Writing hard, cookies easy

I’m not getting any creative writing done because reasons, so to quiet the brain buzzards I figure I will share a baking adventure. WITH PICTURES!

(What are brain buzzards? YOU know. They’re the lurking voices inside that squawk, “quit whining and do the work, lazy woman, Real Professionals produce, you could do more if you tried harder, blah, blah, blah…I mean, they’re right, but I prefer to drown them out than listen.)

ANYway. Cookies.  Swedish butter cookies were a holiday tradition when I was growing up in the Morris household, (the M in K.M. stands for Morris) I recently found my mom’s mother’s recipe card for “Grandma Watson’s Swedish Butter Cookies”  complete with instructions for a “slow oven” and mentioning butter from the ice box. I haven’t scanned the cards yet, so no pic, sorry.

These cookies were a one batch once-a-year treat because, while they were delicious, making them was a demanding process requiring tons of work, complicated prep, and expensive ingredients. And drama. I remember much trauma with stickiness, wax paper, and fretting about wasted dough &  much worry over burning. And they never came out quite right despite always tasting fab.

Then I made them for myself the first time on my own, away from the traditions and procedures of my youth. And I learned a secret I’ll share today: THESE ARE THE SIMPLEST COOKIES EVER.

Unless you are a perfectionist. Then they are a hell recipe. I am not a perfectionist. My kitchen mantra is, “More flavor, less effort.”

I can whip together a batch of these cookies faster than the oven preheats–which is saying something because a “slow oven” is only 325 degrees F.

So. Let’s make Swedish Butter cookies together.

Start the oven preheating, make sure the rack is in the middle for best baking, and gather these ingredients: IMG_5238

Yeah, that’s all.

1 stick butter

1/2 cup sugar

1 cup flour

1-2 tbsp of syrupy goodness.  (I like half honey+half almond extract. Maple syrup is popular with others. The big thing is, some sugary syrup. Things don’t cook right without it.)

Here’s the one paragraph summary.

Cream the butter & sugar, add in the syrup & mix until creamy,  mix in the flour until it forms a lumpy dough, form up into a ball by hand, divide into four lumps and roll into sticks, dust with colored sugar if you want, and bake 20-25 min at 325 until golden. Cut while still warm. Done. SO. SIMPLE.

The devil is in the details. Pics are worth a thousand words, so here we go:

Cream butter & sugar, scrape down the bowl & add syrup, it looks like this:IMG_5239

Mix in the syrup until it’s all creamy like this:
IMG_5240

Then scrape down again (the red bit in the pics is my bowl scraper resting on the mixer stand) add the flour and mix until it comes together. Note that it isn’t all in a single ball, and it’s STICKY:IMG_5241

Don’t add extra flour or liquid or mix with the mixer until it’s a single lump, the cookies will get kinda tough (BUT NO BIGGIE IF YOU LOSE FAITH AND DO THOSE THINGS THE COOKIES WILL STILL BE DELICIOUS)

In any case, if the dough doesn’t come all the way together after a minute or two of blending, stop the mixer and push it together into a ball by hand with the scraper. Then divide the ball into 4 parts and shape into logs.

Did I mention it’s sticky? How gooey depends on too many factors to worry about. This is where I get mega-lazy. If the dough can’t be handled easily, I run water in the sink and wet my hands before dividing & shaping the dough, re-wetting whenever things get unwieldy. And don’t stress the logs being equal sizes or the same length or evenly rounded. Close enough is fine. Mine came out pretty well this time:

Sprinkling with colored sugar is totally optional. But yes, i flattened the tops to make it stick better

So, now all you have to do is bake them. 20-25 min at 325 degrees. When they’re going golden brown on top (or around the edges, if you sugared the tops) pull them and cut into slices. Cool and then try not to eat them all in one sitting.

So, there it is. A cookie post. Enjoy.

Meanwhile, the checklist

I know it’s been a while, but I HAVE BEEN DOING STUFF, I SWEAR. Since my last update, it feels like I’ve done nothing but sleep, re-read fluffy comfort romances, and putter around doing nothing, but in reality I:

  1. Worked with one of my talented cover artists (HI, RACHEL!) to put together a new cover on my holiday SF Romance novella Joining In the Round. (Pic at the bottom of the post)
  2. Organized all our DVDs into genres and put them in binders alphabetical by title.  All of them. HUndreds and HUNDREDS of movies. I gave up and bought spindles for NCIS & Game of Thrones. It was more space-efficient.
  3. Made multiple batches of multiple cookie doughs for Christmas & baked some blueberry cobbler.
  4. Enjoyed a long adventure day downtown with Spouseman
  5. went to Gumbo Fiction Salon & read the last segment of my sparkly short story aloud. HAd a great time hanging with friends & hearing great readings.
  6. finished the verb tense changes on said story, fixed some plot inconsistencies, polished the wording down  below 7500 words, and formatted the story for submission. That last part is HELLISH, because putting a manuscript into Courier font and replacing italics with underlining renders it unreadable. I do not exaggerate. It might as well be Sanskrit or cuneiform to me.
  7. Found a willing proofer to read the story in its formatted condition. He spotted the last few typos (mostly missing words) that I can never catch and confirm that it all still makes sense. SO IT’S DONE. It goes to Clarkesworld for rejection consideration ASAP. I’ll keep the world posted on its adventure travels after that.
  8. Got rid of a bunch of old, expired & unusable junk. No, really. I cleaned out kitchen cabinets, desk drawers, a shelf in the linen closet, and the stand freezer. Among other things. It was highly satisfying to let go of waste that took up useful space.
  9. Put up all the holiday decorations, including a new tree from a vendor my Dad suggested. It came pre-lit with candy sprinkle-colored LED lights, and it’s gorgeous.  All three main rooms of the house are festive now. Makes me want people to come over and just hang out doing whatever.
  10. I haven’t done much writing other than The Short Story I Took Forever To Finish, but hey. At least I was working on writing? Yeah, I am going to be kind to myself about that. So there.

