine, delicious.

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Hello! And apologies for the silence in this space. The quiet is a good thing – my summer has been lovely and busy; my family and I enjoying quality time together. So baking and blogging has been on the back burner for the better (that sentence had too many ‘b’ words and a terrible attempt at a kitchen pun, which means I’ve had way too much coffee today).

I’ll be back again later this week with another recipe and some trip photos from the North Shore, but for now, I am going to leave you with some links.

*There has been so much good music released this spring/summer! I’ve been listening to Feist, Lee Bozeman, Greycoats, and Sufjan’s Planetarium on repeat for weeks.

*I still love Jeremy Enigk.

*I am spending the summer reading Thomas Cahill’s Hinges of History series.

*Zoebakes’s Instagram stories are the best- I always learn something new.

*I actually bought a fanny pack (or belt bag, for the trendy) and have gotten mixed reviews on it. I will say it was amazing while hiking, and I did have an older gentleman compliment me on it (we almost had matching bags), which made my day.

*I have mint chocolate ice cream cake and mixed berry cream cheese ice cream on Handmade Charlotte.

*I have grilled breakfast pizza on Artisan Bread in Five.

*Can’t wait to start baking from Pizza Camp. I also have a gigantic stack of cookbooks I need to bake from and share with you, that I hopefully will get to soon.

That’s all for now! I hope you had a lovely weekend. Don’t forget to #bakeamericacakeagain.

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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.

tent7a

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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sugar cookies
Happy Tuesday! I hope you all had a lovely Thanksgiving holiday, and survived the shopping madness that followed. After working retail for 10 holiday seasons in a row (with Black Friday and Christmas Eve always days I had to work), I can’t bring myself to venture out anywhere over the after-Thanksgiving weekend, so I enjoyed time inside my house, baking and reading. I have five books going right now; I am currently rereading two books: The Hobbit, which I am reading outloud to my kids for the first time (and they are loving it!), and Pride and Prejudice, which seemed like the perfect snowy weekend read. I’m also still working through this collection of letters. What are you currently reading? I’m always adding to my book list; I’d love suggestions.

“What a delightful library you have at Pemberley, Mr. Darcy!”
“It ought to be good,” he replied, “it has been the work of many generations.”
“And then you have added so much to it yourself, you are always buying books.”
“I cannot comprehend the neglect of a family library in such days as these.”
Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
sugar cookies

sugar cookies
These cookies are another baking recipe I’ve created as a Pulses Ambassador this year. The United Nations has declared 2016 the International Year of the Pulse, and I’ve taken the Pulse Pledge, committing to eat pulses once a week for the next year. Pulses are beans, chickpeas, lentils and dry peas; leguminous crops that are good for your health and good for the environment. I’ll be posting recipes involving them periodically this year, incorporating pulses not only in my savory cooking, but baking recipes as well. I’d love for you to join me! If the Pulse Pledge sounds interesting to you, you can read more about it here. It’s a 10 week commitment, and it doesn’t require elaborate baking: a serving of hummus and a bowl of soup are good ways to take them in, too. Also check out my Vanilla Lavender Cupcakes

This post was sponsored by USA Pulses & Pulse Canada. All opinions are my own.

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cranberry white chocolate cookies
I’m very happy with how these cookies turned out – they are a riff on an oatmeal cookie found in my book, and the rosemary adds so much flavor. They are a perfect addition to your holiday table – stacked up next to pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving, or piled high on a plate next to the tree, waiting for Santa.

Decas Cranberry Products, Inc. just-released premium quality Cooking & Baking Cranberries as part of its Paradise Meadow line. The Cooking & Baking Cranberries come in julienne-style, pre-sliced for ease-of-use. They are also available in whole for a bolder taste and can be found in the baking aisle right alongside your other baking needs. Decas also has a variety of other cranberry products including Whole Jumbo and OmegaCrans which are Omega-3 fortified. I found them great to work with, both for baking and cooking, and snacking on.
cranberry white chocolate cookies

cranberry white chocolate cookies

cranberry white chocolate cookies

cranberry
(One river gives
Its journey to the next.
)

We give because someone gave to us.
We give because nobody gave to us.

We give because giving has changed us.
We give because giving could have changed us.

We have been better for it,
We have been wounded by it—

Giving has many faces: It is loud and quiet,
Big, though small, diamond in wood-nails.

Its story is old, the plot worn and the pages too,
But we read this book, anyway, over and again:

Giving is, first and every time, hand to hand,
Mine to yours, yours to mine.

