Browned Butter Chocolate Chunk Cookies, With Sea Salt

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I made these cookies in the midst of an epic meltdown with Octave. Sugar and salt ended up everywhere but the bowl, she burned her hand on the hot stove, and an entire jar of vanilla extract was just moments from drowning the cookie batter. For a brief moment I could understand why my mother never attempted to bake with me.

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Her independence is something to applaud and admire, and yet there are moments when it will send me into a tizzy, leaving me in tears or flat on my back, silent, as if not to explode. She is teaching me that I am not as laid back as I would like to think I am. Some days are like this. Some days everything, (and I really do mean everything,) is work and I doubt if I was cut out for this crazymessybeautiful life as a mama. And yet some days I am filled to the brim, overflowing with so much love and joy that I find myself once again, in tears laying flat on my back, only this time for reasons much more worthy of celebrating.

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My days have been rich and yet they have been exhausting. My days have been spent nesting and making our beautiful little space our own. The best thing about living in 620 square feet is that I get to feel like an awesome housewife for having everything cleaning and organized each morning and night. When you have little and live simply, it takes little effort to keep things put together.   So, for someone who needs a clean tidy environment to function, I am viewing our little space as a blessing rather than a disadvantage. And besides, for the first time in my adult life I am living with both a washer and dryer and dishwasher! My life has been changed. Forever. Seriously.

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My days have been spent riding around the city and being filled back up with life. This city is even better than I remember. Riding in lanes with hundreds of other cyclists is doing wonders for my confidence and affirming our lifestyle choices. I am not alone.

My days have been spent, back in the kitchen, feeling a little more like myself. I really did just need my own kitchen back. Baking, even in the midst of chaos and meltdowns, is one of the most centering things in my life right now. And I have yet to kick my cookie craving this pregnancy, so this is where I can be found…in the BEST chocolate chunk cookies I’ve ever had.

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Almost a year ago I posted our loyal chocolate chip recipe. Many moons and too many cookies later, I have made an even better batch that I can now confidently call, the BEST! Browning the butter and using a combination of both brown and cane sugar makes all the difference. Chop up your favorite bar of chocolate, add some flaky sea salt on top, and you have perfection.

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I thought I had the best recipe for chocolate chip cookies, until I learned that I didn’t. Until I tasted something better. I feel a little silly comparing my life to chocolate chip cookies, but I really do see a connection. I didn’t realize I was so unhappy until I experienced happiness again. I can see now that I have been in survival mode almost the entire time we were in Wyoming. I’ve been waiting to be where I’ve always wanted to be. Now I am here, grateful to be on the other side, savoring every last morsel of life. It is truly great to be alive.

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Brown Buttered Chocolate Chunk Cookies

2 ¼ cup AP flour (I use bob’s red mill)

1 ½ tsp. baking soda

½ tsp. sea salt

1 cup grass-fed unsalted butter, browned

¾ cup cane sugar

¾ cup brown sugar

1 ½ tsp. vanilla extract

1 egg, + 1 yolk

1 heaping cup of semi sweet chocolate chips or a chocolate bar cut into chunks

Coarse sea salt for garnish

Melt butter in a small saucepan until it is cracking and brown. It may even start to foam. Remove from heat and let cool for a few minutes.

Combine flour, salt and baking soda in a small bowl and set aside.

In a large bowl combine sugars and browned butter. Beat with a hand mixer or in a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, until combined. Add egg, yolk, and vanilla. Mix until combined.

Add half of dry ingredients into large mixing bowl and mix until all the dry ingredients are absorbed. Add the second half and repeat. Add in chocolate chips of chunks and beat until just combined. Cover dough and place it in the fridge for 30 minutes to chill. While the dough is chilling, pre-heat oven to 350.

