Cookie Day One: Sans Gluten et Sans Reproche

My godson Rob was diagnosed with celiac this spring, and while we haven’t made all the changes we would if it was someone in my household, there has been a lot more paying attention to what has wheat and barley and the like, what doesn’t, what does but can be made to work without it. Also, we have been saying for years that my goddaughter Lillian is almost old enough (and definitely enthusiastic enough about baking) to be included in Cookie Day. This year, the two things combined: we had Lillian spend the night and then spend all day having Gluten-Free Cookie Day.

Here is what we made.

First, in our pajamas, we made fully glutenated waffles for breakfast. Because Lillian hasn’t been diagnosed with celiac, and sometimes having the gluteny things you like when you’re not sharing them with your big brother is a good plan.

Then we got ready for the day and finished putting out the Christmas decorations (usually wayyyy too early, but I’m going to be in Montreal, so I needed to get it done if it was ever going to happen) and waited for my folks and my grandma. And then the reinforcements got here and we really got going.

We made: chocolate fudge with hazelnuts; double-layer chocolate/peanut butter fudge; caramels; strawberry shortbread with gluten-free flour*; chocolate-dipped apricots; chocolate mixed nut clusters; amaretti (tinted lavender–Lillian’s choice), some sandwiched with frosting and some with raspberry jam; Nutella cookies; and chocolate chip peanut butter cookies. We didn’t get to the blueberry meringues, so I’ll do those tomorrow before we really get going on the gluten-y cookies, and there was a teeeeeensy mishap when we were boiling the apple cider down for apple cider caramels, so that got scratched for the day.

And in the process, we taught Lillian about when you whip a lot of air into egg whites to make them fluffy, how to use a pastry blender to do exactly the opposite, how to use a pastry bag to pipe dough out, how to make frosting from scratch, and many other topics in the worlds of baking, chemistry, finance, and more.

All in all, a lovely day. More of it coming tomorrow.

*This was our only use of a gluten-free flour product. All the other cookies and treats were recipes that are just naturally made without flour. I know that some of the wheat substitute flours can taste pretty good for people who need them, especially with a strong flavoring like strawberry covering up the fact that they don’t taste quite the same, and they’re a good resource to have. But when I’m not working around another dietary restriction like nuts, dairy, or eggs, I prefer to make recipes that were gluten-free to begin with, rather than adjusting things to become gluten-free. Several of the above were also dairy-free, though, so ask if you’re interested.

Now don’t say I never give you anything nice.

1. Yesterday my friend Ginger Weil and I both had stories in the new issue of Apex. Mine is called The New Girl and is in the same universe as some other stories you’ve seen from me–most recently “The Salt Path,” also in Apex. Ginger’s is The Stagman’s Song and happens to be her professional fiction debut. Go, read, enjoy. (There’s also the rest of Apex I haven’t gotten to yet.)

2. Today I have a story in Nature, Boundary Waters. There is also a guest blog post from me on the Nature blog about it. So if you don’t have time to read “The New Girl” and “The Stagman’s Song,” “Boundary Waters” is much shorter but one hopes also a good read. (My two pieces go thematically together more than I expected, since I didn’t write them together and couldn’t plan that they would be published together. Very different settings and so on. See what you think.)

3. Speaking of my stories, there’s still time left in the Not Our Kind Kickstarter. It’s more than 60% funded, and there are new backer rewards that are worth checking out.

4. Not at all speaking of my stories, Tim is having his holiday print sale early this year. Lots of excellent new work in that as well as old favorites, and an easy way to see the existing photo gallery behind that link if you’ve been trying to remember what it was you wanted.

5. I have been doing a new craft project or art project or something. I have been making things. And the problem is, I am surprising people with these things for Christmas, so I cannot say what they are. I am even surprising Mark, so when he isn’t traveling for work, my materials get bundled away into my office closet. I am really not good at not talking about this kind of project, and it’s driving me a bit bazoo to not be able to talk about what I’m figuring out from first principles and what I’m learning from other people’s successes. A few of you are getting this on email. The people I would most want to say it to, though, are my mom and Stella and Sherry, and they are the people who most need surprising. It keeps coming up naturally in conversation and making me go, “Nnnng!” There was even a Terry Pratchett joke I couldn’t make yesterday. It is so unfair, and we’re nowhere near Christmas yet. (On the other hand, we are near enough to Christmas that I do need to keep working steadily on these items when Mark is out of town!) I finished Kev’s yesterday, and it’s lovely, it’s–

Not a pony. It is not a pony. Nobody is getting a pony.

