Not weird

The cookie: Molasses cookies

The speakers: Sakura-Con attendees Hsien-Ko from Darkstalkers, Ezio from Assassin’s Creed, and Jorge from Halo: Reach


The story:

Me: Why dress up this way and attend conventions like Sakura- con? What’s the point?

Ezio: Ezio is one of my favorite characters and his costume is badass. Plus, I get to kill everyone.

Jorge: It’s just like Halloween. Everyone loves Halloween, right? You can become a completely different person if you want to. I think that element of escapism is very appealing. Plus, I get to spend time with family and friends who do the same thing.

Me: You all have family who dress up like game characters, too?

Ezio: No, not me. My family thinks it’s a little odd, to be honest.

Hsien-Ko: The other kids used to tell me I was weird, too, when I dressed up as video game characters for Halloween. But when I got older and found out other people were doing it, I was like “Score! I’m not weird!” And this is where I go to prove that and cover myself in blue makeup.

In case you don’t know anything about Cosplaying, these folks did an awesome job. Here are some pics for comparison’s sake:

Hsien-Ko didn’t have hands so she couldn’t eat a cookie. Sad.

The recipe: Rhubarb hand pies, adapted from Smitten Kitchen

So. The original recipe called for ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons heavy cream, but I only had ¼ cup in my opened carton of cream and didn’t want to open the second for a measly 2 tablespoons. So I got cute and added the yogurt (because I did have about a tablespoon of that left) and the vodka, because I read somewhere that vodka makes pastry dough flakier. Why lemon? Because that’s what I had. I know, I’m difficult. Honestly, I’m sure these would turn out fantastic with or without my slapdashery, but I wanted to be honest about my method. Just don’t put too much sugar in the rhubarb. And don’t skip the zest. Rhubarb needs orange like… people not from Seattle need sunshine. Trust me.

Dough

1 cup corn flour

1 cup all-purpose flour

½ cup fine cornmeal

¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon Kosher salt

1 stick cold butter, cut into small pieces

¼ cup heavy cream

1 tablespoon Greek yogurt

1 tablespoon lemon vodka

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Rhubarb filling

2 cups rhubarb, chopped into ½-inch pieces

¾ cup sugar, or to taste (I like my filling tangy in comparison to the sweet, salty dough)

1 tablespoon grated orange zest

Start with the rhubarb filling—this can be done day-of or at some point previous to making the pies. Wash the rhubarb stalks, remove any green leaves (those are poisonous, yo) and chop them. Marvel at how pretty and red they are and then swear when you realize the red has stained your cutting board, and then get over it. Put the pieces in a quart saucepan and add sugar and zest. No need to add water—the rhubarb will cook itself in its own juices. Cover the pan and cook on medium heat for 5 to 7 minutes or until the rhubarb has softened. Cook another 3 or 4 minutes with the lid off to boil off some of the water; you don’t want the filling to be too runny. Cool.

While the filling is cooling, tackle the dough. Combine the dry ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and process until combined. Add the butter pieces and pulse in short bursts until the mixture has pea-sized lumps of butter left in it. Add the wet ingredients (yolks, cream, yogurt, all that) and pulse until combined. The dough will look crumbly but comes together when you give it a little love.

The cool thing about this dough is that it’s easier to work with when it’s warm, so roll it out right away on a floured surface to about 1/8-inch thickness. Depending how big you want your hand pies, cut 4-inch diameter circles with whatever implement you’ve got handy—I had a vase. Transfer the circles to a parchment-lined sheet and place a tablespoon of filling in the middle. A tablespoon doesn’t seem like a lot, I know, but you want to be able to close the pies up. Brush a little cold water around the circumference of the dough circle and fold one half over the other. creating a moon shape. Seal the pie and make a decorative edge by pressing the edges of the dough together with the back tines of a fork. Slit each pie so they don’t inflate with air and puff in the oven. Freeze on cookie sheet for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Bake tarts straight from the freezer for 20-25 minutes or until the edges are brown the rhubarb bubbles out from the slit. If serving warm, put a big scoop of vanilla ice cream on that mother. They’re awesome at room-temp as well, or pretty much anytime.

And here are some bonus chibis. Because who doesn’t love chibis?

