Holiday ginger cookie fun

Here be the latest installment in my ongoing Quest For the Perfect Ginger Cookie. I posted a picture of the experiment on All The Social Media, and the next thing I knew, people were asking for a recipe. I don’t really use recipes so much as demolish them, but I have recorded the process here and include a link to the original at the end.  Read on!

It requires chilling, so you don’t need to start the oven until you’re ready to bake. It also calls for diced-up crystallized ginger. I diced up a whole package a while ago while watching TV because I hate doing the work right before I bake. 

1. Whisk/sift together & set aside in a bowl:

  • 2-1/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2+ teaspoons ground ginger. I always go heavy on the ginger.
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda (NOT baking powder, do NOT substitute)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • a little nutmeg. How much? A pinch.  10 passes on my big spice grater. Yes, I have a whole nutmeg. Don’t judge.

2.  In your mixing bowl, cream together:

  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar,
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar. (Light? Dark? Your choice. I went with light because I had it. Dark will add a stronger molasses-y flavor to the cookies)
  • 1 cup butter and/or vegetable shortening.  I used 1/2 cup butter (1 stick)  & 1/2 cup Crisco. More butter=crispier cookies, more shortening=softer.

3. When the sugar & fat are creamed together all light & fluffy, add  & mix together well:

  • 1 large egg

3.5 then blend in:

  • 1/3 cup molasses
  • as much very finely diced crystallized ginger as your heart desires. I used about  1/3 cup. A handful.

4. Finally, add in the dry ingredients and mix until just combined.  Dough will be stickier than sticky. (If you over-mix, the cookies will come out tough)

5. Chill at least 1 hour. I chilled it overnight because that’s how I roll.

When you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven to 375 degrees (F). Line your baking sheets with parchment paper or silicon…or be prepared to end up with a horrible, baked-on mess. Non-stick baking sheets might work, but don’t say I didn’t warn you. 

6. Put some white granulated sugar in a bowl. How much? Depends on how many cookies you’re baking. 1/2 cup for the whole batch should do.  I suppose you could use coarse decorating sugar or raw sugar if you wanted. I never have any.

For random fun, here’s a link to sugar descriptions & uses: All Different Kinds Of Sugar.

7. Scoop out  dough in 1/2″ blobs (about the diameter of a nickel)  roll into balls and coat with sugar before setting on the baking sheet.

8. Bake 8-10 minutes, until the cookies flatten out completely.  Cool on the sheet until they’re firm enough to transfer to a baking rack. Try not to eat them all while they’re still hot enough to burn your tongue.

I liked these enough that I immediately made notes and am putting it into my regular rotation of “cookie doughs to prep & keep in the freezer at all times.”

Maybe you’ll like them too.

*****************

Note: this recipe is heavily modified and reformatted from one I found on a wonderful website which is home to many delicious ideas. You can also find gorgeous, excellent how-it-should-look photographs for this recipe there:

Crispy Ginger Cookies recipe from Once Upon A Chef

The original recipe called for some spices I don’t put in my baking (allspice & black pepper) didn’t have any crystallized ginger (the horror!) and it described making 36 BIG  cookies while I prefer making 50-60 small nibbly cookies from the same amount of dough.

 

Obligatory Gift Idea Reminder Post

One week to Christmas. Remember the ease of giving readable gifts this season! (See visual below for two good examples)
They are great books, but don’t take my word for it. You can read 4 & 5-star verified-purchase reviews on Amazon: http://ift.tt/2nAqbm9 and on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/36425571.
Ebooks. Paperbacks. Audios. Pick your format, there’s something for everyone. No, really.
(Sorry, no sweeping political intrigue sagas, no grimdark grit, no bloody horror. Just good, solid characters, thrills, and surprises.)

(Editing to add the review below because wow. As a lifelong X-Men fan, I’m torn. I feel I should somehow defend their iconic goodness but am too busy melting from the power of the complimentary comparison.)

