Sunday, December 26, 2010

Sabbatical



There are times in life when sabbaticals are necessary. This fall I took a baking sabbatical. Baking had ceased to be fun and my butt had ceased to be human size, so I thought it best to ease off the baking for a while.

During the few months I didn’t bake, I found myself not really missing it. This surprised me, as I thought I’d be continually fighting with myself as I rolled my grocery cart down the baking aisle. It was actually nice not to think about baking for a while. I knew when I was ready, I’d return to it with vigor and excitement.

My baking sabbatical coincided with another sabbatical: one from my marriage. Dan and I decided to separate for a bit, so I went east to spend time with my sister, Wendy, and her family. As soon as my plane left the ground, I began to panic. The words of a good friend of mine, Charles, who is divorced, rang in my ears. Charles told me that the way to mend a marriage is not to separate. As I settled into a marathon of Law and Order: Criminal Intent for the five-hour flight, I wondered if I had just made a very big mistake.

It turns out that what didn’t work for Charles worked quite well for me. Spending time in Rhinebeck, New York, with Wendy, my wonderful brother-in-law, Seth, and my favorite niece and nephew, Sammi and Seth Robert; walking in the country; getting hooked on Dancing with the Stars; laughing a lot and breathing truly fresh air was incredibly therapeutic. I can’t say it saved the marriage, but I know it saved me.

A few days after I came back to Los Angeles, I was rummaging around in the kitchen and I got the sudden urge to bake. There wasn’t much in the way of ingredients, as I had been gone and on sabbatical, but I managed to put together a decent batch of mocha chip cookies. I had never made these before, and they were totally improvisational and totally delicious.

I’ve really learned to loosen my control on just about everything. Going through life trying to control everything is a prescription for profound heartbreak. For the first time in my life I’m not planning my every move and my every minute. And I have to say, it feels pretty good. Who knows? Some really extraordinary cookies could come out of it.

Mocha Chip Cookies
Makes about 20 3½-inch cookies

Feel free to add more espresso if you want more intense flavor here. You can also get a bigger yield if you go with a smaller cookie.

1¾ cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tablespoons instant espresso
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1¾ sticks (14 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
¾ cup brown sugar, packed
½ cup sugar
⅓ cup unsweetened applesauce
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips (my favorite is Whole Foods’ 365 vegan semisweet chips)

1. Preheat oven to 375° F. Line baking sheet with parchment. If you don’t want to use parchment, that’s fine. Just don’t grease the baking sheet.
2. In medium bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, espresso, baking soda and salt. In large bowl, whisk together butter, sugars, applesauce and almond extract. Mix dry ingredients into wet ingredients until combined. Stir in chocolate chips.
3. Drop tablespoons of dough onto baking sheet, leaving room between each. I do 9 cookies per batch. Bake 11 minutes. Let cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes then transfer to rack. When completely cooled, store in airtight container for up to 3 days.

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