Salty caramel almond, hazelnut, chocolate chip blondies

Salty caramel chocolate chip bars

Salty caramel chocolate chip bars

We’re experimenting with a “screen-free Sunday.” No TV, no computer, no video games. I’d imagined it would be something like the scene from the Simpsons: all the children of Springfield stop watching television and they all venture outside into the fresh air and sunshine to the tune of Beethoven’s pastoral symphony. It hasn’t been like that. I thought the boys would actually be excited about this plan, because they like camping and they like when the power goes out. They like roughing it. They have so much creativity and imagination it’s bursting out of them, they don’t need TV! But they like TV, and we find them sneakily watching cartoons or claiming that Malcolm’s nook doesn’t count as a screen. So by noon on a Sunday you’ll find me shouting at them that their brains are going to rot, or perhaps have already rotted. That they have INNER RESOURCES, dammit, and they need to use them. I tell them that when I was little we almost never watched TV, we didn’t even want to and we had so much fun, we had so many adventures and created whole worlds. And then Malcolm says, “Yeah, but you had a brother who liked to go outside,” and complaints of Isaac’s proclivity for sitting in his pajamas besides a warm radiator resurface. But I think it’s going to be good for all of us in the long run. One Sunday the boys were slouching about listlessly and moodily one moment, staring at the dark TV, and when I looked back over at them they were playing chess. And the next moment they were playing some complicated game they’d invented involving chess pieces and pieces from some entirely different game. I’m at work all day most Sundays, and when I’ve come home the last few weeks, the house has been an extremely messy testament to the wildness of their imaginations, once let loose from the dulling shackles of the TV. Giant blanket forts, creatures cut out of paper, a crown–with a strap on it–fashioned for poor long-suffering Clio. Drawings that tell stories. Odd science experiments. Crazy and wonderful robots and whole upside-down cities made out of legos. It’s strange to think about how much of our time the computer and television eat away at (and we don’t even get any reception on our television!) A lamentable waste of our precious swiftly-pasing moments. Yesterday Malcolm said he couldn’t relax without watching television, and that made me sad. He should be able to just do nothing. He should be able to just stare into space and think his thoughts. He should be able to go for long car rides or sit around waiting for something to start, and follow his mind wherever it takes him. Yesterday Malcolm also told me that one of these screen-free Sundays will be a rainy day, it will be pouring down rain outside, and he and his brother will have so much energy in them that they’ll explode. Well, we’ll just re-channel it! Think of all of the explosions of energy and creativity throughout history that turned into music and paintings and novels and films! Think how sorry we’d be if instead of making music, paintings, novels, and films, the creator had been sitting around watching Star Wars cartoons. Maybe we’ll have to add a few more screen-free days!

Salty caramel chocolate chip bars

Salty caramel chocolate chip bars

This is something between a cake and bar cookies. It’s made with ground almonds and hazelnuts and very little flour. It’s dense and a little chewy and crunchy on top. It has browned butter inside, brown sugar on top, and a sprinkling of coarse salt, so it’s got a rich, caramel-y flavor. Delicious with tea, coffee or red wine.

Here’s Elvis Perkins with Doomsday. I’m currently obsessed with this beautiful-melancholy-cheerful song.
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Coconut shortbread with blueberries and banana frangipane