 

My Eccentric Holiday Viewing

Because I know you are all dying to know, here’s the Chez Herkes list of preferred holiday movies. It is not an “Advent Calendar of Movies.”  Blizzard binge-watching, maybe. Overall Spouseman & I usually watch at least one from each category per year. Tradition is important.
Action:
  • Die Hard(s)
  • Lethal Weapon
  • Deadpool (new addition!)
  • Batman Returns
  • Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang
  • Long Kiss Goodnight
  • Iron Man 3
  • Go
  • Assault on Precinct 13

**Shane Black is to blame for several of these. He has a weird THING about Christmas.

Classics:
  • The Shop Around The Corner
  • The Bishop’s Wife
  • Bells of St. Mary’s
  • We’re No Angels
  • It’s A Wonderful Life
  • Christmas Carol in B&W w/Alistair Sims
  • ”  with Reginald Owen
  • all the Bing Crosby musical holiday movies: it’s a sub-genre on its own
  Offbeat/comedy:
  • The Ref
  • Bad Santa
  • About A Boy
  • Love Actually
  • Better Off Dead
  • Coming to America
  • Ice Harvest
 SF/fantasy/Animated:
  • Nightmare Before Christmas
  • Muppet Christmas Carol
  • Rise of the Guardians
  • Elf
  • Strange Days (New Year’s Eve. 🙂 )
  • Gremlins
  • Rare Exports
  • HogFather
  • Emmet Otter’s Jugband Christmas
There are  holiday movies others love (or love/hate) that we will not watch:
A Christmas Story: worth special mention because I loathe it.  I could write a whole post on all the many reasons I find this movie repulsive for reasons both personal & political, but others have done such a good job I will leave that to the reader & the reader’s favorite search engine.
Reindeer Games. Singled out because I usually adore bad movies and dislike this one. It commits the one unforgivable sin for a bad movie: it’s DULL.
All the assorted Holiday Horror Flicks: I’m not against horror movies. They just don’t ring my bell, so to speak. Slapping some holly and tinsel on the genre adds nothing to its appeal.

Thanksgiving and other awkward things


So, I wrote this on my new tablet, which is to say I thought I posted this around 1800 hours local and now it’s midnight. Oops…

Turkey has been in the oven a couple of hours with an hour to go. A pan of sage dressing & one of sweet potatoes w/onion & garlic just joined it. Apples are stewing with spices. A big ol’ bowl of green beans is making friends with chopped garlic to prep for steaming, diced golden potatoes are in their stock pot of water, passively soaking up heat from the oven to expedite boiling them for mash while the turkey rests. Scarborough Fair bread is rising ahead of schedule, so we’ll have extra starch to go with the other carbs. Cream is whipped & ready to go atop the pumpkin pie I always buy because a) I like store-bought pumpkin filling better than (almost) any home recipe I’ve tasted and b) it’s easy.

In short I have time on my hands. So I go online and read the news, I watch TV, and I do a lot of thinking. Dangerous thing, that.

I hear & see all the usual Thanksgiving cliche jokes about men watching football while women slave away in the kitchen over a meal that will be eaten in 20 minutes and take four hours to clean up, and it irks me as it always does. First, it’s wrong, if that’s what happens. Second, I don’t know why it should be so much work. I do NOT work hard on Thanksgiving. There’s a lots of things in the oven for hours, yes. But work time? Not really. I do all the shop & chop prep in the prior couple of days — and slicing things while watching my favorite recorded TV shows is just keeping my hands busy. Turkey day is mix, set to cook, clean as I go, and do a lot of relaxing. Movies & TV rather than sports, but I definitely get in my recliner time, so to speak. And the cleanup? Anything still dirty after supper is Spouseman’s job. Period.

No, we don’t go out & about. We keep quiet holidays, Spouseman & me. Our families are scattered wide across the count

ry and we are nesters. Thanksgiving is about contemplation, gratitude for the bounty we collect and consume, and lately, a lot of bemusement at the weirdness of the holiday itself.

I worked retail for 23 Christmas seasons. (True confession, I loved the challenge of Christmas season in retail. It was FUN. But then I worked in a bookstore, so it was a wee bit different than most retail. ANYway. ) Thanksgiving Day often marked my last real day off until the new year. It was the calm before an exciting storm, a breather before the home stretch, the last chance to marshal up physical reserves and buckle up the emotional armor. For all those reasons I have long loved the third Thursday in November.

Also a bunch of staple foods I love go on steep sale, so I can stock up like a squirrel preparing for cold winter. This day is a tasty “once-a-month cooking” occasion that once saved me hours on exhausted work days and now just saves me hours.

