When safety and charm become dangerous

When we moved into our little bungalow of a house 2 years ago, I was excited and well, a little bit bitter. At no point in our home search did I intend to leave the boundaries of the city proper. I certainly didn’t intend to end up in the same charming little waterfront town a few minutes north of Seattle that I had grown up in. I sound a bit bratty right now, but please, hear me out.

Last weekend, Tim and I went to a movie at the little one screen theater in the heart of our town. Honestly, this place is adorable. Before the movie started, I overheard some women talking about how nice it is in this town and how they wish they lived here. Aaaaaw, how cute. In this moment, as I sit in a cozy little theater on a cold day, I totally agree with you.

Everyone who visits finds our little waterfront town charming – which is it – and beautiful – which it is. I feel safe going on my morning runs. I love having a little bit bigger yard than we would in most other desirable neighborhoods. The public schools are excellent. I love our neighbors and our proximity to family – a.k.a. our social life. So why is it that I am a bit disenchanted with all the charm?

Sure, the fact that they are mowing down all of the original homes in favor of building massive, multi-million dollar monstrosities doesn’t help. Nor do the tourists who crowd the farmers market and go on Segway tours while they mow the rest of us down during summer weekends. And certainly, for this foodie, the lack of decent restaurants isn’t helping (admittedly, this category is slowly improving.).

But, if you don’t mind, lets go back to that moment in the theater: cozy, safe, insulated, pleasant… Walking around a town everyday that is filled with folks who have college educations, good jobs, nice cars, lovely homes, shop at PCC, and are, more or less, racially homogenous – you know, folks who look and act like me – isn’t exactly the most accurate snap-shot of reality. I rarely come face to face with the homeless or see folks who are genuinely barely scraping by. In general, the most diversity I see in town are the yard maintenance crews – primarily of Hispanic origin – that I pass on my morning run. Do I want my kids to grow up in a community where they are that insulated?  I know some people move to our community for exactly that – insulation, safety, charm… They will pay premium housing prices for their kids to grow up here.

Maybe I am difficult, but I’m not sold on the notion. I want my kids to go to school with folks from all different backgrounds, perspectives, and levels of privilege. I want my kids to have daily reminders that not everyone lives in the same manner. Not everyone has milky colored skin, shops at Nordstrom, plays select soccer, and gets handed car keys when they turn 16. I see the sense of entitlement that comes with that level of insulation all around me. I want my kids to have exposure to others who have a different reality so that they learn both to be grateful for what they have and have compassion for those in their own communities. I don’t want them to think that the poor and vulnerable only exist in far away places.

When our church – located in north Seattle – began planting satellite campuses and encouraging the congregation to attend the campus closest to their local community, I bristled. Others around me wholeheartedly embraced this vision.

The church’s effort was two-fold. Its purpose was to encourage a more local sense of fellowship, and to relieve congestion at the flagship location. In general, I think this sounds like a good idea, however for us, one of the many reasons we attend the original campus –even though it is no longer the one located closest to us – is that it offers a lot more diversity and has fantastic local outreach programs. Our location has community dinners for the homeless, a nightly women’s shelter, a food bank, a mobile medical clinic, anti-sex trafficking efforts along Aurora (which is a street notorious for prostitution), groups dedicated to supporting the state foster care system, and various other ministries. It is also the most multi-generational of the campuses. A church community that is truly a community for all is somewhere that I want to raise a family – especially when they won’t get a whole lot of that in our little town (assuming we don’t move before then).

So we defy the wishes and vision of the church as we weekly make our 15-minute trek to the flagship campus. We do this because that vision isn’t our vision. We are intentional about out place of worship and this is where we feel God has placed us. The community we have found there is amazing. The large number of adoptive families has been a huge encouragement. The commitment of the congregation to service in their local community aligns with our values and the values that we want to instill in our children.

So here is where I am stuck, I love the idea of living in close community to those you worship with and serve, but by doing that, we wouldn’t be serving those in most need of service.  So should we continue to live in a community that we can’t seem to justify fully investing our time and energy in?

So lately, Tim and I have been having some tough conversations about where we live. We see plusses and minuses to either decision, but with job changes that no longer make living north of the city convenient, we have been weighing our options. He. loves the safety factor and honestly, I do too, but in the long run, choosing safety and charm isn’t always the right answer.

Has any one else struggled with something similar? How did you make your decision?  Please, help me out!

