Very Chocolatey Cookies

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It was 1992 when I first stepped foot into that wonderfully fragrant, deliciously decadent parallel universe that is the Coffee Shop. It was either in Boston or in New York City, I can’t remember exactly. I do recall blissfully sipping a latte and biting into a fabulously fluffy blueberry muffin. Those were good times :-).

In those days, we didn’t really have coffee shops like that here in Germany. There were old-fashioned pastry shops where the ladies behind the counter wore frilly aprons and a stern expression, and there were shabby chic cafés that served German Frühstück and homemade cakes – nothing to sneeze at, to be sure – but there was no place where you could get a bagel, a sandwich, panini or brownie with your foamy, milky, tall hot drink.

That changed when the new millenium came around, which incidentally also was when I moved to this amazing city. There was one coffee shop on Hackescher Markt that was my go-to place whenever I needed a cup of Celestial Seasonings tea, shot of espresso, or, which brings us to the point of this blog post, an oatmeal cookie, to brighten my shitty day. I was stuck in the most horrible working environment I ever encountered, due to a narcissistic lunatic of a boss with exceptionally bad manners who would terrorize the whole staff. Hence, the need for sweets.

When I quit that job and became a mom a few months after, my everyday radius shrank considerably. Life began to revolve around places you could easily reach with a stroller – playground, sandbox in the back yard, the park, playgroup. As there was little sleep to be had in those days, treats became very important once more. And since there was no coffee shop like that in walking distance, I began to experiment with cookie dough, muffin batter, yeast dough and the likes.

Fast-forward another 10 years. I now have two post-millenials living with me, one of whom is a virtual cookie monster, and I have several decent recipes for baked goods under my belt, one of which I’d like to share with you today.

Yesterday afternoon, I was hit by a sudden craving, got out my good old American cookbook, and based on this recipe, I did the following:

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Creamed 125 g soft butter with 80 g brown and white sugar each (total 160 g), 1 sachet vanilla sugar and pinch of salt. Added 2 eggs, 5 TBSP cocoa powder, dash of milk and the zest of 1 large orange, 150 g flour sifted with 1 sachet of baking soda. And because I was experiencing one of my trans-generational post-war trauma flashbacks, I also threw in the leftover rice pudding my daughter hadn’t finished the night before, maybe 4 TBSP all in all. It could have been a few spoonfuls of thoroughly soggy cereal from a breakfast she didn’t finish, or some bread crumbs. I do like to use up stuff sometimes. Then, I stirred in 75 g chopped pecans, tried the batter, and was pretty certain I had myself a bomb-ass cookie dough.

You know the drill with the baking: widely set apart smaller than you’d think dollops of batter, preheated oven, roughly 10 minutes at 180 °C. Do _not_, I repeat, _not_ leave the darn kitchen. Had to throw out a whole baking sheet of charcoal yesterday, because my sous-chef had vanished into cyberspace for those crucial 2 minutes too long…

But the ones that didn’t burn came out really yummy – at least my crafts club thought so. Chocolatey, slightly moist and not too sweet, with some crunchy pecan chewability.

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On the crafts front, I’ve been shying away from starting my red (cable?) sweater. I haven’t really been feeling it. Maybe my creative mind is a bit tired, or I need a break from knitting, or I haven’t come across the right pattern yet after all. Here’s what I’ve been doing instead:

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All done with my son’s birthday socks (14 next week, yikes!)…

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… and got started on a new pair of stripies for my daughter whose feet have, oddly, also grown over the last few months.

It occurred to me that I hadn’t made any socks from anything but pattern-dyed or plain-colored yarn in ages, and that it does make a difference if you as a knitter decide for yourself when you want the color to change and in what way. We get so used to convenience even when doing crafts, these instant gratification days, don’t we? And although that’s great sometimes, it actually takes away some of the creative process and ultimately renders even the handcrafted things we make more uniform. Gotta watch that! And not to worry, I’m not all about joining the conspiracy theories brigade. Just thinking about this.

