Recipe: Peppermint Chocolate Chip Scones

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After a week of traveling, I'm sinking deeply into life back at home. Holding everyone in my arms even longer than usual, hearing their stories from the week and telling a few of my own.

I'm feeling so grateful, really, for friends and adventure, and for my own resting place and refuge here. For the open arms, bright eyes and gentle hearts that welcome us whether we are visiting or finding our way back home.

Nothing grounds me after travels and adventures like tending to ordinary things: restocking the refrigerator, sweeping the floor, and baking.  Today I'm sharing the recipe for one of my recent delights, inspired by the holiday season and still bringing good cheer. If you can't get your hands on peppermint extract, you can use vanilla instead and substitute berries for the chocolate chips. Enjoy!

Peppermint Chocolate Chip Scones

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups Bob's Red Mill Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour

  • 1 Tablespoon baking powder

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

  • 1/3 cup oil (grapeseed is my favorite, or coconut)

  • 1/3 cup agave

  • 1 Tablespoon peppermint extract

  • 1/3 cup hot water

  • Ghiradelli bittersweet chocolate chips (60% cacao)

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

  2. Combine flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl.

  3. Add oil, agave, peppermint extract and hot water. Stir until combined.

  4. Drop by spoonfuls onto a baking sheet or a baking stone.

  5. Lightly press chocolate chips into the top of each scone, as desired.

  6. Bake at 375 degrees F, for 18-20 minutes, or until firm and lightly browned. Serve warm.

Holiday

I'm taking the week off for a little holiday with the girls. We have some small adventures planned, and time with friends. But we'll mostly be celebrating spring and finding our easy rhythm again.

For now, there's just a couple days left to get Caren's yummy recipes FREE when you order Ritual & Rhythm before Wednesday (4.11.12). As one whom Caren has graciously fed so often over the years, I can say: Don't miss this.

And I'll see you back here soon.

Catching My Bearings, and a Recipe

Doing my best to catch my bearings this morning. I'm wrapping up some new resources for my students at Squam Art Workshops in September before I take the summer off to be with the girls. Serious good things are in production and slated for release in the fall.

In the meantime, I'll be offline most of the time until Labor Day and caring for two young girls, which is in itself a rigorous spiritual practice. The blog may be a little more slice-of-life than usual, but I'd like to try staying connected, even if I don't have any deep thoughts.

It seems only natural to kick off the transition with a recipe. Without further ado I offer:

Jen's Chill the F**k Out Oatmeal

This is one of the core recipes for holding my physical and emotional well being together. I sometimes even make it for dinner when I'm feeling particularly off-kilter or out of balance. Sometimes I cut everything in half for a smaller breakfast portion. This spice combo is killer.

2 cups water

1/2 cup rolled oats (not quick)

1/8 tsp each of ginger, allspice and ground cardamom

pure maple syrup

fresh blueberries

Bring water to boil in a small saucepan. Add oats and spices, turn to simmer and cook until desired consistency. In the meantime, fill the bottom of your bowl with blueberries. Rinse and drain. Add pure maple syrup to taste.

What magic meal holds you together?

A Little Valentine's Day Magic

The girls and I roll out the sugar cookies with a rolling pin and cut them out with a heart-shaped cookie cutter while I tell them the story of how my mom made these cookies for us growing up. How they weren't the kind that we ever made together or watched her bake. When we went to sleep the night before Valentine's Day, there was no sign of them.

And when we woke up the next morning, they were there.

You were lucky, Amelia says. That's a lot of work.

Damn straight.

This is how traditions were in my family--steady, simple, without a lot of flash. You never needed much to make a little magic or to make someone's day.

These are the cookies my mom sent me on Valentine's Day in a care package when I was in college. I ate the whole freaking batch, sharing them sparingly. They are the cookies I made for my fiancee on Valentine's Day a month before our wedding because every penny I was making at my part-time job in the Men's Basketball Office was going toward the purchase of his wedding ring. I baked them in the apartment that would be our first home together.

They are the cookies my sister, Kendra, made for us the night before our move to New York. But instead of the traditional red sprinkles, she spelled out letters in the icing with the tip of a toothpick. All together they said, "Good luck in NY". We had some at our last meal all together that night and took the rest with us for the journey.

The girls and I are baking ours all together this year, a few days early for a party we're throwing for some of our second-grader friends. I frown when I realize too late that we don't have any red sprinkles, just some multi-colored, flower-shaped ones. My daughters don't know the difference, but I do. Then I taste-test one and cringe. Not like Mom's at all. Not like my sister's. I should have iced them the night I made them, not the day after, I lecture myself.

As the party creeps closer, my performance anxiety kicks in. I remember what a bad party-goer I am--how parties put my three greatest weaknesses (small talk, relaxing, having fun) on wild display. I worry that as a result I'll be a bad party-thrower. I remember the looks on our friends' faces the day before, brimming with anticipation and animation as they jumped up and down and said they already knew what they were going to wear.

Would our steady, simple, without-a-lot-of-flash party be nothing more than a big let-down? Would they look at our decorations and think that if we really cared we would have searched a little harder for the clear tape instead of settling so quickly for the masking tape?

Would they think the flower sprinkles didn't look very valentine-y, that the cookies were a bit too hard, that our heart-shaped doilie valentine craft was too juvenile or plain (for God's sake, I didn't even have glitter)?  Is it possible, I wondered, to make magic from such humble ingredients as these?