The Shortbread Cookie Dough Base with endless possibilities

All right ya’ll, get ready for the most versatile cookie dough base ever. If you love tender buttery shortbread, then we will be great friends. Welcome, it’s a pleasure to meet you.

Coconut Lime Shortbread
Coconut Lime Shortbread

So a little bit of background… In college I used to study at this coffee shop in Seattle that had amazing lemon cranberry shortbread cookies. So I went on an Internet search for a similar recipe. None came up, but I did find a great chocolate chip shortbread cookie dough base that was an excellent start. As per my usual, its seen its fair share of tweaks throughout the years, but the result is the most amazing shortbread cookie dough base. Ever.

I say, treat this base like traditional chocolate chip cookie dough. Roll it into balls and allow it to spread out as it bakes. But unlike its traditional cousin, chocolate chips and nuts are just the beginning. This base is THE most versatile that I have ever tried. It has a tender, mellow, buttery flavor that is dying to be accented by additions of your choosing! Here are some of my favorite additions:

  • Lemon zest and dried cranberries
  • Dried shredded coconut and lime zest
  • White chocolate chunks, walnuts, and cranberries
  • Macadamia nuts and shredded coconut (even try adding some lemon or lime zest)
  • Any sort of finely chopped flavorful nut (I am partial to hazelnuts)
  • Toffee and Hazelnuts
  • Chocolate chips
  • Or just about any delicious combination you can think of…

I posted the magic recipe for Chocolate Chip Shortbread Cookies using this base earlier in the week, but in case you missed it, the dough base recipe is below along with suggested measurements for your flavor additions.

Shortbread Cookie Base

  • 1 3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 cup butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1-1.5 cup of additions of your choice (unless citrus zest)**

**For chopped nuts, chocolate, coconut, dried fruit etc add about 1-1.5 cups total additions.  For citrus zest, about 1 tblspn. is plenty!

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.

Mix the flour, baking powder, and salt and set aside.

In a stand mixer, combine the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Then in 3 additions, mix in the dry ingredients. This will seem like a lot of flour for not a lot of butter.  So it may require craping down the sides and bottom of the bowl in order to fully incorporate the flour mixture.

Once fully incorporated, mix in your choice of additions.

Roll the dough into about 1 and a half inch balls and place on baking sheet.  Leave about 2 inches of space between them so that you don’t end up with one giant cookie – albeit, one giant, delicious cookie.  Bake for about 12-15 minutes or until just cooked through but before the color starts to turn golden brown.

Get ready to be asked for the recipe a lot.  I love that I always have something in the cupboard that can be thrown into this dough for a delicious combination.  Enjoy!  Let me know what combinations you come up with.  I am always up for trying something new – when it comes to cookies at least!

Why Shortbread Chocolate Chunk are the best kind of cookie….

I am going to attempt to convince you that Shortbread Chocolate Chunk Cookies are better than any other type of the chocolate chip/chunk variety.

Not counting the chocolate chunks, these cookies have a whopping 5 ingredients.  Five.  Thats it.  And these “five ingredients” are things that, barring a natural disaster, I always have in my kitchen.

They are easy to make, and nearly impossible to mess up.  There aren’t even eggs in the dough, and you don’t have to worry about over-mixing these at all.  This combination of factors makes them the perfect recipe to whip up with helpers of the child variety.  Sure, you can taste the dough, but let me test it first.  

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These cookies are almost impossible to eat only one of and are a true diet ruiner.  You’re welcome.

These cookies are tender and buttery like short bread, but look more like a pale chocolate chip cookie.  These are the favorite cookie of all favorite cookies in our house.  The recipe below is for a single batch (about 20-24 cookies), however I always end up doubling it.  I’m not sure, but there may be some sort of magical magnetic field in these cookies that makes friends, neighbors, husbands, etc. keep coming back for more.  Hence the double batch.

**This weekend I will reveal some equally amazing variations to this recipe that are yet another reason why this shortbread cookie dough base is the best and most versatile one around.  Stay tuned for that!**

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Shortbread Chocolate Chunk Cookies

  • 1 3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 cup butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup chopped milk chocolate chunks

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.

Mix the flour, baking powder, and salt and set aside.

In a stand mixer, combine the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Then in 3 additions, mix in the dry ingredients. This will seem like a lot of flour for not a lot of butter.  So it may require craping down the sides and bottom of the bowl in order to fully incorporate the flour mixture.