Using a cookie scoop or a tablespoon, scoop out dough and place evenly onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Sprinkle each ball of dough with coarse sea salt. Bake for 9-10 minutes. Immediately upon removing from oven, pat pan against counter or table, (this helps the cookies set, leaving those attractive lines that are found in my favorite bakery style cookies!) Let cool on baking sheet for a few minutes and transfer to wire rack to allow them to cool completely.

 

 

361 days of bliss

We are about to celebrate one whole year of living car free. During the last year there were only four days, or at least that I can remember, when I cursed the road, thought we were crazy, or wanted to own a car again. Four days out of 365 is surprisingly few, especially when six months of the year was spent in subzero weather, pregnant, with a babe. I am now a believer that it can be done in almost any circumstance!

Since moving back to Portland (with a belly that is undeniably pregnant), people have been telling me that once baby number two comes I will want a car. I wouldn’t say I feel defensive, but I’m a little surprised. I would think that that the last year would have proven our determination and shown the joy we’ve found in living without one. I would think that attempting this lifestyle with a toddler in the middle of nowhere would speak loud enough for itself. But I’ve been thinking about it a lot … and maybe these people are right. After every honeymoon phase, real life starts to happen.

I remember my dear friend Laurel, who I admire greatly, speaking wise words to me almost four years ago. She and her husband have been married for over 10 years and helped guide Christopher and I in our pre-marital counseling. (I have yet to find a couple more worthy of learning from.) The week before I got married, something in me started to question my ability to vow forever. It seemed to come out of nowhere. It caught me off guard. I found myself crying to Laurel and admitting that I was scared that I might want to run away one day.

She wasn’t surprised. She calmly and confidently told me that of course at some point in our marriage I would want to run away … but that I wouldn’t. I laughed, snorted, and cried some more. It was a profound moment for me. It brings meaning to not only marriage but so many areas of life. It is not my feelings that I should fear, because feelings, while they are very real, come and go.

It’s the choices I make that are important.

It is possible that in six months time I will be wishing we had a car. Once I admitted that to myself, I was filled with a new enthusiasm. The question is not “will I ever want to own a car?” There is no doubt that I will go through seasons where I forget all the wonderful reasons we decided to live car free. There will be a time when I want the convenience, especially once the sleep deprivation of baby-number-two kicks in.

The question is “what will I choose when those feelings arise?”

Lately, I see wisdom in setting myself up to make good choices, consistent with who I want to be, during vulnerable seasons. We all fall short of our ideals when life gets messy and real, but if I know that in advance, then I can set myself up for outcomes that are consistent with who I am.

A few months before we left Wyoming, I was filled with so much guilt as I watched our daughter Octave in a seeming coma, gazing into our television (a television I wasn’t even sure how we suddenly owned and found ourselves watching every night).

There is nothing wrong with enjoying TV in moderation. I am a sucker for family movie night and good documentaries. But a few months ago I was in my first trimester, tired beyond comprehension and I used it as a crutch on bad days. Then, I used it every day.

I told myself it was fine—many other good moms that I love and respect succumb to the television as well. But deep in my gut this only made me feel worse, because it has nothing to do with being a good mom or not, it has everything to do with being the mom that I want to be. Good people and great moms make choices every day that I don’t feel comfortable with. There is no judgment on their character or decisions. It is not about being right or wrong. It is about living in a way that gives me peace when I rest my head each night. All of those thoughts and emotions mixed with witnessing Octave become more impatient and naughty with each day of television, told me this was not a good thing for our family. So, right before we moved I had enough of this guilt and I told Christopher I wanted to sell the TV and it wasn’t really up for much discussion. The next day a friend came and bought it from us. By selling it I took away the temptation of making a choice that doesn’t make me feel good. I made it easy for myself to make a choice that at the end of the day makes me happy and is consistent with who I am.

I share this struggle with the TV only because the same logic can be used when talking about the car. Even though I have never enjoyed driving and I have many reasons why living car free makes me happy, in seasons of transition, struggle or exhaustion, I might not make the choice that deep in my gut I want to make. Even though people and places might be easily accessible by foot, bike or bus, on a tired, rainy day with two babes, I can see how easy it would be to just hop in the car if given the choice. That choice becomes a habit, and then it becomes your life. This is how I think people wake up after ten years confused at how they got from A to B without even wanting to be there in the first place.

