Stealthy Valentine’s Giving!

Step One: Mix dough for chocolate shortbread cookies.

Step Two: Let the little one cut out the hearts, then bake.

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Step Three: Wrap the cookies, make a little heart-shaped Happy Valentine’s Day note, tie with red ribbon.

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Step Four: Put the gifts in a sweet little handmade bag for carrying.

Step Five: Scope out the neighborhood and make a plan (we decided to leave treats for those folks on our block who are single and live alone–plus give one to the Dunns, whom we love, and one to the folks who are renting on the corner).

Step Six: Sneak and tiptoe so folks don’t see us. Put the treats in mailboxes if mail hasn’t been brought in yet.

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Step Seven: Slowly squeeze treats through Jack’s mail slot, but be quiet because he is home!!! And when he hears us at the door, drop the treats and…

Step Eight: Run!!!

Chocolate Shortbread :: Recipe

I love these simple shortbread cookies–very English, not overly sweet, and maybe a tad bit addictive. I don’t make them often (the recipe is from my ancient Crabtree and Evelyn Cookbook), but when I do the leftovers are few, and the smiles and thank yous are many. These store very well in airtight containers, if you have that kind of self control. And the whole thing can be thrown into a food processor and mixed up in a instant, I’ve been told. Makes about two dozen, or more if you’re using small cookie cutters.

Time Commitment: About forty five minutes in total. Some to mix, some to cut out, and a few more minutes to bake.

Tools you need:

  • A cookie sheet or two
  • A cookie cutter or two (I especially like the hearts and the hippos)
  • an oven :)
  • large bowl and wooden spoon, plus measuring cups and utensils…

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened powdered cocoa
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) cold unsalted, butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • granulated sugar
What to do:

Step One: Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Mix dry ingredients in a bowl. Add in the cut butter and rub in lightly with fingertips until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.

Step Two: Add egg yolk and vanilla and mix or knead until a smooth dough forms. (The recipe now calls for chilling the dough for 45 minutes, but I never do.)

Step Three: Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface until about 1/4 inch thick. (I cut the dough in quarters or thirds and work only with a small amount at a time, and I usually don’t even use a rolling pin, but just work it flat with my hands.)  Using a heart-shaped or other fun cookie cutter, cut out cookies and place them on a baking sheet. (I use a small, sharp knife to peel the cookies off of the surface of the counter.)

Step Four: Sprinkle the cookies with granulated sugar, (or coarse sea salt!) then bake for 12-15 minutes, or until firm but not browned around the edges.

Step Five: Transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool, invite friends over for tea and cookies, and enjoy!

Here are my hippos–on a leisurely walk to the local watering hole

Valentine Love

The kids woke up to cards, and went to school armed with goodies to share.

Last year I made a loaf of bread in the shape of a heart for my goddaughter. It was ridiculous, but fun. This year, I mixed up some dough and experimented with the shaping and scoring.

As soon as I had scored the loaves, I knew last years’ idea fitted the theme a wee bit better.

We couldn’t quite figure out what this loaf looked like…

But this one certainly had a wide and somewhat evil grin! My, my. Not really the look I was going for.

So, I doubled up my baking efforts and churned out some chocolate shortbread cookies. One of my favorite recipes, (and destined for the recipe tab at some point,) I knew these would make every Valentine celebrator love me just a little bit more!

And then came the giving. John Ronan is obsessed with the fact that the dentist told him that gummy bears are much better for your teeth than lollipops. (He was a lollipop aficionado, and that landed him in cavity land.) So we loaded up on gummy bears and hit the neighborhood!

Isn’t that the cutest little bag? John Ronan “borrowed” it, since it’s destined for a niece’s birthday. (Ssshhh, don’t tell!)

Almost no one was home. But did that deter us Working-on-Being-Better-Giver Givers?!

We dropped packets in the oddest places and thought it was fun that most of our neighbors wouldn’t even know where the treats had come from. (I really wanted to write from whence the treats had come--isn’t that fun? but a little too Downton Abbeyish for this blog…)

Almost lastly, we took one of the odd-shaped loaves of bread–plus more packets of gummy bears– to the swim instructors to eat in between lessons. (John Ronan is finally water safe!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)

And lastly, my parents showed up on the front doorstep with a BOX full of bread from my awesome baker brothers (and chocolate, of course).