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Shooting stars

The cookie: World Peace cookies, or the most sinfully chocolate cookie you will ever put in your mouth

The speaker: Ashley, prospective nursing student and all-around person-you-wish-you-could-be

The story: I had a crazy home life growing up. Then I started working for this program for developmentally disabled children where we’d go into families’ homes and help care for their kids. Going into the job, I was 17 and had my head so far up my ass about life, with all these assumptions about what was real and not real, what was healthy and not healthy. I didn’t care about anything. Then I started taking care of this one kid, Matthew, from the time he was 15 to 17. He had a very rare degenerative disease called MPS Hunter syndrome where your body’s cells don’t properly discard waste, and it kind of builds up over time and you slowly decline. I was responsible for waking Matt up and getting him on the school bus three times a week.  Now, I wasn’t a morning person, I’m still not a morning person, and I never will be a morning person, but every morning he was happy. And I’m like, “Here’s this person who wasn’t supposed to live past his 11th birthday. He has to wear a diaper. He can’t walk anymore, he can’t speak. He can’t even eat without using a tube, and he’s still smiling. Why am I stressing out about my life?” Because everybody has their shit, but at the end of the day, you have to look around you and realize that, you know what? You’re okay.

When he passed, I got this tattoo for him.

I used to call him my Matt-Star, because individuals with Hunter syndrome tend to be very active and all-over-the place as children, but as the disease progresses they just slowly fade out, and it reminded me of a shooting star. It’s blue because Matt had big, blue eyes. Honestly, I believe he’s the reason why I’m alive, why I’m standing here right now and pushing forward. He changed every perspective I ever had. That’s why I’m trying so hard to get into nursing school: so that I can continue the experience Matt shared with me. Through every part of my life, the low and high points, I’ve had his life to reflect on. I’ve worked plenty of jobs, but I’m always happiest when I’m caregiving. That’s why I chose nursing: you suddenly have an invitation into somebody’s life, and you never know how the things you do for them might change them. Or how they might change you.

Now people come up to me and say, “Dude, I have a star tattoo, too!” and I’m like, Hey! Mine’s kind of different.

Want to learn more about MPS Hunters syndrome? Click here for information on the disease and raising awareness.

The Recipe: World Peace cookies, adapted from Smitten Kitchen

These cookies are part-shortbread, part-brownie, -part chocolate bar, and all-delicious. Because I can never leave well enough alone with anything, I added the almond and anise extracts, and the Grand Marnier for a boost of orange. The orange didn’t come through much (some zest would be a welcome addition) but the anise did. I think some espresso powder would be fantastic as well. Don’t skimp on the salt– biting into the salty bits is extremely pleasurable, bordering on illicit.

1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour

1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (I used Guittard cocoa rouge)

½ teaspoon baking soda

11 tablespoons or 1 stick plus 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

2/3 cup packed light brown sugar

¼ cup sugar minus 1 tablespoon

½ tablespoon fleur de sel plus 3 or 4 pinches table salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

¼ teaspoon anise extract

¼ teaspoon almond extract

1 tablespoon Grand Marnier

5 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopping into small chips (I used Guittard 74% wafers)

Sift the flour, cocoa, and baking soda together in a bowl.

Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed until soft and creamy. Add both sugars, the salt, vanilla, almond, and anise extracts and beat for 2 minutes more.

Add the flour mixture and mix on low speed for about 30 seconds, just until the flour disappears into the dough — for the best texture, work the dough as little as possible once the flour is added, and don’t be concerned if the dough looks a little crumbly. Toss in the chocolate pieces and mix only to incorporate.

Turn the dough out onto a work surface, gather it together and divide it in half. Working with one half at a time, shape the dough into logs that are 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Wrap the logs in plastic wrap and refrigerate them for at least 3 hours. (The dough can be refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 2 months. If you’ve frozen the dough, you needn’t defrost it before baking — just slice the logs into cookies and bake the cookies 1 minute longer.)

Once you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats.

Working with a sharp, thin knife, slice the logs into rounds that are 1/2 inch thick. (The rounds are likely to crack as you’re cutting them — don’t be concerned, just squeeze the bits back onto each cookie.) Arrange the rounds on the baking sheets, leaving about one inch between them.