There will always be exceptions, off days, tired days, and special circumstances. It is important to be gentle with myself on those days. There will be days I will eat something I am not proud of, regardless of whether it is in my kitchen or not. (I once biked to the store in a subzero snowstorm because I HAD to have ice cream!) There will be handfuls of weekends away from home where we use disposable diapers. There will be nights with family and or babysitters that I will probably encourage them to cuddle and watch a movie with my children. There will be times throughout the year where we get a Zipcar for the day or rent a car for a weekend trip to the coast.

Choosing to live without a car is not black and white and in no way means we are never going to use a car. This is probably the biggest misconception when I share our story. I don’t believe the car in and of itself is negative, in fact I think it is a great tool and I am grateful for it but I think the way most of us are dependent upon it is detrimental to our health and the environment. This choice to not own a car does not mean we are refusing to use a car in our future, it just means we are setting up our life so that majority of the time we don’t use one.

I do care deeply about the air Octave and her children will breath. I think about it often, and wonder what her generation will think of ours. Will they wonder how we could continue to make the choices we do knowing the things we know? Will they understand or will they be as utterly confused as a lot of my generation is when we see people smoking knowing full well what it is doing to their bodies? I like to think about the $700 a month we are no longer paying towards a car payment, gas and insurance. I will admit that I also love the thrill of being apart of something pretty counter cultural in my part of the world. I love being part of an adventure that looks and feels foreign. Yet still a year later, the most powerful reason for wanting to live this is way and the reason I believe I will last, is that I get so much joy out of walking and riding my bike. The wind in my hair, a 2-year-old who is a million times happier than she would ever be in her car seat, and a body that feels like it serves a purpose in my livelihood, are all priceless. At the end of the day that is probably my biggest motivation to live car free, and while it is not always easy, it is a lot easier than I thought it would be. I am pretty impressed that 361 days of the year I absolutely loved living this way, and most of those days riding my bike with Octave was even the highlight of our day.

Like the ups and downs of marriage, (or anything good in life), I am starting to think I am in this for the long haul. Here is to one year down, and hopefully many more to come.

 

 

 

 

 

Be Here Now

Be here now, I tell myself.  My aching arms and back are only temporary. This belly, and these hormone induced bi-polar like meltdowns are only temporary.  No place to call our own is only temporary.  My little lady needing her mama so much, is only temporary.  And yet there is so much of the present that I wish could last.  Can she fit in my arms forever?

These photographs capture my days.  My days of rocking and rocking and rocking my little lady to sleep.  She must sense she will be sharing me soon.  The bathroom mirror I glance in to see if she is asleep yet.  The window I always leave open to savor that good NW air.    My protruding belly.  Her bum in disposable’s half of the time. Sigh.  A ring to remind me we can get through anything together. Forever.  The calm I feel when she is finally asleep.

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Lately I find myself wanting to document and share, but sometimes I feel confined by the history of this blog.  Everything I’ve shared here has always weaved in and around food, and while I will always celebrate the colors and tastes that fill our bellies, I want this space to grow with me, with us.

A year and a half ago I found myself in the middle of nowhere, WY and I became consumed with my kitchen and making every single thing from scratch, maybe for lack of anything else to do.  I discovered a domestic life was far more attractive than I could have ever imagined and suddenly cooking and baking became my catalyst for finding joy and navigating the newness of motherhood.  I found myself as a wife and mother, in rising doughs and fermenting cabbage.

