Our cookie staples: The “$250 Neiman Marcus” + The Subway White Chocolate-Macadamia

Left: white-chocolate-macadamia. Right: "$250 Neiman Marcus Cookie"
Left: white-chocolate-macadamia. Right: “$250 Neiman Marcus Cookie”

Since we had lots of grounded oatmeal left over from our oatcakes experiment, we made one of our cookie staples in this house: the $250 Neiman Marcus cookie. Yes, back when the Interwebs was a relatively new thing, and forwarding chain (e-)mail suddenly was quick and simple, everyone was chowing down on this urban legend.

I made the recipe below healthier by reducing the sugar to 3 cups (yes, it seems like a lot, but it makes 180 bite-size cookies!). I also secretly added 1/4 cup of my blend of ground-up chia seeds, flax seeds, and hemp hearts. Omit the nuts, to make this school-safe.

For half of this batter, I added white chocolate chips and macadamia instead of regular chocolates, for our version of the popular Subway cookie. The copycat recipe is available, if you want it more authentic. (There was a time when I loved these cookies so much, that a student would buy one for me every day, just out of the goodness of his heart. I had to tell him to stop it after a couple of days, because I felt it was too generous. And a restaurant cookie a day probably isn’t the best thing.)

“$250 Neiman Marcus” Cookies (yield: approximately 180 x 1″ cookies)
Pre-heat oven to 375° F. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper or silicon sheets.

2 c. butter 1) Cream together.
2 c. brown sugar
2 c. white sugar

 

4 eggs 2) Add to butter mixture and mix.
2 t. vanilla extract

 

5 c. oatmeal, ground 3) Sift, then add to butter mixture.
4 c. flour
2 t. baking soda
2 t. baking powder
1 t. salt

 

24 oz. (680 g.) chocolate chips 4) Add to batter.
(8 oz.) chocolate, grated
2 c. nuts, chopped (optional)

5) Scoop 1” balls and place 1” apart on cookie sheet.
6) Bake for 10 min.

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Post-Hump Day Post: Giving Thanks for Never Giving You Up

This week, we gave thanks for . . .

pumpkin-spice-macarons
Part of our Thanksgiving spread: macarons with pumpkin-spice butter creme

> eating pumpkin spice macarons! This is the recipe that we used (but reduce the sugar to less than 300 g! It’s too sweet for my liking.) The Girl figured out her own pumpkin-spice-butter-creme icing recipe.
> not being able to stop watching the Pantsuit Power flash mob. Why is it that we can’t possible imagine any Trump supporters being this happy, dance-y, or fun? So of course, this led to . . .
>
not being able to stop listening to one of the big hits of this past summer. The Kids have loved this for the past few months, and even though I’m reminded of summer nights in the 80s, I have a love-hate relationship with the aching repetition of it. Speaking of hits of the 80s . . .
> learning that Rick Astley is touring again! Unfortunately, we just missed him when he was in town this weekend on his one and only Canadian stop. Here’s a review (with a great title) of another show on this tour. But don’t worry—he never gave up, and we can now all go out and get his new album to mark his 50th birthday. 50! Time flies . . .
> the funniest thing on the radio/tv, which was this age-old debate on buttons vs. zippers (skip to 14:00 if you’re not interested in Superman). Here, we get one of Steve’s best line: “And they said we would run out of topics by season 10. Wrong! We ran out in season 7.”
> little tricks for making the cracks on our glass surfaces disappear. The Husband had found out somewhere on-line (perhaps here) that this could work on eyeglasses. Though he was skeptical, we found that this really worked! I’m loving my restored watch crystals.
>
finding this great web site (thanks to an interview on CBC’s The Current) that contributes to the repair-it-yourself movement. While you’re at it, print this poster to keep in your workshop/home/store/general repair space.
> Also, if you haven’t been to a Repair Café session yet, find one asap at a library or community centre near you and thank them! They really do good, and next week is International Repair Café Week.

Oatcakes, oatcakes, and more oatcakes!

oatcakes
Ate our oatcakes too quickly, before photos could be taken. These nice crisp-looking ones are courtesy of House and Garden UK.

Now that the memories of our Great East Coast Adventure of this summer are fading away, we really miss not having Scottish oatcakes readily available here in central Canada.

In the Maritimes, you can find oatcakes in many places, especially in Nova Scotia, and especially, especially on Cape Breton island, of course. I remember that years ago, VIA train served wonderful complimentary oatcakes on the leg between Montreal and Halifax (don’t know if they still have them). Now, even select Tim Hortons out there have oatcakes on offer alongside the doughnuts, which are overly-sweet by comparison.