Bake the cookies one sheet at a time for 12 minutes — they won’t look done, nor will they be firm, but that’s just the way they should be. Transfer the baking sheet to a cooling rack and let the cookies rest until they are only just warm, at which point you can serve them or let them reach room temperature.

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Good news

What, no cookies? I know, I know– look, I’ve already got a post half-drafted including a beautiful story and the most threateningly delicious chocolate cookies I’ve ever conjured, so cool your jets.

After months of waiting, I was finally notified last Saturday that Southern Illinois University, Carbondale had accepted me off their waitlist and into their fiction MFA program. I got the email, screamed, laughed, started crying, and then called my mom. I hate to defer to cliches, but this is a dream come true, and something I have wanted for so, so long.

In just two month’s time I’ll be selling off most of my worldly possessions here in Seattle and shipping off to sunny Carbondale, Illinois for three years of tuition-waived, teaching-assistantship-funded literary bliss. Teacher training starts on August 8th, as does the beginning of a new chapter of my life. In the wise words of Rebecca Black: I so excited.

So, what does this mean for this blog? Nothing will change for a couple months, at least; as long as there is butter in this world and flour to mix with it, there will be cookies, and there is never a shortage of stories. I’d like to promise I’ll continue to blog once I start my MFA program, but not even all the cookies in the world can mend a broken promise, so I’ll have to bake it by ear. Worst comes to worst, I’ll want to impress my new fiction cohort and professors with my skills in the kitchen, and I don’t doubt they’ll have some very, very interesting stories to tell. As will I.

As for now, read on, dear readers! If you do exist. Do you exist?

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Put a piece of me on it

The cookie: Lemon Lavender Sables (scroll down for the recipe)

The speakers: Casey and Mike, Federal Way’s finest semi-truck detailers, philosophers, and graffiti artists

The story:

Casey: When I was younger, my interest in martial arts got me into calligraphy, and that got me into graffiti. It’s that simplified style of writing a name in a single character that appeals to me. A throw-up, which is a graffiti artist’s signature, can be just like that: a character or group of symbols.

Mike: The cool thing about graffiti is that it doesn’t look like anything at all to most people. But if you have an eye for it you can notice a lot of interesting things. For example, there’s this technique called flaring. The nozzle on a spray paint can releases the paint in a cone shape, so if an artist holds the can really close to the wall it’ll make a dot, but if the artist flicks or tilts the can away, the dot gets larger. That varies the thickness of each character’s stroke, giving it the appearance of calligraphy.

Casey: It’s this whole art that thrives in festering areas. Like if you go down under freeway overpasses where bums live. It’s dark and dingy, and there are crackheads and all this other nasty shit, but I can stand there for eight hours during the day and paint if I want. Nobody cares.

Mike: It’s not that graffiti happens in ugly places, just forgotten ones.

Casey: Or think of it like the sunset. A sunset is made of these beautiful pinks and purples, but that’s all just fucking pollution. That’s gross but we think it’s beautiful. I feel the same about decrepit, diseased places. That’s what I want. I thrive on chaos. It’s beautiful because I’m human. Hell, I’ve been to jail multiple times, like jail-jail, for writing graffiti but I still fucking do it. The funny thing is that none of it’s going to get left behind.

Mike: Spray pain fades off a wall in only a few years, or it gets covered over.

Casey: Still, I risk it all. I climb up buildings and go out in the middle of the night. I climbed a crane once. People do all kinds of things. There’s this guy from New York who decided to go down into different subway tunnels and write a page of a progressive story in each of them. He’d write these 1,000-word murals and number them page 24 or whatever he was up to. He tried to put one in every train tunnel. That’s why graffiti is called writing. He was basically writing his life story right there on the walls. Eventually the cops figured out what he was up to and set up outside of every subway entrance and were like, “You’re never coming into a subway again.” All that shit’s gone now.

On some level, graffiti is an ego thing. I don’t care if anyone ever sees it except for me and a few select others who get it. I just want to take other people’s space and put a piece of me on it. I want to put it in other people’s faces.

Casey and Mike


Casey doesn’t only tag decrepit places. And if you want to check out more work by Seattle street artists, try The City Slums. But don’t expect them to paint you any t-shirts.