Now I am back in a city full of life, with everything at my fingertips.  I am finding myself once again in movement, light, rain, and puddles.  I am finding myself wanting to capture this season in photographs rather than food.  Maybe it’s not having a kitchen to call my own, or maybe it’s this stage in pregnancy.  Regardless of the reason, I am filled with a desire for a new creative outlet.  The only problem is I am just a wanna-be photographer.  I took a few photography classes in high school but beyond that I have no idea what I am doing.  I just know I love capturing life with my camera like I love chopping vegetables and whisking batter.  I also love to write and while my lack of formal education leaves my confidence low, it is something I must do whether I am “good” at it or not.  This online space gave me confidence in my kitchen endeavors and helped refine my love for cooking and baking.  I have hopes that this space could do the same thing for my photography and writing if I let myself express ALL the things that make my heart go pitterpatterclunk, regardless if it is related to fresh baguette out of my oven.  This space will continue to be a keeper of our favorite family recipes, memories, and thoughts on food, but I am inspired to let it become more than that if and when it feels natural.  So here I give myself permission to grow and evolve and share beauty wherever I find it.

Juice For The Weary

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Love and fear play a ruthless game of hide and seek under my skin.  Some hours the less desirable of the two makes itself into the very marrow of my being.  Some days, love simply does not win and I ask for another chance to trust, another breath to make new, another sun to say good morning.  These days in transition test the very core of my being, forcing me to dig deep, trust in ourselves and trust in the greater good.

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I still would not choose the little security we had in Wyoming and the unhappiness that accompanied it.  However, starting from the very bottom, even surrounded by family, in my favorite place in the world, is the most exciting, scary and humbling thing I have ever done.  It seems there is a fine line between following our dreams and just being stupid.  But, I would rather risk feeling the later, to know we pursued the fires that burn inside our chests.

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Despite my heightened sense of emotions and unease the last week, things really are falling into place, perhaps just a little slower than I had hoped, although as slow as one could expect when starting from scratch.  This month we found a great midwife to support me in my third trimester!  We are planning a home birth, yet we are still searching for a place to nest.  Until then we are staying with my sister and a clan of 8+ the 3 of us.  (It’s not as crazy as you would think!) I am teaching dance as much as this growing belly will allow, and hubs is pursuing a dream, turned business idea he has had for a very long time.  I am making vegetable juice every morning and eating way too many treats during the day.  I justify all those treats with all the wonderful nutrients I am getting in my morning glass.  These vegetable juices are my constant right now.  They fill me back up with color and life and help me feel a little more stable in the midst of so much unknown.  I am not only grateful for an awesome sister who has opened her home, but for one who happens to own an awesome juicer and always keeps her fridge stocked with an abundance of colors from the ground.  This juice is one of our favorites…

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Carrot Apple Grapefruit Beet Juice

Makes 60 oz

12 large carrots

3 apples

2 large grapefruits

2-3 large beets

1 lemon

Thumb size chunk of ginger (optional)

Thumb size chunk of turmeric (optional)

Wash all fruits and vegetables.  Peel lemon and grapefruit by hand.  With a grater, peel beets, tumeric and ginger.  Cut fruits and vegetables into pieces that are suitable to fit and feed through your juicer.  Drink immediately to absorb the most nutrients.  You can keep in fridge for 3 days.

Wild and Free

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I walk promptly to catch a bus that makes shapes and predictable patterns inside the veins of my favorite city. My unfamiliar heavy gait finds amusement in the wet pavement.   I’ve known this sound for years but after seasons in the desert it has never been quite this sweet.  I arrive at the bus stop moments before the bus arrives, but just long enough to stretch my tired calves along side the curb and smell the cigarette of the woman walking past.  Long enough to take note of all the things I love about the moment.

I gaze out the window, like a child entering a fairy tale, only it’s real, all of it.  Octave peers out her window with eyes that mirror mine.  She rests her eyes only to chew off another piece of her fruit leather.  We enter the city with patience and fervor, there is nothing that goes unnoticed and nothing that is left to be praised.  Everything looks and smells wild.  My heart feels just the same.

