This recipe offers a different twist on the rolled sugar Christmas cookies many of us grew up with, without compromising any fun rolling (and cookie-cutting) action. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with traditional sugar cookies, but I’ve landed on something worth keeping here— a new generation of cookies, destined for greatness. I brought a batch to the office (what’s up, 2 Park?!) a couple of years ago, and they disappeared from the communal treat-table within an hour. Now the batch I made last night hasn’t lasted 24; between Aaron, a few friends who’ve passed through, and myself, only one cookie remains. Uh oh. We have friends coming over tomorrow afternoon, and then we're heading to a party in the evening… empty-handed… unless I bake more of these little winter wonders.

I think I’ll do just that.

And guess what. You can, too! And you should! Besides tasting downright awesome, these cookies are 100% whole grain. I do make them with sugar (rather than brown rice syrup or another alternative… let me know if you play around and come up with one that works), but I use coconut oil in the dough and the frosting. And in some camps, that stuff is regarded as tapped from the tree of life. Plus, it lends a light coconut-y edge to the citrus and spice flavors already at play. Yum.

Click "Read More" below for the recipe, and a peek at an alternative, equally stylin' icing option.


 
 
We've finally gotten some rain these past few weeks-- the kind of rain I adore; I prefer all-day downpours to intermittent showers. I also find the Texan response to precipitation pretty amusing. Snowfall-- even a once-yearly dusting-- brings this city to a grinding halt. Rain brings its roadways to a bewildering crawl. How these enormous, made-for-the-military trucks manage to coordinate accidents amongst themselves while going 15 mph on straight, flat highways is a mystery to me. But they do it... bringing the surrounding traffic speeds down to 5 mph as everyone navigates their pickups around the scene... in the *gasp* RAIN. But me? I love the stuff. I love sleeping and waking up to its sound, walking in it, driving in it. Classmates last week (btw, guess who finished massage school classes. This girl!) talked about feeling the rain is depressing. It makes me happy. Maybe I'm wired for the Pacific Northwest, where summers are gorgeous and it rains for months on end. Mmmm. Bliss.

Anyway, we're here now, and it's raining now, and I'm pretty blissed out on Austin's wintertime. The rain's lifted during the past several days-- returning for encores at night-- leaving a dry, cool climate behind. I honestly haven't missed snow in the slightest (I could just never get warm in a Northeast December), and as far as I'm concerned, the outdoors air smells perfectly seasonally appropriate without it. Dry leaves, wind, big skies, a wood stove somewhere. It blends. Train whistles, birds of prey, Christmas lights, sunsets... You should see these sunsets. I don't dare take a photograph. It wouldn't compare. For months this past year, I didn't know what month it was. It got hot in late May and stayed that way for what felt like forever. It never rained. But now, there's no mistaking it. It's time for the solstice, for Christmas, for holidays in Texas land.

There's evidence of this indoors, too. A tree, a wreath, windows strung with lights. Gifts piled and stashed in expected, and unlikely, places. And it smells of Christmas. Today I simmered lime and lemon rinds with whole cloves and a teaspoon (or three) of ground cardamom. (Voila, instructions). The scents deepened and made their winding way through every room in the house. And tonight, I baked some cookies. I'll frost them tomorrow. If you're good, I'll give you my recipe.

I saw a commercial while at the gym the other night-- the gym provides my one legitimate excuse and opportunity for watching bad TV, and its commercials, as we mostly watch movies streamed on Netflix at home-- and saw a commercial for Jolly Rancher hard candies. Giant, colored bubble-words burst across the screen reading: Grape! Apple! Watermelon! Meanwhile the voice-over pimped the candies' "real fruit flavor". I wondered (while elliptisizing my way to nowhere for a significant period of time... Yeah, yeah. Glass houses): why not just eat a grape? Wouldn't that get the real-fruit-flavor job done? Then the commercial ended and I resumed switching between House Hunters International and Sixteen and Pregnant and forgot all about my fruit flavor questions. Yet I was reminded of them again today as I inhaled these real December smells, indoors and out; the leaves, the tree, the wreath, the citrus and cloves. I sure loved me some Glade candles-- and, come to think of it, Jolly Ranchers too-- back when I was a kid; now we don't use synthetic scents in our home at all, because Kaspar's a sensitive dude. And synthetic chemicals kill brain cells, so there's that. The main reason for this, though, is that these days I crave the real thing, whatever the thing happens to be. TV's ideal for gym-time entertainment; I lose myself in an hour of synthetics, of fluff (and formulate plans to move overseas... Where is it always raining?). I get buff doing it brainlessly like that, but that's pretty much all it's good for. Outside of gym time, I don't want to lose myself, or my hours. I want to find these things, to live real life, and savor it with all of my senses. The holiday season, and this darker, rainy, windswept time of year fills itself out with Christmas lights, wood fires and baked treats. Whether it bears formal religious significance for us or not, I think it'd be impossible not to notice that this season makes magic of little things, and declares all experience-- sights, smells, sunsets-- sacred.
 