That’s all I have to say about that.

Prepare to help me hobbit!

Today is Sunday, and my birthday is Saturday. I have already read two books (one paper, one ebook) that were early birthday presents, because I am spoiled and because apparently the concept of delayed gratification is not a strong suit at the moment. Anyway, in making a dinner reservation for this evening, I got asked, is it anybody’s birthday? and usually I lie and tell them no, because I don’t want to make the waitstaff feel obliged to sing as well as their real jobs, and I worry that they will give me a nasty piece of white cake instead of letting me decide whether I want good dessert or no dessert. But this time I chirped, “Yes, it’s mine!” Because this year, honestly, with all the horrible and disappointing news the world has brought us in the last week, I kind of feel the need for all the birthday assistance I can get.

This post is a list of things you can think about getting for yourself–or just drooling over if you don’t have the spare cash–as presents for yourself for my birthday. Sadly, I can’t get them for all of you. I am not that much of a wealthy hobbit, to be able to buy all of you these lovely things as presents for my birthday. But I will at least show you the shinies that I would get you, if I could have a proper hobbit party and give you all the proper hobbit presents that I would like to give you. (Please note that this is the opposite of the usual wishlist: I am not asking you to get this stuff for ME but for YOURSELVES. Not that I wouldn’t like it also, but some of it–like the Kickstarter stuff–I already have, and mostly: the point is you, not me.)

1. Nerd coloring books. Specifically, Dinosaurs With Jobs. Mostly I would get this for my old college friend Scott, but the rest of you might want it too.

2. Chad Jerzak Raku ceramics. Saw these at the St. Kate Art Festival. Very cool.

3. Fresh Mud Pottery. Also at the St. Kate Art Festival. So many things in the gallery, be sure you look at the slide show.

4. Elise’s Current Shinies. Ooh. Shiny. So many shinies, so few body parts to hang them from.

5. Tim always has lovely things. Here are two of his newer ones (that first link was from the Pop Art Minneapolis series, the second the newest Reader photo).

6. Richard Shindell and Lucy Kaplansky are doing a Kickstarter. For those of us who have been yearning for another Cry Cry Cry album, even two-thirds as good will almost certainly be good enough. (Did you miss out on Cry Cry Cry? Here they are singing Northern Cross. The third member is Dar Williams. Oh, fine, here’s another: By Way of Sorrow.)

7. Julie Dillon, who has done the gorgeous art for my Tor.com stories, is also doing a Kickstarter. Many ways to support her art; go look.

Any other loveliness you want to share with each other? There’s a whole week before it’s my birthday, and the comments section lies before you.

Thanksgiving weekend: promotional report

Now that gmail divides my email into three main tabs plus spam, I decided it was a good time to keep track of what I was getting over the course of Thanksgiving weekend. It’s the biggest advertising time of the season. So from Wednesday through Monday, I didn’t clear out my promotional tab or my spam folder.

The final tally: 89 promotional pieces of email. 108 pieces of spam, most of which were also from companies I have at some point done business with.

Out of the promotional tab, two of the items were of any interest or use to me. Yes, two. (Neither was selling anything, either, and neither was time-sensitive.)

That’s nearly two hundred useless messages. Wheeeee.

I think the moral of the story is that I can let stuff pile up in the promotions tab all I want, because seriously, the percentages are incredibly low.

The cookie day report

(Since Tili asked so nicely!)

We did thirteen kinds of treat yesterday: chocolate comfort cookies, pepparkakor, strawberry shortbread, lime shortbread, blueberry shortbread, pretzel hugs, sea salt caramels, peanut butter/chocolate fudge, chocolate hazelnut fudge, chocolate-dipped apricots, hazelnut toffee, [redacted as it is a surprise for someone who reads this], and cashew clusters. It is the year of hazelnut; one of the things I didn’t manage to do yesterday was make the chocolate sandwich cookies which will be filled with hazelnut cream, and one of the things my mom did not manage to do yesterday was to make chocolate-dipped hazelnut fingers to go with her usual chocolate-dipped almond fingers. Also there will be hazelnuts in the apple bread when I get around to making that. Also “[redacted…]” actually contains hazelnuts.