In giddy awe I remember that just weeks ago my life resembled nothing of the present.  I laugh with the newly profound realization that we didn’t just leave behind Wyoming but we left behind three American virtues… a “good”career, our automobile and television.  We left all three without apprehension or regret, and traded them in for the intangible.  We traded them in for the look in my husband’s eyes, and for the newfound peace inside this swelling belly.  We traded it all in for that moment I looked Octave in the eye and said, I love our life.  

Mediterranean Pasta

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10 days and counting. 10 DAYS!!!  After 6 moves and 3 states in 4 years I am dreaming of this being our last, at least for a while.  I am exhausted just thinking about all those moves and all those emotions as I tried to be positive and adventurous as my heart cried for home.  I am giddy just visualizing our brand new life as we pack away our old one.  I am packing up our life in boxes of booze, gifted to us from our local liquor store.  Liquor boxes are the best moving boxes!  If only I could be sipping a margarita while I pack.  I am purging the items that clutter my mind and our space.  I am organizing the things I have put off for years.  I am realizing how little we own, and feeling how much peace that brings me.  I finally feel as though I can breathe.

In the midst of organizing I found old papers, journal entries, and book lists that I was saving.  Some things I decided were not worth saving and made no lasting impression when I re read them.  However, I found a handful of photo copied pages about the life of Gustav Vigeland, a Norwegian sculptor.  These papers must have been given to me from my dance director in New York.  Years after learning about this artist I got to visit Oslo and see Vigelands sculptures.  I took beautiful photographs with my film camera that was stolen a week later.  Those pictures are gone but reading these words that I underlined years ago, stirred emotions in me that I have not felt or contemplated in a very long time.

“I have never had a choice.  I was a sculptor before I was born.  I have been driven and propelled forward by enormous powers outside myself.  No matter how much I would have wished it, there was no other path, I would have been driven to it again.”

” Instead of lengthening the distance between the work and one’s feelings, making the path long, twisted and difficult from the heart and out into the hand, looking to the right and left, and thinking this one does it, that has done it, one should keep shortening this distance, making it as short as possible.  It cannot be short enough.” 

“At last I was gone and carved blindly 

a figure in stone

The hammer grew heavy, it hit my knuckle several times,

Was I carving the figure or was it carving me?”

-Gustav Vigeland

Mediterranean Pasta

This pasta seems rather symbolic because I created it when we were newlyweds living in Denver.  The first time I made it Christopher told me it was his favorite dish I made, and 3 1/2 years later he is still saying the same thing!  It has gone with us everywhere we have been and we will enjoy it for years to come.  I love pasta, I really do.  I will never jump on the no eating pasta train.  It’s just too delicious and makes my heart feel home.  Besides, I like to pretend I am Italian most of the time, and I have never met an Italian who does not worship their pasta.

Serves 4

16 oz. linguine or spaghetti

4 tbsp. butter

4 tbsp. olive oil

2 cloves of minced garlic

Large pinch of salt

1/2 cup packed, sun-dried tomatoes in oil

1/2 cup kalamata olives, chopped

1/2 cup toasted pine nuts

3 tbsp. capers

1 1/2 cups finely grated parmesan cheese + more for serving

Squeeze of lemon

A few large handful of fresh basil, roughly chopped

Instructions:

Bring a large pot of water with a generous amount of sea salt and a splash of oil to a boil.  While water is heating, melt butter and olive oil in a medium saucepan on medium heat.  Chop sun-dried tomatoes into bite sized pieces and add to the butter and oil.  Roughly chop olives and add to pan along with the capers and garlic.  Once it starts to sizzle, reduce heat to low.  Add pasta to water and cook as instructed on package.  Toast pine nuts in a small pan and set aside.  Finely grate parmesan and set aside.  Chop basil and set aside.

When pasta is finished cooking, drain water and place noodles back into the large pot.  Pour sun-dried tomato sauce over pasta.  Sprinkle parmesan, basil, toasted pine nuts, a squeeze of lemon and large pinch of salt on top.  Mix together thoroughly, until cheese has melted.  Serve with few more pieces of fresh basil and parmesan cheese.

