Monday, September 26, 2011

Comfort. Food.

I'm officially back in school working toward my teacher certification program, and it feels mighty fine to be blowing the lid off my life and moving forward on this path. As I drove the 45 minutes to orientation Thursday night, I felt out of my comfort zone. At a time of day when I would normally be walking the dog, eating dinner with my family and then hopping into my pj's--cozying up to a baseball game--I was instead eating a cold sandwich for dinner in my car while barreling down the highway.

Oh, but it felt so good! It felt so good to have a new mission, a new sense of purpose that fits well with who I am. It was wonderful to have some time alone to myself in the car, too. I never get that anymore, as my commute is blissfully short. But I miss it, and so it was a treat to listen to NPR's All Things Considered and be alone with the jumble of thoughts leapfrogging inside my head.

It was nice to meet so many new people, too. The average age of students in the program is definitely at least 40, with some weighing in far older than that, and some fresh out of grad school. These are the people I will be spending the next seven months with, each Friday night and all day Saturday. And in the end, I will hopefully have a new career. At the very least, I should be certified.

The schedule is hectic for sure--I have five assignments due our first class, October 21--but so worth it. And as much as I know the commute to class and the workload will get old and tiring at times, I'm going to do my best to enjoy it for what it is: An opportunity and an adventure.

The kids love that I'm in school again. They think it's neat that Mom has homework, too. And they LOVE that I'm going to be a teacher. In many ways, they're my best supporters. To them, there are no downsides, no drawbacks, no limitations. To them, there's nothing Mom can't do...except maybe reach the stuff on the top shelf in the cabinet.

No matter how overwhelmed I feel with the new workload, however, I know that one thing will not change this fall and winter: My baking. This is the time of year that I ramp up my flour/butter/sugar repertoire. It relaxes me, and it lets me treat the whole family to something yummy. It especially treats my Seany boy, who cannot have pretty much any bakery item because of nut cross-contamination. Fortunately, he has a mom who loves baking. And eating. I bake. We eat. And the house smells awesome.

As for recipes, I'm definitely going to hit up the ol' reliables--ginger cookies, pumpkin bars, chocolate chip ANYTHING... But, in the apparent spirit of this year, I'm craving change. So I'm digging up some new recipes for the season. And viola! Speaking of chocolate chips, this one fell right into my inbox this afternoon.

Cookie layer? Chocolate layer? Brown sugar mergine layer? Yes, please!

I'm totally making these. And then we're going to eat the heck out of them. That should gas me up for some late-night reading!

Halfway Cookies (fom

2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 cup brown sugar, separated
2 eggs, separated
1 tablespoon water
1 teaspoon vanilla
12 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips or chunks

9x13 baking dish
aluminum foil
parchment or wax paper

1. Preheat the Oven and Prepare the Pan: Preheat the oven to 350°. Cut two pieces of aluminum foil and fold them to match the width of the pan. Press one piece into the pan lengthwise and the other into the pan crosswise with the ends hanging over the sides of the pan, like this. This makes it easy to lift the bars out of the pan once they're cooled. Spray the foil with nonstick coating.

2. Make the Cookie Dough: Whisk together the flour, salt, baking soda, and baking powder in a small bowl and set aside. Using a standing mixer, a hand mixer, or by hand, cream together the butter, the granulated sugar and just 1/2 cup of the brown sugar until this looks like smooth frosting.

Separate the eggs, reserving the whites. Mix the yolks into the butter-sugar mixture one at a time until they are completely absorbed, then mix in the water and vanilla. With the mixer at a low speed, add the flour mixture and beat gently until all the flour has been absorbed and the dough looks crumbly.

3. Add the Cookie Layer: Press the cookie dough gently into the pan with your hands, making sure the surface is even.

4. Add the Chocolate Layer: Sprinkle the chocolate chips on top of the cookie dough and use your palms to press them slightly into the dough. This will help keep them from moving when you add the meringue.

5. Make the Meringue: Using a stand or hand mixer with a clean bowl and a clean whisk attachment, start whisking the egg whites. Gradually increase your speed to medium-high. When the egg whites are very frothy and look like loose foam, start adding the remaining cup of brown sugar a little at a time. Continue increasing your speed to the highest setting. When all the sugar has been added, continue whipping the meringue until it holds a soft peak. It should look like glossy, soft-serve ice cream.

6. Spread the Meringue on Top: Scoop the meringue down the middle of the pan. It will be very sticky! Use a spatula to gently spread the meringue from the middle to the edges. We found it helpful to skim meringue from the top and gradually push it outward.

7. Bake the Bars: Lightly press a piece of parchment or wax paper on the top of the meringue (this makes an even layer and protects the meringue from scorching). Bake for 20 minutes, then remove the parchment. Continue baking for an additional 5-10 minutes, until the edges look toasted and are pulling away from the sides of the pan.

8. Allow to Cool: Wait until the pan is completely cook before lifting out the bars and cutting them into pieces.

Additional Notes:
• To make a crunchier meringue layer, use granulated white sugar instead of brown sugar and beat the meringue until it forms firm peaks.

• You can also reduce the amount of sugar in the meringue down to 1/2 cup (minimum) if desired.

• Other ingredients can be used in place of or in addition to the chocolate chip layer! Consider things like butterscotch chips, nuts*, toffee bits, dried fruit, and fruit preserves.

(*Nuts are so not going to happen in my house, but you do what you like... - M.).



No comments: