Jen’s Chewy Graham Cookies

I need to make a disclaimer…this post has been influenced by chardonnay and stress.

I had a meltdown this afternoon.  Walking through the produce aisle the reality of the last few months came crashing down on me like a wall of bricks.  I don’t mean the reality of trying to understand life after my parents’ death.  I mean the reality of diving head long into the adoption process.

For months The Mistah and I have been quietly filling out forms, scheduling inspections, and writing checks, all in the hopes of adopting a child.  Now that we are a single form away from being able to submit our application, and a check that equals our monthly mortgage payment, to our adoption agency,  the stress of what lays before us is starting to sink in.

In case you’ve never met me in real life, by my own admission I am a worrier.  And  a planner.  And an obsesser.  Which means that I tend to get fixated not on the big picture but on the smaller pieces that make up the big picture.  This is one reason why The Mistah and I work so well together…he looks at things with a macro perspective while I look at all the little details.  Between the two of us, there is balance.  But left to my own devices, I’m a hot freaking mess of worry.  Which gets me back to the produce aisle.

I was looking for garlic and apples and lemons, but all I could see was dollar signs.  And please forgive me for sounding dramatic, but until you’ve been in this place, you may never understand it.  Adoption does not come cheap.  There are fees.  And expenses.  And fees on the expenses.  It’s not like buying a car. You can’t get a cheaper interest rate from your credit union and they’re aren’t any 0% interest offers.  Not only do you pay, but you pay a premium for not being able to do what a majority of the rest of the population takes for granted…having a child.

There are grant programs but they require you to be affiliated with an organized religion and/or to demonstrate financial need.  I haven’t gone to church since I was 12…and the last time I checked The Universe was not a recognized congregation.  And through hard work, and the help of The Mistah, we have paid off all of our debt with the exception of our mortgage.  So on paper, we are not financially needy.  But if you look closer, what we have in savings just about equals what an adoption would cost.  So if we were to empty our savings account in the name of adoption, it would leave us one paycheck away from financial peril.  And for once, I am not speaking grandiosely.  Adoption costs would leave us with no savings.  No safety net.  Nothing to fall back on in the event of a job loss in an uncertain economy.  Mortgage refinancing isn’t an option since we owe more on paper than our house is worth.  So because we do our best to act responsibly and not carry consumer debt, but don’t have an excess of liquid assets available, we don’t qualify for grants to offset adoption expenses.  How the hell does that make sense?

Is it really better to spend every penny we have to adopt a child and then be left without any resources to weather a job loss or an unexpected major expense?  Is that the responsible choice?

So there’s the cost.  But the adoption process also requires you to open yourself up to the scrutiny of others.  References, tax returns, autobiographies.  It’s not for the self conscious.  Because let me tell you, no freaking stone goes unturned in this process.  In the simplest of terms, the application process is where someone else says whether or not you are a good candidate to be a parent.

Excuse me?  If third party approval were a requirement for being able to give birth, the world would not be in the middle of a population boom.  Forget about the fact that a third party has to give you approval in order to move ahead in the process.  The standard of care that a potential adoptive parent has to meet is ridiculous.  For instance, we failed our health department inspection.  No because our house was unsanitary but because we didn’t have thermometers in our refrigerator and because our hot water heater was set too high.  We also failed our fire department inspection.  Not because our house is a death trap but because we didn’t have enough clearance around our gas meter, the lock on our 3o year old storm door was not up to current code, and because the fire extinguishers in our house weren’t the right ones.  Who the hell comes to a pregnant couple’s home and looks at these things?  If I were to give birth to a child, nobody would scrutinize our home or our ability parent.  They would simply send me home with an infant, without regard to the conditions that child was being subjected to.

At this moment, I don’t doubt our ability to successfully raise a child.  I have always known that The Mistah would make a fantastic parent.  And with the death of both of my parents, oddly enough, I have somehow been freed from the assumptions that I had always made about my ability to unconditionally love a child.  And yet, there are so many obstacles in our way.

