buy girl scout cookies, support inclusiveness

Girl Scout cookies are available for purchase starting this weekend in Eugene outside of most of our major grocery stores, including Albertson’s, Safeway, Market of Choice, and Fred Meyer’s, and a number of other venues.  For the location closest to you, click here and enter your zip code.

Although not remotely healthy, there’s yet another reason to stock up this year.  You may be aware of the controversy last fall about a troop in Colorado that wouldn’t let a transgender girl named Bobby Montoya join, then reversed its decision after the case made the national news.  Well, one girl scout disagreed with that decision, and made a rather hateful video telling people to boycott cookies this year because of the Girl Scouts of America’s decision to support anyone who claims girlish affiliation and presents as a girl.  She felt it would be neither nurturing nor safe to have a transgender girl included with the other girls. You can read more about the controversy here or here.

I’m interested in this controversy not only because I’m interested in teaching tolerance of sexual and gender difference, but because I remember very vividly what it was like to have the Girl Scout experience ruined by intolerance about what a person chose to do with her body.

My mom, whose sash is the dark green one above, really loved being a part of these mother-daughter social organizations, and we were constantly involved in them while I was growing up.  She became the leader of my own Girl Scout troop and had a blast organizing activities and events.  I pretty much would rather have been reading or writing, but as you can see on my sash, the two lone badges for active citizenship and hospitality meant I had at least one lobbyist tea party with someone about something.

My mom was also considering at that time becoming a surrogate mother, which was all the rage and quite controversial at the time.  We even went to New York so she could be interviewed on the Good Morning America show about it. She felt that she loved motherhood so much that she wanted to give that experience to someone else, and because she was divorced, she probably wasn’t going to be able to have any more children herself.

Well, the mothers of the other girls in the troop saw the show, and decided my mother wasn’t a fit leader of young girls.  She was, after all, advocating conceiving a child out of wedlock, and she would be parading around pregnant without any husband to show for it.  They petitioned and forced her to resign.  She never went through with the surrogacy and wrote off the mothers as narrow-minded and basically forgave them.  We moved on to other activities and the matter was largely forgotten.

But I was pissed.  I’m still angry about it 30 years later.  It was one of the formative moments of my life, and it made me think for the first time that there were other ways of being a woman than a married, childbearing one.  I owe that epiphany to the Girl Scouts.

And it looks as if the Girl Scouts as an organization have come a long way since the 1980s.  Some individuals, however, apparently have not.  So I say support the organization and the girls who are different by buying as many cookies as possible this year.  And don’t forget to let the troop member know why you’re supporting the Girl Scouts.

Consider donating to the transgender girl’s troop through a webpage created by the organization TransYouth Family Allies.  Donations go to the Girl Scouts of Colorado operations or a new anti-bullying educational campaign.

Or just check out some of the historic badges earned by my mom by viewing images of Girl Scout badges through the decades here.

teff chocolate chip cookies to convert the masses

My creative bone is broken, and I just couldn’t come up with a funny name for these delicious cookies.  Tefferonis?  Teffnuts?  Tefferdoodles? Teffochippers? Terreffics?

See? Broken.

But the important thing is that they taste good and the texture is more interesting than regular wheat flour chocolate chip cookies. The teff flour is not husky like whole wheat; it’s rather more sandy or gritty in an appealing way because the hulls are so much smaller than wheat.

And small is the name of the game.  Teff is like quinoa or millet that shops in the petite section.  It’s an ancient, nutritive grain grown in Ethiopia…and now the Willamette Valley!  We’ve had access to Bob’s Red Mill teff for quite some time now, but Tom Hunton of Eugene’s Camas Country Mill has decided to try growing it, with great success.

I’ve described my own battles with injera, an Ethiopian flatbread made of teff, and I’ve heard that teff makes a good “enhanced” brownie, but I’m happy to report there’s a new teff recipe in town.  Tom was distributing a peanut butter chocolate chip cookie recipe with his flour on sale at the Saturday farmers market in Eugene.  He said it was provided to him by Heidi Tunnell of catering/barn dinner fame.

