Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A Christmas Cookie Recipe (with a dash of History)

At work tomorrow, we're having a Christmas party with a decorating competition, Christmas cookies, Christmas music, ugly Christmas sweaters, etc. As the events planning head, I created the sign-up sheet for people to bring Christmas cookies and put my name at the top of the list. I knew immediately which Christmas cookie recipe I would make: Twists. My mom, sister, and I have made twists at Christmas for as long as I can remember and my grandma made them for as long as my mom can remember.
I called my mom up to get some history about the recipe. The recipe is from the Eighth Grand National Pillsbury Best baking competition cookbook from 1957, my mother's birth year. I did a little sleuthing around the internet and found out that the competition is still going strong, except now you win $1 million instead of the $50,000 at the 1949 start of the competition.
Here's a quote from the cookbook: "Get out your pie pans, your cake pans, your cookie sheets, your casserole-and, of course, that bag of Pillsbury's Best flour...and good baking-good eating to you!" The original name of the cookie was/is Starlight Sugar Crisps. My mom wasn't exactly sure how the cookies came to be christened "twists" apart from their shape. But they are delicious in every way and fun to make. Here's a little step-by-step twist tutorial with pictures. 
I recommend making the dough the day before because it has to chill for at least two hours. When you're ready to bake, split the dough in half and mix two bowls of sugar with vanilla. 
Roll the dough out with 1/2 cup of the vanilla sugar mixture underneath and then fold it into three parts after sprinkling a tablespoon of sugar on the top of the rolled-out dough. Roll it out again and repeat the same folding and sprinkling process.

After rolling the dough out for the third time, use a pizza cutter to cut strips. Feel free to make them more even than mine.

Then twist each strip and lay on an ungreased cookie tray. See all those lovely layers in the picture? All of that rolling and folding creates thin layers of dough with vanilla sugar between each crispy, sweet layer.

Put the cookie sheet in a hot oven and you'll get these...

Golden, crispy, sweet twists.

Here's a photocopy of the original recipe. It's faint, but you can see my grandma's handwriting to the side where she made notes on the recipe.

And after several batches into and out of the oven, you'll get this, a glorious stack of twists!

As Julia would say, "Bon Appetit!"
Starlight Sugar Crisps (Twists)
Bake 375 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes.  Makes about 5 dozen cookies.
Soften......Soften one package of yeast in 1/4 cup lukewarm water.
Sift together......3 1/2 cups flour and 1 1/2 tsp salt into a mixing bowl.
Cut in......1/2 cup butter and 1/2 cup Crisco into flour mixture until particles are the size of small peas.
Blend in......2 beaten eggs, 1/2 cup sour cream, 1 teaspoon vanilla. Mix thoroughly. Cover; chill at least two hours or for up to four days.
Combine......1 1/2 cups sugar and 2 tsp. vanilla.
Roll out......half of chilled dough on a pastry cloth or board which has been sprinkled with about 1/2 cup of the vanilla sugar. Roll out to a 16x8-inch rectangle. Sprinkle with about 1 tablespoon more vanilla sugar. end of dough over the center. Fold other end over to make three layers. Turn 1/4 way around and repeat rolling and folding twice, sprinkling board with additional vanilla sugar as needed.
Cut......into 4x1-inch strinps. Twist each strip 2 or 3 times. Place on ungreased baking sheets.
Repeat......entire process with remaining dough and vanilla sugar. 375 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes until light golden brown (watch carefully...they get dark quickly!)

Monday, November 19, 2012


Root us in a place, Lord, that we might find our home in you.
Lord, to be rooted in place takes commitment to land, to people, to friends and family, to transients in our community, and to the plight of our neighborhoods. Being rooted is no easy task, but you demonstrated such rootedness in your incarnation. Give us courage to take up the hard task of knowing you while standing in place. Amen.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Year of Plenty, Part 5: Living La Vida Local

In last week's Year of Plenty discussion, we talked about eating local meat. The chapters we read were about chicken dignity (from the Goodwins' experience raising chickens) and being "green" as Christians, so technically the topic of local meat fell under both chapters.

Eating local meat in Spokane is expensive; there's no getting around it. I suspect this is the case for other cities, too, but I don't know for sure. I've had several forays into local and organic meat, including buying ground beef and sausages from a local farmer this summer and organic whole chickens from Costco, but neither of these methods seem sustainable. The farmer's market where I got the beef and sausage is closed for the season. And while Costco is always easily accessible, I honestly would rather buy Costco's $4.99 rotisserie chickens because they're cheap, tasty, and thrifty. I can get four main dish meals from one chicken. In fact, I just used 2 cups of leftover cubed chicken meat for two meals: hummus/chicken/spinach wraps and a pot of chicken noodle soup.

However, our conversation on Sunday renewed my conviction that the way most American meat is grown, processed, and transported is a violation of the basic dignity of the animals God has created. Don't get me wrong, I'm no vegetarian or vegan. I fully believe that God allows and intends for us to eat animals, but I want eating animals to be consistent with my Christian beliefs.

Two disclaimers: 1) I don't think buying meat from a chain store is morally wrong. If it's a question of feeding needy people vs. caring for the dignity of animals, feed people. As I said, eating local meat is expensive, so I'll only be buying one or two meat items a month. 2) I don't know a lot about this subject, so bear with me on this road of discovery. If you have helpful insights, thoughts, or corrections, don't hesitate to speak up!

In an attempt to explore this local meat-eating thing, I scheduled another foodie foray for Saturday. The destination: Egger's Meats. When I told my housemate who grew up near Spokane where I was headed, she said her grandma always bought meat from Egger's. Perfect. Local and historic.  

When I walked into Egger's, I immediately saw an employee in a red apron and hat. He asked if he could help me with anything. I told him it was my first time and that I was just looking. And look I did. I studied everything. The prices, the kinds of beef cuts, the kinds of sausage. I asked about ham with and without the bone and how much they both weighed on average. I'm sure they thought I was really weird. Who is this young person who cares so much about meat and is so weirdly excited about it?

I tried a sample of Egger's own bacon and a little piece of ham. Both samples were delicious. As I was standing by the case of sausages, I struck up a short conversation with an older man named Floyd. He was buying a pound of ground beef to share with his dog. I told him I was going to buy a pound of deli ham. My lunch plan this week is ham, Gouda, and tomato sandwiches with mayo and whole-grain mustard.

With my pound of ham in hand, I signed up for a monthly mailing list, grabbed another sample (homemade sausage stuffing!), and booked it out of there before I bought anything else. As I drove off, I was so excited that I turned in the wrong direction. :)

I didn't have the guts to ask where Egger's sources its meat, but I will definitely be asking that question on a future trip. As I back-tracked from my initial wrong turn, I decided I would purchase as much of my meat there as possible. Even if the meat isn't strictly local, Egger's is local. I figure it's a good place to start and, if the clientele was any indication, it'll be a good place to stick around, too.


I had another locavore adventure today. My dad asked for another box of McIntosh apples from Green Bluff, so after church, I drove up to the bluff. I'd never been up in November. The fields and trees were covered with snow and the landscape had that lonely, fallow feel of winter. I stopped at Siemer's and tentatively poked my head into the barn. I didn't see anyone. I walked back into a storage/work room and saw a huge orange cat and heard someone working. I retreated and an older man presently came out. He looked surprised that I was there, but asked me pleasantly what I wanted. The onions were tempting, so I ended up with a 10-pound bag for $2.95. As I was about to pick up my bag to leave, Mr. Siemer (for that's surely who he was) picked up a buttercup squash and asked: "Have you cooked with this?"

I shook my head. He said, "These squash are just so good. Cook 'em like an acorn squash, and you'll love it." He put the squash in my bag. "On the house," he said.

I didn't tell him I already had about 10 squash of various varieties at home. You don't mess with a farmer's generosity. I ended up talking with him for 15 minutes after that and heard a taste of the farmer's life. He reminded me of my grandpa...skinny, tall, and with a nose that gotten bigger and redder with continual exposure to sun. As he talked on, it occurred to me that most of the time, a farm is a lonely place. The crowds of harvest in September and October are the exception rather than the norm.

As I drove back down to the valley, I realized that Craig Goodwin's journey also started with piles of winter squash in Mr. Siemer's barn. We're set to finish Year of Plenty next Sunday and it seems I've come both to the end of the book and back to its beginning. But surely I'm really just beginning.


End Note about the Title: I was discussing with my housemate what the title of Ricky Martin's song "Living La Vida Loca" means, and we roughly translated it to "living a crazy life." Sometimes, the local life is a crazy life (though crazy in a good way), so I think the title of the song fits, even without my slight alteration. Thanks for going along with it. :)

Saturday, November 10, 2012

How Merciful You Are, Lord

How merciful you are, Lord, that you forgive us our sins, all our sins.
Teach us the merciful art of public and private confession,
not for our shame but for the cleansing of our sins
and the fallowing of our rough hearts.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Friday Adventures

This morning, I came upstairs to fry some sausages for a Bible study breakfast and gasped. Snow. Pure white, cold snow covered the back deck and traced the image of the trees in the early morning sky. Good thing I was planning to get my snow tires on today. Fortunately, the roads weren't slippery. I made it to Bible Study and then to work.

After work, I jetted over to Les Schwab to get my regular tires traded out for my snow tires. I told the woman at the desk my mission. She told me candidly: "The wait will be nine hours." Nine hours!!

"You could come back at 7 tomorrow morning or try another time. First come, first serve," she said. "Or you could wait."

Smell that strange tire-y, rubber-y smell until midnight, six hours after they closed? I pictured myself locked in a dark Les Schwab with only popcorn for sustenance. No, thank you.

"I'll come back another day."

I walked to my car, my plans for the afternoon dashed. I hopped in my car and figured I might as well make my Costco run now, as it's two blocks down the road. As I walked into Costco, I was still shocked at the wait time, so I just wandered around aimlessly until I came across a lady with warm cinnamon roll samples.

"These came from the package right over there," she said.

I hovered. "Wow," I said. "These are really good; and they're warm."