No amount of bake sales or etsy shops can bridge the financial gap that we face.  And selling off the few liquid assets that we have won’t make me stop worrying about our financial ability to meet this challenge.  So what’s left?  Other than petitioning to The Universe, I don’t know.

So I will say it here to The Universe, as I say it in my heart…we would give a child love and stability.  We may not be perfect parents but we would actively parent our child and do our best to see that our child has a loving heart, a strong sense of self, compassion for others, and a joyful and generous spirit.

Does the thought of bringing a child into our world scare the bejeesus out of me?  Hell yes.  But shouldn’t it? This. Is. Freaking. Huge.

Ok, so now that I’ve had this meltdown, I need some comforting.  And Jen’s Chewy Graham Cookies are just the thing to make to think about warm, chewy happiness instead of our second date with the Fire Inspector next week.  Tell me, which would you rather focus on…buttery, spicy cookies or Baltimore City Fire Code?

Chewy Graham Cookies

Adapted from My Kitchen Addiction

  • 1 1/2 sticks softened butter
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 cup white whole wheat flour
  • 1/4 cup cardamom sugar

Heat the oven to 375 degrees and line two sheet pans with parchment paper.

In the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream together the butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar, honey, baking powder, baking soda, salt, vanilla, and cinnamon.  Add the egg and beat until incorporated into the creamed mixture.

In a second bowl, whisk together the flours.  Add the flour to the creamed mixture on low speed and mix until just combined.

Place the cardamom sugar into a small bowl.  Use a small ice cream scoop to portion out the dough in 1 tablespoon servings.  Roll the dough into a ball, roll in the cardamom sugar, and place on the prepared sheet pans.

Bake for 9 to 10 minutes until the cookies are lightly browned and just set.  Cool in the pan for 5 minutes before transferring the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.

Food Memories – Grandmother’s Dinner Rolls

I met Jen Schall last year at Big Summer Potluck.  And then we both found ourselves attending the IFBC conference a month or so later.  One thing led to another and before I knew it we were tweeting back and forth and leaving comments on each other’s blogs.  Let me tell you something about Jen, she creates amazing things in the kitchen. Go.  Look.  Here’s the link.  Her talent isn’t limited to the sweets and savories.  That’s only half the story.  Her pictures are sublime.  Knowing that she’s only about 90 minutes away from B’more, I’m tempted to show up on her doorstep one day and request a private tutorial in how she sets up these shots.

I had asked Jen after IFBC if she had a recipe that I could include in my Food Memories Project.  She said she thought she did and then life got busy in the way it often does.  Later we were chatting about my challenges making bread and she mentioned that she had this great dinner roll recipe that she was going to post in her bread baking series.  So imagine my surprise when I read her post about her grandmother’s dinner rolls.  It was as though I had hit the trifecta….grandmother story (and I’m a big sucker for those), food memory, and a flawless roll all in one.

Thanks to Jen and her generosity, I now have perfect dinner rolls in my freezer and a food memory to share with you.

The following appeared on My Kitchen Addiction on 3 May 2011.

Light and Soft Dinner Rolls

If you ask anyone in my family, they will tell you that these are the ultimate dinner rolls. But, I can’t really take credit for them.

These are my grandmother’s famous rolls…  Whenever we would have get togethers with the whole family, she would make a big batch of these rolls. They were a holiday staple for years. My brother and cousins would fight over them, and I’m pretty sure that there were times where they each had more than 10 rolls in one meal. They really are that good.

My grandmother was a great cook and baker. Though she passed away a few years ago, I often think of her when I am in my kitchen. I am fortunate enough to have many of her recipes, and though I can’t prepare them quite the way she did, they always remind me of her.

Until recently, the recipe for her rolls was one of the few recipes that I didn’t have. In December, my mom and I were putting together a book of family recipes for my brother and his new wife.  When we asked around for recipes, one of my cousins happened to have the recipe for the rolls. We put it in the book (especially since my brother was one of the biggest fans of the rolls), and I set out to learn to make them myself.

