Monday, September 23, 2013

My Favourite Cookies + Toronto Picnickers Part III

brown butter chocolate chip cookies fresh baked

When I was in university, cookies were a near constant in my life. Almost every week, I'd stand over the counter, creaming together butter and sugar to make a batch of cookies. The smell of the freshly baked cookies would eventually draw my roommates out of the woodwork, and I would happily foist as many cookies as I could on them. Throughout the following week, I would carry around a container of those cookies from class to class, sharing them with my classmates and professors (sometimes forcefully).

I still bake cookies, but not as often. Perhaps it was the stress of those years - the constant approach of deadlines, the late nights writing papers, the hours spent reading theory that sent me running into the kitchen. It was easy to get trapped in my own crazy headspace, to become lost staring at a computer screen. Baking always helped to calm me down, and it still does. It was a creative break, a way to get me out of whatever argument or article I'd gotten stuck in. It even made me feel a little productive, for while my cursor would blink indefinitely at me and my essay remained complete, in an hour my apartment would smell of butter and caramel, and there would be edible proof of my time spent in the kitchen. And always there was the reward of seeing someone else smile and happily devour something that I had made.

I may not bake cookies as much as I did then, but every now and then I'll sit up and declare to my roommates: "I need to make cookies." (They never object.)

Sometimes I get stuck on what to make, sometimes I spend over an hour flipping through recipe books, searching the web, but I'm almost always drawn back to this recipe.

Several years ago, when these cookies began their evolutionary journey in my kitchen, I learned the secret of browning butter. It was life-changing. Cookie changing, in fact. Browning butter for any recipe is a surefire way to make it better, and you need to try it, if only to make your kitchen smell amazing.

These cookies were my contribution to the latest Toronto Picnicker's expedition to Sorauren Park. I was amazed and pleased by how quickly they disappeared. Prior to the picnic, I'd been panicking over what to make. My inspiration in the kitchen has been waning, as of late, and I've found myself gazing blankly at items in the produce aisle, wishing recipe ideas would strike.

picnickin' basking in the shade summer picnic at Sorauren Park
it's all about the cookie Jasper, frisbee'd out frisbee in action
summertime in the park go forth and play frisbee

So I made cookies. They're my fail-safe, my not-so-secret weapon, and also happened to be perfectly acceptable picnic fare. After all, it's almost never inappropriate to show up anywhere with a box of cookies.

It was a beautiful day, and we lounged in the shade stuffing our faces with various awesomely delicious things, like Anna's espresso chocolate roasted almonds (which you should make, like, right now). Jasper spent much of the time in hot pursuit of frisbees, footballs, and soccer balls, and the rest of us watched in amusement and sipped on mimosas. It was a most wonderfully cliched summer picnic, and a hot afternoon well spent.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Whole Grain Nectarine Pancakes

whole wheat nectarine pancakes

This post is long overdue, considering these pancakes were made in July. (I could have sworn that was just yesterday, but my calendar informs me otherwise.) The last month has felt like a whirl of work, driving, and summer shenanigans, and I seem to have lost myself somewhere in the middle of it all. When I try to sort out the events of the season - work, travel, vacation - they all crowd together in such confusion that I'm left feeling dazed, wondering how the hell I could have let three months fly past me so quickly. It's as if I tripped and fell down a hill, right around May 30th, and tumbled all the way down to September 1st, and it's only now that I'm slowly staggering to my feet again.

So, with the dust of the summer finally settling, I've been thinking back to a quiet moment in July when I woke up at my grandpa's camp and cooked up a batch of pancakes.

there be Roses here the Roses' door knocker
dad let sleeping dogs lie Grandpa

It was perhaps odd that I decided to make pancakes that day, my last morning in Thunder Bay. I haven't had the most pancake-positive experiences in life. They were not, in fact, much of a staple of my childhood breakfasts. At least, the pancakes that did feature in my breakfast were not the kinds of pancakes anyone else anywhere in the world was eating.

See, my dad did actually make pancakes with relative frequency, but his recipe was a mystery to all of us (including himself) that usually involved leftover mashed potatoes. They were...odd. To say that they were unpleasant would be false, but they did nothing to endear me to pancakes or to the idea of my father making pancakes for breakfast on a regular basis. For a man who is usually extremely capable in the kitchen, my dad sometimes lets his culinary creations take him in a direction that no one else but he would follow. (I have a name for this direction, and that name is Leftover Crazy Town.) Much like the time he made an amazing shepherd's pie, but then proceeded to create variation after variation of the dish using any and all leftovers lurking in the fridge. He fed us mystery shepherd's pies for months. I don't know if I will ever trust anything buried under mashed potatoes in a casserole dish ever again. (Not to say my own culinary visions are always a success. I did go through an odd period during which I was convinced I could make delicious energy bars out of lentils. I did not succeed.)

a grey sky in the long grasses

It wasn't really until I began living with other people that I began cooking pancakes. They're the kind of thing that aren't much fun to make unless there's a hoard of sleepy people in your house who will happily but groggily wander into the kitchen to keep you company and devour stacks of pancakes. They're the kind of breakfast saved especially for weekends and family get-togethers, or those mornings when you just happen to have the time and you feel like being nice. It wasn't until I came across this recipe, about a year ago, that I gained a true appreciation for pancakes and the making of them. All it took was a lack of leftover mashed potatoes and a fancy griddle.

These particular pancakes were made to say goodbye, the last sweet thing I could offer before stepping back on a plane. I left behind plates smeared with syrup and pancake crumbs and carried home with me the smell of woodsmoke and fresher air, the scent of the place lingering about me like the fading impression of a tight embrace. Hopefully these pancakes left behind as fond an impression as the one I carried back with me.

the view from camp