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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Oatmeal almond chocolate chip cookies

Oatmeal chocolate chip cookies

Oatmeal chocolate chip cookies

We bought a new CD by John Lee Hooker. From the first note, you think, yesssssss, and you want to walk around town listening to this music all the time. One of the songs on the album is Shake it Baby, in which he asks her to shake it for him one time. I wondered aloud what it means to shake it one time. Do you move your butt to one side, and that’s it? Isaac very seriously informed me that you shake your butt to once side, and back again. And that, friends, is how you shake it one time. I’ve started noticing a multitude of shake songs–it’s a very broad subject. You can shake it on the dance floor, or in the bedroom, you can shake from excitement, fear or sickness, you can shake like a polaroid picture, like milk, like a ship going out to sea, like a willow tree, like jello on a plate. So this week’s interactive playlist is shaking songs, with special points awarded for imaginative “shake like” similes. As ever, the playlist is interactive, so add what you’d like, or leave a note in the comments and I’ll try to remember to add them.

Oatmeal chocolate chip cookies

Oatmeal chocolate chip cookies

Oatmeal chocolate chip cookies are our natural anti-depressant here at The Ordinary. What’s one thing that could make them better? Almonds! And almond essence! It adds crunch and wonderful nuttiness. It probably makes them more healthy, too, but they’re cookies, so who cares?

Here’s your interactive shakey playlist.

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Marzipan, cherry and bittersweet chocolate chip cookies

marzipan-cookiesClio loves Jaques Tati. From the opening credits of Mon Oncle to the frighteningly affectionate german shepard of Trafic, she watches with rapt attention, ears perked, golden-grey eyes bright. I’ve never had a dog who watched television, and I said she must be a genius! David pointed out that the inclination to watch television is not exactly indicative of intelligence – a point I must concede. However! She’s watching foreign movies! She’s watching artsy French films. I rest my case. The truth is, of course, that Tati is not high brow or difficult in any way. Tati is pure pleasure from start to finish – visually beautiful, with lovely colors and graceful movements, and thoughtfully, perfectly quiet, with just the right sounds at the right times. We saw an interview with Jaques Tati from a television program that must have been called Showstoppers! The interviewer seemed nervous, and very sweetly kept on and on asking Tati about his favorite show stoppers, in his films, or Chaplin’s films, or Keaton’s films. Tati’s films, of course, aren’t about the fine art of show-stopperism. The action comes gently, in wave after wave, swirling and swelling and falling. In this interview, Tati secured himself the coveted position of patron saint-filmmaker of The Ordinary by saying that the purpose of his work is to bring a smile to ordinary life, to find the beauty and humor in things that we do everyday, and in everything that goes on around us. He’s laughing at us, but kindly and generously, with warmth and fellowship, because he’s as foolish as any of us. These foibles connect us, and the act of noticing them makes every moment, and every movement, important. In another interview, not with Tati, but with the stars of Trafic, the actors were asked how working with Tati had changed their lives. They replied that they look at everything differently now, the movements of people on the street, in their homes, in their businesses, and they, too see patterns and humor. This is a quality I aspire to. I want to notice things, everyday things and the movements of the people all around me, and recognize the beauty and comedy of it all. This feels like a grand ambition to me, an important aspiration. Tati proves that a comic film, so light and warm and absurd, can have great weight and depth, with strong, far-reaching roots that connect us all.

Why am I talking about a French film when it’s not a French-cake-a-week recipe?!?! I’ll tell you why! Part of this recipe was meant to be in a French cake, and was, in fact, from my French cookbook. These could be called “failed marzipan cookies.” I tried to make massepain, to make little shapes for my upcoming Buche de Noel (act surprised!). Instead I made a sort of almond toffee, delicious, but too hard to form into little shapes. So I cut it into little cubes, mixed it in with some dried tart cherries and some dark chocolate chips, and made one of the best cookies I’ve ever eaten!! They’re irresistible. The tartness of the cherries sets off the sweetness of the marzipan, and the chocolate is perfect with both. You could probably use regular almond paste for this, but it wasn’t hard to make failed marzipan. I simply combined sliced almonds with regular sugar (not icing, as I should probably have used) a few teaspoons of warm water and a few teaspoons of vanilla extract in a food processor, and I processed it for ages. Well, maybe 15 minutes. I scraped down the sides, now and again. The processor became quite warm inside, and the oil seemed to separate from the almonds. The resulting mix, when I pressed it altogether was quite hard and slightly grainy. I let it cool its heels in a bowl overnight, and it dried out a bit more. And that was that!!

