Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Butterscotch, Briefly

Hello peoples! This will be a very brief post because I'm in academic hell right now. Seriously, after this, baking may not recommence until about 10 days from now. Sad, I know. Blame my professors for giving me two exams in the same day. And before anyone says, "Well, if you have so much work, why are you baking?" let me just say that sometimes you just need a little break from thinking. Baking allows for the brief mental holiday. Anywho, today I'm making Oatmeal Butterscotch Cookies from the Bake Sale Cookbook. I had all the ingredients already (yeah, I actually had butterscotch chips. I have no milk in my house but I have butterscotch chips. Go figure.) so I could dive right into the baking.

Beat butter, sugar, and brown sugar. Cool, I can do this in my sleep. I miss that KitchenAid though. I didn't get quite the fluffyness that I got the last time I baked. It got sufficiently beaten though. The only wet ingredients in this recipe are two eggs and vanilla so I was already anticipating a pretty thick dough. Whoops! I seem to have dumped about an extra half a teaspoon of vanilla into the batter. Umm...yeah. I either got overconfident in my pouring abilities or I am overtired. No, just kidding, I'm just really overtired. So yeahhhh...hopefully they'll be ok.

After blending the dry ingredients (and after the mandatory puff of flour when I turned the mixer on), I had to stir in three cups of oats and one bag of butterscotch chips. Man, was that hard to stir. Even before I added the oats I triple checked the recipe because three cups of oats seemed like way too much. However, I battled through, loudly and aggressively, and eventually had semi evenly blended batter. Then I had to drop by TEAspoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets. It's usually tablespoonfuls so I was intrigued by this direction. I also tried to be diligent about the measuring because I always make cookies that are too big. The recipe said this would make about 4 dozen cookies. I call bullshit on that one. I made between 5 and 6 dozen cookies.

I decided to speed the baking by using two cookie sheets. Two problems with that. The first was that the pan on the bottom shelf burned the cookies. Yes, I should have rotated the pans halfway through but I am just so tired and it wasn't going to happen. Also, when the cookies burned, they burned in a weird way. It was like sugar oozed out of the cookies and then burned (the picture should demonstrate this phenomenon). Or maybe the butterscotch chips oozed out. Do butterscotch chips melt? What is butterscotch anyway? So many questions. Anyway, now my kitchen has that caramelized, blackened sugar smell. Score. Oh, and the second problem was that the cookies stuck to the pans. Which rarely happens to me so it was a little weird. Too tired to contemplate it further. Here there be cookies:

They're yummy. I don't really know if I've ever had or enjoyed butterscotch or oatmeal and I've certainly never had them together but they were pleasant cookies, though a bit sweet for my taste.

Critical Reception:
I served the pumpkin cookies (redux) on Thanksgiving as one of the many desserts. They were much loved and my grandmother asked me for the recipe. Nuff said.

A Disney Moment: Make Mine Music
Aaaaand, another collection of shorts that Disney passed off as a feature film. However, this one I really enjoyed. It was slow to start but really picked up with Casey at the Bat. Anyone who knows me knows that I love a plot with a depressing ending. And this movie has a couple of those for me to enjoy. I also liked the classic Peter and the Wolf. I even liked the narrator telling me which instruments represented which animals. The only downside for me was the twist where they had a whole scene about the duck dying and going to heaven and then (spoiler alert if anyone cares) he's not dead after all. That was annoying.

Other highlights for me included Johnny Fedora and Alice Blue Bonnet and The Whale who Wanted to Sing at the Met. Johnny Fedora's music was performed by the Andrews sisters who I totally love but the whole time I couldn't stop wondering if the song existed before the cartoon or if it was written for the cartoon. If it was written before the cartoon, I really wonder why the Andrews sisters were singing about the true love of a pair of hats. It was cute and fun though and I enjoyed it. The Whale who Wanted to Sing at the Met had just the level of absurdity that leads you to believe that the whole thing is a dream sequence. And it is. Because Willie the Whale gets harpooned and dies instead of getting to sing at the Met. It was still just shocking enough to make you say "Noooooo! Willie the Whale! Singing in heaven is not softening the blow for me!"