Sounded good to me, so I took it home and changed up a few things to allow for what I had in the refrigerator.  There are quite a few versions of this cookie on the internet (I think it originally was printed on the Bob’s Red Mill teff flour bag), so if you don’t have these ingredients on hand, look for an adaption that suits you.

My biggest change was using almond butter instead of the peanut butter called for in the recipe, and I added just a touch more oil, since I was worried about the difference in consistency and fat mouthfeel between crunchy almond butter and, say, a conventional peanut butter.  I find the cookies really sweet already, and adding regular peanut butter would tip the scale into unpleasantness for me (but take this with a grain of salt, o sugareaters).  This didn’t stop me from adding more chocolate chips, though, since the 1/2 cup originally called for seemed more of a tease than anything.  Use the strongly flavored Grade B maple syrup (often called ‘pure’) instead of the more buttery and milder Grade A that we’re used to consuming or the processed crap like Mrs. Butterworth, because it provides a nice mapley edge to the cookie.

These cookies would be vegan if you could figure out another option for the chocolate chips, but I wouldn’t mess with that.  But no butter, no eggs.

The best thing about these cookies is that you can seduce healthy people with them, and still enjoy them yourself.  Win win.  And surely a better name will make them yet more appealing.

Almond Butter Chocolate Chip Teff Cookies

Yield: 3-4 dozen

  • 1- 1/2 cup teff flour (not grains, which are tiny but not tiny enough to be flour)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup freshly ground natural almond butter
  • 1/2 tablespoon vegetable oil (don’t omit)
  • 1 cup pure (Grade B) maple syrup
  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Combine flour, salt, and baking soda in a medium bowl.  In a larger bowl, combine almond butter, vegetable oil, and syrup, mixing well.

Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients slowly, mixing in with a fork, just until incorporated.  Cover and chill bowl of dough several hours in the refrigerator.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  On two cookie sheets lined with a sheet of parchment paper, drop dough balls about the size of a ping pong ball (~ one rounded tablespoon) two inches apart from each other.  Flatten each ball with your fork, making a decorative criss-cross pattern on the top.

Bake for 11-13 minutes or until bottom is lightly brown and cookie holds together when you try to gently lift it from the sheet.  Better to underbake than overbake, but be sure the center is not too wet.

Cool on a wire rack.

edible buckeyes: the candyman can

I roast chestnuts every year, partially out of masochism and partially because they’re so beautiful when they’re fresh. We have some old, lovely chestnut trees in the Willamette Valley, and I always love it when I see a basket full of chestnuts that someone has collected for market.  No, not horse chestnuts, sometimes called buckeyes, which you can’t eat and are recognizable by their palmate leaves and distinctive nut cases, but regular chestnuts.   But most often, I buy Korean chestnuts at an Asian market, where they’re almost always fresh because of the high turnover, or the Italian chestnuts Market of Choice stocks in November.

Chestnuts in December, however, are a rather dicey proposition, because they’ve been sitting for a while, and probably have begun to dry out and mold inside their tender little shells.  You can still roast them over an open fire, but you may not get what you want.

Every year, I try to figure out ways to prolong chestnut season, or at least mitigate some of the pain of peeling the stubborn shells and the even more stubborn inner fuzzy skin.  The photo above was part of my campaign to compare nuts frozen in their shells and then roasted (top nut was frozen: the outer shell was fine but the inner skin stuck like glue).  The picture below shows a somewhat more successful experiment to sprinkle the shells with water before roasting (easy to remove part with water on it).  I haven’t yet tried soaking then roasting, but I can report that boiling didn’t work very well.