Banana blueberry bar cookies

Banana blueberry bar cookies

I think I was visited by three spirits of parenting last night. Not past, present, and future precisely, but maybe representing varying degrees of parenting flaws. I had three bad parenting-anxiety dreams in a row, and woke up each time feeling confused and flattened. Why? I asked myself? Why now? We’ve been spending a lot of time together lately, Isaac and Malcolm and I, with their holiday from school. Mostly it’s been very fun – we’ve gone for walks, played games, cuddled on the couch and read. But I have had a few bratty outbursts of anger, and therein lies the guilt. I yelled at a crying Isaac for letting the dog take his food. In fact, when I sprayed her with her bad-dog spray bottle (for taking the food) I sprayed him, too, which, amazingly, did nothing to quell his tears. And I cursed at Malcolm. I think that’s the one. I could tell you about five heavy bags of groceries, 3 nights of insomnia, 2 coats and children sprawled on the floor in my path, and one sassy and hurtful comment. I could tell you about how I felt so childishly hurt that I didn’t want to apologize. But there’s no excuse. I shouldn’t – I don’t – talk to anyone in the world like that, so how could I speak like that to Malcolm, my son, my friend? I did apologize, of course, but it has weighed heavily on me, and it’s coming out in my dreams. I was thinking about one of the dreams after I woke up, and maybe it is a premonition of parenting future – at least a preview of the kind of anxiety that must only get worse with time. In the dream, Malcolm and Isaac and I were exploring a cave. We were having a nice time, and they were looking forward to finding the center of the cave, which held a pool they could play in. But we got to one part that was tight and winding, we had to crawl upwards in a space not much bigger than our bodies. I’m a bit phobic about close, winding, airless spaces in real life – caves and lighthouses and crawl spaces – and apparently I am in dreams, as well, because I decided to head out of the cave. I told them to go on ahead, that I’d wait for them at the entrance. I thought about them, winding through the cave; I told myself, they’d be alright without me. Cut to: hours later, I was in a room crowded with people. I don’t know where I was or how I got there, but suddenly it dawned on me that I wasn’t waiting outside the cave for my boys. I panicked, in my dream, and woke up in my bed, in a sweat, straining my ears for the sound of the boys snoring gently in their room. But that’s what it’s going to be like going into the future, isn’t it? They’ll want to explore things on their own, and I’ll have to let them go, and I’ll think, as I did in the dream, that they probably make it home safely without me. When the boys wake up from a nightmare, I always say (like a broken record) “It was just a dream, you’re safe and warm and mommy and daddy love you.” Hopefully I’ve said it enough that they’ll always remember, even when I’m not with them on their adventures. Hopefully they’ll remember that, and not the bad-tempered moments.

Well, enough of this little dream-journal confessional. Let’s talk about cookies! We bought a bunch of adorable tiny bananas, thinking that the boys would like them. They rarely ever finish a regular-sized banana, so this seemed like a good solution. Sadly, the tiny bananas were greeted with indifference. So we had quite a few rapidly ripening bananas to dispose of. I wanted to make something different from banana bread or banana cake, for a change, and I had the idea of combining the bananas with almonds, sugar and eggs, to make a banana frangipane. Fun to say, and good to eat!! I also wanted to remake the coconut shortbread layer of the cherry chocolate cookies I’d made the other week, because I had a nagging doubt that I’d gotten a measurement wrong. So we have a layer of shortbread, a layer of good blueberry preserves, (I used bonne maman, ironically!) and a layer of banana frangipane. It turned out nice! Soft, flavorful, but not too strongly banana-y – more of a haunting fruity sweetness that goes beautifully with the almond flavor. The cookies are like a newton, maybe, in texture. Newtonian. But without the seediness.

Here’s Tom Waits with Innocent When You Dream.

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Coconut cherry chocolate bar cookies

Coconut, cherry, chocolate bar cookies

Coconut, cherry, chocolate bar cookies

Happy boxing day!! We’re having such a nice, slow day, surrounded by the chaos of Christmas presents and Christmas wrappings and new toys to play with and things to build (if you’re a boy) or chew to pieces (if you’re Clio). We gave the boys a few noisy toys, which they played with for hours (starting before I was out of bed, of course!). And then, at one point, a hush fell on the room. Malcolm was on the couch reading a new book, cuddled with Clio. I used to love to get books for Christmas. I can vividly remember the keen pleasure of opening a new Tintin, or Joan Aiken, or book about horses. I’d be wearing new Christmas pjs, maybe, holding a new stuffed animal, sitting by the fire, absorbed in this new world. It’s hard to capture that feeling again when you’re an adult, which is why David’s present was perfect in every way. He gave me some beautiful new dishes (one is pictured above), some blank books with little drawings from the dishesdrawing AND a Tintin book!! It’s all about how Tintin is drawn, and has little quizzes to test your Tintin knowledge. I love it!! I feel as excited as a child! As giddy as a schoolboy! And the best part is that I also feel inspired, by blank books and blank dishes. Oh the things I’ll cook to present on the dishes, and the nonsense I’ll write to fill up the books! The books I used to get for Christmas excited me because they contained vast, unknown worlds, and it was such a pleasure to watch them unfold. Of course we all have those worlds in our heads, strange and new – all of us do, and they can all come pouring out onto these blank lines. blank-paper

These cookies were very easy to make, and they seem quite fancy, cause of the chocolate and cherry combination, which always tastes like a celebration. Basically, they’re a coconut shortbread covered with a thin layer of cherry preserves, and topped with a chocolate ganache. Like a version of millionaire’s shortbread, I guess! I put a bit of sherry into the shortbread to make them taste extra Christmassy.

I know I’ve been posting a lot of Jimmy Smith, lately, but he’s just killing me! His songs are so warm, and pleasing, but completely unexpected in parts, till he brings it all home again. Here’s We Three Kings. I love how grand and big band-y it is, before it breaks into this ridiculously joyous and swinging tune.

