Tag Archives: baking

Cookie-Thon 2016

Can you believe this is the 7th year I’ve done Cookie-Thon? I guess it didn’t technically become a “Cookie-Thon” until about 5 years ago, but still… I was shooting for a number less insane than last year’s 3,454 cookies, but apparently less for me, was only by 10 cookies, bringing this year’s total to 3,444. Despite that, this year went a lot smoother thanks to a few things: taking Friday and Monday off to give me 4 full days, my friend Shawn lending me his mixer so I could run 4 bowls at the same time in equally powered machines, having my friends Aubrie and Ari helping on Saturday and my Maw Maw on Monday, cookie sheets as big as my oven that held 30-35 cookies, a giant spatula, and just overall better planning.

 

I filled over 60 packages this year and 6 platters, mostly to the usual friends and family members that receive them every year. But the most fulfilling part of Cookie-Thon continues to be the ability to give cookies to strangers. The surprise of the pizza delivery guy, touched by the offer to come inside and have a warm cookie before he takes the road again. The comfort in the face of a neighbor I don’t really know, but who lost her daughter 2 months ago and is understandably struggling to feel Christmas joy. This is what Cookie-Thon is really about, this token of love, to whoever is willing to receive it. Spreading Christmas cheer is my absolute favorite thing to do and I implore all of you to find a way to spread some too.

 

This year I had the opportunity to do something really worthwhile with the excess cookies and I am excited about being able to do it every year from here on out too. With about a bins worth of leftovers, I asked around for a good place to donate them, or for people who would like a small package themselves, and my old childhood friend Sasha suggested The Sharing Table. You remember, that humbling experience I had last year when I volunteered? She says they get well over 100 people for the Christmas dinner and now some of them will get to go home (or wherever they find shelter at night) with some of my cookies! I know it’s hardly enough to make their lives any better, but I hope it at least serves as a sweet treat in the name of Christmas that they would have otherwise not had.

 

I’ve got this idea about making Cookie-Thon a sort of movement, where I release my recipes online and people all over participate in the same event, same weekend, and then we all set out to get them into the hands of people who don’t expect it – who need it most. Be that homeless people, cops, delivery people, someone who’s been down on their luck, etc… If we could create a movement to spread Christmas Cheer…. gah! it’d be an amazing thing to be a part of. Anybody interested in possibly being a part of this next year?

 

For the most part I posted the progress of Cookie-Thon live on Instagram Stories and Snapchat this year, but I did manage to capture a few pictures with my good camera, too. If you’d like to see the process, click the image below! :)

 

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Blueberry Morning Cake

I’m writing this from my newly acquired laptop, gifted to me by my husband to encourage my getting back into writing by being able to remove myself from our shared office (which is full of distraction), and it’s snowing for the first time this winter. It’s been unseasonably warm here in Maryland, keeping germs alive in an awful way and making Christmas feel not much like Christmas for me, so I doubt it will stick or amount to much, but at least it’s finally happening. Hopefully it won’t be the only snowfall we get this winter.

 

Colder weather has always had a way of making my creative sides flourish. I’m not sure how or why they’re connected that way, but it’s always been the case. Where many people suffer from seasonal depression in the colder, darker months of the year, I find myself more productive and happier than I am all year. There used to be a time when that creativity presented itself in the form of baking, but in the past couple of years my treat baking has gone a similar direction as my photography – something I do on commission rather than for fun. But I miss the satisfaction of just baking something for fun, of taking an existing recipe and making it my own. And as I put my also newly acquired Kitchen Aid mixer (the most amazing wedding gift from my dear friend Akoss) to use this past week for a commissioned birthday cupcake order, I thought: I’m going to just bake for fun this weekend. It’s perfect that it decided to do my favorite thing of all, snow, when the free time to bake arrived.

 

So, what did I decide to create? Well, this year I jumped ship from my usual Joyce Meyer devotional and decided to give a stranger’s devotional a shot instead. It’s not that I don’t still love Joyce Meyer or that her devotional wasn’t useful to me, I’m just looking for something more in my spiritual walk and while this new devotional isn’t exactly getting me there either, I think it’s healthy to take chances on something different, otherwise, how would you ever find what you’re looking for? Anyway, the new devotional is called Savor and it’s by a woman named Shauna Niequist and I hadn’t bought it for this reason, but every so many pages it comes with the added bonus of some of her favorite recipes. The first one showed up in between last weeks devotionals and sounded super promising and also like something I could easily convert to gluten free.

 

I made a few adjustments to the recipe and directions (they’ll be shown in parenthesis and italics like this) and will likely make a few more the next time I make it, but overall I’m pleased with the end result and think it’s definitely something worth baking if you’re also looking to create in the kitchen just for fun.

 

Shauna’s original recipe calls for….