A Birthday Cake For A Birthday Girl!

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I have never been one to love cake.  I grew up asking for ice cream on my Birthday and even refused to have cake on my wedding day.  So, when I found myself pregnant with Octave I wondered why I suddenly desired and even stressed over what kind of cake to bake her as I labored and anticipated her arrival into the world.  I suppose it was Octave who brought out the baker in me.  Before her I would have laughed if someone would have told me that one day I would find myself covered head to toe in flour, finding deep purpose and meaning in such a mundane, domestic act.  But with a new life growing inside, a baker was born, then Octave was born, and finally a Mama was born.

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I won’t say that time has gone by fast, because truly it hasn’t.  It feels like two beautiful years since Octave came into our lives.  It feels like two perfect years filled with joy, sleep deprivation, frustration, cuddles, tickles, family bike rides and hours of dr. seuss.

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I am however constantly amazed how often she changes and how I fall more in love with each season, age and mile stone.  And yet I would be lying if I didn’t acknowledge how challenging the battle of wills has been lately.  But still I refuse to call this stage terrible.  As her sass, and strong will grow exponentially, so does her smile, vocabulary, opinions, compassion and empathy for others.  She is growing into her own little person, that sometimes does not want to do what I want, and I find that terrific, yet slightly frustrating some times.  Today I declare her a terrific 2-year-old!  I am one proud mama, asking myself just how I got so lucky.

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Happy Birthday Octave! Life with you is even better than I could have imagined.

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Chocolate Beet Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Recipe from Joy The Baker

This cake does not taste like a salad.  In fact you can’t even taste the beets.  They are a great alternative to artificial food coloring, and help add extra moister into the cake batter.

2-3 medium beets

1 tsp. oil

3/4 cup unsalted butter at room temperature

1 cup packed brown sugar

3/4 cup cane sugar

2 large eggs at room temperature

2 cups all purpose flour

2/3 cup natural cocoa powder

1 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. sea salt

1 1/4 cup buttermilk

1 1/2  tsp. vanilla extract

Frosting

1 cup unsalted butter, softened

8 oz. cream cheese, softened

2 1/2 cups powdered sugar

1-2 tbsp. finely grated beets, depending on color preference

1 tbsp. milk

1 1/2 tsp. vanilla

1/2 tsp. lemon juice

Pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 375.  Wash beets well and coat them in oil.  Wrap in foil and bake for 1 hour, or until tender when pierced with a fork.  Let cool completely.  Remove skins off beets,(they should just peel right off.)  Using the finest grater you have, grate beets into a small bowl.  Measure out 3/4 cup for cake and reserve 1-2 tbsp. for frosting.  Lower heat to 350.

In a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, about 3-4 minutes.  Add in eggs one at a time and beat until combined.  Add vanilla and beets and beat until just combined.

In a medium size bowl combine flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.  Whisk all dry ingredients until they are combined.  Add half of dry ingredients into wet ingredients and mix on low until just combined.  Slowly pour in buttermilk while mixer is still going.  Add the rest of the dry ingredients and beat until just combined.

Lightly butter 2, 8 inch round cake pans.  You can trace your pans and cut some parchment paper to go on the bottom of your pans to ensure a successful removal.  I definitely did this!  Bake for 25-30 minutes.  Test center of cake with a toothpick to make sure it cooked all the way through.  Be careful not to over bake.

Let cakes cool in pans while you prepare your frosting.

Cream together butter and cream cheese.  Slowly add in powdered sugar while mixer is on.  Add vanilla, lemon juice, beets and salt.  Beat for 30 seconds to 1 minute until light and fluffy.  Set aside.

Remove cakes from pans and place one on a plate or cake stand.  Generously frost the top and sides of the cake.  Add the second layer on top.  Spread the rest of the frosting over the sides and top of cake.  Place in fridge until you are ready to eat.