I can also report that I own a chestnut scorer, perhaps the only single-purpose gadget I own. It doesn’t even work that well — you can’t just press an X with the thing in one or two punches.  You have to make four little cuts.  A knife is faster.  Then again, you don’t slice your finger with the chestnut scorer.

Perhaps the only easy way to eat chestnuts is a non-chestnut product made famous around Christmastime by many a happy housewife.  We used to call peanutbutter balls half-dipped in chocolate ‘buckeyes’, because they look like buckeye nuts, which look like horse chestnuts, which look like real chestnuts.  Following my line of logic here?  No?  Well, that’s ok.  My point is that you should make these easy candies called buckeyes as part of your Christmas cookie repertoire.

I’ve been searching for a recipe like the one we used to make in the Midwest, but they’ve all been weirded by adding healthy things like real peanut butter and malt and god knows what.  Look, if I’m going to eat something crappy, I’m going to eat something crappy.  Especially if it’s named after a poisonous nut.

Finally, at the Food Preservation Associates holiday sweets class a couple of weeks ago, I tasted what I had been searching for.  Buckeyes!   Most people called them peanut butter balls and completely enrobed them in chocolate, but I turned mine into that half-dipped memory.  Sure, you can drizzle them with more chocolate, but then you’ll just be adding to the confusion. Whatever you do, though, don’t use the nasty shelf-stable dipping chocolate for the coating, unless you were one of those people who ate wax soda bottle candy for fun.  Who am I to ruin your childhood experiences?

Either way, enjoy.

Buckeyes!

Adapted from our FPA class recipe, source unknown. Makes about 35 candies.

  • 1 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 6 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 12 oz. or more chocolate for melting (chips, chunks, or “chocolate-flavor candy coating” if you must)

Line a tray with parchment or waxed paper.  Mix together peanut butter, butter, and powdered sugar, with a fork.  The original recipe suggests using your hands if the mixture resists.  Taste, and add a bit of salt, if necessary.  Chill until easy to handle, then roll mixture into balls about 1.5 inches in diameter and place on tray.

Once balls are rolled, in a large bowl, melt chocolate chips/chunks at 15 second intervals in the microwave (follow instructions on bag if you are using the waxy stuff).  Once melted, dip the peanut butter balls in the chocolate about halfway up the side of the ball, then let harden on the tray. Other options are to drizzle chocolate on the uncovered portions, or dip the entire ball in chocolate, as pictured.

Store in the refrigerator or freezer until gone.

a mouthful: black pepper punition cookie sandwiches with haskapberry jam

I brought these little yumyums to a wonderful barbecue yesterday.  I had added freshly ground black pepper to my trusty, flexible, rustic punition cookie dough, then dolloped some haskapberry jam in between two cookies once they came out of the oven.  The vivid, fruity jam worked really well with the buttery cookie, and the pepper left our lips tingling.

Plus, the slightly-t0o-firm jam worked really well as cookie glue. For errors, it has been said, are volitional and portals of discovery for the cook of (eu)genius.

christmas at culinaria eugenius

…is not that big a deal.  We don’t have kids and love spending time at home, relaxing, for the holiday instead of driving anywhere or partaking in frenetic family celebrations.  And I take it a step further, almost borderline Scrooge-like by not wanting to spend hours in the kitchen.  I rarely cook anything complicated, and we make it a rule not to have guests.  New Year’s will bring Japanese ozoni rice cake soup, and I’ll be busy preparing my spiced pork, almond, and golden raisin tamales.  But Christmas, Christmas is for relaxing.

Instead of a roast or fondue, as we’ve done in the past, we’re planning to have plump dungeness crabs, preceded by oysters and some gorgeous imported cheeses and local bread.  I flirted with the idea of boeuf à la ficelle, a tenderloin or similar cut that’s been tied and poached in a rich stock, but even that seemed like too much work.  OK, I did make stock today — chicken and beef — and finally decorated the cookies.