Of course, now that we’re no longer there, we had to look for the perfect oatcake recipe to bake for ourselves at home. After a lot of sifting through on-line recipes and discarding ones that seemed like they had too much sugar or an oat-flour ratio that wasn’t quite right, we came up with the following five recipes to try. The sixth one is from the Clucking Hen Café and Bakery near St. Ann’s Bay along the Cabot Trail on Cape Breton. (It should be noted that our preferred oatcakes were from the High Wheeler Café in Baddeck, but unfortunately, they didn’t give away their recipe conveniently on a bookmark like the Clucking Hen.)

Take a look at the recipes below with our review notes, and bake up some simple deliciousness for yourself!

Note 1: We slightly modified the recipes by substituting butter whenever the original recipe called for lard, shortening, or bacon fat.
Note 2: We ground all our oatmeal until it was fine, but not quite as fine as flour.
Note 3: In all recipes, sift/mix dry ingredients first. Then pulse in the butter, then water.
Note 4: Unless otherwise stated, bake at 350° F for 15 minutes, turning over halfway through.

1)
http://www.food.com/recipe/cape-breton-oatcakes-334468
·         2 cups rolled oats
·         2 cups flour
·         2 tsp. baking powder
·         ½ tsp. salt
·         1 cup brown sugar
·         1 cup butter
·         ½ cup cold water

Review: We couldn’t taste the oat taste as much as in the other recipes, and with a cup of sugar, this one was the sweetest among all—a tad too sweet for our liking. The dough was also much softer than the others—almost too soft to work with.
2)
http://localfoods.about.com/od/Cookies/r/Nova-Scotia-Oatcakes.htm
·         2 cups rolled oats
·         1 cup flour
·         ¼ tsp. baking soda
·         1 ¼ tsp. salt
·         ¾ cup brown sugar
·         ¾ cup butter
·         ¼ cup boiling/very hot water

Review:
Not as sweet as #1, and it had a nice buttery and oat-y taste. The dough was easy to work with, and because we rolled ours out extra thin (thinner than the photo on the original site), the texture was the nicest and crispiest among all. Really good, and was the first to disappear.
WINNER!
3)
http://thetravelbite.com/travel_and_food_blog/nova-scotia-oatcakes/
·         2 cups rolled oats
·         1 cup flour
·         ¼ tsp. baking soda
·         ½ tsp. salt
·         ½ cup brown sugar
·         ½ cup butter
·         ¼ cup boiling water

Review: This was very buttery and oat-y, similar to #2 (note the oat-to-flour ratio). Because it had slightly less sugar than #2, it ultimately lost by a nose.
4)
http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/520634/scottish-oat-cakes
·         225 g rolled oats
·         60 g flour
·         ½ tsp. baking soda
·         1 tsp. salt
·         ½ tsp. brown sugar
·         60 g butter
·         60-80  mL hot water

Review: This was one of the two savoury oatcakes (note the small amount of sugar).  Because we prefer our oatcakes with a bit of sweetness to them, we didn’t go crazy for these ones. For some reason, these weren’t as good as #5.
https://caperfrasers.wordpress.com/2010/08/14/cape-breton-oat-cakes/

·         2 cups rolled oats
·         1 cup flour
·         2 tsp. baking soda
·         ¼ tsp. salt
·         2 tsp. white sugar
·         ⅓ cup butter

Review: The second of our savoury oatcakes, this one had one disadvantage in that the dough was just too crumbly to roll. We had to bake it in a silicon pan, and that worked out fine, as we dug out crumbled chunks to taste. Strangely addictive, these savoury ones were better than #4.

Clucking Hen Café and Bakery (400° F)

·         3 cups rolled oats
·         3 cups flour
·         1 tsp. baking soda
·         1 tsp. salt
·         1 cup white sugar
·         1 cup butter
·         ¾ cup cold water

Review: Finally, we didn’t make these, since we had some directly from the bakery and could make our review notes based on those. These weren’t as crispy and oat-y and yummy as the High Wheeler Café’s. They weren’t even as yummy as our winner, #2, but if we’re ever in the mood to re-live our Cabot Trail memories, we’ll grab this recipe.

 

#835: They think my milk is awesome! (Or, Keeping the faith)

No, not that milk. We had many great years together, but the breastfeeding days are over. I mean my homemade almond milk.

For a few years now, I’ve tried to make my own almond milk, using both methods/appliances detailed below. I never got it just right, the main problems being that the milk was always 1) a little too thin 2) a little too bland and 3) a little too grainy. But at last, I got the best batch ever. How do I know that it was the best batch ever? Because instead of refusing to taste it, as he has done with the past few batches of milk, the Boy took my word that it was “really good”, and he tried it. And promptly declared, “It’s really awesome.” So did the Girl. Between the two of them, they downed two glasses of it.