Overall, some good shorts, some that fell flat, but of the 5 dark times Disney films, I'm going to put it as my favorite. Winner!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Pumpkin Cookies Redux

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! In this very brief blog post (because I'm busy with things like, you know, cooking Thanksgiving dinner), I revisit the Iced Pumpkin Cookies that I made not too long ago. The reason I'm baking these again is because a) my mommy really liked them and was sad that I only let her have three cookies last time and b) it's Thanksgiving and pumpkin is a Thanksgiving thing, right? I wasn't entirely sure if I should even blog about this baking adventure since it's like one of those really lame sequels where it's just recreating the first successful film to make more money but I decided that I won't be baking much this week so I'd rather not leave you blog post-less.

So on to the cookies. This time I decided to double the recipe so I can serve them as one of the Thanksgiving desserts. Plus the recipe really only calls for half a can of pumpkin and what was I going to do with a half a can of leftover pumpkin when I still don't even really like pumpkin? Exactly. So doubling the recipe. Being at home, I got to once again use the lovely KitchenAid mixer and got overly happy about how well the butter and sugar was creamed. Seriously, it was so white and fluffy and it was like new fallen snow. I've been baking too much. Anyway, nothing interesting to report about the baking. It was smooth because I've done it before. The doubled recipe made a hell of a lot of cookies though.

Things got a little fun during the icing phase of the cookies. Since I doubled the recipe I figured I should double the recipe for the icing too, right? Wrong. Wayyyyyy too much icing. Also, despite assurances from my mom that we are never out of vanilla extract, we ran out of vanilla extract. Now, it's Thanksgiving week and I had already been to the supermarket twice that day and I so was not braving the Shop Rite crazies again so I (of course) Googled "vanilla extract substitute". Apparently you can use maple syrup! Cool, right? And we actually had that so that was exciting. Then my mom and I spent some bonding time icing the cookies and slightly competing to see who could decorate the cookies better. Overall, a smooth, relaxing baking experience. We stacked the cookies on a plate to cover them for turkey day and when they were halfway covered, they looked like a cave of cookies. Behold! The Cave of Wonders Cookies:

I was not inclined to try these cookies again since I really just don't like them. My mom loves them though and my boyfriend liked them a lot so, success. Now, this has nothing to do with anything but go see The Muppets. I went to the midnight showing and did not stop laughing for the entire movie. It was fantastic. I won't gush because I do enough of that but I ranked it in my top ten movies that I've seen. Ever.

Critical Reception:
So the cinnamon bread has been decently well received. My boyfriend was surprised and delighted that I went out of my way to make him the cinnamon bread he loves. My sister and mom agreed that I used the wrong proportion of starter. I did the bad math. With the amount of starter I had, I should have made 4 loaves of bread, not 2. Oh well, live and learn, right? Still tasty, just a little denser than I would have liked. P.S. Go see The Muppets.

A Disney Moment: The Three Caballeros 
Ok, so powering through the dark Disney days, the next film was The Three Caballeros. I remember that song! So I had higher hopes going in than I did with Saludos Amigos. That was a mistake. Apparently the premise is that it's Donald's birthday and he's opening gifts. Within approximately 30 seconds, my sister and I got annoyed and turned on subtitles so we could understand Donald. It was late, we were tired, and we just couldn't deal with it. So, in the first segment, Donald receives a projector with a film documentary on birds. Oh boy. So boring. I can't decide whether or not I should be ashamed to admit this, but we fast forwarded through part of this. We just couldn't do it.

Next was a segment about Pablo the penguin. It reminded me of Pedro the mail plane from Saludos Amigos. We didn't find Pablo very interesting. It's just the whole documentary style of the segments that doesn't grab me. The next segment was about a flying donkey. This one was mildly entertaining. Partially because I thought it was cute that the donkey's name was Burrito. I just asked my sister what she thought about this segment. She didn't remember it existed. Nuff said.