-Alberto Rios, When Giving Is All We Have

***************************************************************************
This post is sponsored by Decas cranberries. Decas is a family-owned business, and environmental stewardship has been at the core of their agricultural philosophy since the founding of the company. As always, all opinions are my own. To learn more about their history and sustainability, you can go here.

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chocolate chip cookies: the year of the pulse
January is almost over, and I’ve officially caught my first cold of 2016. Somehow I squeaked through the first half of winter without one, but alas, I’m currently curled up on the couch with a box of kleenex. This means, however, I can perhaps do some catch up in internet land. It’s been slow around here (you, ah, might have noticed) as I’ve been finishing up work on my cookbook.

A little bit of blog news: The United Nations has declared 2016 the International Year of the Pulse, and I’ve just taken the Pulse Pledge, committing to eat pulses once a week for the next year. Pulses are beans, chickpeas, lentils and dried peas; leguminous crops that are good for your health and good for the environment. I’ll be posting recipes involving them periodically this year, incorporating pulses not only in my savory cooking, but baking recipes as well. That may sound scary, but I promise it’s not.
chocolate chip cookies: the year of the pulse

 

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Holiday Cut-Out Cookies | the vanilla bean blog
This past weekend the kids and I headed to my sister’s house for a cookie decorating party. It was really a few hours to eat cookie dough and spill sprinkles all over Auntie’s floor, but we all sure had fun anyway. This December has been rather odd for me; our house troubles are still ongoing (we are now currently gutting our entire basement and can’t run our furnace in freezing Minneapolis) and my father-in-law has temporarily moved in with us for a bit (to help with said basement and spend time with the kids). All those things combined make me feel slightly displaced – our home still doesn’t feel like ‘home’ to us as we struggle with trying to find root problems and share space. My facebook feed has also been filled with tragedy this past week, adding another layer of sadness. I’ve been listening to a lot of holiday music, finding solace in lyrics of Christmas cheer and hidden thoughtfulness.

The table is set
And all glasses are full
The pieces go missing
May we still feel whole
We’ll build new traditions in place of the old
Cause life without revision will silence our souls

 So we sing carols softly
As sweet as we know
A prayer that our burdens will lift as we go
Like young love still waiting under mistletoe
We’ll welcome December with tireless hope
-Sleeping At Last, Snow

Speaking of Holiday music, my Best of Christmas vol. 3 is now up on 8tracks! You can find Best of Christmas vol. 1 and vol. 2 there also. (Check out Eustace the Dragon’s cover of Justice Delivers Its Gift on vol. 3 – I’m in love with their version. Also! they have a holiday EP out now. It’s worth every dollar.)

And this made me chuckle: James Thurber pens “A Visit from Saint Nicholas IN THE ERNEST HEMINGWAY MANNER” for The New Yorker, December 24, 1927.

Also: 51 Of The Most Beautiful Sentences in Literature to cure a bad day.
holiday cut-out cookies | the vanilla bean blog

holiday cut-out cookies | the vanilla bean blog

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chocolate chip cookies (wheat free) | the vanilla bean blog
It is nap time. The little ones are quiet, and I am hoping they are asleep. I sit down to breathe, to take time to be still. Almost simultaneously it comes – the near audible whisper, a voice from within, from above. It is time for chocolate. I feel amused when I hear the call, but still give in to my afternoon addiction. My feet find the floor and my hands the highest cupboard. There it lays, nestled behind looming bottles of olive oil and vermouth, out of sight to a quick observer. I stand on tip-toe, grabbing for the shiny silver tinfoil. Two pieces of dark bittersweet break into my hands; the brown-black squares stand out against my pale freckled skin. I seat myself again, quietly biting into the segments.

There, finally, is the silence I was searching for; precious moments are spiritualized as the chocolate washes over me. I reach back into my memory, and the past is quickly present as the chocolate calls out to the sweet. My husband and I are still; his arms wrapped around me. Some call it afterglow, but I see black cocoa blooming in steaming coffee, waiting to cool slightly before being whisked completely smooth. My mind finds another moment, and there is an old wooden church pew, well-worn with sincere hearts. I sit quietly in its comfort, resting in the torn pink cushions, and my questions are silenced for one flitting moment. I recall my first bite of chocolate pudding cake: the velvety silk silences me instantly.

