Before I get to the heart of this post, I'd like to mention that this is my fiftieth post here and thank all of you readers for following along in my adventures in the kitchen. Yay!

One of the hardest things about growing up, especially during the holidays, is negotiating what to carry with you from childhood and what to make anew. This is the second year I've spent Christmas away from my family - and I've been lucky enough to have my friend's family to take me in for the holidays. It's not the same, obviously, but it is certainly good in its own way.

Making new traditions can be nice, though, even if it's hard to give up that bit of your childhood. This year and last I've spent the night with friends before Christmas (last year it was Christmas eve, this year the eve of Christmas eve). Last year it was full of watching Nightmare Before Christmas, or at least part of it, before we fell asleep in the fort we made in the living room, and ice cream for breakfast.

This year was a little less childish. I woke up early to make the cinnamon roll dough, so that there was time for it to rise while everyone else was still sleeping. I listened to the This American Life Christmas special from a few years ago. I sipped breakfast tea, enjoying. I noticed the early morning winter light, somehow glad to be up before eight on a vacation day. Slowly my friends arose from their slumbers and joined me in waiting for the dough to rise.

Soon I was rolling out the dough, using my fingers to cover it with butter, while C.T. sprinkled the brown sugar-cinnamon combo over it. I kept getting giddy during the process, exclaiming, I'm making cinnamon rolls! (The novelty of baking has still not rubbed off, obviously.) Then there was nothing left but to wait for the rolls to rise a second time before popping them in the oven.

It was a way to carry a piece of my childhood into the burgeoning traditions of my adulthood. It's true, my mother may not have made cinnamon rolls from scratch - but they were still delicious and they were still a tradition that brought us closer together as a family. More than the ingredients, it was the love that mattered, and this is what I'm trying to bring forward into my life now.

I may have gotten up before eight on a holiday, and I may have burned myself pulling the buns out of the oven, but it was worth it. It was worth it because at the end, I had a table full of happy friends gobbling down cinnamon rolls. (Granted, I had to manuever eating my own rolls with an ice pack on my right hand, but luckily said happy friends were sweet to me, getting me more when required.) The cinnamon rolls were the focus, but really, I think it was the love behind them that was important.

Don't get me wrong, though, these cinnamon rolls were delicious. These three couldn't even wait for me to finish serving before digging in!

Cinnamon Rolls
adapted from Bon Appetit

1 cup milk
3 tbsp butter
3 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1 packet active dry yeast
1 tsp salt

3/4 cup brown sugar
2 tbsp cinnamon
1/4 cup butter, room temp.

Melt the butter for the dough and mix it with the milk. In a large bowl, add a cup of flour, and the sugar, egg, yeast, and salt. Mix well, until all elements are combined. Add the rest of the flour until incorporated into the dough. It should start to pull away from the bowl. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead until smooth. If the dough feels sticky, sprinkle some flour onto it.

When you're done kneading, put just a splash of oil into a bowl, enough to very lightly cover the dough. (I used olive oil, since that's what was available, but since you're using only a very small amount, I don't think it matters too greatly what kind of oil you use.) Cover the bowl and let rise until doubled in volume. This took about an hour and a half for me, but depending on your surroundings, it could be a little less or a little more.

Mix only the brown sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl. Grease some pans to put the rolls in.

Punch down the dough and move it to a flat, floured workspace. Roll it out and smear the butter all over the dough, following that with sprinkling the cinnamon-sugar mixture on top. Start to roll with the long side, making sure to keep it even. When it's all rolled up, cut the dough into segments. (If you're like me, the very ends will only have a little mixture, if any - you can throw these out, or take whatever mixture spills out of the others and sprinkle it on top and bake them, too.) Place the rolls onto the greased pans.

Let the rolls rise until about doubled in volume again - it might be a little harder to tell, but this should take about 40 minutes. Preheat the oven to 375F. When the rolls have risen, bake for 20 minutes. Let cool for as long as you can stand it, or as long as your friends will let you. Warning: it probably won't be long.

Vanilla Icing

3 tbsp milk
1 1/4 cup confectioner's sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla

Whisk the ingredients together until a creamy icing starts to form. You may need to add a little more milk or sugar, depending on the consistency you want.