Next, Donald got the popup book from hell because that other bird pops out of it and then they jump into the book to sing about the samba. One of the better segments but still not great. Then we meet the third bird and we sing Three Caballeros. Yay! The only memorable part of the movie! But it was so short. Sad. The next segment tells a religious story about Christmas and pinatas. It's confusing. Then the birds fly to Mexico on a flying carpet sarape. This was the point where we got a little crazy. Donald's love interest had crazy eyes and she terrified us. All of the men in the segment were creepers (because yes, the movie has real people in it and yes, that annoyed us) and after calling them creepy repeatedly we realized, South America...late 1940s...NAZIS! Every time we saw one of the creepy men we'd just yell "Aaaaaah! Nazis!" Yeah, we're mature.

I don't even care about talking about this film any more. The movie ended with a really tripped out scene that rivals Pink Elephants and anything that would been seen in Alice in Wonderland. I think this one ranks about a 2/5 because I liked the actual Three Caballeros part and the shorts were ever so slightly tied together by Donald opening birthday presents. And because the other 4 movies in this 5 movie grouping are just really bad. There's such a low bar. You know what doesn't have a low bar though? The Muppets. Just sayin'.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

My Kitchen Smells Like Cinnamon and Sugar

Welcome back to another edition of "In the Kitchen with Jen"! In this installment we will watch as Jen attempts to make bread from scratch. Some background: There's this bread called Amish Friendship Bread. It basically works like this: After receiving some starter dough in a plastic bag from a friend (there's the Friendship part!), you mash the bag and add ingredients to feed the starter over 10 days before baking the most heavenly cinnamon bread ever. Before you bake it though, you have to separate out 4 bags of starter from your dough to give to your friends. That's right folks, it's a chain letter. With dough. Fascinating, right?

I received some starter several months ago and made this bread and it's really really good. It was so good that I saved a bag of starter for myself each time which meant that I was baking bread every 10 days. This was fun until it got too exhausting. My boyfriend, however, was extremely disappointed when I stopped baking the bread because he loves it. So, I decided to revisit this recipe mostly to make him happy and so I could bring home a loaf of cinnamon bread for Thanksgiving break.

One problem: I have no starter. According to the letter that comes with the starter, the recipe for the starter is an Amish secret and you can only obtain the starter from a friend who got it from a friend who got it from a friend who got it from the Amish! Oh no! Aaaaaaaand I call bullshit on that one. A quick Google search revealed several recipes for the starter which were all pretty much identical. So much for your secret, Amish people. So I did a bit of planning ahead and 10 days ago, I went to the store to buy some yeast to make my starter.

Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble! Oh wait, wrong holiday. Anyway, I let the yeast dissolve in warm water (not hot, so as not to kill the yeast) and then added milk, flour, and sugar. Typically this starter is passed around in plastic bags but I felt like I had a bit more flexibility so I put it in a Pyrex bowl and loosely covered it with a kitchen towel for it to rise. One of the recipes I saw warned against using any metal bowls or spoons because it's bad for the yeast and the dough won't properly rise (?) so I was very careful to use only wooden spoons. I don't really know if this was necessary.

Anywho, here's my second problem. I don't want to have to pass starter dough to 4 people. It's exhausting. So, I found a comment in one of the recipes that shared my feeling on this. This person said that it's fine to just not add the ingredients during the 10 day cycle and just bake with what starter you have and it turns out just as good. So there's gonna be a bit of mystery attached to this cinnamon bread. I really hope it works.