But as quickly as the sweet came it is gone, my hands are empty as the squares sink inside me. I am not satisfied; I remember there are more pieces, whispering to me again from the cupboard. I try to ignore them, but the bitter flavor is now center stage, and its aftertaste lingering. My mind is  racing while my husband sleeps, and I am longing for what I can’t put words to, trying to keep doors inside me safely locked. I am seated in the pew again, but now I am lamenting and questioning: a dear friend left this earth too soon, her body unable to keep her here any longer. There are no answers, just clanging voices calling out to the sky.

But my chocolate-inspired daze is cut short. My daughter is calling to me. I walk the stairs to her room, open the door and lean in close to her face. She recognizes the scent on my breath, and to her it only brings to mind scenes of sweetness. Her innocent eyes ask me the question, and we smile at each other as I gather her in my arms. We climb down the stairs and settle in on the couch. I break off two more pieces and we eat them together.
chocolate chip cookies (wheat free) | the vanilla bean blog
(Whatever we’ve lost
I think we’re gonna let it go
Let it fall
Like snow

‘Cause rain and leaves
And snow and tears and stars
And that’s not all my friend
They all fall with confidence and grace
So let it fall,

let it fall.

over the rhine)

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Strawberries & Cream Amaretti Cookies (gluten free)
It’s the summer of fun! For reasons before mentioned, I am lining up guest posts for this summer. Up next is Izy from Top With Cinnamon. I’ve been enamored with Izy’s photographs for awhile now, and when I found out she was 17 years old, I was even more impressed. I wish I would have had this much ambition (and had been this cool) in high school. This woman is going places.

Hi guys! I’m so happy to be guest posting here on Sarah’s gorgeous blog, which I’ve been a fan of for such a long time. From the beautiful writing and photography to her Instagram feed and inspiring Pinterest boards, Sarah is one of my favourite bloggers around, especially as here on Vanilla Bean there’s no shortage of baked goods!

I am a baker at heart, so it’s always hard for me when the summer hits, full force, with the enveloping heat and humidity. It makes it hard to bear standing around in a kitchen for an hour, whilst an oven blazes by your side. But what is a baker to do? I try to stick to recipes where the baking is a minimal part of the recipe. Cookies tend to do the trick as the baking time is usually only around 10 minutes. Now, we all know gooey chocolate chip cookies will always be amazing, but I don’t really want to be stuffing my face with warm cookies when it’s hot out. I want a cookie that’s best at room temperature, or maybe even cold from the refrigerator. This opens up a whole new level of cookie creation, people.

Here in London, the Tennis Season is upon us. Queen’s first, and soon the well known Wimbledon Tennis will start. Now you may be wondering why I’m talking about tennis when I was just talking about cookies, but stick with me on this one!

During Wimbledon matches, the classic pairing of strawberries and cream is served to the spectators. It’s refreshing, cool and summery-sweet. I took inspiration from this and translated it to cookie form! I piped vanilla whipped cream into a chewy, thumb-printed amaretti cookie, and topped it with a sliced strawberry. I also drizzled some white chocolate onto some of them, kind of overkill, but it looks nice (haha).
Strawberries & Cream Amaretti Cookies (gluten free)
Strawberries & Cream Amaretti Cookies (gluten free)
Strawberries & Cream Amaretti Cookies (gluten free)

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chocolate chip cookies | the vanilla bean blog

I realized recently that I never posted about my very favorite chocolate chip cookies, and as they were needed for a get-together over the weekend, I found the perfect reasons to (a)make them and (b)take pictures of them. I’ve been trying out lots of other recipes over the years, but these are the cookies I always come back to.

I actually came up with this recipe for a coffeehouse I had worked at, and it is based on a cookie from this lovely cafe. The later cookie was (and still is) great; it’s thick center and scattered chocolate chips always left me feeling content. But I wanted something a little different, like a cookie with crisp brown edges, a chewy-gooey center, balanced chocolate, a bit more salt, and some cracks to grace the top. So I took out some flour and an egg, added vanilla and salt, and then somehow ended up with these lovelies. They are buttery (I won’t apologize!), crispy-gooey, and terribly delicious. So here it is, our House cookie, just in time for swimsuit season. Enjoy.
chocolate chip cookies | the vanilla bean blog
chocolate chip cookies | the vanilla bean blog

{My mother-in-law gave me this scale for Mother’s Day; I love it so and had to work it into a photo. I was highly inspired by Russell’s scale photo  – such a perfect shot.}

{p.p.s. – I don’t know if you’ve heard of Artisan Magazine, but if you have an ipad it’s free! and lovely! and I have a little piece in this issue. Check them out here.}

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