Once fully incorporated, mix in the chocolate chunks.

Roll the dough into about 1 and a half inch balls and place on baking sheet.  Leave about 2 inches of space between them so that you don’t end up with one giant cookie – albeit, one giant, delicious cookie.  Bake for about 12-15 minutes or until just cooked through but before the color starts to turn golden brown.

These cookies make me understand Cookie Monster a little bit better.  Nom, nom, nom… Enjoy!

Over Scheduled

Every single member of my rather large extended family live within a 45minute radius of each other. When I first shared this fun factoid with my now-husband, he thought I was joking. We are a large, loud, Italian, Catholic family. My father is the oldest of the 10 children. It just so happens that this large, loud, Italian, Catholic family sticks together – in a mildly, unhealthy and co-dependent sort of way.

While sticking together and spending time with family is wonderful, my family’s unspoken definition of “stick together” is “take over my entire calendar.”

What do I mean? Allow me to explain:

One day, shortly after Tim and I got married, in a quest to better organize our schedule, I made the mistake of putting all of the family events: birthday parties, sporting events, anniversary parties, holiday parties, pre-holiday parties, baptisms, baby showers, first communions, family dinners, etc. on my calendar.

 How was it possible that these people were monopolizing so much of my time?!

I quickly erased nearly all of the events so that my husband wouldn’t see just how much of our time my family tried to call dibs on and decide to move us to the middle of nowhere with no internet or cell service (please, no!). For a man with one sibling and a small extended family that is spread out over the western United States, my family’s constant need to be together is a bit over the top.

While I love my family, I also have my limits. Contrary to popular belief, no one will spontaneously combust if we don’t spend every Saturday driving from playfield to playfield, celebrating every birthday under the sun, or God-forbid having a social life outside of the family. Don’t get me wrong; watching kids draw in the dirt while a game vaguely resembling soccer happened around them was adorable…for about 5 minutes.

How could I say “no” to my loving family when we didn’t have any legitimate other plans? At the time, it seemed almost sacrilegious. Besides, I didn’t really know any other way of being (like I said, we are co-dependent weirdos).

After a few more months of dragging ourselves to every family event known to man, I hit my limit. Not only was I physically tired, but also I was sick of having no time for anything else! We were neglecting our friends, never home, and constantly running from one function to the next. So, I made the decision that the following weekend we would do nothing. And you know what? No one died from our absence. We had a blast doing nothing! We walked the dogs, went to our favorite bakery, did some work around the house, and made one of those amazing dinners that slowly simmered all afternoon on the stove. It felt sinfully self indulgent – and wonderful!!

While we are rarely that stingy with our time every weekend, we certainly don’t oblige every invitation either. It is all about balance. Besides, God commands us to obey the Sabbath after all! After my weekend of wonderful, I became convinced that God was certainly onto something with that whole “Day of Rest” concept. And, we have become big fans!  Spending a day at home, weekends away, vacations, and day trips keep us sane amongst our otherwise over-scheduled schedules.

Hit Pause on the Busyness

This week was a busy one, and amidst the busyness, I did a lot more working and reading than writing, baking, cleaning my house, or anything else.  And I am glad I did! (Well, maybe I’m regretting the whole not cleaning decision…)  Some of the best things I have read in a long time were published in the past 10 or so days!  Maybe its pondering over what the new year may hold or maybe its something in the January air, but man oh man, these three writing ladies had some good pieces to start the year off!

Our world gets moving so quickly and its important to remember that sometimes God is just asking us to pause. Its easy to do-do-do or go-go-go without stopping to take notice of what He may have for us to see in our world, the blessings in our own life, or not be so critical of ourselves.

This post by Sarah Bessey caused me to pause and wonder at our universe and God.  This article made me wish that I had the tenacity and eagerness of a child again, and then I realized that we are wired – for life – to have that kind of wonder and fascination.

Sarah Hagerty from Every Bitter Thing is Sweet, thank you for reminding me that not every season in our lives is a season of action.  Especially for Christians, we can get so caught up in serving and doing more and more that we wear ourselves out!  There are seasons – sometimes years long – that He forces us into rest.  It is these seemingly unproductive periods of time that may be where he is doing the most productive work on our hearts.   

Karianne from Thistlewood Farms wrote a post that every woman needs to hear from time to time, especially at the beginning of a new year with so many of us making resolutions.  In a world that tells us that we aren’t enough over an over again – smart enough, pretty enough, thin enough, fit enough, healthy enough, pulled-together enough, fashionable enough, etc. – we need to take a step back and remember that we are and always have been.  Seriously, read this short post.