For my standard iced sugar cookies, I tried out a recipe in one of the cookbooks I recently reviewed for the Eugene Weekly: The Grand Central Baking Book.  It was the Classic Buttery Shortbread recipe, but adapted for rolled sugar cookies.  I really like the way this cookbook integrates preparation tips and possibilities for variation.  (These things are a boon for a (still) beginner baker like me.)  The recipe includes several pages of a “workshop” on how to assemble the cookies and icing, complete with a chart for 1.5 lbs., 2.25 lbs, and 3 lbs. of dough.  I have to admit that the dough was crumbly and difficult to work with — this could be a function of not knowing when to stop with my new stand mixer, or perhaps the recipe, which is designed to actually taste good (unlike most rolled Christmas sugar cookies.)  But my grumbling about the dough was soon stifled by a mouth full of cookie.  They were delicious.

The royal icing recipe looked manageable, eschewing the blending that some recipes require, but I used my tried and true powdered-sugar-and-water icing, which is much thinner and undoubtedly less effective at keeping on all the glittery bits, but it makes the recipe more about the cooking than the icing.

And better yet, as I was transferring my peppermint pig and sparkle star cookies to a tray, my kind neighbors dropped by and brought a selection of their cookies.  Yay!  I thought I’d show off their baking.  :)

Merry, merry Christmas!  Hope your holiday is stress-free and filled with delicious delights.

Decorated Christmas Cookies

Adapted from The Grand Central Baking Book‘s recipe

Makes 3 lbs. of dough

  • 4 2/3 c. all purpose flour (1 lb., 7 oz.)
  • 2 t. kosher salt
  • 2 c. unsalted butter, at room temperature (1 lb.)
  • 1 1/3 c. sugar (9.5 oz.)
  • 2 t. vanilla extract
  • (optional: 1 drop peppermint candy flavoring oil — this isn’t in the original but I like the combination of peppermint and vanilla)

Mix flour and salt in small bowl; whisk to combine.

Cream the butter and sugar using your new stand mixer on medium high speed for 6 minutes or more – the mixture should be lighter in color and fluffy.  The original says sugar should start to dissolve into butter, but I’m not sure what this means.  Scrape bottom and sides of bowl a few times.

Switch over to low speed.  Add vanilla and flour mixture “until the dough begins to come together” (also a bit mysterious to me).

Divide dough in two, flatten out into flat disks, then wrap each disk in plastic wrap.  You may choose to freeze or refrigerate, or do one of each, at this point.  It keeps in the refrigerator for a week or frozen for 6 months.

Then you’re ready to roll.  After at least two or three hours chilling in the refrigerator, remove dough and let warm on counter for about 30 minutes.  You’re looking for cool and firm dough that is pliable.  Add a bit (no more than a tablespoon) of flour to your workspace and rolling pin, then roll to an even thickness, as thinly as possible.

Cut out cookies with similar-sized cookie cutters per batch, and place them on parchment-sheet covered cookie sheets.  You can reuse the scraps, but I recommend chilling them first before re-using.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

As you finish cutting out cookies and filling cookie sheets, return sheets to refrigerator to chill for another 5-10 minutes.  This makes for nice edges on your cookies.

Cook until only very slightly golden on edges, about 10 minutes.  Switch sweets from top to bottom after 5 minutes.   No matter what you do, the cookies will cook a bit unevenly if the dough is of variable thickness and your cookies are made of different shapes.

Allow cookies to cool completely before decorating.  They harden as they cool.