Perhaps my grandmother is looking down on me, because there’s just something about these rolls that always amazes me.  They really are quite simple to make, and they always turn out beautifully.  They are the lightest, softest dinner rolls I have ever made. They’re also pretty adaptable. I have swapped out the all purpose flour for whole wheat, added flax, used oil in place of the butter, and even made them with herbs and cheese. The rolls also make fantastic buns for hot dogs and hamburgers… You’ll want to keep the recipe on hand this summer!

Light and Soft Dinner Rolls
(Makes 18 dinner rolls or 12 sandwich rolls)

Adapted from Jen Schall

BAH Note: I’ve made these as cloverleaf rolls with success.  After the second rise, portion the dough into 18 rolls. Divide each roll into three equal pieces and roll them into three small balls.  Place the group of three dough balls in the buttered cavity of a muffin tin so that it looks like a pyramid.  Brush the tops with melted butter,  cover loosely with plastic wrap, and let the dough rise just until it reaches the top of the muffin tin.  Bake at 400 degrees for about 10 minutes.  I’ve also frozen the cooked rolls and let them thaw at room temperature or warmed them in a 350 degree oven.

  • 1 cup warm milk
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons dry active yeast
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened
    (or cut it into small chunks and microwave for about 15 seconds)
  • 3 – 3 1/2 cups all purpose flour

Begin by combining the milk, sugar, yeast, and salt in a large mixing bowl.  Whisk together until the yeast and sugar are mostly dissolved.

Add the butter and egg.  Stir to incorporate and break up the egg.  Add 1 cup of flour and beat vigorously to fully incorporate the flour and any lumps of butter that may have been remaining.

Gradually, add the remaining flour, stirring until the dough begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl. Knead the dough with your hands, adding just enough flour to keep the dough from sticking to your hands.  Knead for about 5 minutes, until the dough is smooth, but still light and soft.

Transfer the dough to a lightly greased bowl.  Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until the dough has doubled in volume (about 1 1/2 hours).  Punch the dough down, reshape into a ball, and let rise a second time until the dough has doubled in volume again (an additional hour).

Preheat the oven to 425°F.  Shape the rolls and place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicon liner. Let the rolls rise while the oven preheats, until they are a bit puffy.  If desired, brush the tops of the rolls with some egg wash (to make them shiny) and sprinkle with sesame seeds (I usually do this for the hot dog and hamburger buns).  Bake for about 12 – 14 minutes, until the rolls are golden on top.

Let the rolls cool for about 10 minutes on the baking sheet, and then transfer to a wire rack. The rolls are best served warm, but they will keep for a few days in an airtight container, or wrapped in plastic.

{printable recipe}

Big Summer Potluck

I’m not a gambler by nature. The risks I take are calculated, not reckless.  However, there are moments when I throw caution to the wind, say what the hell, and let the chips fall where they may.  These moments are few and far between, but they do happen.  My most recent spontaneous, caution thrown to the wind decision involved me, one untested cookie recipe, a set of Mapquest directions, six hours of driving, 39 food bloggers, several food professionals, and three deer.

The destination was called the Big Summer Potluck.  Organized by women who know food, blogging, and photography – Maggy Keet and Sharon Anderson of Three Many Cooks and Erika Pineda of Ivory Hut – this was a day to come together with other food bloggers to talk about the challenges we all face. It was an opportunity to build our food blogging community, to support and encourage one another, to learn more about our craft, and to eat some amazing food.

These ladies pulled out all the stops.  On the agenda:

Pam Anderson (food columnist, cookbook author, Three Many Cooks food blogger, and former executive editor of Cook’s Illustrated) shared her thoughts on recipe development and recipe writing, in addition to graciously hosting us at her home.

Abby Dodge (food writer and instructor, cookbook author, and contributing editor to Fine Cooking magazine) demoed a dessert from her upcoming Desserts 4 Today cookbook (brilliant concept y’all…a cookbook full of desserts that utilize four ingredients), and shared some of her tips and tricks (stabilize whipped cream by replacing half the heavy cream with marscapone…yum).

Melissa DeMayo (food stylist extraordinaire) shared her food styling expertise and tips (texture, height, ingredient shots), demoed building the picture perfect sandwich, and told us the best way to do {fill in the blank with your question of choice} is whatever results in the prettiest shot.