It wasn’t just that they really liked it. It was that they had given me another chance to get it right, and they had believed in me. Now that’s awesome.

~~~~~~~~~

So now, instead of spending between $2.50 and $4.00/litre, I can make my own simple, nutritious, great-tasting almond milk for about $1.30/litre. Here’s how:

Homemade Almond Milk:

> 100 g. (approx. 250 mL) raw, unsalted almonds, soaked overnight
> 375 mL (3 c.) cold water
> 1/4 tsp. sugar
> 1/4 tsp. salt
> 1 tbsp. tapioca starch OR quick-cooking tapioca (I used the latter.)
> Optional: 1 tsp. vanilla flavouring

Method 1: Using the SoyaJoy Milk Maker
> Place all ingredients into the SoyaJoy and follow the manufacturer’s instructions to make milk.
> Add vanilla when the machine has done its work. Voilà! Warm almond milk in 15 minutes!

Method 2: Using traditional blender
> Mix water with sugar, salt, and tapioca starch, and bring to a boil on the stove.
> Pour water into a blender and add almonds. Blend on high speed for about 30 seconds.
> Strain almonds through a cheesecloth or a fine sieve, pressing with a spoon to get all the liquid out. Cheesecloth is best, if you don’t want grainy milk. Otherwise, you may have to strain several times, back and forth between two containers.

The almond meal may be thrown into the compost heap, or kept for baking.  (We’ve used past batches, along with a little extra almond oil, to bake almond biscotti.)

We made it!: Homemade laundry detergent

A few years ago, one of my friends who was cloth-diapering part-time and concerned about the phosphates (not to mention the cost) of commercially-made laundry detergent, asked me how I made my own laundry detergent. I always said that I’d write it down for her, but kept forgetting to do so, and time went on even as my recipe was being tweaked. Of course, I certainly didn’t invent it, and merely modified other recipes that I’ve found on-line over the years. But now what I have is a lovely detergent that works well, and has a scent that I can custom make to our family’s liking.

Although many laundry detergents nowadays are phosphate-free, there are still great reasons for making your own detergent. First off, the savings (see below) are significant—2.5¢ per load compared to 10¢-30¢ per load (depending on the brand). Second, making your own detergent means that you can control the amount (if any at all) of scent that go into your clothes. That’s always been one of the things that bothers me about laundry detergent—the strong, cloying smell on your clothes (not to mention the fact that you smell like everyone else who uses that detergent). Experiment with a few different essential oils to get the natural scent that you’d like in your detergent. We prefer citrus scents. Third, believe it or not, it’s easy and fun. It really doesn’t take that much time and effort, and the kids and I love running our fingers through the gel-like texture.

I recently discovered this recipe for laundry detergent on David Suzuki’s site. If homemade laundry detergent is good enough for Dr. Suzuki, it should be good enough for the rest of us. Although his recipe differs slightly from my own, his page has an easy-to-understand how-to video.

Below are my recipes for both liquid and solid versions, along with an estimate on how much it costs per load. (I edited this to take out mentions of Oxi-Clean, since I’ve discovered that that stuff’s not so great for the environment, and is essentially just an expensive version of hydrogen peroxide + washing soda).

Your kids will love running their hands through this!

Homemade Laundry Detergent (liquid)

Step 1:
> 1 bar of soap (Ivory, or any soap that is free of added scents, moisturizers, oils, etc.)
> 2 litres of water

A) Boil water in a large stock pot. While water is boiling, grate soap. Tip: Soap is easier to grate if you’ve frozen it for a bit. You could try to grate soap in a food processor, but some soaps (like Linda’s Laundry Soap) grate well, while others (like Ivory) end up clumping and forming little balls that stick together.

B) Pour soap into boiling water and stir to melt.

_____________________

Step 2:
> 250 mL (1 cup) of borax (found in the laundry aisle of many grocery stores now)
> 250 mL (1 cup) of washing soda (also found in the laundry aisle)

C) Combine these powdered ingredients into a large container (I use washed buckets that held kitty litter or snow-clearing salt).
D) Pour hot soap mixture into powdered ingredients, and stir to dissolve.

_____________________

Step 3:
> approximately 14 litres of water

E) Pour 14 litres of water into the above mixture, and stir. Can be used immediately, or let cool and set into a gel (several hours).
Use 125 mL (1/2 cup) per load. I tend to use 250 mL (1 cup) for heavier loads.

Works perfectly in our HE washer.

****************************************************************************************************************************

Homemade Laundry Detergent (solid)

Measure the same amounts of soap, borax, and washing soda as in above recipe. Mix these ingredients together dry, without water.

Use 1 tablespoon per load.

****************************************************************************************************************************

Cost comparison (all prices in Canadian dollars, rounded)

Homemade laundry detergent
Ivory soap, 10-pack: $4.00
Borax, 2 kg: $5.00
Washing soda, 3 kg: $5.00
Water: nominal cost
Total cost: $14.00, yielding enough detergent for 56 loads
= 2.5¢ per load

vs.

Store detergent
Cheaper brand: $6.00 for 60 loads, or 10¢ per load
Expensive brand: $9.00 for 30 loads, or 30¢ per load

#879: Tastebuds of steel

After a really bad week of coughs and congestion, I’m back on track (more or less). Functioning on about five hours of sleep a day is not too out-of-the-ordinary for me, but five hours of sleep after belly-busting coughing is never nice. The only good thing about getting through the worst cold/cough of my life is that I’ve been able to gain some understanding and perspective about a few things:

1) Quite a lot of people don’t know how to cover a cough in public. Personally, I still prefer to cover with my hand or a tissue, rather than use the less-effective elbow cough. Yet, when it comes to hand-coughing, I see so many people who think that they should be turning their hand into a megaphone. Let’s get this right: it should be a cupping motion, not an open O-shaped hand-funnel to spread the germs.

2) After you’ve been coughing for close to a month, you become an expert at self-diagnosis. In this age of Google, it’s easy for anyone to believe that they know almost as much as their family doctor. Pneumonia, bronchitis, pulmonary edema? You now know the symptoms and warning signals by heart. It’s also nice when helpful friends pass on useful information like this Cough Decision Tree.

3) There is a definite scale for cough medicines, in terms of taste. (Effectiveness, I’m not too sure about, as they seemed to blend into a blurry cocktail after a while.) Here’s where they stand for me, from best to worst-tasting medicines and remedies:

4) Even if they take a bit more effort, home remedies probably do just as much good, and taste almost just as bad. (My brew described below ranks just a notch above the NeoCitran. Just a notch.) Which brings me to #880 . . .

So I’d been making and drinking almost daily this super-strong ginger-lemon-honey brew to try to battle my cough and congestion. It’s a recipe that I tweaked over a week, in order to maximize the taste (and benefits). The ginger is so strong and spicy that after every sip I take, I can’t stop myself from calling out loud, “Yow!” or snapping my tongue in reaction. It’s a drink that makes adults say, “Wowzers!” But to the Boy? Doesn’t make a dent in his tastebuds. Out of curiosity (and because his cough was minor), he asked me if he could taste it. After the first sip, he smiled and said, “Ahh. Yummy. May I have more?”

He’s got tastebuds of steel, and thankfully, an immune system that is a little stronger than mine.