 

The Recipe: Whole Wheat Lemon Lavender Sables adapted from Alice Medrich’s amazing cookie cookbook whose name was too long to type

I love these cookies because, like all butter cookies, you can make them with stuff you have on hand and they’re endlessly versatile. I added lemon extract and lavender to these because both ingredients were sitting in my cupboards, unused, and needed some love. The flavors are delicate but this is intended—you have to use a light hand with lavender or else your cookies will taste more like that dusty bar of soap decorating the basket on your grandma’s toilet tank. Furthermore, make sure you use lavender meant for consumption. There are many plant varieties that are widely known as culinary lavender, but each is marked by a lesser amount of camphor that reduces bitterness.

1 cup all-purpose flours

1 cup whole wheat flour minus 1 tablespoon

14 tablespoons (1 ¾ sticks) unsalted butter, softened

½ cup sugar

¼ teaspoon salt, plus a few extra pinches

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

½ teaspoon lemon extract

½ tablespoon culinary lavender blossoms, crushed

½ tablespoon culinary lavender blossoms, intact

 

Combine the flours in a bowl and mix thoroughly. Crush half the lavender blossoms with a mortar and pestle to release more of their oils and lovely lavender flavor.

In a medium bowl beat the butter, sugar, salt, lavender, and extracts with a wooden spoon until creamy but not fluffy, about 1 minute. This is because you want your sables to be dense, not cakey, and better yet you don’t need a mixer! Add the flour and mix until just incorporated. For a while your dough may look like pastry dough: flour with a bunch of chunks of butter cut into it. Fear not! Keep mixing and it’ll come together.

When just incorporated, scrape the dough into a mass and knead it a couple of times so that it’s uniform. Form into a 12 x 2 inch log, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight. Incidentally, you could freeze the dough and have a ready-made source of cookies (and obesity) for unexpected visitors.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut ¼-inch thick slices of dough and place them on ungreased sheets at least an inch apart. Bake for 12 to 14 minutes or until the edges are golden brown. Cool on sheets for a couple of minutes before transferring them to racks to cool completely.

 

Did I forget to take a picture of the cookie? Yes. Did they get eaten so quickly that their deliciousness warrants no photographic evidence? Yes. Do I still feel bad that I forgot to take a picture? Yes. So here’s another picture:

I will debase myself for your pleasure.

 

 

 

 

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Building pyramids

The cookie: Hamentashen with pistachio and poppy seed fillings (check link and scroll down for recipe)

The speaker: Wally, owner, mechanic, and mustachioed master  of AutoPro in Capitol Hill

The story: I really admire people who teach. When I was a kid, I’d see people working on a motorcycle and I’d get curious about what they were doing. Now, sometimes kids will come up and ask me, “Hey, what are you riding?” and I’ll ask them, “How old are you? Where are your parents? You know, if they say it’s okay, I’ll teach you how to ride this thing.” That’s the kind of thing I do. I know it’s not as good as teaching or something—hell, teachers could be out there in the world just screwing around, but instead they’re spending every day with kids—but that’s how I try to give back. Just trying to make kids feel liked and wanted in life, because a lot of them don’t get any love. It’s so important to be loved, whether it’s by your family or your friends. And it’s hard to find true friends. Usually they always want something from you.

On April 17th it’ll be four years since I’ve been clean and sober. I used to make meth and speed and I’ve done a bit of prison time for a little bit of kind of a lot. I kept building my pyramid and then I’d get in trouble and have everything taken away. At some point I was like, “I am done with this lifestyle!” and here I am. My life is good now. I run this shop. I own my Harley, my CRV, my crotch rocket, my motorcross pro circuit racer, my skidoos. I have a daughter and a grandson and I’m only 41: pretty young to be a grandpa. Now I’m trying to buy a house, which is tricky because all the banks see is “prior drug conviction” and they think my money is coming from that and not my business. But it’ll all work out in the end. You only get told “no” so many times before somebody says “yes,” so how can I go wrong?

(Where’s the cookie, you may ask? Wally turned it down because, bless his ex-addict heart, he doesn’t eat refined sugar nor butter anymore. He’s a stronger man than I! Or… well, just a better man in general. Seeing as how I’m a chick.)

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The King of Rock likes cookies, too

I ran into Jimi Hendrix down at Pike Place Market. He called me “Foxy Lady” and told me my pistachio hamentashen were delicious.