How about you? Any thoughts, recipes, or projects you’d like to share? Let’s hear about them.

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Man in a Black Sweater

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So this is what my husband wore to work this morning. I’m pretty sure he’ll be standing out among the ad agency crowd in all his hand-knit glory (as he does anyway, to me ;-).

G. seemed pretty psyched to finally receive a birthday gift he’s been looking forward to for 14 years. Then, it was supposed to look like this. Here’s the back story of why I decided to discontinue & unravel & start afresh.

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So I was pleased with myself for getting it done, as I am with the way it turned out, even though I didn’t actually use a pattern, and the design was mostly in my head (and a sketch on my writing pad to show G. what I was going to do).

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The pattern consists of a knit 3, purl 3 sequence that moves over 1 stitch with every row. And the yarn being black (what else would I be using for my husband!), I have to say it was a real bitch to see whenever it wasn’t broad daylight. All in all, it took some serious commitment – and some swearing – to make.

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But yesterday had me crocheting the parts together and darning in threads, and now I’m officially done with this epic project. Phew!

That always feels good, doesn’t it? So, after congratulating myself on a job well done, I have some new ideas. One is a crochet blanket for my daughter. A granny square blanket, or something similarly girly, for her room. Maybe a bit like  this one I saw on a Danish craft blogger’s site and instantly fell in love with.

And then I have to make something for myself, because my sweet friend N. was kind enough to give me a voucher for the yarn shop for my last birthday, and we finally got around to go spend it. Here’s the bag of bright red, squishy goodness I got:

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I was thinking a turtleneck, maybe something with Dolman sleeves, and most of all, I’m thinking a nice cable pattern, like this maybe:

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While still considering my options, I’m doggedly working on a pair of socks made from a gorgeous hand-dyed yarn my son chose when we went to this little yarn shop that’s dangerously closely located to the grocery store. The lady sells homespun, organically dyed, beautiful wool skeins that you have to reel up yourself. All spot-on in our green/gentrified/obsessively sustainability-conscious part of town. Save the messed-up planet wherever you can.

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As I write this, a rare natural spectacle (sunshine!!!) is taking place outside, making me wish I was there

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rather than at my desk.

I shouldn’t complain though, I’ve got two interesting nonfiction translations due this month, and I’m working on a really compelling novel on the side. All in all, life isn’t so bad right now.

Wishing all of you out there a lovely week :-).

Finishing Things. Awesome!

Hi fellow crafts lovers, here’s a post that has been a long time coming. It’s about love and girl friends. It’s also about a number of crafts projects I finished at the end of last year. And it’s about a poncho, check it:

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A while ago, I mentioned that my friend N. and I were doing a sort of a crochet-along. We planned to give our mutual girl friend I. a poncho for her birthday, one half to be done by her and the other by myself. It was I. who introduced us some 10 years ago, and many life-changing events have taken place since then. There were moves, break-ups, new loves, a wedding, a few funerals, jobs lost and new jobs found, new careers started and businesses launched. A number of children were born, and both N. and I have started doing crafts. We’ve become close over the years, bonding over so many things, but most of all over our little cluster of country cottages, our cherished spot outside of town.

It took N. and I a while to make the poncho happen. Initially, we fussed about color schemes, material and patterns. But after we agreed on everything, and the big day rolled around, we had actually gotten as far as the center pieces, so could show I. what she was in for.

We began with a simple granny square, and despite a little unraveling here and there – because sweet N. is strict about her color schemes (to the absolute benefit of the poncho, for sure) – we made good progress until the whole thing screeched to a halt in June because we were both crazy busy with work, school and community work. We paused over the summer holidays, but finally finished the darn thing before fall rolled around, and handed it over before it got seriously cold. I sure hope it’s well loved – we enjoyed making it a great deal, and we’re both really happy with how it turned out – and as you can see it looks beautiful on I.’s petite, graceful frame.