"I warm them in my oven here," the lady said, looking at me like I'd just crawled out from under a rock. Not even Costco can sell pre-warmed muffins to the general consumer.

I next collected a rosemary cracker with Brie, a Breton cracker with blue cheese, and a Dixie cup with vanilla ice cream. For a sweet tooth, I really lucked out. Les Schwab can always take the backseat to warm cinnamon roll samples. Realizing my weakness, I grabbed my toilet paper and Life cereal and booked it out of there. Despite their gooey deliciousness, I did not want to come home with a pan of cinnamon rolls for dinner. (I had already had a piece of peanut butter pie for lunch.)

After a stop at the library, I drove to my mentor's house where I had a garden this summer and pulled up the last of my harvest: globe carrots. I pulled them up fast and shoved the dirty, cold carrots with snowy tops into a plastic grocery bag.

Then I drove home, and I ate a carrot. It was great. I love Friday nights. The weekend is my oyster.

And that's the end of my story. Sorry for the anticlimactic ending. I'm afraid the good part of the story is in the middle with the cinnamon rolls. :) But I will leave you with a couple pictures and well wishes for a wonderful weekend!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

A Foodie Pilgrimage to Trader Joe's

It may be wrong to equate Trader Joe's with a pilgrimage, but I mean it in a foodie, not a religious, sense. There are number of places in Spokane where a person can go on such a trek, so I chose a Saturday morning jaunt to Trader Joe's and the Great Harvest Bread Company. Unfortunately, most of the foodie sites I like to visit are on the South Hill, which is a half hour from my house, but that could actually be a blessing in disguise. :)

I was at Trader Joe's for a full hour, just looking. I didn't put anything in my basket for half an hour. Weird, I know, but, I was finally able to narrow the vast selection down to a few choice items.

Here's what I bought today:

Let me explain my choices.

1. I bought the hand-tossed whole wheat flour tortillas because I've been wanting to make breakfast burritos and wraps for lunch. The Mediterranean hummus goes with the tortillas for the wraps. The Oregonian taste-tested store-bought hummuses (hummi?) and chose this Trader Joe's hummus as the winner, so it was hard to pass up. I also bought a bag of spinach for the wraps, which you can't see in this picture.

2. I was intrigued by these bacon ends and pieces. It looked like good, thick bacon, so I decided to buy this package to throw in the freezer until I come up with a good use for it.

3. My housemate Katie got me a gift card to the Great Harvest Bread Company for my birthday. I used the last of it on this loaf of Honey Whole Wheat bread. I like the size of the slices because they're small enough to be a complement to a meal rather than the whole meal itself.

4. I love looking at the Trader Joe's cheese selection. They have wonderful foreign cheese that are (bonus!) reasonably priced. Two families I visited this summer--the Miedemas in Colorado and the Leonardis in Coeur d'Alene--had Gouda cheese that I loved, so this was the obvious choice.

5. I love almond butter on apple slices, English muffins, toast, etc. I bought a big thing of almond butter from Costco because it was twice the size of Trader Joe's almond butter and the same price, but I didn't like it at all. Sometimes it's worth it to pay a little more.

6. I use coconut milk in curries, but I'm also thinking of making a Cream of Mushroom soup from scratch with coconut milk in the coming weeks. Plus, it's always nice to have a can of coconut milk on hand.

7. Last but not least, the lemon curd! My favorite cooking show, River Cottage, has a recipe for muffins with a big dollop of lemon curd in the center of each muffin. Can't wait to make them!

So there's what I bought on my Trader Joe's/Great Harvest pilgrimage. It was very satisfying. I was proud of myself for choosing carefully; it's easy to overbuy there. But I felt I chose only what I was going to use within the next week or so. And I can always go back. :)

What's your favorite place to shop for groceries?

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Fun Halloween/Fall Pictures

Here are some photos from the last week or so, a celebration of fall and Halloween. :) This picture below is a stream at the Finch Arboretum where the Compost Fair was held last Saturday.
Here's a loaf of bread I made to go with the soup below it, which is Potato Broccoli Cheddar soup. I've been eating both on and off all week (the bread toasted with plenty of butter) and it's been great. A delicious fall meal. 

Here is my housemate Heidi and I enjoying fresh-made soup and fresh-made bread on Sunday night in our dining room. The bread was delicious right out of the oven. We each ate a buttered piece with gusto. :)

Here are the pumpkins that my housemates Jo, Pam, and Katie carved. Amazing, right? They definitely elevated pumpkin carving to the next level. I only ever carved the traditional Jack O' Lantern, except I'd accidentally knock the teeth out. So I didn't opt to carve a pumpkin this time. Rather, I separated pumpkin goo from seeds and read cookbooks. :)

My friend Megan brought me this lovely little pumpkin ghost cupcake at work yesterday. It was delicious!

I hope your Halloween was blessed. We had 35 trick or treaters and lots of leftover candy, so I would say that's blessed! My housemates and I also had fun dancing, handing out candy, and eating homemade fudge.
What did you do for Halloween? What are you enjoying most about fall so far? 
Happy November 1st!