~~~~~~~~~

Recipe for Cold-Buster Ginger-Lemon-Honey Brew

> 2 average-sized ginger roots
> approximately 8 cups water

Peel and thinly slice ginger, then boil and simmer on medium heat for approximately 45 minutes.

Reserve ginger water. Run ginger slices through a juicer, to extract all ginger juice. Discard the pulp.

Combine the ginger water with the extracted ginger juice to make a “tea”. Add the following, and adjust to taste:

> juice from half a lemon
> 1 tbsp. honey

Indulgence in 5 minutes (or less)

One of my all-time faves

One of the joys of the Internet—besides the availability of photos of mischievous and/or deliciously-cute kittens—is the quick spread of easy recipes. I remember in university when it seemed that everyone had a copy of the urban-legend-status “Neiman Marcus $250 Cookie” (which is a good cookie, but doesn’t quite live up to its hype). All of a sudden, anyone could be a great baker.

Nowadays, it seems that the one doing the rounds is the 5-Minute Cake-in-a-Mug, aka “The Most Dangerous Cake in the World”—dangerous to your hips because now you’re always only five minutes away from having cake.

We got this recipe from a friend a while ago, and we have to keep the recipe hidden from a certain someone in the house who claims that he has no willpower, and would make this all the time. It’s so easy that kids can whip up cake for themselves in five minutes (or less, depending on how powerful your microwave oven is, and how hungry and frantic they are in throwing the ingredients together).

Normally, this is where I'd insert a pic of my cake-in-a-mug, but then it would look too tempting, and that combined with the simplicity of the recipe at left, would make you completely lose all control, wouldn't it?

Wanna make the whole experience even faster? Pre-mix the dry ingredients and keep it ready in a container in the pantry, which is what we do for often-used homemade mixes like pancakes, waffles, and favourite cupcakes. Then all you have to do is add the wet ingredients, and voilà, you’re down to four-and-a-half minutes! Just make sure to keep your cookie mix hidden from spouses who have no willpower.

Five-Minute Cake-in-a-Mug

1) Mix these first four ingredients in a mug.

> 4 tbsps. flour
> 3 tbsps. sugar
> 2 tbsps. cocoa powder
> 3 tbsps. chocolate chips

2) Add these ingredients to the mixture and stir well.

> 1 egg
> 3 tbsps. milk
> 3 tbsps. melted butter or oil
> 1/2 tsp. vanilla

3) Microwave on high for 3 to 5 minutes.