For icing, I just use a mixture of powdered sugar, a drop of peppermint oil, and water, which makes a thin, transparent gloss upon which I can embed colored sugar and crushed peppermint sticks.  It’s more traditional to use royal icing, a thicker preparation made of egg white, powdered sugar, and lemon juice.

blackberry butter cookies

dscf4013

I’m off for a month-long research trip to Buffalo, NY, starting tomorrow.  While I’m there, I’ll be doing research for a new project and making the last great push on my dissertation.  But I don’t think you’ll miss me much — I’ve been so busy I have a backlog of blog posts just ready for the postin’.  And I might find some excellent eats in Buffalo, too.  And anyway, I expect you’ll be too busy with the opening of the farmer’s market downtown on April 4, and all the stirrings of spring, to be reading inside!dscf4093

There are many, many things I’ll miss this month, but not really the Great Purpling my yard undergoes each April.  Someone (not me) was a big fan of the color purple, and planted all purple and lavender flowers around my house.  I have a big swath of purple double irises, lavender and pink rhododendrons, vinca vine under the incense cedar, and tons of grape hyacinth just waiting to burst.  Over the years, I’ve tried to counteract the purpling with some red and yellow, but it still takes over.

So in honor of what I’ll be missing, I baked up some very purple cookies, using the rest of a jar of blackberry varenye.  They’re variations on Poilâne’s punitions again, but with salted butter and some of the sugar replaced by homemade blackberry Russian-style, pectin-free preserves.  The blackberry and salt give the cookies a little tang, a little sadness…perfect for leaving home.

Blackberry Butter Cookies

  • 5 oz. (1/2 c. + 1/8 c. or 1.25 sticks)  salted Noris Dairy butter, or other very high quality butter
  • 1/4 c. blackberry varenye or frozen, sweetened blackberries with a bit of sugar added
  • 1/3 c. sugar
  • 2 c. flour
  • 1 egg
  • turbinado or other non-melting sugar for sprinkling on top (optional)

Allow egg and butter to come to room temperature.

Process butter until smooth in a food processor with the metal blade. Scrape down, add the sugar and blackberry varenye, and process until thoroughly blended into the butter, scraping down the sides once or twice.

Add the egg and continue to process, scraping down the bowl as needed, until the mixture is smooth and satiny.

Add the flour all at once, then pulse 10-15 times, until the dough forms clumps and curds and looks like streusel.

Roll dough into log on saran wrap and wrap tightly, chilling in the refrigerator for at least four hours. If you opt to roll out the dough later instead of slice it, form the dough into two equal-sized flattened disks instead.

When you are ready to bake, position the racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat the oven to 350°F.  I find parchment paper isn’t necessary, but it makes cleanup easier, especially if you’re using the sprinkling sugar on top of the cookies.

You’ll want cookies that are between 1/8 and 1/4 inch thick. Either (A) cut log in slices that are no more than 1/4 inch thick with a sharp, thin knife, or (B) roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface until it is between 1/8 and 1/4 inch thick, and cut with a cookie cutter no more than 2 inches in diameter.

Place on cookie sheets, leaving about 1 inch space between them.  Carefully turbinado sprinkle sugar on top, if using.  It gives a nice sparkle to these cookies, and a touch more sweetness.

Bake the cookies for 6-7 minutes, or until they are set but pale.  They will lose their sheen when ready.  Transfer the cookies to cooling racks to cool to room temperature.

Dorie Greenspan says the dough can be wrapped airtight and refrigerated for up to 4 days or frozen for up to 1 month. The finished cookies can be kept in a tin at room temperature for about 5 days or wrapped airtight and frozen for up to 1 month.  They won’t last that long.

Makes about 4 dozen small cookies.

hazelnut punitions for naughty oregonians

I’m fond of a good sadomasochism joke; it’s no lie. And visual puns all the better. But when it involves cookies AND a story AND France AND corporal punishment, well, there’s just no stopping me.

dscf6911.jpg

Punitions are petite butter cookies made famous by the French bakery Boulangerie Poilâne, where you can help yourself out of the basket by the register as you pay for your pain Poilâne or buy ‘em by the box. Une punition is ‘a punishment’ in French, and M. Poilâne tells Dorie Greenspan that in Normandy, grandmothers baked these simple cookies and then called in their charges for ‘punishments,’ beckoning them over while hiding the cookies behind their backs. This is how they do punishment in France, you see: eat this, become as fat as an American! OK, that last part was my embellishment.

