Help!

This was a nutty week. Even with my make ahead strategies, I was down to the wire on Wednesday with a long to do list and not enough time to do it all.

Here’s the scenario:

  • Made ahead cookie dough just needs to thaw before baking.
    Made ahead cookie dough just needs to thaw before baking.

    Taught my usual Monday night fitness class, and came home to bake four dozen oatmeal chocolate chip cookies for a hockey fundraiser. The dough had been in the deep freeze, ready to thaw and bake.

  • Our last French class for the term was held at Le Bistro Le Coq – formidable! – but it meant I got home later than usual, so Tuesday night was a write off for any advance prep.
  • My parents and aunt and uncle were coming for dinner Wednesday night. My parents were also staying the night.
  • D’s sweet 16th birthday was on Thursday, and she also had a hockey game that night.
  • She needed supper before the game and it was a night I’d be teaching at the Y at suppertime. So I planned mini pizzas she could pop into the oven.
  • Baked goods were due to be delivered to that game for the fundraiser, and I wanted to add a couple of loaves of banana bread to our offerings.
  • I wanted to send surprise birthday cupcakes into the locker room after the game.
  • Other birthday surprises included a display of 16 penguins on the lawn, wrapping gifts, scanning and uploading adorably embarrassing baby pictures to Facebook, and making waffles for the birthday girl.

I was stressed from the moment I woke up Wednesday morning. I had about a two-hour window before my aunt and uncle arrived, and D got home from hockey. There was so much to do, and I didn’t know if I could make it all happen.

I turned to my trusty slowcooker to help with dinner. I love slowcooker recipes that are pretty much dump and run – toss all the ingredients in, set the heat and time, and walk away. This honey sesame chicken is one of those. You can even get away without adding the corn starch at the end, if you don’t mind the sauce being thin.

On the weekend, I’d made up bags of dry ingredients for Cooking Light’s classic banana bread and D’s traditional birthday cake – a pumpkin chocolate chip bundt cake from The Complete Harrowsmith Cookbook. Both recipes bake at 350. So my plan was to get the banana bread into the oven first as it takes about an hour. Then I’d make the pumpkin recipe as cupcakes, which shortens the cooking time, and add them into the oven. (Cupcakes are also easier to serve to a bunch of hungry hockey players.)

That’s about all I had time do in advance. I’d have felt better if I’d chopped and bagged the broccoli and carrots; measured out the rice and water; and sliced a baguette and assembled a brie baker recipe for a little pre-dinner nibblie. I’d have felt better if I’d had time to clean the cat litter and bring in some wood for the fire. I’d have felt better if I were a superhero who could leap over domestic challenges in a single bound.

Have you clued in yet that I’m not good at asking for help? I’m trying to get better at that. Progress is slow, but I’m trying. On Wednesday, I reached out.

In the morning, I sent H an email, letting him know I was feeling stressed and overwhelmed. I asked him to please respond to any urgent requests with a sense of urgency that day, even if it didn’t seem like an urgent task to him. That support would help calm me down. He got the message. He did just about everything I asked right away. He also decided to take D out for supper on her birthday, relieving me of the make ahead pizza meal.

Next, I put my parents to work. They met me at the office, we drove home, and as soon as we walked in the door, I gave my mom the dry ingredients and recipes for the baked goods and unleashed her on the kitchen. Dad helped me bring in wood then started chopping away at the broccoli and carrots while I fed four very hungry cats, got the brie ready for the oven, and cleaned the litter. Somehow, I remembered to put a cheque in the mailbox for the company that would come like thieves in the night to set up 16 penguins and a happy birthday sign on the front lawn.

With my parents’ help, everything was under control when my aunt and uncle arrived. (This would be a much funnier story if it had been bedlam, but there you go.) We had a lovely meal and conversation. It was great to catch up with my aunt and uncle, who live on the other side of this very big country. It was also nice to sit down.

And in the blink of an eye, it was back to work. D had gone off to take a shower, and if you’re familiar with teenage girls, you’ll know we had about an hour to clean up after dinner and get her cupcakes iced, sprinkled, and packaged. We just got them done and hidden in time for her reappearance. Whew!

Simple, pretty packaging for cookies and loaves.
Simple, pretty packaging for cookies and loaves.

Next, I wanted the baked goods for the fundraiser to look nice, so mom and I rolled up the cookies in parchment paper and tie off the twisted ends. It was definitely a four-hand job – and a very giggly job, too. The banana bread was easier to wrap. We made and attached little tags to identify the treats.

It was after 11 p.m. by the time I hit the home stretch, wrapping D’s birthday present and writing the card. Then I went in search of baby pictures, and scanned and edited them. H and I found ourselves in bed at midnight with the laptop, uploading her chubby baby cheeks and big blue eyes onto Facebook.

Why penguins for a birthday surprise? Why not?
Why penguins for a birthday surprise? Why not?