 

  • 1/2 cup butter (softened), plus more to spread in the pan
  • 1 cup sugar, plus 2 tbsp for the berries (I used 1 tbsp sugar, 1 tbsp brown sugar for the berries)
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cup plain yogurt (I used Chobani Greek Yogurt)
  • 1/4 tsp almond extract (I added 1/4 tsp of vanilla extract as well, because almond can get overwhelming in flavor and balances better with the addition of vanilla)
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour (I used Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free Baking Flour)
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 2 cups blueberries (my 2 cups were overflowing)

 

*Shauna’s directions call for adding salt, but there was no measurement included in her ingredients. I added 1/4 tsp of sea salt to mine and it worked just fine. I also added 1/2 tsp of cinnamon (because I love the combo of cinnamon and blueberry) to my cake mix and also shook a bit onto the berries themselves while mixing them in sugar

 

Her instructions work like this…

 

  • Preheat the over to 350 degrees. Butter a 10″ springform pan and line it with buttered parchment paper. (I skipped the buttered parchment paper. Seemed like overkill to me, but perhaps if you have a tricky oven or a springform pan that tends to stick to things, the parchment paper might be a good idea. Also, while I liked being able to release the springform pan and have the cake standing there so prettily, I don’t see any reason this couldn’t have been baked in a glass dish if that’s all you have.)
  • In a large mixing bowl, combine butter, sugar, eggs, yogurt, and almond extract (and vanilla in my case 😉 ). Mix well. Add flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and mix by hand until combined and be careful to not over mix. (I didn’t mix mine by hand or find myself concerned with over mixing. In fact, mine still had a few lumps of butter and I think it worked out just fine. Also, I had added my cinnamon at this point.) Pour batter into the pan. Toss berries in remaining sugar (remember, this is where I split the sugar, part white sugar/part brown sugar) and then scatter them over the top of the batter.
  • Bake for 45 to 55 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. (My oven normally cooks high so I initially shot for the 45 minute timeframe, but in the end, it took 65 minutes for the center to finally set for me. This could be a result of the gluten free flour swap; it’s my first time substituting so I’m not entirely sure.) Let cool for 10 minutes, then transfer to a cake plate.

 

I had my slice warm, with a swipe of butter on it, and a cup of tea, and it was delicious! In fact, I don’t think anyone who didn’t know it was gluten free would suspect so in eating it. It’s definitely a good comfort food for a cold, snowy day. :)

 

 

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2013 In Review: Everything Else

At the start of 2013, I made this list of resolutions. Eight things I wanted to accomplish this year. And so let’s check them off….

 

1/2. See – 2013 In Review: Writing

 

3. See – 2013 In Review: Books

 

4. Photography – I’ve touched lightly on this already with that post about the Christmas Card Shoots I did this year, but I can expand on it by saying, I did in fact become more comfortable behind the camera in 2013. I still don’t have the confidence I should necessarily, or all the skills I could have where editing photos is concerned, but I have gotten braver and I have tried harder this year than I ever have before. In 2013 I did eleven scheduled photoshoots – shoots in which I got paid, even though I didn’t ask (and tried to refuse) compensation for. I also shot birthday parties and family gatherings and anytime someone asked me to capture a family moment. I shot a lot food, too (ha!). In 2014, I’d like to continue on this path of learning and finding the courage to continue to step outside of my comfort zone and spread my wings as a photographer.

 

5. Music – I didn’t go to even one concert this year and I regret it immensely. Some of my favorite bands came through Baltimore this year, prime opportunities for me to see them live, and I was too afraid to attend a show alone. I’ve really got to work on this because I can’t be afraid of going places alone forever. I can’t sacrifice something I love so dearly just because I’m afraid of enjoying it alone. I definitely need to work on this harder in 2014. (Also see – 2013 In Review: Music)

 

6. Weight Loss – Surprise, surprise, I didn’t lose 60+ lbs. in 2103. I think total I only lost 20 and who knows if that number still stands after consuming nothing but sugar since Christmas. But, I did generally stick to the “clean eating” lifestyle I set out to. And I did work out with more dedication than I ever have before, 4-5 times a week. I even participated in a 5K this year, the first of many more I hope. After working so hard for a few months and making no progress, I sought out medical advice and found that my thyroid was significantly underactive and have since tried a series of medications to get that where it should be (it’s finally in a good place) and that I was severely deficient in vitamin D (I’m working on getting that where it should be now). Both of these things could and did play a factor in my weight loss efforts and almost immediately after changing up the medication routine, I started to finally see results. I’m hoping that having this sorted out and keeping up with the lifestyle changes I made in 2013, I’ll finally have more success where my weight loss goals are concerned in 2014.

 

7. Baking – Boy did I ever! No, seriously, one month I tracked just how much “creating” in the kitchen I did and in the end it was a whole 7 days worth. That doesn’t sound like a lot in comparison to a 30 day month, but when you think I lost an entire week to just baking – that many hours spent solely in the kitchen – it actually is quite significant. I baked pies and cookies galore, with a few other interesting desserts on the side. I even tried my hand at a few dinners, which is completely out of my realm since I’m not much of a cook, but found myself successful with those dishes as well. Overall, I think I nailed this. My cookies this year were a HUGE hit and my pies were so loved by others that someone actually paid me to make them pies for their holiday celebration. It blew my mind.