The important part of punitions is that you need absolutely pristine, lovely, unsalted butter. These are butter cookies, and with so few ingredients, one must use the best. I use, of course, our excellent local Noris butter. I found this tastier than the cultured Vermont Butter and Cheese Company butter, somehow clearer and purer in heart. (Oregonians, the Noris website is up again, and you can check out their products here.)

Something else I love about these petite punitions is that they’re delicious as is, but you can also add one (ONE!) extra ingredient to personalize them. For us, that would be fresh roasted Willamette Valley hazelnuts, the best example of the specimen in the whole world. The internet tells me that up to 99% of the country’s hazelnuts are grown here in the Willamette Valley, and they’ve been grown here for 150 years. We get hazelnuts that are huge and plump and roasty, collected from local trees and sold at markets in the fall. I’m not sure if the variety that remains here is different than what is shipped out, but man o man, is it better than what you can get elsewhere.

But in the interest of keeping it local, I’d suggest you substitute hazelnuts for whatever local add-in might be yummy. I could see adding macadamia nuts to punitions in Hawaii, or a bit of candied Meyer lemon peel in the SF Bay Area, or a few dried cranberries in Bandon, OR, or some maple sugar in rural Connecticut. One more ingredient is the limit, though. I wouldn’t recommend doing anything fancier with them, although the temptation is huge. NO SPRINKLES. You’ll get a spanking. I mean it.

You can see from the Poilâne website or Chocolate & Zucchini (both linked above) that punitions are tiny, with fluted edges. When I bake mine with hazelnuts, I prefer to chill the dough in a log and slice thin, irregular, rustic-looking cookies with a sharp knife. But you might prefer to roll them out and cut them in fancier shapes. My only advice is to keep them small.

Retrogrouch recently ate a plate of these cookies made from local eggs from our CSA, Oregon flour, and the Noris butter, plus some Willamette Valley hazelnuts; he’s a glutton for punishment.

I liked those munitions cookies, he said, they were tasty.

Bang bang, I said, in complete agreement.

Hazelnut Punitions

(adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s recipe in Paris Sweets)

5 oz unsalted, fresh, high quality butter (1 1/4 sticks or 1/2 cup plus 1/8 cup), at room temperature
Slightly rounded 1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
2 cups (280 g) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup chopped roasted hazelnuts

Process butter until smooth in a food processor with the metal blade. Scrape down, add the sugar, and process until thoroughly blended into the butter, scraping down the sides once or twice.

Add the egg and continue to process, scraping down the bowl as needed, until the mixture is smooth and satiny.dscf6894.jpg

Add the flour all at once, then pulse 10-15 times, until the dough forms clumps and curds and looks like streusel. Add hazelnuts and pulse a few more times to blend.

Roll dough into log on saran wrap and wrap tightly, chilling in the refrigerator for at least four hours. If you opt to roll out the dough later instead of slice it, form the dough into two equal-sized flattened disks instead.

When you are ready to bake, position the racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat the oven to 350°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or aluminum foil.

You’ll want cookies that are between 1/8 and 1/4 inch thick. Either (A) cut log in slices that are no more than 1/4 inch thick with a sharp, thin knife, or (B) roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface until it is between 1/8 and 1/4 inch thick, and cut with a cookie cutter no more than 2 inches in diameter. Place on cookie sheets, leaving about 1 inch space between them.

Bake the cookies for 6 to 8 minutes, or until they are set but pale. Transfer the cookies to cooling racks to cool to room temperature.

Greenspan says the dough can be wrapped airtight and refrigerated for up to 4 days or frozen for up to 1 month. The finished cookies can be kept in a tin at room temperature for about 5 days or wrapped airtight and frozen for up to 1 month.

Makes about 4 dozen small cookies.