Soup on the stove, and five loaves of bread in the kitchen, we held my parents prisoners for the evening to help us eat all the goodies,

and share the love!

Share :: Love.

Hope you had a lovely Valentine’s Day, my friends!

All in One Day: bread, butter, cheese, forgiveness

Mixed: 9:45 pm

Molded: 6 am next day

Baked in two batches–one at 7:15 am and another at 8:15 am.

Off to church at 9:30 am with three loaves of very cheesy bread

At our church, following morning Liturgy every Sunday, we all file outside and enjoy a time of chatting, and the kids running all over the grass, and sometimes we munch on donuts or potato salad, or carrots dipped in hummus. But on Forgiveness Sunday the coffee hour table is all about cheese. It’s our last chance to eat dairy until Pascha and so that’s what we do!

I volunteered to make bread for the table, since they wanted a table of breads, cheeses, veggies and such, so I dove in the night before and had such fun.

Side note: Since we leave for church at 9:30 on Sunday mornings, if I’m ever called on to make fresh bread for my fellow church-goers, I begin a no-knead mix the night before. This easily gives me extra hours of sleep. I would have to rise at 4:30 am if I wanted to do the whole process–from mixing to kneading to rising to molding to rising to baking–and have two batches of bread ready when we leave all dressed and spiffy-looking for church… The no-knead recipe allows me to mix the dough the night before and mold the bread at 6 am the following morning.

Anyway, on Saturday night, I rifled through our cheese drawer in the fridge and decided to use every bit of cheese there. Pecorino, Dubliner Irish, and Parmesan, all three were grated clear to the rind; I even had to call in the Capo Chef to help because my hand was cramping… My husband, “Are you SURE you need this much cheese?” Me, “Yes.” So he grated and grated and I scooped every last morsel of cheese into my three mixing bowls.

Oh, the scent of bread and cheese that floated through our home Sunday morning. My husband, “Are you SURE we need to take all three loaves to church? Can’t we just leave ONE here?” Me, “No.” We left for church hoping coffee hour might come soon.

Thankfully, the Liturgy speeds you away to other worlds–to worlds of mystery and the holy foods of bread and wine–and who cares about coffee hour then!

But once the cross is kissed–EVERYONE cares about coffee hour. Someone even got inventive with one loaf of the bread and made pizza out of it.

It was a beautiful morning, but I tell you, the day didn’t end there. More baking, and more giving and more church was still to come.

Home to a quick nap and a little picking up of the house. A bit of reading, then… chocolate shortbread. Really, getting the cheese and the butter out of the house was a snap. Grate all the cheese into bread, and bake all the butter into cookies. After Lent, I’ll post the recipe of chocolate shortbread cookies that I make every now and again. I refuse to make them often because that just wouldn’t be wise, but they are scrumptious. Made with only cocoa, flour, powdered sugar, butter, vanilla and one egg yolk, not many nutritionists would recommend this cookie being in a regular diet.

I mixed and pulled out the cookie cutters and baked up little hippo and heart cookies, wrapping several in a brown bag for my goddaughter and her family, and few more for whoever I happened to come across while at church. Because… back to church we went.

Forgiveness Vespers is one of my favorite services of the year. The church community gathers Sunday evening, on the very precipice of Great Lent, and we worship together. At the conclusion of the service we all file past one another, bow, cross ourselves, then ask: “Forgive me, a sinner.” We hug, and kiss cheeks, and the mood is truly blessed–light and yet full of truth and the importance of clearing away any relational cobwebs that may have gathered over the last year. I got to hug a whole kaleidoscope of people last night!

Oh, but I won’t forget about the cookies. We gave a bag of cookies to my goddaughter, as planned, and then another bag to a homeless man who was munching down a handful of potato chips.

Blessed.

Clean.

And in case you weren’t one of the kaleidoscope of folks that I kissed cheeks with last night…

Forgive me, a sinner.