So, for the past 10 days, I've been stirring my starter with a wooden spoon and it keeps rebubbling every time I stir it so I think that's good. Now on day 10, we're ready to bake! It looks like there's so much starter in that bowl. Hmm. I'm starting to really doubt my plan. It looks like almost a full cup too much starter. Too late now though! The recipe itself is really easy and they just list the ingredients all together and pretty much say "Add these." So I decided to use a little of my baking savvy and added all the wet ingredients to the starter first and then added all the dry ones. I don't know if I wasn't adding fast enough or what was going on but the batter got a bit lumpy. That's when I decided that the no-metal rule had expired and pulled out my hand blender. Things got a bit dicey here because seriously, the bowl was almost overflowing with batter. I started to feel better at this point though because I remember having that same problem the last time I made the bread so maybe the starter proportion is ok. I hope. :-/

So after mixing in all the ingredients (I should mention, there is some variability with this recipe. You can use either vanilla or chocolate instant pudding in the batter and you can add nuts or raisins or chocolate chips. I went with the vanilla pudding and can you guess? Chocolate chips, of course!), I had to prepare the pans for baking. What that meant was spraying them with Pam and then coating the sides of the pan with a cinnamon sugar mixture. I'm actually pretty good at that technique because I've had a good amount of practice and my mommy taught me how to tap the mixture around the pan. The final direction before baking was to pour the batter evenly in 2 loaf pans. Did I mention this makes 2 loaves of bread? I probably shouldn't blog when I'm this tired...

Where was I? Right, pouring batter. This is actually more challenging for me than it may seem. See, I have pretty tiny hands. So it's really hard to hold the big bowl with my tiny hands. I can pour two-handed no problem but when we get down to the end and I have to use one hand to hold the bowl and the other hand to scoop the remaining batter out, things get tricky. I could really use a third hand. Or like, 5 since I'm wishing for things. Might as well go all out. Anywho, after successfully pouring the batter (and by successfully, I mean that I finished but did get a bunch on my shirt), I sprinkled the remaining cinnamon/sugar mixture over the tops and stuck them in the oven for an hour.

Oh God, my house smells so good. Even if this bread tastes awful, it would be almost worth it just to experience this smell for a few hours.

So, after the specified hour, the middle still wasn't done so I left it for another 5 minutes or so. As a result the edges got a little crispy. Oh well. Doesn't matter, look how beautiful these things are:

Beautiful. Taste-wise, definitely delicious. It seems a little denser than I remember but maybe that's because I overcooked them a little bit or maybe the starter really was off or maybe my memory is useless. The last one is probably most accurate. In any case, mission accomplished. If anyone is interested in getting a bag of this starter, talk to me and I'll hook you up. I'm thinking that if I make this again, I'll follow the directions and then just freeze the starter I don't use for future use (apparently it keeps in the freezer for at least 6 months). Hehehe, it smells so good in here.

Critical Reception:
Well, the brownie cookies have been well, but not widely, received. I missed colloquium due to a bout of feeling miserably sick so I didn't get to share my brownie cookies. One of my office mates agrees that they're mysterious but thinks they're more cookie than brownie. I'll be taking some home this weekend so maybe my mommy can tell me what they are. Mommies know everything.

A Disney Moment: Saludos Amigos
Oh boy, we've entered into what I'll call the "Dark Times Disney Disasters". Ok, so maybe they're not that bad but the next 5 films in the sequence are not what I would call up to the Disney standard. The first of the next 5 films is Saludos Amigos or as I will call it "An Ode to South America". The very first thing of note about this film is that there are people in it! That doesn't seem right. If movies like Mary Poppins and Song of the South aren't included in the list of Disney animated films, why do we have to watch Walt Disney and his animators board a plane to South America? Crazy.

For those of you who don't know, Saludos Amigos is really just a series of shorts stuck together that all take place in South America. To give you historical context, these were made during WWII. That's all I'll say about that. The first segment is Donald Duck goes to Lake Titicaca. It's boring. The problem with this whole movie is that it seems like it's a Travel Channel special for all of South America with cartoons thrown in to make it more appealing. Except it's not. It's mostly just boring. Grr.

I don't even feel like talking about each of the segments. I will say that the segment about Pedro the airplane who carries the mail over the scary looking mountain was mean. We thought Pedro had crashed in the scary mountain! Jeez, even the narrator said "And Pedro was gone." Disney can be mean. The only other thing of note was that the last segment really just served as an introduction to one of the main characters in Three Caballeros (which is our next film on the list). It's hard to rank the next 5 because I think they're all mostly terrible but I think this one might be the worst. Pedro was the only redeeming quality of the film to me and that was iffy at best. So I guess it's 5/5 (over the next 5 movies). All uphill from here then, right?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Is it a Brownie? Is it a Cookie? I'm So Confused!