 

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Never say never

The cookie: Hamentashen with pistachio and poppy seed fillings

The speaker: Ron, Rubix cube master of Pike Place Market

The story:

Ron: I try to watch obscure documentaries because stuff goes on in this world that most people have absolutely no idea about. Some stuff is really interesting; some stuff is really weird. For example, there’s this contingency of people that dress like animals, like in animal suits like baseball or football team mascots. Then they jump in a big pile and roll around and pet each other. It’s not sexual, but in a sense I guess it is. There’s an annual gathering of these folks in Denver. Last year, over 25,000 people attended. I saw this on Netflix and I was like “Oh, I gotta see this!” and I watched it. It was funny and I tried not to be too judgmental, but I couldn’t stop laughing. I was like “Holy shit! It’s a mascot orgy!”

Me: Is there any way that you would ever consider doing something like that?

Ron: No; no. Uh, well, I guess I should never say never. But no, never.

If you’ve never seen a man hula hoop while spinning a book in one hand and solving a Rubix cube in the other, then I suggest you hustle on down to Pike Place Market and take care of that.

The recipe: Hamentashen adapted from Smitten Kitchen

This recipe has different yields depending on what size cookie cutter you use. Deb was fastidious enough to indicate that a 2 1/4-inch cookie cutter will yield around 44 cookies, whereas a 3-inch will yield 30. If you’re afraid of running short on these babies, just double the recipe. When is it ever a bad thing to have too many cookies?

I halved Deb’s poppy seed filling and improvised my own pistachio filling so my victims tasters could have options. And by “improvised” I mean that putting measurements on the filling is practically useless. But I’ll try.

Dough

Grated zest of one lemon

1 cup powdered sugar

2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour

¼ teaspoon salt

2 large egg yolks

2 sticks unsalted butter, cold, in small pieces

Poppy seed filling

½ cup milk

½ cup sugar

Grated zest of ¼ of an orange

½ cup poppy seeds, whole

2 tablespoons currants

Juice of ¼ a lemon

Splash of Grand Marnier

Small chunk of butter

Splash vanilla extract

Pinch salt

Pistachio filling

¾ cups roasted, salted pistachios, shelled and roughly chopped

¼ cup honey, or enough to coat

½ teaspoon poudre douce from World Spice Merchants (any sweet spices, like cardamom, cinnamon, etc would work just as well)

Splash spiced rum

Glaze

1 large egg, beaten

Make the dough: Pulse the zest, sugar, flour, and salt in a food processor to blend. Add the butter and yolks and process until the mixture forms a ball. Scrape onto plastic wrap and seal tightly. Chill the dough for an hour or overnight.

Prepare the fillings: (Remove the dough from the fridge to start warming up before you start the fillings). Begin the poppy seed one first since you need it to cool before using. Simmer milk, sugar, zest, lemon juice, poppies, and raisins in a small saucepan over medium heat until the liquid is absorbed, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Once the mixture cools, add the Grand Marnier and vanilla. For the pistachio filling, simply mix all the ingredients in a small bowl, stirring frequently to make sure the ‘stachios get coated completely with honey and rum before you put the filling on the dough circles.

Form the cookies: Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. By this time the dough should be softer and easier to work with. Flour your surface and roll it out to just under ¼-inch thickness and use a cookie cutter to cut circles. Use a thin spatula to transfer the circles to cookie sheets, then put a heaping half-teaspoonful of either filling in the center of each and press up the sides to form triangles. Arrange about 2 inches apart on sheets and brush with egg wash. Freeze the trays for 30 minutes; this helps the cookies keep their shape. As annoying as it is, don’t skip this step—I tried it and many of my cookies unfolded into ugly-ass, albeit delicious pancakes.

Bake: Until cookies are golden, 10 to 15 minutes at 350 degrees F.

I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that this dough is the shit. It’s flakey, flavorful, easy to work with, and simple to put together. I’m already envisioning the sundry future applications as more fruits become available… white peach and huckleberry tarts… mmmm…

I felt I had to attempt the poppy seed filling because it’s traditional and I’ve never made one before, but it paled in comparison to the pistachio one. Do try it. It was sweet, salty, spicy, and all kinds of fricken’ delicious.

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