Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Chocolate Toffee Dried Cherry Cookies

I now like naps even better than chocolate. It is as a result of old age. There is nothing like sprawling in the middle of our bed, late afternoon, with Purrfect the cat and a soft blankie. Did you know pets help you sleep? They do! Lowers blood pressure to have one near you. Some weekends I even find Mr. Smith, who refers to her as ***@@!! CAT, asleep with Purrf on his stomach. Nose in the air, snoring. It is a peaceful sound--like wind through the pine-trees. Naps are wonderful, but up until I was, well, how old I am, I liked chocolate better. So here is my favorite chocolate cookie recipe for when you can't nap...

Warning: These are totally addictive, so it's good that toffee bits are only available in winter!

21/4 C. flour
1/2 C. unsweetened Cocoa powder
1 t. baking soda
1/4 t. salt
1 C. unsalted butter, softened
1C. packed brown sugar
3/4 C. sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 t. vanilla
1 C. moist dried sour cherries
8 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate in chips or chunks
1 C toffee bits--with no chocolate, such as Heath or Skor Bits

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment and set aside. Do not use non-stick or greased pans. Sift the flour, cocoa, soda and salt together into a bowl and set aside. In large bowl, cream butter and both sugars until light and fluffy with a mixer. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Beat in vanilla. Sir in the flour mixture in three additions, blending gently just until all the ingredients are moistened( I use a wooden spoon rather than a mixer on this part). Stir in the chunky ingredients and mix until they seem evenly distributed. (The dough may be frozen at this point for up to 4 months: wrap the dough securely in plastic wrap, then in a plastic freezer bag. Thaw the dough in the refrigerator without removing it's wrapping before portioning the cookies and baking.)
Drop batter by heaping tablespoons onto baking sheets. Bake until they are no longer shiny on top--12-15 minutes. They should be mounds when done, not flat. Cool and devour.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009


Family is the marrow of our Christmas. It provides flavor, and substance. The family I grew up with is rather like the family in "Little Women". All of us agree on this. First and always first they cry "Jenn is JO!" This is an embaressment. You may recall Jo is the passionate one, the one who sighs " I confess I sometimes crave violence"? The ironic thing is that I DO Christmas. You know, " Peace on earth, goodwill to men"? I do that. Jenn the Barbarian.

My sister Laura is Meg. She is compassionate, loyal, wise...a bit bossy and a great help in the kitchen at Christmas. No, I have never burned her hair with a curling iron. However, occasionally I burn her brown and serve rolls. My sister Sarah is Amy. She is feminine, artsy and forever the youngest even though my brother was born 5 years after her. She's a terrific cook and her Christmas desserts are legendary. Last but not least, my brother James is BETH . Other than the fact that he is the wrong sex, the similarity to Beth is marked. He really is too good. So good that at one point our family contemplated nominating him for canonization. St. Jim the Nice. But as I believe he would have to die (like BETH) to become a saint, I am glad that we did not. He mainly drinks spiked eggnog and sneezes at my cat's fur at Christmas, but is cheerfully willing to move furniture upon request. (perhaps the "cheerfully" part is due to the eggnog?)

My turkey soup is boiling cheerfully at this point! No turkey soup is complete without lots of carrots. I get about 6 fresh ones, peel them and chop them into 1/2" rounds , then scoop 'em into the pot.They swirl about, adding flavor, some vitamin that's good for the eyes, and much-needed color.

Color is added to the family mix at Christmas by the amazing progeny of my brothers and sisters. My sister Laura's son, Taylor, justt turned 20, is usually acting out some wild experience he's had, leaving us rolling on the floor with laughter. He will no doubt be a Hollywood script writer that creates video games on the side one day. I have already asked him to take me with him to the Academy Awards. Sarah's son Nate is just a few months younger than Taylor. A track man at CalBizerkly, he just won a Christmas one-mile race called the Eggnog Run. He had to drink 10 oz. of EGGNOG (blah!) every 200 yards! Really good at chugging and running, Nate wiped out the competition with a 5.5 minute time. This Christmas, he sits on my couch, talking passionately about politics. I think he might be a Senator one day.