Hello, dear readers. I don't have a recipe for you today, so I figured since Friday is Christmas (already!) I would do a photo post early. Next week I'll have a special Festivus recipe for you, so stay tuned for that. Have a good holiday, everyone!

(As always, more film shots


the last holiday cookie post

I used to be a picky eater. I'm sure I've mentioned this here before, because it's part of what makes this whole me-cooking-phenomenon so crazy. Luckily, I am also pretty polite, which is what finally started to force me out of that habit. I would be invited over to someone's house and it's not like I could refuse to eat what they served. That would be rude.

This was tested, of course, in Italy - where we wound up eating things like wild boar, hunted in Naples. I ate a lot of meat in Italy, actually, which is especially funny coming up on the two-year anniversary of becoming a for-realsies vegetarian. (My whole life I have been mostly-vegetarian. See above, re: picky eater. In addition to the moral issues with meat, I really just don't like the taste of it.)

Anyway, that's neither here nor there.

Oats were one of those foods I was picky about. To be blunt: I did not like oats. Oatmeal? Yuck. Granola? Pushing it. Oatmeal cookies? No, thank you. Clearly I came to love granola - another victory that can probably be chalked up to living in Italy, though I'm sure it also has to do with needing to rely on the granola in the cafeteria when there was nothing else to eat. Ah, college.

But oatmeal still kind of grosses me out, and by association, I can't remember the last time I had an oatmeal cookies. Until I decided to make them for my holiday tins. I realize this seems crazy. These were certainly not my favorite cookies, but I think they have made me reconsider oatmeal cookies.

Peanut Butter Oat Cookies

adapted from here

The original recipe calls for about 1/2 cup of the oats to be ground, in a food processor. I don't have one of those, so I winged it and just threw them in whole. It seems to have worked out. But if you have a food processor and would like to grind some oats, have at it!

3/4 cup peanut butter
4 tbsp butter
1 tbsp honey
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
2 eggs (room temp.)
1 1/4 cup rolled oats
3/4 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Mix together peanut butter, butter, honey, sugar, vanilla, salt, and baking powder. If you're using a mixer, this should only take a couple of minutes. I, however, hand-mixed and it might have taken a little bit longer (though not much). Add in the eggs one at a time, making sure to beat well after each addition.

Fold in the oats, followed by the chocolate chips.

Place the dough in about-tablespoon-sized drops onto a baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes, rotating the sheet halfway through.

Let cool, and enjoy!


this legacy of baked goods

This past Sunday, four of us gathered for the third Friendsgiving - the smallest group yet, but possibly the best Friendsgiving. (I mean, we went to the playground and had a snowball fight. You can't get much better than that, right? Exactly.) There was tofurky, mashed potatoes, green beans, a squash/cranberry dish with brown sugar, and pumpkin cheesecake. Not to mention the cookies and wine I brought because I was afraid the cheesecake didn't turn out. (It did.)

None of that is what I am here to talk about.

Yesterday I received in the mail a note from my grandmother, thanking me for thinking of them and sending a tin of baked goods. She mentioned that she doesn't herself bake so much anymore, and it struck me just how much things change. I never would have thought that I would be the one to carry on this legacy of baked goods, and yet here I am, baking and writing about it every week.

As I mentioned last week, I also gave bags of treats to my friends - because honestly, what was I going to do with all those cookies? Even if I wanted to eat all of them, they would have gone stale before I got to half of them. (Of course, despite this, I have made two additional batches of those cookies. They're so good.) These three friends all happened to be at Friendsgiving (funny, that) and maybe some mention of chocolate peanut butter cups came up.

Later, though, in discussing why on earth someone would have a thermometer for making taffy, I brought up the fact that it could be used for other candy-making endeavors, as well. This earned a "but who makes candy at home?"

To which I slowly raised my hand.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups
adapted from here

I didn't keep very good track of how many cups I was making, and so the peanut butter is what the original recipe calls for. I certainly did not measure out the peanut butter, rather just scooping it into the cups. Also, I went through a lot of peanut butter over the Thanksgiving holiday, making all these treats, so I really have no idea how much I used for these alone. Use your best judgment.