Erika Pineda (photojournalist, sports photographer, and Ivory Hut blogger) spoke about the Holy Trinity of photography (Aperture, Shutter Speed, and ISO), point and shoot vs. dslr, and processing.

We had a lively discussion about video content and media campaigns with Auritt Communications.

And then there was Alice.  Alice Currah of Savory Sweet Life and Everyday Alice.  Alice Currah who was named one of Forbes.com’s “Eight of The Very Best Food Bloggers” and Saveur’s food photography “Cover Contest” winner. Maybe you’ve heard of her?  She’s the bomb.  Alice spoke to us about the importance of being authentic in our craft, speaking (and blogging) from the heart and from what we know, carving our own niche out of the blogosphere while also supporting and encouraging and honoring other food bloggers.

I go on and on about The Universe this and The Universe that and it may sound trite but hear me out.  I was originally supposed to be in New York city for BlogHer this summer.  My plans changed and I didn’t have the opportunity to attend and to finally meet in person some of the people that I have grown to think of as part of my extended family.  And I was disappointed about that.  But The Universe more than made up for it by getting me to Big Summer Potluck.  BlogHer is mega big. It’s huge.  Which for my socially awkward self is completely overwhelming.  Big Summer Potluck was intimate.  It was warm and welcoming.  It was a conversation among old friends who may have just met each other that morning.  It was exactly where I needed to be.

Remember my post You Might Be A Food Blogger If… That’s how Big Summer Potluck made me feel.  I was anxious about walking into a room with an untested recipe (and we know I have strict rules about untested recipes) where I didn’t know a soul.  My lack of navigational skills resulted in me getting lost in rural Pennsylvania and being the very last person to arrive 30 minutes late.  Hello, I consider showing up on time being late.  And yet, once I set foot in the door all of that melted away.  I was embraced by these people.  I was part of their tribe.  I belonged.  And isn’t that what we all want?  To be accepted.  To be validated.  To be inspired.

There was laughter.  Warm sun, clear skies, and cool breezes.  Amazing products supplied from KitchenAid, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New West Knifeworks, The Spice House, Fine Cooking, Green Valley Organics, Green Mountain Coffee, Cypress Grove Chevre, Naturally Nora, and Lindsay Olives.   And incredible food.  Because you have to know that at a food blogger get together we’re going to nosh on good eats.  To see people who know and make good food eat my potluck contribution and have their faces light up was priceless.  In my head, I sounded like an insecure adolescent saying OMG, Alice Currah is eating my cookie and she LIKES it!!!  There may have also been jazz hands and the Peanuts dance going on in my head as well.  I was too excited in the moment to accurately recall now.

So I’ve been quietly sending my thanks back to The Universe for giving me the opportunity to be part of Big Summer Potluck.  For the people who made it all possible and the people whose presence made it what it was.

I’ve also been thanking The Universe for allowing me to come to a complete stop on that winding back road in time not to hit the deer that decided to pop out of nowhere and lazily cross the road.  I don’t know if there is any symbolic meaning to seeing three massive bucks other than the obvious – slow down.  But that is one of the small moments from the weekend I hope to hang on to.  Yes Universe, sometimes I hear what you’re trying to tell me loud and clear.

Hungry for more Big Summer Potluck?  Check out:

Bread and Putter

Wenderly

Sugarcrafter

Smells Like Home

Tickled Red

Add A Pinch

The Sensitive Pantry

Three Many Cooks

Fine Cooking

The Dinky Kitchen

Dine & Dish

The Coquettish Cook

What’s Kookin’ In Kara’s Kitchen

How To Simplify

My Kitchen Addiction

Four Chickens

Modern Wench

The Ivory Hut

Smith Bites

Souffle Bombay

The Peche

She Wears Many Hats

Bluebonnets & Brownies

Abby Dodge

Do you wonder what a Big Summer Potluck looks like?  Check out Erika’s lovely photos of the day.

And stay tuned for the Peanut Butterfinger cookie recipe that I took a gamble on being Big Summer Potluck worthy.