Bear Down

I would imagine, firsthand if I were a mother to something other than a cat, that feeling proud of your children when they accomplish something is probably one of the best feelings on earth. I would imagine that, when they finish college, or get married, or when they land the job of their dreams, it’s probably a bit too much to bear – that fullness you might feel inside, that beaming, happy feeling that has you grinning from ear to ear.

I’m not a mother, and won’t be anytime soon, but I know that feeling still. I’m sure it’s a little bit different, but all the while, I am definitely that ‘happy, proud, beaming from ear to ear’ person I described.

Chris (aka Hubs), after somewhere between 3 and 4 years of crunching numbers on Excel, working with probably 20 different groups (some good and downright horrible), and all the while working full-time at a job that has been much less than rewarding, has finished school – once and for all. I was definitely proud when he got into Northwestern’s MBA program, but I’m infinitely “prouder” (and relieved) now that he’s completed it, and with honors.

When I finished culinary school, he took me to Alinea – and I’ll never forget that experience. For a long while, I’ve wondered what I’d get him for his (final) graduation – to not only celebrate his fancy new degree, but to also celebrate the fact that we, both of us, are finally. finished. with. school. forevah. It’s a big deal, I think.

And while I didn’t go the “you finished graduate school therefore I should buy you something professional, like a leather attache case or nice tie so you can look spify when you interview for new jobs” present, I swear I hit the nail on the head this time. I realized that, after almost 7 years of living in this city, we have never forked out the Benjamins (yes, plural) to watch the Bears in action at Soldier Field. And for years, season after season, we’ve promised ourselves to one day, one year, suck it up and buy the tickets. So I did.

Let’s just say that I definitely picked the best game of the season to watch in person – the December 12th Bears vs. Patriots game, the day Chicago got pummeled with snow & extra-frigid temperatures what with the windchill and all making the “feels like” temperature hover solidly in the single digits. The day that left my hands and feet feeling so numb for so long that even a bucket of hot chocolate and “complimentary warming stations” couldn’t remedy – those were the tickets I bought.

And despite all of it, he loved it. And I loved it because I knew he did. It felt good, frigid temperatures and all – watching someone grin with excitement, and that someone being someone you are so incredibly proud of, admirable of, and in love with all at the same time – that’s a feeling that’s hard to put into words.

Ever since that game, the horribly played game, I’ve been craving some more hot chocolate. I had some at work the next day – the kind that comes in the box with the fake marshmallows – and it wasn’t half bad, to be honest. But I’ve wanted to make my own, and I finally did. There isn’t much not to like about a hot chocolate full of all those awesome Indian spices, and it’s definitely a warmer for all the cold days and nights that are sure to come. Having a mug of this at home during a Bears game, a game the Bears are winning (since we are officially division title holders, again)? Priceless.

Oh, and Happy Holidays. Stay warm and stay safe out there, kids!

Chai Hot Chocolate
chiknpastry recipe; makes 2 servings

time commitment: 10 minutes

printable version

ingredients
2 c 1% milk
1/2 c bittersweet chocolate chips OR 6 T sipping chocolate (like Theo)
5 green cardamom pods
1/4 t whole allspice
1 cinnamon stick
1/4 t ground black pepper
1 t g ginger
2 T brown sugar
1/2 t vanilla extract
marshmallows, optional

instructions
Combine first 8 ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer; simmer for a couple of minutes and remove from heat. steep for 10 minutes with cover on. add in vanilla extract.

strain hot chocolate into 2 mugs. top with marshmallows, and snuggle ;).

Dunkable

There is something so entirely comforting about brown sugar. I know that shouldn’t come as a surprise, given the sticky buns and the cupcakes, or the fact that a ‘tag search’ takes you to a handful of other brown sugar-containing sweets and savories. Like waking up in my own bed after a long vacation of hard mattresses and wimpy water pressure, brown sugar is home to me.

Home, and knowing that anything you make with it can’t go wrong, and that it probably has something to do with the simple fact that brown sugar is just sugar with, you guessed it, molasses.

And since I’m currently making my way down the Oregon & California coasts, likely acquiring something similar to the bed sores the old folks at rest homes get, I figured it’s the least I could do to provide a little droolworthy treat and some comfort to you fine folks. And don’t get me wrong – I’ll take the sores, the early morning awakenings, and the creaky springs any day you let me if those days position me directly in front of the Pacific Ocean, its crashing waves, my hair blowing valiantly with the wind, and the sunset view from the Golden Gate Bridge.

I’ll also be happy to take a meal at The French Laundry, or maybe even a slice of toast from Bouchon.

Though I could possibly eat spoonfuls of brown sugar for breakfast, something tells me you might prefer a few more ingredients in the mix, and to remedy that, cookies seem fitting  – do you agree? These aren’t your average chocolate chip cookie, I can promise you that.

Do ya’ll remember me talking briefly about this lovely little book, inside of which I found some lovely little tarts? At some point, I hinted about some other recipes I’ve tried, and this was one of them. And while it’s nearly impossible to compare these to a rhubarb tart, or a buckwheat pancake, or even a scone, these would certainly rank as my number 1 from the book so far, and all they are are chocolate chip cookies.

Chocolate chip cookies that are quite likely the best ones I’ve ever eaten, and I have eaten a lot of chocolate chip cookies in my 30 years. They are firm enough to provide good structure, but ooey and gooey on the inside so that they practically melt in your mouth with each chew. Darker than your average choco chip cookie, they are loaded with whole wheat flour and dark brown sugar, and what I like is that the flour is more nutritious than standard flour, so after eating 4 or 5 in a row I liken it to jogging a few miles, and I call it a day. While eating them, I find myself making those noises that are reserved for only the best of foods – the constant mmmmmm’s in differing tones and decibels that if made behind closed doors may be mistaken for something other than eating.

Did I mention that they taste divine? Hearty, but not dense and sweet with a very noticeable molasses note from the dark brown sugar, and a piece of chocolate in every single bite. While the raw dough is every thing I’d want in chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream, try to resist and bake these things up, because the smell of them baking is intoxicating, and once you realize how lovely they are dunked into a glass of cold milk, you’ll be hard-pressed to save any for anyone, or anything else.

Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies
Adapted from Good to the Grain by Kim Boyce; makes ~24

printable version

ingredients
3 c whole wheat flour
1 1/2 t baking powder
1 t baking soda
1 1/2 t kosher salt
8 oz cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 c dark brown sugar
1 c sugar
2 eggs
2 t vanilla extract
4 oz bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped
4 oz milk or dark chocolate, roughly chopped

instructions
position two rack in oven in upper and lower third. preheat oven to 350 F. line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

whisk all dry ingredients (flour through salt) in a large bowl. add butter and sugars in bowl of a stand mixer with paddle attachment. cream butter and sugar together until blended. scrape down sides of bowl. add eggs, one at a time mixing with each addition. add vanilla. add flour and blend on low until just combined, about 30 seconds. scrape down sides of bowl.

add chocolate and mix on low until evenly distributed. scrape down sides of bowl. with a small ice cream scoop, scoop mounds of dough onto baking sheet, about 6 per sheet. bake for ~18 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through baking. let cookies cool on sheet for a few minutes, then transfer to cooking racks. repeat with remaining dough.