Notice I didn’t mention loving any of the theoretical reasons for Thanksgiving? That’s because those reasons, as have been pointed out by people far more eloquent and knowledgable than me, are purely dangerous bullshit. I loved the Pilgrim story when I was 6 and 7 years old (who wouldn’t? Spunky underdog rebels being embraced by their new neighbors?) but I am a history teacher’s daughter. As soon as I could read she began to inoculate me against the comfortable mythology of colonial heroism. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t a detailed survey course, but a foundation of “white Europeans were NOT good neighbors” was well-laid. Any lingering nostalgia was rubbed out over the years as the holiday’s “ideals” became fetishized even as its dirty, bloody roots were dragged further into the open.

So anyway. I love this day off, but not because it’s Thanksgiving. All the Thanksgiving lies are pretty awful, really. But this day can be a time-away-from-work festive gathering day AND an educational springboard to raise awareness of poisonous lies. Events can be more than one thing.

True confession 2. I also love Christmas, but in the same way I love Thanksgiving–not the materialistic consumerism, not even the Christian holiday itself, but as a storyteller, all the layered mythologies that swirl around midwinter appeal to the deepest parts of my psyche.

Also I was raised in Advent traditions, and they hold a special spot in my heart. What’s not to love about elevating the quiet work of preparation to a place of honor, and appreciating the importance of anticipation as a facet of celebration?

But that’s a post for another time.

Not tired of my words yet? My published works are available on Amazon and all the other usual online retailers, or you can take free peeks at them on this page here. Science-fiction thrillers, science-fiction romance, and science fantasy, full length novels and shorter works. So many choices!

Other-other things

Last Friday was St Patrick’s Day, or as my dear, dead friend used to refer to it, “Amateur Night.” How did we celebrate this oddball holiday of glitter shamrock hats, rude tee-shirt sayings & excessive consumption of radioactive-green beer here at Chez Herkes?  Decadently.

Spouseman had an extra nap, it being his max-fatigue day at the end of the radiation treatment week. I made soda bread, sort of.

For background, you should know I can trace ancestors to both the North & South of Ireland, I wore orange on March 17th most of my childhood, and I was raised to know that American celebration of this “Irish” holiday has as little to do with Eire as Easter does with bunnies. Possibly less.

Nevertheless, I can get behind any excuse for indulgence in the gray pre-springtime. Even a pseudo-holiday is sufficient permission for baking experiments.

I found a delicious recipe on Smitten Kitchen for Soda Bread Scones and promptly messed with it to a) use ingredients I already had, and b) NOT require using a mixer. Here’s the result. I blame my friend Tess for the booze part. Her soda bread recipe involves whiskey. I wanted part of that action, but the mini-loaf recipe I cribbed didn’t have any whiskey in it. Enter ingenuity.


Not-Really-Irish Soda Bread for the Not-really-Irish Holiday

Step 0. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F  and put parchment on a half-sheet baking sheet. Or two smaller ones. Or four teeny ones…you get the picture. The main thing is the parchment. Or cooking spray.  Non-stick. That’s the thing.

1. In a small bowl, dump 1 c. cranberries* to soak with a splash of hot water and a hefty splash of sweet whiskey–Irish, bourbon or blended, maybe rum, NOT SCOTCH OH GWADS NOT SCOTCH. I have a lot of bourbon lying around (long story)  so I used that.

2. Sift together in a Really Big Bowl (I’ll explain later):

  • 3 1/2 cups-ish of all purpose flour
    • NOTE: I wish I’d been taught to bake using a scale but I wasn’t, so I don’t have the reliable flour-by-weight measures for you. I start with 3.5 cups and set aside a half-cup for putting on my hands when kneading and in case the humidity goblins are mischievous and the dough is unworkably sticky.
  • 2 tsp baking powder (which is baking SODA plus cream of tartar, ICYWW)
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 c. sugar

3. Add in and work into dry ingredients with fingers or pastry blender or fork :

  • 1/2 stick butter (aka 4 tbsps)  diced into bits.  Keep at it until it’s throughly worked in. “Like coarse meal” the cookbooks say. Whatevs.

4. Mix together in any large-enough receptacle:

  • 1 egg or egg white ( I can taste yolk in baked goods and leave it out any time I know it won’t affect the baking chemistry. Like here. Your choice.)
  • 3/4 cup  milk.
  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt  (See, no need for buying WTF “buttermilk” or curdling milk with sour, nasty vinegar… ew. Yogurt. Plain.)