Filllllberrrrrrt.

And why, you might ask, did we not get around to making these lovely things yesterday? Well. (Those of you who follow me on Twitter already know this.) Did you ever hear the expression that it’s not what you don’t know that hurts you, it’s what you know that ain’t so? Um. So I was very sure that I knew how to make the fruit shortbreads from years past. Ten tablespoons of jam, I was sure, ten. I remembered measuring in ten tablespoons of jam. So for the intended single batch of lime shortbreads, I measured in ten. For the intended double batch of blueberry shortbreads, I measured in twenty. The blueberry was really moist and sticky when we pulled it out of the fridge to roll first, so we put it back in the fridge and did the chocolate comfort cookies then instead. And for some reason I glanced at the recipe card when I was stirring up the triple batch of strawberry, and…oh. Five tablespoons. Um. I remembered ten so clearly because a single batch is really hardly enough to be worth it. So…five tablespoons. Um. Okay then.

So we used up literally the rest of the butter in the house making up enough of the rest of the recipe to mix in with the over-jammed recipes. And then my mother rolled and cut out fruit shortbreads. And rolled. And cut out. And rolled. And cut out. Oh mercy, so many shortbreads. Grandma and I made a great many of the stove-top candy items while Mom kept on at the mountain of shortbread dough.

It’s not like they will go to waste. I have several parties in mind who would appreciate shortbreads, and at least one of them lives in this very house. We keep the cookies out on the shelf in the garage, right outside the door for easy access, so they are frozen and will keep. (I have no idea how people in warm climates do Cookie Day. With only a fridge and freezer to chill things! Who could work in such conditions!) Also Timprov went and got us more butter, so we could get on with the toffee and like that.

One of the big successes this cookie day was that the oven was almost never empty. There has been a tendency in years past to have to scramble for what goes in the oven next while we’ve been doing other things, and I think having some of the doughs already mixed up when Mom and Grandma arrived really helped with that.

Am I done with the holiday baking? Hahaha no. Did not expect to be. I still have to do the aforementioned sandwich cookies, and I have promised Mark cashew toffee as well as hazelnut (and possibly almond as well, if we have the time and are running short of toffee), and there are the breads (Cookie Day is not for bread, and there are four breads to be done), and then there are possibly some additional experiments. But the point of Cookie Day is not to get all the everythings done, it’s to spend time together and get a lot of the everythings done, together. And it was a great success at that.

Even if my poor mother is not likely to want to look at jammy shortbread dough for, oh, let’s call it a year.

The making of stuff.

Cookie Day is at my house on Friday, and I am…oh, what’s the phrase I’m looking for? Ah yes: mad with power.

It’s an entire day devoted to baked goods. An entire day. And I get minions assistance from Mom and Grandma. And so it feels, today, before I am actually neck-deep in butter and sugar, like the sky’s the limit. I am marshaling my recipes, inventorying the pantry, making one last shopping list, although nobody is fooled, if we run out of things, we will just go get more. Because Cookie Day is implacable. Cookie Day cannot be stopped by a mere insufficiency of jam. What kind of filling will the chocolate sandwich cookies have this year? What shapes will we make the fruit shortbreads? Anything might happen, people. And we’ve got to be ready for it. Dough chilled. Cutters poised. This is it, this is what we practice for with random brownies and loaves of banana bread all year. This is the big time.

Okay, so yes, I’m ridiculous. And yes, I try stunt-baking other times of the year. But other times of the year, I do it alone. I don’t have two even more experienced bakers saying things like, “We can try that if you want, honey,” or just making the Grandma eyebrow of skeptical amusement.

The secret I keep telling people, the secret they keep forgetting, is that I don’t actually like eating cookies all that much. Most baked goods receive from me a hearty and heartfelt meh. But making cookies! Making candy, making bread! I love making things. Making things is the best.