So anyway,  it was an eventful week.  When the sun is up for less than 8 hours, though. time slips away FAST no matter what I’m working on. So I don’t feel the progress.

Anyway. Here’s one picture of Scooter being cute and one of the shiny new novella cover.

IMG_4908
snoozing kitty
Joining Round websized 72
Happy-making new book cover

Yes, it’s a holiday romance. Sorta. It’s definitely a holiday warm & fuzzy story about found family and love of many kinds. You can buy it by clicking here: mybook.to/JoiningRound

Random things inside my head

6. It’s confirmed! I’ll be an Attending Professional at Dragon Con in 2019. Sweet, sweet validation. (It helps balance the relentless march of zeroes in the sales reports)  I’m hoping to participate in programming for Science Fiction Literature, Fantasy, & Urban Fantasy at the least. I would love to be super-busy all four days. 

One happy bright spot in a week I’ve spent being fiercely determined not to cry about, well, EVERYTHING AND NOTHING BECAUSE LIFE IS MADE OF STRESS. Ahem. Onward. Major tooth repairs tomorrow. 

5. Holidays mean I get to hang with friends more than usual. So much catching up to do. Being a hermit whose home no one ever visits, I always fall behind. What are all the many talented, hard-working people in my immediate circle doing these days? Incredible things. Getting degrees, playing games together, working at astonishing jobs, fighting for new jobs, traveling all over the country…loads of wow.  Me? I felt awkwardly tolerated, boring, and unintentionally ruse.  You know, the usual.

Someday I should write a post about all the specific communication tools my writerfrenz and artistfrenz use to help each other cope with gathering in groups. I miss those things a lot when I’m with others.

4. Working the weekend at the library is a big change than working weeknights. All the same tasks, but the rhythm is so different.  On weeknights, the last hour is the slowest by far. Weekends? Busy. Even on a slow day. Makes for a nice change of pace.

The latest in searches:

  • free home floor plan generator
  • 19th century attitudes toward exercise
  • under 18 population Illinois 2017 census

Media update:

  •  Read: Working my way through Ardulum trilogy by J.S. Fields. Seanan McGuire recommended it, and it’s worthy. Space opera that’s careful about its science? SIGN ME UP.  
  • View: Hurricane Heist. So bad it was almost good. Okay, not really. It was just plain bad. Bad science, bad writing, bad special effects…but it was fun. Molly’s Game:  Did not finish. Sorry. I wanted to be interested, but…poker+smug people being smug+YAWN. 

3. Scooter has figured out I’m worried about his mobility. Now he lies on his side and won’t move until I pick him up and put him down gain to make sure his back legs still work.  Then he stands there and purrs and strops my legs and looks smug. CATS, y’know?

Random cat pic

2. Our official house nickname for Thanksgiving is now “The Week-long Celebration of Leftovers” And I was chastised for eating too much (read: any) of the sage dressing. It came out really well. 

1. I saw a Great Horned Owl! Spouseman heard her hooting up a storm in the middle of the night, I went to the back window to see if I could spot her in one of the neighbor’s trees, and SWOOOOOOP, she went right past the window and caught an updraft to cruise over the neighbor’s roof. So. Cool

and that’s all the all there is.

Passing (holiday) thought

Speaking of problematic (weren’t we? Was I arguing w/myself again? Whatever. Here be the thought.)

Thanksgiving.

Family. Politics. Obligatory travel. Racist origin story based on lies…all that. In the United States there’s no getting away from the trappings and pressures of “Third Thursday In November.” Not even the relentless seasonal creep of Christmas season can stop it. 

Holidays are stressful enough, and this one kicks off Consumer Frenzy Month ™ so I support spending it however you like within the boundaries of your necessities & eating whatever you want, and be damned to all the Every Proper Celebration Needs and Thanksgiving Must-Haves not to mention the Do This For The Best Thanksgiving Evers. 

Starting a long weekend off & big traditional turkey feast you cooked all by your own self?  Great! AMAZING, even. ENJOY!

Day of peaceful solitude w/video games, boxed rice & beer? ALSO GREAT!

Working in a hospital, firehouse, or police station, on the front lines of an emergency or serving in a military unit today? THANK YOU! You’re a part of what’s worth giving thanks for every day–social institutions and support through sacrifice.Bolting down a meal with family before racing off to work retail overnight with barely a break for a sandwich and a dive into the bathroom? THANK YOU TOO (and I’m sorry. See postscript below.)

Spending it on the road for work, at a restaurant, or in a rest stop? SAFE TRAVELS and may you find something of goodness and joy during your working day. 

Me, Imma go enjoy the rest of my quiet day, writing more about the mayor of a ghost town. Football on the TV, all the easy holiday foods & the turkey prepped & ready to go in later, Spouseman puttering about the house, friends online..I have so many reasons to give thanks. Far more than a single day can hold.



cranky postscript: I am NOT thankful I live in and time & place where transporting & selling consumer goods is considered a critical job on equal footing with emergency services, military duty, and law enforcement…but not considered worth a critical job’s pay on holidays, but hey, that’s me.

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.)

 

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. The man 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, close enough )
    • Gremlins
    • Rare Exports
    • HogFather
    • Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas (otters!)
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.