Welcome back! For today's culinary delight, I bring you Chewy Brownie Cookies. I've actually had a request for a baked treat sans chocolate. I thought about entertaining that request until I decided that I'm no short order cook. I bake when the spirit of baking moves me and my baking decisions are based on the pictures in my books. So if all the delicious pictures are of chocolate desserts then the request-er is shit outta luck. So there. This is MY kitchen.

So with that bit of aggression out of my system, let's get back to the Chewy Brownie Cookies. This recipe is from an oldie but a goodie, the Bake Sale Cookbook. I'd love to say that thought went into choosing this recipe but the truth is, the picture looked yummy and I didn't want something overly complicated today. The picture makes them look like a lighter version of the Deep Dark Chocolate Fudge cookies. And the recipe didn't call for melting chocolate for once so I was pretty into that. The first step in the recipe was to preheat the oven and place sheets of foil on the countertop for cooling cookies. Huh? Why wouldn't I just use a cooling rack like I have for every single other thing I've baked? I couldn't think of a good reason so I ignored this direction. Plus I just don't have that much counter space.

Next, I got to combine brown sugar, shortening (remember, code for Crisco!), water, and vanilla. After digging around in my cabinet for a bit, I brought out my really really big bag of brown sugar that I bought from Costco. Seriously, this is a huge bag of brown sugar. I almost dropped it on my head. That would've hurt quite a bit so I'm glad I didn't. Anywho, after measuring out the brown sugar and heaving the bag back up to the top shelf of my cabinet, I had to measure out 2/3 cup of Crisco. This being the Brand Name Bake Sale Cookbook, they actually did call for Crisco so that was exciting. On the other hand, Crisco is kinda gross. It's so slimy but firm and I just tried not to think too hard about it as I spooned it out into the 1/3 cup measuring cup.

I miss using the KitchenAid Mixer. My mixer was not inclined to blend these ingredients well. I had to scrape down the sides of the bowl about 6 times and it was just annoying. (Santa, are you listening?) Things got a little easier after adding the eggs but the whole mixture seemed a little grittier than it should've been. After that, I was supposed to combine the flour, cocoa, salt, and baking salt and then add it to my mixture. I don't know why I felt so lazy today but I didn't feel like dirtying another bowl so I just measured the ingredients and tossed them in. I'm sure it'll be fine. Then I had to beat just until blended but this was hard because so much of the batter was sticking to the sides and not mixing in properly. I feel like some parts of the batter were over blended and some were under blended and can you even over blend a batter like this? I don't actually know. Hopefully not. In any case, then I just had to add two cups of chocolate chips. Two cups seemed like a whole lot of chocolate chips for the small amount of batter that it looked like I had. Nevertheless, faithful slave to cookbooks that I am, I followed those directions and stirred in those chocolate chips.

The final step was to, of course, bake. Here are the directions: "Drop dough by rounded measuring tablespoonfuls 2 inches apart." Can someone explain to me what rounded measuring tablespoonful means? I've seen this before and it still confuses me. If I were to actually use my measuring tablespoon then I would have really small cookies and then how would I get the dough out of the tablespoon? It seems inefficient to me. I just use a regular kitchen tablespoon, like the kind you use for eating. I guess it's just one of those unsolved kitchen mysteries that I'll have to figure out in my own good time. Anywho, with a short baking time, these cookies were done pretty quickly. There was one odd moment where, after 3 full batches of cookies, I attempted to make a 4th batch but only had enough dough for 3 small cookies. After staring at it for a few seconds, I decided that would be absurd and turned off the oven. Sorry if I've offended you by wasting batter but...too bad. So, here they are:

They smell delicious. I love the smell of chocolate in my kitchen. They look like cookies. They smell like cookies. But they taste...like brownies? But not entirely like brownies. Like thin chocolate chippy brownies? Like a brownie/cookie hybrid? I really don't know but they do taste good. Definitely strange but I would recommend this recipe for anyone who wants a brownie cookie. In hindsight, I maybe should have been anticipating this outcome. After all, they are titled Chewy Brownie Cookies.