How about them apples to start off your year (and week) on the right foot?  😉

Monday Pick-me-ups

“Hello, there.”

Kevin Dietrich, National Geographic

Post holiday blues?  Dark, wet, winter monday blues?  Me too!

Check out these 5 finds that will help you start your week on the right note!

1. Winter Wonderland

Magical winter in Quebec forest, Canada. Photo by: Gilles Chênevert

2.  I wish this little guy would come hang out in my flowers…

love-local.com

3.  And they say college athletes are full of themselves……

http://diebenow.com/content/welcome-college-ill-be-your-guide

4. On my commute, I wish this was what traffic looked like…

http://www.collie-online.com/rub_histoire/img/scottish_blackface_sheep_3_900.jpg

5.  The definition of amazing timing…..

http://www.naturephoto.lt/fotografas/renatas_jakaitis

How to make simple Toffee Hazelnut Cookies the really long way…

One of the local coffee shops that I frequent has the most amazing toffee hazelnut cookies. So delicious! I crave these puppies.   So I decided it was high time that I took a stab at making them myself. The first time I decided to try my hand at it. It was an unsuccessful mission. I headed off to the grocery store for toffee and hazelnuts. DSCN1954 Hazelnuts: no problem.  Have I mentioned my recent food-love affair with hazelnuts?  How did God manage to pack such a rich and full flavor in a tiny little nut?!

Locating toffee however proved to be a problem.

The little secret that most major American chocolate companies prefer we all turn a blind eye to is their use of child labor and child trafficking in cocoa harvesting. If you want to learn more about this check out the expose done by a BBC reporter. No child should be deprived of the opportunity for an education, childhood, and family. Likewise, no child should be required to perform long hours of dangerous and painstaking work. As a result, I choose be a discerning and conscious consumer. Our purchasing decisions increase the demand of products. I don’t want my craving for cookies to be to the detriment of children or anyone. This made my hunt for toffee challenging. The baking section of the traditional grocery store only had the crushed up Heath bar kind. And the toffee in a Heath bar is covered by – all together now – chocolate. Hershey’s Chocolate. Ugh! Maybe if they had the toffee bits only without the chocolate I could make an exception, but alas, they didn’t carry that kind.

Undeterred, I crossed the street to our Whole-Foods-esque but better (because its local!) store: PCC. They are always on top of socially (and environmentally) responsible options for just about everything, right? Apparently that “everything” excludes toffee of any kind. No candy bars to crush up. No toffee bits. None period. Seattle grocery stores, why do you crush my cookie dreams?

This is definitely a great example of a “first-world problem.” I did eventually track down toffee bits from whole foods. But how many people are really going to go to the hassle of locating fair-trade toffee bits? If more ethically sourced and traded items were demanded by consumers, more would be offered and thus it would be easier for consumers to make the responsible choices.

Here is my plea to grocery stores everywhere: please, offer more items that are made by companies with a conscience.  Just to name a few: I don’t appreciate the tastes of child trafficking in my chocolate, deforestation in my chocolate-hazelnut spread, and the endangerment of multiple species in my coconut oil. Just to name a few.

Alas, I digress. Be prepared for toffee hazelnutty cookie deliciousness. Get your glass of milk ready, ya’ll. First of all, why has it taken me so long to learn to add cornstarch to the dough for extra tenderness? As far as I am concerned, it is the best cookie related discovery since the chocolate chip.

Toffee Hazelnut Cookies
  • 2 cups plus 2 tbl. Flour
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 2 tsp. cornstarch
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 1 ½ sticks unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 2 eggs, room temp
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 1/3 cup toffee bits
  • ½ cup hazelnuts, coarsely chopped

Whisk flour, baking soda, salt and cornstarch together in a bowl.

With a stand mixer, combine butter and sugars. Add eggs and vanilla. Mix just until combined.

Add flour mixture in three additions. Don’t over mix at this stage. Then mix in hazelnuts and toffee.

Preheat oven to 325 and stick dough in the fridge for 30-60 minutes.

After a while in the fridge, prep your cookie sheets and roll the dough into 1.5” balls. Leave about 3 inches of space between each dough ball. Bake for 12-15 minutes.

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Enjoy the yumminess with a cold glass of milk. Mmmmmmmmmmm….

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