Here’s a scene from Trafic with a very human gesture that I think we’ll all recognize!!

Here’s the Maytals with Happy Christmas. I posted it last year, too, at this time, but I just love it so much!!

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Nutella cookies

Nutella cookies

Nutella cookies

We saw such an interesting movie the other night. Female, starring Ruth Chatterton, is a pre-code movie. This means that it’s shocking, sassy and salacious! This, in fact, means that it was made before the enforcement of the “Hays Code,” a set of strict rules imposed upon the film industry in the early 1930s. These rules determined what you could show in a film and what you could say in a film, of course, but I find it fascinating that they also controlled the plot of a film. You could get away with showing a “bad girl” or a “fallen woman” if she was punished by the plot – if her immoral actions resulted in death or redemption (and marriage). I love to watch post-code movies and see the way that humanity, in all of its imbalance and immorality, seeps through the cracks in the plot, to watch for moments when it’s obvious that the outcome of the film has nothing to do with the characters in the film, with their desires or fears. (Watch Some Like it Hot, and remember that “the code” discouraged the depiction of gay characters.) Female (1933) is something of a cusp film – the code had been introduced, but not yet strictly enforced. It tells the story of Alison Drake, the boss of a large auto plant, who long ago decided to “travel the same open road that men travel,” and to treat men exactly as they’ve treated women all of these years. And so she does! She has brief affairs with any young thing that catches her eye at the office, and she forms no emotional attachment and expects that they’ll do the same. In the end, of course, she’s tamed by a strong “alpha male” who looks alarmingly like Ronald Reagan. And so, in a sense, it could be a post-code movie, despite all of the innuendo and her shocking behavior throughout, because she’s redeemed by marriage. But the film struggles against this tidy ending. For one thing, it’s very funny throughout, and when she declares her decision to leave her company to her future husband and to have at least nine children, it comes across almost as another joke. And the humor is so clever and satirical. The show Mad Men got a lot of attention for showing how degradingly women were treated at a certain time, especially in the work place. Alison Drake turns that world on its head, but with such honesty and good nature that we almost take her side, though she’s using and abusing all the handsome boys at the office. The film raises questions, but it doesn’t make simple judgments about the characters or their actions. For instance, throughout the film it becomes obvious that Alison Drake’s servants like her very much. They talk to her like an equal, and they take an interest in her life – the chauffeur goes so far as to fight for her honor in response to a slur on her character. This makes her seem like a real, human character, and one who cannot be penned in by a simplistic Hollywood ending. She’s told to be softer and more feminine to snag her man, and she tries this approach, but with an unmistakable smile on her face the whole time. Oh those naive days of yore, when women thought it would be clever to pretend to be something they’re not to get themselves married. Thank heavens we’ve grown beyond that, as a society. But wait, what’s this? On the Fox news website recently, and written by a woman! Advice that women should be softer and more feminine if they’d like to get themselves married! I won’t give it any more attention than it deserves, especially since Stephen Colbert has pretty much said all that there is to say.

So…nutella cookies!! They’re like nutella because they’re made with cocoa powder and hazelnuts, and they have nutella mixed into the batter! They’re like nutella because they’re delicious and addictive! They’re crispy-outside-soft-inside-chocolatey-nutty-melty-pleasantly-plump-and-weighty. And they’re fun and easy to make.

Here’s The Carter Family with Single Girl, Married Girl. Surely one of the first feminist anthems, and from such an unlikely source.
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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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Cadbury egg cookies

cadbury egg cookies

What?!?! Chocolate chip cookies with cadbury mini-eggs baked right in?!?! THAT’S RIGHT!! This was another inspiration of my husband, culinary genius. These are chocolate chip cookies – the kind that are just the right amount of crispy on the outside and just the right amount of chewy on the inside, with the better part of a bag of cadbury mini-eggs mixed into the batter. The mini-eggs are milk chocolate, the chocolate chips are bittersweet chocolate, and the cookies are ridiculously tasty. I love the way that the candy shell on the blue eggs changes color as it bakes, and comes out a real robin’s-egg blue. So pretty! But they won’t last very long for you to admire them!

Here’s the Beastie Boys with Egg Man.
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