Substitution Revelation

No chip! These are good.

No chip! These are good.

Sunday night we had a hankering for some homemade chocolate chip cookies.  Never mind that it was warm outside and I’d be in front of the oven instead of outside watching people flip their rafts in the Animas River — a spectator sport.  Never mind that my one hour of kayaking would surely not negate the caloric intake of the cookies.  And, never mind that I had no high altitude baking directions or brown sugar in the house.  Never minds be damned — we wanted some cookies!

As our bevy of kitchen wares still remain cupboard-less, I am quite familiar with all of the contents laying around, especially all the pickles and random rices.  Having a missing ingredient requires some innovation, so I thought hard about what I could use to make some sort of brown sugar substitute without actually having to go to the store; nothing ruins a craving faster than having to go shopping.  I remembered seeing molasses around, so I thought, heck I’ll just add that to the white sugar and make it brown.  This tactic could either be a waste of a stick of butter, or at the very least, create something that could satisfy a momentary craving.

Holy (chocolate) chip did I discover the secret to amazing cookies!  It is molasses, my friends.  No chip, I had no idea what the cookies were going to taste like, and after I threw away the dough and popped them into the oven, I actually tasted the mixture and was happily surprised.  (I so often get wrapped up in the process of making and baking that I forget to taste my food until it is done.)  Once out of the oven, I was again very pleased that the good flavor was still there.  There is just something different about them and they are sweet, but not overly so.

Sometimes you have just got to try it out and see what happens — in life, and in cooking.  I have made some strange concoctions while experimenting, but I’ve also made some incredible discoveries — molasses in cookies and chipotles with corn or squash being two of the more useful.  For those creations that turned out strange, I’ve found that sour cream and hot sauce can make almost anything palatable.  Lesson revisited: you never know if something will work or not unless you try; you just have to try.

Starting the Morning Off Right

Mornings are rough.  There are commutes, dark mornings, erratic coffee makers, and general grumpiness to contend with.  Recently I have found a way to make my morning just a wee bit easier, and it is becoming my precious wind-up time in the morning.  I start my morning off with a homemade latte, a homemade pastry and some quiet time.

In my current life, one of the perks of my stressful job is that I don’t have to be on duty until 9:15.  Still, I get up between 7 and 7:30 to have some time before I rush out the door.  (Also, it helps that I have a less than 10-minute commute, by car with no traffic.)  Once I get to work, the minutes fly by and I exhale only when I leave the building for the day.  So, this morning ritual really does grant me some peace and quiet before I head off into the wider, wilder world.

The centerpiece of this morning experience is my warm steaming cup of coffee and frothy milk.  I bought an espresso machine for $5 at a thrift store years ago, and amazingly, this thing is still kicking.  To make life even simpler, I load up the machine before bed so that I can just flip a switch through my sleepy eyes.  I rotate between a series of favorite mugs:  the cheesy Colorado mug and the free public radio member mugs.  My coffee fixings depend solely on the quality of coffee on hand, which is completely dependent upon budget restrictions.  One way to easily camouflage substandard java is with a dollop of good honey and a sprinkle of cinnamon.  Voila!  A  latte served in a ceramic cup that can rival anything from a shop — with no waiting in line!

Second, I have a homemade bread or pastry on hand for my first breakfast.  (Yes, I eat two small breakfasts every day.)  A loaf of whole-wheat applesauce bread (from homemade applesauce, naturally) or a pan of cheddar biscuits can last a whole week and is such a welcome alternative from the processed frozen bagels.

Depending on my mood, I will tune in to NPR or read the online news.  Many mornings I just sit and stare out the window, waiting for the sun to come up and the chickens to jump from their coop.

This simple way of waking up can really lay a positive foundation for my day.  What I’m learning, and more importantly practicing, is that it is always the most simple and thoughtful things that create moments of happiness and peace.

A homemade coffee shop experience

A homemade coffee shop experience