My daughter, Princess Lauren, the psychology grad student, talks a little, laughs a little more, cooks a lot, and analyzes it all. Then she plays with 2 yr. old Gracie... my brother's child. Gracie amuses herself by doing laps around the house--on tiptoe. Usually with an adult right behind her, on tiptoe also. Laughing and singing, she spreads almost visible love and star-dust wherever she goes. Only Gracie could get all of us adult-sized people, including my 85 yr. old mother, to play 'Ring Around The Rosie" with her 7 times. And only Gracie could get away with laughing at us while we 'all fall down' and she doesn't. Ha! Do you see leadership potential there or what???

Hmmm....This soup has got great potential too. Into the simmering pot, I throw 3 chicken bouillon cubes for salt and flavor. I chop a whole head of fresh celery and a bunch of Swiss chard, and dump them in too. I boil them for about 10 minutes, then add about 3 cups of dried Rotini shaped pasta and boil for another 10. Salt and pepper to taste. Best the next day of course!

It seems like Christmas takes a while to come and then a while to leave us. Like a great Turkey Soup it is to be savored, not just at the time, but a few days hence. Unlike soup, however, family memories never have to leave us completely. They just get sweeter with time.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Encountering Santa at UPS

I open my eyes and look at the clock: 4:00 AM stares back at me in glowing LED lights. It's Christmas Eve morning. And something is wrong. I slide out of bed, tiptoe on frozen hardwood to sit my weary tuche in front of my 'puter. Email...delete delete delete, too many FWDs.. THERE IT IS--confirmation number from L.L. Bean for my sick mom's gift. Dated the 14th, shoulda come by now! Where is it? I flail at the computer some more. The Order number will not be received by LL Bean online due to non acceptance of my long zip code # so after 3 attempts I call Debbie at the 24 hour customer service desk at L.L.Bean. I say "I sent the package to my mom's address at the Assisted Living Place and they refused it because I put my name on it not hers." She chuckles. I hear her smile over the phone as she says, "Well dear, call UPS with this tracking number. It'll be fine."

So I call UPS. Apparently THEY get out of bed and to the office by 9AM. Sensible, brown paper souls that they are!! So I sleep until 8. Get up, dress and with hair sticking out at odd angles, am out the door by 8:30. No traffic AT ALL! It's a miracle! I fly down the hill like a reindeer to Santa Cruz UPS, barely missing getting broadsided by a charging city bus (I should really not be allowed to drive half asleep). Going a little fast, I manage to miss the ONE entrance to UPS and end up in the Costco gas station. I then circle the station like a hungry Christmas shark looking exclusively to devour men in brown uniforms. Finally exiting the parking lot I backtrack one driveway to UPS (pronounced Youpis) and park just as they're opening the door.
Sounds of reggae music waft through the chilly industrial steel office. I think it's Bob Marley-- well, it is not Christmas music anyway. Only in Santa Cruz do we celebrate Christmas with Bob Marley music! I am #3 in line, and #2 conveniently is stepping to the side to write an address on his package. #1 in the queue is a man that asks for a package that went to his closed office. As I'm waiting I look around. I notice that #2 , the man who is behind me now, looks like Santa. He is at least 6'3", is a sturdy 300 lbs, has a REAL white beard and a RED hat with white ear flaps!!!! He is huddled over his package on the side table writing an address. Santa needs to UPS overnight something? Well, I can understand that. There are a lot more people in the world now, after all! Moving behind me he remarks, "I guess this is the line?" Yes, the line of one" I reply. He says, " Then now it's a line of two!"
A petite 60-ish lady with waist-length gray hair calls out "Next!" "Hi, I sent a package to my Mom at The Assisted Living Place and I got the address right but put my name, Jennifer Smith, instead of hers, Anne Watson, on the package, so they sent it back here." She chuckled sympathetically. "Oh so they marked the package no one by that name at this address? (By the way, do all customer service people get trained to chuckle sympathetically? Do they have to pass a chuckling class?) I say: "Yeah, you'd think they'd know me by now!" "Well, we'll find it for you." After typing some info into the computer she goes in the back and comes out with a package. "Yaaaay!" I say, jumping up and down (never lose your inner child). She hands it to me and says "Merry Christmas, Jennifer". As I turn to go, I find myself facing Santa. He smiles a warm crinkly smile. "Merry Christmas, Jennifer."
"Merry Christmas, Santa!" I say and walk out into the sunny, frosty morning.