Too soon it's time to get them. I rally my adult supporters and walk ten girls home from school. Lead ten girls up to our third-floor walk-up.

I always get nervous when I go to someone's house, one of them confides.

That's okay, I say. I always get nervous when I have people over to my house. I just want them to have a good time.

Coats and backpacks come off, and it's immediately apparent that the girls have brought some magic of their own. Sparkly shirts, frilly skirts, and odes to love of things like horses proudly displayed. One of them brings a bag with candies--the heart ones with messages that it didn't even occur to me to get. The party's a hit before it even begins. Turns out, their enthusiasm and love for each other are all we really need.

It's actually a lot of fun, the nervous one reports back to me. I'm stunned as the humble ingredients and simple traditions work, and a little teary as I watch the best parts of girlhood spin around in a dance with joy.

And no one says anything but good about the cookies.

Traditional Sugar Cookies

3/4 cup shortening

1 cup sugar

2 eggs

1 tsp vanilla or 1/2 tsp lemon extract

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp salt

Mix thoroughly shortening, sugar, eggs and flavoring. Blend in flour, baking powder and salt. Cover; chill at least one hour. Heat oven to 400 degrees F. Roll dough 1/8 inch thick on slightly floured wax paper. Cut into shapes. Place on ungreased baking sheet or stone. Bake 6 to 8 minutes or until very light brown.

Icing: powdered sugar, a little milk, a splash of vanilla. For Grandma's touch, add a dollop of coffee. Ice as soon as cookies cool--not the next day.

Weekend Brunch Tutorial: French Toast

I make french toast for brunch once every weekend. I think I landed on french toast because it's so easy--the bread is already made, you just dunk it and brown it.  Over time, it's turned into quite the weekend ritual.

When it comes to meal preparation, I think it all comes down to two things: good ingredients, and presentation.  Which brings us to real maple syrup. There is no substitute.  It's okay that it costs more--it's so very sweet that a little goes a long way. But cold syrup on warm food is a quick way to kill the mood of a meal, so the first thing I always do is take off the lid and place the glass jar of real maple syrup into a small saucepan of water and turn it on medium-low to warm.

 Next I crack some eggs (one per person) into a shallow pan. I usually use my pie pan.  Add a splash of milk and a dash of cinnamon and mix it up for some dipping magic.

Melt a tablespoon of butter in a wide pan.  Swirl it around.  Take some GOOD bread (remember: good ingredients), and with a fork dunk it in the egg mixture, flip, then into the pan it goes.  When browned on the bottom, turn it over.

While it's cooking, I rinse some fresh berries, and turn on the kettle to make the coffee.  (We have one french press for regular, and one for decaf. It's a his and hers thing.) If I don't have berries, another alternative is to slice an apple thinly with a mandoline.  I serve the slices on top of the french toast with one more sprinkle of cinnamon on top.

Coffee preparation includes pulling out some favorite mugs. I especially adore mugs that past the four-finger test, meaning all four fingers can comfortably fit inside the handle.  

Then I like to arrange slices on the plates, pictured below with fresh berries and a dollup of fresh cream.  I'll do anything to get some color, beauty, and fruit on the plate. (Presentation, people.)

The warm syrup goes into this tiny pitcher for comfortable pouring (that glass jar gets hot--handle with mitts) and to encourage moderate portions.

Presentation goes all the way to the table. I like a clean table that looks as pretty as the food and china pitcher.  So all the crayons and papers and crumbs are swept away.  I like a little ambiance in my dining experience.

So that's how weekend brunch rolls at our place. What's your favorite weekend ritual?

a workshop and a recipe

Okay, just a few fun things for today.  First, I want to make sure everyone knows about "Make Room for Mom's Voice", a 3-hr workshop I'm doing with Momasphere in Brooklyn on December 6th. It will be a transformative morning for moms who live within driving distance of the city, and registration is open now.  You can read more about it in the interview I did with Momasphere that is now on their website.  I would love to meet you there.

Since my baking experiment went well yesterday, I'll share the resulting recipe with you.  I'm trying to watch my sugar intake these days, so I wondered if I could use honey instead of sugar and still get my mom's pumpkin bread to come out right.  I was not disappointed.  Here it is: my adaptation of our family recipe that substitutes butter for shortening, honey for sugar, nutmeg for cloves, and spelt flour for all-purpose flour. 

Jen's Pumpkin Bread

2/3 cup butter, softened to room temperature

2 cups honey (the majority of a 32 oz bottle)

3 eggs

1 can (15oz) pumpkin

3 1/3 cups spelt flour (if using regular flour, increase eggs to 4)

2 tsp baking soda

1 1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp baking powder

1 1/2 tsp cinnamon

1 1/2 tsp nutmeg (because I never have cloves)

Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease two 9 x 5 x 3" loaf pans or three 8.5 x 4.5 x 2.5" loaf pans. In large bowl, mix butter and honey until combined. Stir in eggs and pumpkin. Blend in flour, soda, salt, baking powder, cinnamon and nutmeg.  Pour into pans. Bake 60-70 minutes or until toothpick (or a knife) comes out clean.  Lower heat to 325 degrees near the end to prevent over-browning.