 
I have never owned a plant that didn't die. Not once. My personal best on this front consisted of watering a friend’s houseplants while she was away for three days, several years ago. Although the plants survived my brief custody—and although I did exactly as she’d instructed, even going so far as to talk to the plants while tending to them— they looked undeniably worse for the wear by the time she returned. My only other experience with flora up to that point had been another plant-sitting gig during which I utterly neglecting my dad’s coveted bonsai collection for a month, during college, while my parents vacationed in Turkey. His bonsai trees had, since my childhood, received just the kind of careful, close attention their famously fickle species’ require. And while I definitely remembered to walk the dog (three times daily) for those four weeks of house-sitting, my thoughts only turned to the plants on the final night before my parents arrived back home. I jumped out of bed at 3 a.m. and submerged the bonsai pots in basins of water. Their branches were brown, brittle and bereft of all signs of life. I left the plants in the water until mid-afternoon the next day, and then replaced them on their shelves before departing, bracing myself for the backlash that my blunder would surely incur.

To my amazement, my dad never mentioned the plants, and their branches were—through some miracle-- voluptuously green again by the time I next passed through. I considered it a stroke of undeserved good luck, and, determined not to press it, swore I’d never agree to care for plants again. Yet, some time later, my friend was so enthused about her houseplant hobby—and convinced I’d develop a love for it, too—that she took the risk of putting me in charge during those three days of watering… and then bestowed a plant upon me as a housewarming gift when I moved into a new apartment that same year. It was all downhill from there.

She said it was a plant that couldn’t die. It was one of those genetically modified self-sustaining plants that require neither water nor sun on a regular basis to thrive. But left in my care, it was dead in a week. I mean… dead. Even an all-night water-basin soaking couldn’t save it. I’d been hired, as a babysitter, to care for dozens of other people’s children by then, and nurtured starving shelter cats into fat feline lovesluts. But plants? I clearly lacked the touch.

Click "Read More" below for the rest of the post.

 
 
(I can't keep surprises under wraps worth sh*t.)
 
 
When I was pregnant with Kaspar, some of the most popular questions I fielded from curious friends (bear in mind that people in New York generally don’t procreate until, well, a good few years past 25, so I was a bit of a trailblazer even in our circle of early 30-somethings) revolved around food cravings. Namely, whether I had any, and if they were as weird as they’re rumored to be? While I never paired pickles and ice cream, I did send Aaron out for buckets full of Tom Yum Soup, and I ordered the heck out of the Shepard Salad from a great little delivery joint in our ‘hood, Anytime. Finally, after dropping, like, $300 on said salad in the span of a few short weeks, I decided I should probably start making it at home. I promptly perfected the art of this simple veggie wonder, and, truth be told, still crave, make and consume huge portions of it to this day. (I’m actually fairly certain that pregnancy and cravings, in my case, were entirely unrelated). 

I’m gonna go ahead and toot my own horn here and let you know that the salad I make is even better than the one I used to order (sorry, Anytime). It also takes just a few minutes to make a huge batch, and keeps well in the fridge for a quick dinner add-on when you otherwise only have time for boiling hot dogs (the organic, happy-meat kind) . There are a lot of different variations on this theme out there, so experiment and find your own awesome. Tell me what you do, too, so I can keep tweaking this thing. In the meantime, here's my recipe to get your salad obsession off the ground.

Click "Read More" below for the recipe!

 
 
I’ve been on the prowl for the perfect desk for several months. This is because I’ve been working at our kitchen table for several years—not ideal real estate when it comes to focus, privacy, storage, or anything work-related, really. Since our new house features an office that we’ve cordoned off as strictly adults-only, I claimed half of it as my own upon moving in, and set about searching for the furniture to create my ideal work set-up. The good news is that, after much searching, I finally found the desk of my dreams this week at Room Service Vintage here in Austin! It’s from the late ‘50s/early ‘60s and is in perfect condition. Here she is now, just moved in:
That’s a shitty phone pic, but this is appropriate here, as it’ll soon serve as a shoddy ‘before’ shot… I plan to find a just-right lamp, switch out the rug, rig up a bulletin board and create a grown-up work space that screams Me Time and beckons to me by day. This way, when I finally settle down to do my thing at night, I won’t regret that I’m not doing something more relaxing or fun than, well, work. This is me deliberately confusing my brain into loving late working evenings. If you can’t beat ‘em, make ‘em sparkle… is what I always say.

Aaron and I also picked up a dresser at Room Service, so now we can actually put our clothes away (true confession: they’ve been in ‘dirty’ and ‘clean’ piles since we moved in). We’re kind of hooked on the furniture hunt high now, too. We began our journey to these two items by looking out broadly over local Goodwills, and then narrowing in on our treasure-- at increasingly targeted establishments-- from there.

The Goodwills, as expected, featured endless junk: George Foreman grills circa 1999? No thanks… But then, sparkling across an expanse of raincoats and worn tennis shoes on a plastic cupcake holder strung with mismatched earrings, sat the two amazing vintage Pyrex coffee mugs shown at the top of this page... who evidently have relatives sprinkled across America. $2 for both? Yes, please.

No noteworthy furniture, though.

Click Read More below for the deets on our score.

 
 
So is it winter or what?