5. Tip the wet ingredients + the boozy fruit into the dry ingredients and stir — gently, scraping from the outside of the bowl and scooping up from the bottom —  until everything is just mixed enough there’s no dry flour showing and the fruits are decently distributed.

6. Now….this is where every other recipe said, “turn dough onto a floured work surface and knead five or six times to form into a flat round.” NOPE. I am FAR too lazy to scrub countertops before and after, so this is where the Really Big Bowl comes in. I flour up my hands and knead the dough in the bowl. Easy-peasy.

This kind of “kneading” is not an exacting process or a long one.  Work the dough until  you can just make it hold a proper shape. Too much kneading and the baby goes blind. Er, I mean the dough toughens up and you get scones like hockey pucks.

7. Cut the dough round into eight wedges with a sharpish blade (yes, in the bowl)

8. One by one, mush the wedges into rounds you can glob onto the baking sheet. You can tell from the phrasing this isn’t going to be more sticky than neat&tidy, right? Right.

Cut crosses in the tops if you want them to look fancy. It works. I was impressed

9. Bake 20-ish minutes (I set the timer for 18, ended up being 22 total, parchment slows baking time a bit.)

If you really want to get fancy, melt some butter, swish in a bit of whiskey and drizzle the combo over the tops of the cooling mini-loaves. I didn’t bother. I was too busy eating one of them still steaming hot from the oven.

They were tasty. Lovely bite of bitter soda and tart tang from the yogurt, bourbony-cranberries sweet enough without overwhelming the dough. Yum. They keep for a couple of days and toast beautifully.

*Yes, cranberries. I despise currants, the traditional fruit found in soda bread. Spouseman loathes raisins, the traditional sub-in for currants. We both like cranberries. You could leave out the boozy fruit & sugar entirely and the bread still would be scrumptious.

Anyway.

Happy experimenting.

Postscript:  remember, when I’m not massacring recipes, I’m writing books. You can buy my books on Amazon & other online retailers. Or order paperbacks from your local bookstore or library, even.  I even have links here on the blog. Go figure.

 

Holiday & post-holiday doings

otter things header

The usual lists of media I’ve absorbed and activities completed, plus all the dull personal doings that that don’t fit under the writing, publishing, or authoring headings.

Books

Lots of fluffy froufrou to balance out the Monstrous Tomes of Weber from last post.

  • The Perks Of Loving a Scoundrel Jennifer Mcquiston
  • Chasing Lady Amelia Mary Rodale
  • A Season Of Ruin Anna Bradley.

All 19th century British society romances. Great dialogue, fine characterization, and plots as simple and predictable as sunrise. Just what my brain needed.

And a delightful find: A NEW AUTHOR TO LOVE: Genevieve Cogman.

  • The Invisible Library
  • The Masked City

Alternate-worlds fantasy. The Library sits between variant worlds. Librarians seek out unique books, Dragons champion logic, Fae thrive on chaos & narratives…secrets lurk in every corner.  The third book in the series comes out January 10 and I can’t wait.

Movies

I haven’t seen a new theater release in ages now. The group prefers a theater I physically cannot bear. (I tried. I did. Four separate occasions, four separate instances of back and leg pain requiring the Big Aleves for two+ days. No movie is worth that.)  Plus I am not a fan of opening night dinner+movie eventing. I am not wholly hoopla-averse, but  expensive/ loud/ large group dining plus a crowded theater is 1.5 crowds enough to wreck me.  My wallet and my nerves prefer breakfast & a matinee if dining out before a movie at all.

So I’m not getting out, and if I don’t see a movie the first weekend, I usually end up waiting until it hits home viewing. That’s a longwinded lead-in to explain why I am seeing movies at home, mostly on DVDs from the library.

Let me move onward to this year’s holiday marathon:

  • Die Hard 1 & 2
  • Lethal Weapon
  • A Christmas Carol (B&W Alastair Sims 1951)
  • Bells of Saint Mary’s
  • We’re No Angels
  • It’s A Wonderful Life

Others:

  • Finding Dory
  • Spiderman 2 (the most recent incarnation)
  • Secret Life of Pets

Television

Sherlock. The only show worth noting from this time period. I re-watched the whole series around the weekend of New Year’s, and hosted an afternoon of foods+ (another)re-watching of season 3+the long, long long overdue season 4 premiere on New Year’s Day. I could say many things both complimentary and snarky about the new episode, but a) I’m sure others on the interwebz will do better analysis and b) I’m avoiding all critique until the season is done.  Until then, I’m happy to sit back and see where the writers go with with the glorious, fascinating, eminently watchable mess they’ve made.