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Apple cherry chocolate chip bars

Cherry, apple, chocolate chip bars

On days like this I’m so glad that I have everything in my life tidy and organized. That I’m on top of it all! I’m looking forward to the meeting that all three of Malcolm’s teachers requested – I’m sure they want to tell us how well he’s doing, and how he’s got everything tidy and organized, and he’s on top of it all, too! I’m glad I don’t have to spend the day feeling guilty as hell because I yelled at him about the state of his notebook and his backpack and his uncorrected essay and his seeming complete apathy about anything related to school. So that he left for school saying he hated me, and I don’t have a chance to apologize and tell him how smart he is for nearly eight hours. That would be a horrible feeling! I’m glad that I don’t have to feel like a bad example to him because I’ve got teetering piles of bills (piles? Heavens no! You should see my up-to-date and immaculate filing system!) that I only seem to pay when the next one is due. I’m glad that I didn’t yell at Isaac on our snowy walk to school because he’s always half a block behind, and he can’t walk faster because his rib hurts, and I’m glad that I don’t have to worry that he has low energy and constant bouts of strep and tummy aches. Because, of course, he eagerly eats every meal I lovingly prepare, in all their wholesome goodness, and gets plenty of protein and vitamins. I’m glad that I can keep my house spotless and tidy, and I don’t feel as though I spend hours digging in sand, as I clean, because within seconds the clutter collects and the dust settles, and the counter is covered in crumbs. I’m having a lovely, peaceful day, sitting in my pristine, spare-but-stylish house, watching the soft snow fall quietly outside, not thinking about the crumbling plaster in every wall, that can only be fixed by a fellow this guy knows, who was an excellent plasterer, but is now long-dead. Who is having an anxious and grumpy day? Who is? I feel better now, though. The snow has shifted to rain and back to snow. But it’s warm in here. And it’s Clio’s first snow! She may have pink eye and an upset tummy, but can that stop her enjoyment of the snow? It cannot! Snow makes her crazy!! She races back inside and flies around the house, bouncing off of furniture, throwing herself at me at an alarming speed. And yes, this is an old house and the plaster is crumbling, but I love it anyway! Yes, we have numerous teetering piles of papers, but the papers are mostly drawings by the boys, and they’re beautiful, clever, well-executed drawings! Maybe I’m not exactly on top of this sea of worries and responsibilities, but I’m floating along with it, rising and falling, okay for now.

Malcolm likes fruity candy. Many days he asks for a dollar to go buy some fruity candy at the store down the block. But as nice as it seems for him to come home from a long day of school, when it’s cold and wet outside, and buy a box of candy, and cuddle on the couch with the puppy and watch a movie – nice as that seems, I can’t let him do it every day! So I bought him some dried tart cherries. They’re very nice! Chewy, fruity, lovely and sweet/tart. He ate half the bag, and then I put the rest in these bars, along with some apples and some chocolate chips. I added ground walnuts to the batter for a change of pace, and they made the bars lovely and dense, with a mysterious walnut flavor. I made these like brownies, which is a fairly lazy and easy way to make something. Melt some stuff in a pot, stir some other stuff in, and spread it in a pan. And that’s that!!

Here’s A Tribe Called Quest with 8 Million Stories. They’re having a bad day. But it’s a good song!
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Nutty cherry chocolate coconut flapjack granola bars

What? Cherries and chocolate and coconut and nuts? And oats? Is this possible? Indeed it is, and its delicious, too. My boys like granola bars, and believe that they’re a healthy snack. I believe that granola bars are just cookies disguised as a healthy snack. And they remind me of the English version of flapjacks, which I love a lot. I have no problem with my boys eating cookies, or other sweet snacks, but if they’re going to eat something unhealthy, I’m going to make it for them myself, dammit! For some reason I feel better knowing that they’re getting actual butter and sugar rather than processed blizz blazz. It might seem silly, but there it is! Plus these have oats and nuts and fruit, so there’s some good with the bad. Obviously, you can throw anything you like in there! Don’t not make them because you don’t have all of these specific ingredients! I had fewer chocolate chips than I thought, so I threw some mini M&Ms left over from Isaac’s birthday into the mix.

I think of oats and chocolate as being ultimately comforting. And I’ve always wanted to make a playlist of empathetic songs. Songs like the magnificent It Hurts Me Too, by Elmore James. So I’ve compiled such a list, and I love it, so far. Some of the songs might be more sympathetic than empathetic – it’s a fairly liquid shift from one to the other, isn’t it? But they’re all supportive and comforting. Can you think of any songs to add to the list?
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