Critical Reception: 
Yummy yummy cookie sandwiches. The best review I got was from a fellow grad student who said, "Holy crap, these are awesome!" Not really sure what else to say. Everybody liked these cookies and people were pretty excited when they realized there was filling between the cookies. Good job, Food and Wine Cookbook.

A Disney Moment: Bambi
It’s impossible for you to understand my reaction to Bambi without a little family history. As a kid, I was more or less ambivalent towards Bambi. I didn’t really hate it but I didn’t really have a desire to watch it either. More or less forgettable. My sister, on the other hand, was TERRIFIED by Bambi. What made it even more comical was the fact that she thought that the bad guy in the movie was The Thicket. Not Man, who shoots Bambi’s mother in another rather heartless move by the Walt Disney Company, but The Thicket. No matter how many times we tried to convince her that The Thicket wasn’t even a person and was in fact where Bambi lived with his mother, she couldn’t be persuaded and lived in fear of the movie until the day that I made her rewatch it with me as an adult.

Now the only thing that’s scary is how boring that movie is. Honestly, the “camera shots” are boring, the songs are dull and can lull you to sleep, and Bambi’s so dumb that you wish that the hunter had shot him instead of the mother. But enough about that. Instead of really giving you my opinions on this film, I will instead describe what watching it with my family was like.

My mom, sister, and I settled in to watch Bambi after basking in the triumph that was Dumbo a few hours previously. About 30 seconds in, it was declared, “This movie is BORING.” That should set the tone for you. We had some extensive conversation about the deadbeat deer dad and whether or not Flower was a boy or girl. Then we got to the scene where Bambi is introduced to the meadow. At this point my sister started cowering a little bit because she’s hearing about how dangerous the meadow is and clearly thinks this is where things start to get real. Maybe the meadow is the real enemy!

Nope, just some deer frolicking around.

My mom had wandered out for some reason and wandered back in just about when Bambi is sliding around on ice. Her contribution: “Jeez, this movie is slow moving. Bambi’s mother is still alive, there still hasn’t been the fire…” “WHAT?? THERE’S A FIRE???” is my sister’s response. She legit had no idea there was a fire in this movie. This then led to my mom telling her “Oh yeah, Bambi gets shot too.” “WHAAAAAT? WHAT IS THIS MOVIE?” When she asked if he lived though, that was my turn to feel a little stupid. I could not at all remember if Bambi lived or died after being shot. And I didn’t care. I don’t much feel like discussing Bambi any further except to note a couple of things. One is that he continues the great circle of deadbeat deer dads which annoyed us. Another is that it’s nonsensical for him to be a prince when his father is a prince. A third is that Faline (Bambi’s girlfriend) should learn to stay put in the thicket where it’s safe until Bambi gets back a split second later. That’s so annoying. Also, there were several moments that Lion King ripped off of Bambi, the most noticeable of which was when the dogs are leaping at Faline when she’s on a ledge. Pretty much the hyenas leaping at Simba in the elephant graveyard. Lastly, where the hell did Bambi get shot? One second he’s lying as if dead on a rock and the next, his father shows up and is all “We have to go! Get up!” and Bambi just wobbles to his feet and runs away with his father. There’s no blood and there’s no indication that Bambi was anything but surprised by the noise of the gun. Dumb. Overall, the movie just annoys me and holds no entertainment value. Definitely the worst of the first five Disney films. 

Monday, November 7, 2011

A Glorious Return to Chocolate

Well hello people! I would apologize for not baking/posting for a full week but as they say, with great power comes great...baking. And without power, there is no baking for me. That's right, I have been without power since I have last posted. Also, I have not yet been to my house today so I have no idea if I have power back. CL&P tell me I have a 76% chance as of this particular moment of having power when I get home so we'll just hope that I'm on the good side of those odds, shall we?