Kitchen Magic

So much baking. All the fun. brown sugar oat brittle. Christmas sugar cookies. Various breads. Chocolate-chip caramel cookies. Swedish butter cookies.  The oatmeal cherry cookies were a hit with the Sherlock watchers, so I’ll be making & freezing more of that dough for sure. Maybe I’ll make scones for episode 2.

And soup. It’s soup season. Last week it was split pea with Christmas leftover turkey & bacon. I’ll do chili this weekend.


 

I’ve put my first book into the “finished in 2017” list.  I’ll try to list books on Goodreads more diligently than I have in the past.  No promises.

And if you want to read MY first novel,  I dropped the sale price to 99 cents in Kindle format through January 8th.

Why? Why not? I can afford the occasional loss-leader, and I enjoy making it available. No, running a steep discount is not devaluing my work or books in general, nor is it “ruining the market for everyone else.”  If having sales devalued merchandise then…no, no, not getting into economics & market theory today. That’s all the shares for this round. I’m done.

 

Complicated Occasions

You know how excited some kids get about their birthdays and Christmas etc? I was not that child. Events of Consequence, Special Ceremonies, and other social spotlight situations have filled my heart with dread for as long as I can remember.

People expected Proper Reactions. I don’t do those, not naturally. As an adult I know how to behave in social situations–I’m pretty damned good at it, if I do say so myself–but the knowledge came from observation, imitation, and rote repetition without any deeper emotional understanding of why. When I react naturally, most of the world stops, blinks, and edges uncomfortably away. It took decades to learn the skills I have.

As a child the transitive association got ingrained fast.

  1. Special Occasions=Super-High Chance of Bad Reactions.
  2. Bad Reactions=>Humiliating Corrections
  3. Special occasions = Humiliation.

Sure, I loved getting presents, who doesn’t? But I didn’t love the Expectations, capital letter and all. Social infractions were addressed immediately and directly and were used for future lectures and lessons. When Special means abundantly stressful, being absent and/or invisible becomes a practical defense measure. It becomes the preferred state.

Before I lost all my baby teeth, the stress of worrying about my behavior more than outweighed any possible enjoyment.  I still don’t do well under the heavy weight of expectations, and special occasions all come packaged with a big ol’ box of ’em.

Here’s a list of life experiences I avoid and minimize whenever possible:

  • Birthday parties (my own, especially)
  • Planned Parties in general
  • Christmas
  • New Year’s Eve
  • Thanksgiving
  • Parades
  • Recitals
  • Other public skill demonstrations

One important point to clarify:  I love all those things when the focus is on other people. I adore buying gifts, decorating for holidays, cooking for special events and potlucks, watching parades, listening to recitals…being the audience, a spectator, a fan & supporter? That’s all good. Grand, even. Love-love-love-love it.

I adore the trappings of happiness, so I actually adore special occasions–in my own way. From afar. From the corners. What makes me happier than a clam at high tide is people coming to visit, hanging out and having fun in my home while I hang out nearby.

But I can’t enjoy being a participant, and especially not the centerpiece. Active attention in small social settings will always feel like being burned in a fire. I’ve recovered from the worst early terrors, but damage can only heal so far. Wishing will not make it different, and to be honest I don’t wish it.  I don’t miss out– I don’t feel a loss. Scars are usefully numb that way.

I do not want what I am not made to want. So I emphatically do NOT appreciate people deciding they have to “help me get over it,” or “learn to like” games, surprises, and suchlike. Surprise me, and live with the consequences. Friends know this. Friends who don’t respect it do not stay friends.

And I also know other people have the same kinds of issues, which is why there are always at least two rooms plus the kitchen open to guests at my house. One wherever a gathering is officially happening, and another available space, quiet and open to be used.

So if I’m lurking in the quiet room  at my own “party” or finding excuses to check on things in the kitchen, or when  I’m studying your knick-knacks or sitting with my nose buried in a sketchpad, notebook, or electronic tablet– please don’t worry about me or at me.  I’m happy, I promise.  It’s just complicated.