12 oz. milk chocolate chips
1/2 cup peanut butter

Melt the chocolate down - you can do this in a microwave, obviously, but since I lack that particular appliance, I used a bowl set over simmering water. Using a small spoon, or a tiny pastry brush if you have one, cover the insides of miniature baking cups. (Remember you will need the rest of the chocolate to seal the cups later. Don't use all of it now!) Place in the refridgerator to chill. Depending on the temperature of your fridge, this should take about 20 minutes.

Fill the now-firm cups with peanut butter and cover with the remaining chocolate. Place back in the fridge to chill - again, this should take around 20 minutes, depending on your fridge. The chocolate should be firm.


photo friday: lomo

I've fallen pretty hard for this lomo film. Check out the rest here (it was hard to choose which to post)!


practically a saint

On Thanksgiving, while everyone ate big meals with their families, I baked - for my family, yes, but not with them. Five types of sweets and a couple cups of sugar and peanut butter later, my mother and grandmother have received the first Christmas tins I have ever sent. (Yes, I realize that it is only the first days of December. What can I say, I got the idea in my head and couldn't wait.)

It's hard to say exactly how this idea came about, where it came from. All I can say is that one day, it was there, and it refused to go away. Thanksgiving, the idea said, what better day to spend baking? So I collected recipes - some that have been written about here already, sugar cookies and peanut butter cookies - and some that I had been wanting to try for a while. I made a big trip to the supermarket. I made index cards of the recipes so I wouldn't have to haul my laptop into the kitchen.

And then, on Thanksgiving, I made four different kinds of cookies. I started baking early in the afternoon, armed with all my ingredients, my fairly-new baking rack, and - my saving grace - parchment paper. (Seriously. I already had to do some dishes between each batch, but at least I didn't have to rewash my cookie sheet each time! ...Possibly I should get another baking sheet, yes.) By about 5 or 6 o'clock, I was kind of done with cookies. One more, I decided, and the final treat I'll save for tomorrow.

Thank goodness I did. That final batch of cookies was to be my pièce de résistance, the star of the bunch. I tried one. Then another. If I may say so myself, they were kind of amazing. Somehow I managed to part with them, putting them in tins for my mother and grandmother, even saving some for my friends. (I know. I am practically a saint.)

Daniel pretty much instantly declared them the best of the goodie bag and when I spoke to my mother after she received her batch on Monday, she said they were the clear winner, though she took care to mention the other ones were good, too. Over the weekend, tins sent and bags given out, I kept eyeing the one bag I had yet to give away and knew what had to be done.

...so I made another batch on Sunday.

Buttermilk Cookies with Lemon Zest
adapted from Orangette

These are pretty much the perfect cookie, for me. They're sweet but not cloying, the sort of tender and delicate cookie that leads you to eat perhaps too many of them. Really. Just make these. You won't be sorry.

for the dough:
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp lemon zest
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
6 tbsp unsalted butter, room temp.
3/4 cup sugar
1 medium-to-large egg*
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup well-shaken buttermilk

for the glaze:
3/4 cup confectioners sugar
1 1/2 tbsp well-shaken buttermilk
1/4 tsp vanilla extract

* I got my eggs from the farmer's market, and they're labeled 'medium' - I just used one of the larger ones.

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Whisk flour, lemon zest, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. In a large bowl, mash the butter until it smears easily. (I like to use a wooden spoon because of the control it gives me. You can try an electric mixer if you like!) Add sugar and cream the two together. Add in the egg and beat well. Add vanilla, repeat. Mix in a third of the flour mixture, then about half the buttermilk, flour, buttermilk, flour. Be sure to incorporate each well before adding the next step.

Place the dough in drops on the baking sheet. Bake for about 15 minutes.

While the cookies are baking, prepare the glaze by whisking together confectioners sugar, buttermilk, and vanilla. The original recipe calls for sifted confectioners sugar - I tried it sifted and unsifted and there wasn't too much of a difference, though sifting is kind of fun. Make sure there aren't any lumps of sugar, though, in the finished product.

Let the cookies cool on the sheet for a little bit, then transfer to a wire rack if you have one. Brush (or spoon) the glaze onto the warm cookies. Wait until the glaze has set, then enjoy!