So anyway, to escape the infernal cold of CT, I ended up back at home for the weekend which meant more baking with mommy! In choosing a recipe, I knew it would have to have chocolate. It's just been way too long without chocolate in my baking, don't you agree? My mom found a recipe in the Food and Wine Cookbook for Milk Chocolate Cookies with Malted Cream. We partially chose this recipe because it had a picture (and we all know how much I love pictures!) and kinda looked like modified Oreos. Plus, it didn't look too hard. So off we went to our friendly neighborhood Big Y Stop and Shop to get some ingredients. The most important ingredient to obtain was, of course, chocolate malt powder (such as Ovaltine, as the book specifies). Apparently the only type of chocolate malt powder is Ovaltine though. And all they had was a pretty large container of it when all we really needed was half a cup. So, now my house has a ton of Ovaltine that we don't know what to do with. And all I can think of is Christmas Story and Little Orphan Annie's secret message: Be Sure to Drink Your Ovaltine ("A crummy commercial?!?"). Maybe we'll make some hot chocolate with it around Christmas time.

Anywho, enough about Ovaltine. Once we got back to the house, we proceeded with the baking. Step 1: Preheat oven. Step 2: MAKE THE COOKIES. Yup, taken verbatim from the book. Ok, so after "Make the Cookies" were actual directions but I found the first sentence of the step to be kind of obvious, don't you? So after creaming some butter and sugar (because that's just what you do when you bake), we had to melt some chocolate. We very nearly had a big fail here. Despite the fact that we went to the store, we decided that there was no reason to buy milk chocolate because Halloween was such a fail this year and we had tons of leftover chocolate. Not a problem. Except that when my mom and I are together, our combined IQ plummets. We needed 6 ounces of chocolate. We had a 3 oz bar of Ghiradelli's, a 1.5 oz bar of Ghiradelli's, and an assortment of 0.5 oz bars of Hershey's chocolate. So, my mom did the math and laid out the appropriate collection of chocolate to be melted. We were rapidly unwrapping until my mom paused and said, "Wait, are these 0.5 oz bars or 0.25 oz bars?" Well, how should I know? You were in charge of that! So we had to fish the bag out of the garbage to get our answer and found out that they were indeed 0.5 oz bars and my mom had somehow gotten confused and had almost put just about double the number of Hershey bars in. Fortunately, we hadn't melted the chocolate yet so we just picked out the unwanted chocolate and ate it. So I guess there's a bright side to everything.

The ingredient adding part from then on was uneventful so I won't bore you with it. The only thing of note is that the chocolate took extra long to melt because it's minus a zillion degrees in our kitchen. The next step was to roll the dough between two pieces of parchment paper to "a scant 1/4 inch". That wasn't terrible exactly but the dough was pretty tough to roll and the parchment paper kept sliding around when I tried rolling it. This time, after the overly thin cookies of last week, we actually took out a ruler to measure 1/4 inch. How precise of us, right? So we chilled the dough and went hunting for a 2 inch round cookie cutter. Hmm. The holiday pack we used last week doesn't have a round one. The plastic bag of cookie cutters that I found in the basement did not have one, though it did include several Halloween themed cookie cutters. I guess I could've made Halloween cookies last week but have an inability to find things that are right in front of my face so oh well. Hmmm. My mom is endlessly more creative than me though so she found a 2 inch round porcelain espresso cup that we could use as a cookie cutter. Of course. Don't know why I didn't think of that. Possibly because it was absurd but whatever.

I wish I could include a soundtrack in this blog to capture the frustrated screeches and curses that can be heard while I'm baking. It would be even more comical on days when my mom and I bake together. We had some problems with using a cup to cut deep enough through the dough, and then there were some problems with getting the cookies off the parchment paper and onto the pan, and sometimes there were issues of the cookie getting stuck inside the cup and then cracking in half as we tried to pry it out. Needless to say, it wasn't exactly the smoothest operation. And the whole time we were kinda like "we have to do this HOW MANY times???" But anyway, into the oven they went.