 

8. Productivity – I’d say that I definitely made better use of my time in 2013, but it came at a cost, for sure. While I was able to squeeze in a workout regimen with my work schedule (a work schedule that involved more overtime than I’ve ever worked before) and be a writer, reader, baker, photographer, and you know, still spend time with the people I love, IT. WAS. HARD. Not just hard mentally, but physically. I feel like I was more tired this year than ever before (and partly that could have been the medical issues weighing me down, too). I found myself really regretting using the phrase “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” because what good was I to anyone and myself if I felt dead already anyway? None at all. So while I definitely did make the best of my time, I think this year I’ve gotta find a better balance of that use of time and remember that it’s perfectly okay (and necessary) to take a day off for nothing sometimes. I saw Sevenly post the quote, “If you’re too busy to smile, you’re too busy” at the peak of my busiest moments and it hit me hard. I was miserable because I had too much going on, like ready to break down and cry. I don’t want to reach that place again in 2014.

 

I’d say as far as resolutions go, I’m pretty pleased with my achievements in 2013. Sure, they could have been better, but they were already worlds better than anything I achieved in 2012 and I’m proud of myself for mostly sticking to my goals. I know resolutions aren’t for everyone, but they are a good way to guide me and so I’m sticking with them!

 

Now… what exactly do I hope to accomplish in 2014? 😉

 

 

Gingerdoodle-Snickersnaps!

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This year I introduced this awesome cookie to my Christmas cookie collection and it has become a new favorite to a bunch of the people I gifted them to. Because they’re more involved than all the other cookies in my Christmas collection, I photographed the steps and figured I’d share the recipe (click through the picture slideshow at the bottom). Enjoy!

 

Snickerdoodle Dough

 

  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon + 3 tablespoons granulated sugar for rolling cookies in

 

~Cream together shortening and sugar. Add egg and vanilla and mix well, until creamy. Add flour, baking soda, salt, and cream of tartar and mix until combined.~

 

(Note: This dough is smaller than the gingersnap dough. If you’d like to make sure you aren’t left with excess gingersnap dough, I’d increase this dough by half.)

 

Gingersnap Dough

 

  • 3/4 cup shortening
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 1 egg
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon cloves
  • 1 teaspoon ginger
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar for rolling cookies in

 

~Cream together shortening and sugar. Add molasses and egg and mix well. Add flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, cloves, and ginger and mix until combined. Put 1/4 cup sugar in a small bowl and set aside for rolling dough in.~

 

Bringing the dough’s together:

 

I find it’s best to make these dough’s the night before so they have time to firm up in the refrigerator. It’s not necessary, though.

 

To start, set aside two bowls with the sugar and sugar/cinnamon mixtures in them for dipping the cookies in.

 

Then, using a pizza cutter, slice 1-2” strips of each dough and press them together, pushing and squeezing until you have a long rope of dough. The dough’s will crumble if you try to roll them into this strip.

 

Slice the strip into 1-2” squares and roll each square into a ball. I suggest preparing all of the dough like this before dipping them into the sugar. (The original recipe I found for this suggested rolling two separate balls in their appropriate sugars and then pressing them together, however the sugar makes it difficult for them to stick to each other properly.)

 

Once you’ve got all the dough rolled into balls, dip the ginger side into the sugar and the snickerdoodle side into the cinnamon sugar mixture. When placing them on the cookie sheet, position them so the split in color is turned upward if you want your cookies to have that half in half or ying yang look.

 

Bake at 350° for 8-10 minutes.

 

(Note: My oven cooks high and I often only leave them in for 7.5 minutes by the last few trays. Use your best judgment. The cookies should have a bit of crunch on the ginger side and a chewy texture on the snickerdoodle side.)

 

Baking Cookies Like a Boss

This weekend I set out to bake 500 cookies. I always bake cookies around the holidays because I like to give them out as gifts and people seem to really like my cookies. Usually I bake around 300, but I had a lot more requests for them this year and planned to make more. About halfway through the bake-a-thon though, I realized I was going to have far more than 500 cookies when I was done. 

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Cookies prepped for baking

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Cookies fresh out of the oven

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Peanut Butter Cookies

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Mint Chocolate Chip Cookies

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Chocolate Chip Cookies

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Chocolate Chip with Pecan Cookies

7 hours later, there were 791 cookies. O_O

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In case you're wondering, this is what 791 cookies looks like.

It took 4-5 more hours to prepare all of them as gifts, with all the tissue paper, ribbons, tagging, and packaging. To say I was exhausted would be an understatement. I’m still tired.

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And you might think that I’d quit after that, but nope. I just had to make something else this year. So I made an old family recipe for Holiday Spice Cakes

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I can’t wait until everyone’s received their goodies! 😀

We have this running joke in my house around the holidays that I’m a Keebler Elf (partly because I’m so short, partly because of the cookie baking). I’m pretty sure I got the “Most Productive Keebler Elf of the Season” award this year.