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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