That scant 1/4 inch was either a load of crap or the cooktime is a load of crap because the first batch was rather burny. We tried cutting the cookies thicker but this just led to bigger cookies so the next batch was also slightly burny. After that, we reduced the cooktime and had better cooked cookies. The last thing to do was to make the filling since these are basically cookie sandwiches. We decided to half the recipe for the icing because of how many burny cookies there were and because the recipe suggested an inch of filling on each cookie and that felt excessive. The filling is really just sugar, butter, and chocolate malt powder. It was an extremely thick filling. We were told to put it in a pastry bag with a 1/2 inch tip. We did and then could not get the stuff to budge out of the pastry bag. ::insert comical grunting here:: However, by removing the tip, the opening was wide enough to start piping. Using an icing spreader tool (which my mom informed me was actually an oyster opener. Whatever works, I guess.), we managed to fill some of these cookies. This took a great deal of care because the cookies are less like cookies and more like crisps and as a result are quite brittle. However, we figure out about halfway through that we were going to run out of filling. So much for halving the recipe. So, rather than just make more, we milked that filling for everything it was worth, including scooping out the filling that was stuck in the previously rejected tip and the folds of the pastry bag. Those feats were accomplished using the wrong end of a spoon and a tiny wooden stick. I wish I could adequately explain how ridiculous this was but I think you kinda had to be there. Suffice it to say, you would've laughed had you seen it. So anyway....ta da! Cookies!

These cookies are good but we can't quite think of what they remind us of. They're almost like Teddy Grahams but not quite because they're much crispier. Neither my mom nor I quite know how to describe them. They're yummy though and that's what matters I guess.

Critical Reception:
The Martha sugar cookies were well received I think although they didn't keep as well as I had hoped and were pretty hard by the time I gave them to other people. There weren't many cookies left anyway though and people didn't talk about them much because all anyone was talking about this week was the lack of power. They disappeared by the end of colloquium though so I guess they were well enough liked.

A Disney Moment: Dumbo

Time is a funny funny thing. I hated Dumbo when I was a kid. Like, really didn’t want to watch it. I was fully dreading having to rewatch Dumbo. Well, I don’t know what happened but it’s my favorite of the first five films. The first thing we noticed was that it looks so flat compared to the other early films. A Google search told me that this was due to a lower budget. Really though, you can see the difference. There’s just such an absence of detail in Dumbo, especially compared to something like Pinocchio. That said, the story is still just charming. I don’t even know why but the story has a nice flow and you really feel Dumbo’s sadness when his mother is taken away even though he never says a word (Damn you, Walt Disney for tugging at our heartstrings!). I also love Timothy Mouse as the slightly more sassy Jiminy Cricket character. He’s just terrific.

One of my favorite things about Dumbo is its plethora of well-crafted songs. I remembered the standards like “When I See an Elephant Fly” and “Baby Mine” and obviously, “Pink Elephants” which I thought was the trippiest scene in any movie ever until I saw some of Walt Disney’s “Lost Films” as I’ll call them (but that is a story for another day). There are so many others too though that are all equally impressive. The whole movie is pretty much a series of lovely songs with very little dialogue, to be honest. What I had really forgotten though was the gem of a scene where they’re pitching the circus tent and singing about how they’re happy-hearted roustabouts. Roustabouts! You just don’t hear words like that in kids’ films anymore and I love it. There was a higher expectation of intelligence back in those days. Just the sheer number of clever puns in “Elephant Fly” is amazing. Seen a peanut stand, heard a rubber band! Love it love it love it.

The final thing I’ll note before I gush too much about how much I loved Dumbo is that I didn’t realize that it takes Dumbo until like, the last 4 minutes of the movie to fly. Which is so funny since everybody knows Dumbo will fly and that’s the dramatic climax and all. That said, it was still so satisfying when he did. Do yourself a favor and go be a child for a little while and rewatch Dumbo. I don’t think you’ll regret it.