Asleep at 12:30 a.m. despite a cat and a husband snoring on either side of me. Then wide awake at 4:30 a.m. Could it be that the penguins were not very stealthy? I don’t know. I got up at five and grinned at the flock of them, almost glowing in the moonlight. I put the baked goods in the car so we couldn’t forget them in the morning bustle, took a shower, and made a pile of waffles bigger than your head for the birthday girl.

And with that, my to do list was done.

I can do a lot by myself. Heck, I can move mountains. But sometimes I need help. And sometimes, I actually manage to ask for it.

a

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Bundt Cake
The Complete Harrowsmith Cookbook (1996)
I was able to find this recipe via a Google search, so I feel it’s safe to post here with attribution to Harrowsmith.

Ingredients
3 c. flour
2 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. baking powder
3 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp salt
4 eggs, beaten
2 cups sugar
1 1/4 c. oil
2 c. cooked, mashed pumpkin
1/2 c. chocolate chips (we make it 1 c. chocolate chips and omit the pecans
1/2 c. chopped pecans

Preparation
Preheat oven to 350. Mix dry ingredients. Beat eggs and sugar together. Add oil and pumpkin. Blend in dry ingredients. Fold in chocolate chips and pecans. Pour in bundt pan and bake for 1 hour, or until cake tester comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes on wire rack before turning out onto rack. This is lovely with basic chocolate frosting.

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Wedding Cookies

Delicious oatmeal chocolate chip cookies.

If you found this post because you’re looking for Mexican wedding cookies, lo siento, amigos. Today, I’m writing about a lovely little oatmeal chocolate chip cookie that played a starring role at our wedding.

As we interviewed caterers for the big day, I kept saying that I wanted to offer something homemade in the mix. I’m fairly well known in my circles for the baking and giving of treats. It seemed wrong to throw this big party and not offer something that I made myself.

First, I was delusional. I dreamed of making a variety of cakes, pies, cookies and squares and displaying them beautifully in a desert buffet. All without breaking a sweat.

I can you hear you laughing. You can stop. Because I came to my senses. Ok, you might disagree on that point, but I think I found a reasonable solution to add something of myself into the food offerings without half killing myself in the process.

I decided to bake cookies. And to make them all gluten-free because we had more than a few guests with known gluten issues. It was important to us that nobody would be singled out because of their dietary requirements. We worked with the caterer on a buffet menu that made it easy for everyone to find lots of options. And I set about looking for a gluten-free cookie recipe.

Brown rice flour made these gluten-free.

I wanted one that didn’t call for a zillion different kinds of flour. This was going to be a big enough production, I didn’t want the extra measuring of four types of flour. I tried a Bob’s Red Mill gluten-free general purpose mix that included tapioca flour, but I found it left a weird, almost metallic aftertaste.

Then I thought perhaps an oatmeal-based cookie might do well with the nutty flavour of brown rice flour. So I took a Cooking Light recipe for oatmeal chocolate chip and pecan cookies that I’d made once before, and tried a straight substitution of brown rice flour for regular flour. I omitted the nuts, added some more chocolate chips, and I happened to forget the white sugar.

The verdict? Delicious! You’d never know they weren’t made with regular flour judging by taste. If you’re familiar with the challenges of gluten-free baking, though, you might guess the ingredients by the texture – they were slightly more crumbly.

This is drop cookie but I tried rolling them to make them sturdier. It worked like a charm and they held together very well. So about a month before the wedding, I spent a Saturday with the oven on for 10 straight hours and the KitchenAid roaring away, mixing three batches of dough at a time. I made nearly 600 cookies. Hoowah.

Little paper bags filled with cookies – a little piece of me for every guest.

I froze them, took them out two days before the wedding to thaw, and packaged them the day before with a thank you note and the recipe. The little packages looked so happy and eager to please on the tables. Happy and eager to please, just like me.

While these little yummies freeze very well, there’s noting like fresh and gooey from the oven. So I now use a different make ahead trick: I make three batches of the dough, roll it into balls, package about two dozen per plastic container, and pop them into the deep freeze.

The only problem with these cookies is that I can’t keep up with the demand. They’re always gone in two days. But I guess as far as problems go, that’s not a bad one to have.

a

Wedding Cookies
(adapted from Cooking Light oatmeal chocolate chip pecan cookies)

Ingredients
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (or brown rice flour)
1 cup regular oats
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 large egg
1/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Preparation
Preheat oven to 350°.

Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour and next 4 ingredients (through salt), stirring with a whisk; set aside.

Place sugar and butter in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until well blended. Add vanilla and egg; beat until blended. Gradually add flour mixture, beating at low speed just until combined. Stir in chocolate chips.

Roll dough into 1-inch balls and place an inch apart onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Bake at 350° for 14 minutes or until edges of cookies are lightly browned. Cool on pans 2 minutes. Remove cookies from pans; cool on wire racks.