I’ve done a number of crocheted gifts over the last few years, and I always find it rewarding to create something really personal and individual for someone who will appreciate the love, time and care you pour into these pieces as you go. Making them is almost as good as giving them away :-).

Here’s a few pics of stuff I managed to finish up before the holidays:

Dreamy short-sleeved mohair and silk sweater for my fabulous friend E. It has a diagonal-stripy openwork lacy pattern, which took me some trial and error to find the right design for, not to mention time. I’m pleased with the result, although I must confess I do not enjoy knitting with that kind of flimsy, silky, slippery yarn and monstrously wide needles… glad I was finished, and hope she will enjoy her birthday present.

Next, there were those twin cushions, much like the one I did for my friend A. the year before, but with different color schemes. I love both, but if I had to choose, I’d go for the – yeah, the lime green one, how on Earth did you guess?

Then, I made a knit hat for my son’s sweet friend L., who asked for one for her birthday – much like the one I made for my daughter early last year.

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L.’s uses the same pattern but is made from a blue-and-black tweedy yarn and sports a black furry pompom. More fitting for a beautiful, style-conscious teenager. Cool is important :-)!

And then of course the Funky Blanket must make another cameo appearance, because it’s so glorious – not to flatter myself, but to give it another well-earned moment of FAME:

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And, dare I say it, I’m almost done with the sweater of 14 years also. Will show that once I’m finished with it. But that belongs in 2016, so there’s time for that.

Finishing long-term projects can be a pain, but in the end, when you get it right, it can be liberating like few other things. Even if you didn’t bother with them for years, these half-baked ideas have a tendency to clutter your creative mind, gather dust, add some discontentment and ultimately start nagging at you … sometimes they need a little tough love, sometimes a fresh idea and, more often than not, some more work. And yes, sometimes they need a mercy killing.

I’m signing off today with the nice prospect of putting in the last few stitches on that Big Black Husband Sweater tomorrow – my crafts club is meeting, and I look forward to casting off with a huge and heartfelt Phew!!!, surrounded by lovely knitting, crocheting, chattering friends.

Days are already getting longer – even if you hardly notice when the weather is this bleak. In the meantime, I recommend ranunculi :-).

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Sad this Morning

Hi everyone, and I guess happy new year, since I haven’t posted since last November (bad blogger, bad blogger, I know!).

So I feel really crushed by the news of David Bowie’s passing. As I just read somewhere on the Internet: ‚It never occurred to me that David Bowie could die.‘ That’s exactly how I feel.

It reminds me of what it was like when my parents passed away. My dad went when I was only 15, which is not that illogical if you do the math that he was already 54 when I was born. My mom died 15 years later, which made a little more sense in terms of numbers, but of course it hit me just as hard anyway. You don’t expect parents to die. They were there before us, they brought us here, they were always around when we needed them (and, annoyingly so, even when we didn’t). How the hell are we supposed to deal with the fact that they’re gone? It’s impossible. All we can do is slowly, gradually and grudgingly, get used to it. The loss remains.

So that’s what I felt like when I read of Lou Reed’s death in 2013, and I feel the same way about David Bowie’s passing away today. Both of these men were larger than life, iconic geniuses to me; I learned to love their music as a teenager in the Eighties, and incidentally it was David Bowie’s album Station to Station, especially his sensual and heartbreakingly beautiful rendition of Nina Simone’s ‚Wild is the Wind‘ that brought me a lot of consolation when I was grieving for my dad in 1982.

I admire just about everything I ever read or saw of David Bowie’s public persona – his music, his astonishing sense of style, his dry humor, and his beautiful face. He was a hero for so many gay, bisexual and questioning young people, not by being an activist, but by simply and unapologetically being who he was, and that’s amazing.

My husband and I were listening to some of his more recent music over the holidays, and of course we got to talk about him, as you will when you remember your youth. I don’t even have that many heroes in pop culture, but it seems that I now have one less. Therefore, sad.

Wild is the Wind