Jerry’s Halfway Cookies + 5 Holiday or Anyday Cookie Links

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Anne stared at her mother’s battered and torn recipes and wished she wasn’t dead because she didn’t feel like making halfway cookies, they were Tess’s specialty.  She missed Tess.  Death is inconvenient especially around the holidays, thought Anne.  She felt much more than inconvenience since Tess’s miserable, drawn-out death.  In fact, most days she wasn’t entirely sure how she functioned.  Her children saved her, kept her occupied with their schedules and needs.  Their never-ending stories, sentences that began with “and” starting at one pick up, continuing to the next drop off allowed Anne to feel engaged but mostly sad and hollow all at the same god damn time.  Anne could forget, though, when the day mercifully allowed it.

Sort of.  When her mind didn’t ache from all she pushed through over the last two years. Ya, she could forget if she willed herself.  She forgot about holding Tess’s hand as she struggled to breathe and feeding her spoonfuls of water.  Watching her son and her husband feed, Tess teaspoons of water was especially awful.  Changing her diaper wasn’t as bad as Anne expected because there was nothing left to expel.  Everything was shutting down, something they mention in the helpful reading material hospice had left on their way out the door while Anne held Tess’s hand and watched her slowly transition from this world to the next.

Telling the nurse not to offer Tess any more food as she may choke was especially heartbreaking for Anne.  It was just so final.  Decisions were made without fully understanding that, yes, Tess would soon be gone.  Administering morphine and lorazepam to Tess as she begged for help, tiny squirts from a plastic syringe dribbling down her tongue, into her throat, smaller than a pea and so painful for Tess to swallow made Anne want to vomit.  A grimace on her mother’s face after each swallow, followed by relief until Tess saw Anne wasn’t done, not yet.  More morphine.

“Please help me, please help me,” Tess whispered.  Anne felt small.  “I don’t know what to do,” Anne cried.  “Yes. you do,” Tess said.  Hadn’t it always been this way? Anne a mess and Tess calm and knowing.  She hated and loved her for it.

Anne watched the hospice nurse change her mother’s bandages. Every time they asked Anne if she wanted to leave the room.  Anne never left.  Cancer on her mother’s breast now like a crater on the surface of the moon, devouring Tess, reaching for her collarbone.  Additional tumors were growing, making their presence known in the form of little mushroom heads and excruciating pain.  The smell was gone now. 

So many indignities for such a beautiful, refined woman.

The hospice nurse called Anne at two in the morning to let her know her mother had passed but Anne knew when she left her mother to pick up the kids from school just hours prior, she would not see Tess alive again.  She hugged and kissed her; told her it was ok to let go now.  The words flowed easily from Anne’s mouth to Tess’s ear as if someone else was speaking for her.  

How could you tell her to let go, Anne?

Anne hours before, holding her mother’s cold hand, watching her chest rise, her mouth ajar, teeth exposed as if drawn by a caricature artist, lips dry, crusted, and colorless.  The breathing pattern had changed as mentioned in the handy death pamphlet.  Anne studied that pamphlet like she was getting a graduate degree in end of life care as if it would somehow predict when Tess would leave this world and maybe, if Anne were lucky, she could escape the tsunami of grief that was headed her way if she was prepared and organized. 

The joke’s on you, Anne. 

She harassed her sister via text with the latest bodily changes Tess was undergoing during the transition, every time asking herself if it was necessary to share so much dying with her angry and already grieving sister who lived two thousand miles away.  Maybe the next text would go to her brother who had removed himself from the situation just enough that he could put off the grief until one day when Tess was gone and the grief brought him to his knees. 

And then the call. 

Tears struggled to come.  Anne steadied herself, threw her messy hair into a ponytail, and put on her glasses. She felt her husband’s hand on her back like an anchor reminding her of all the life that was still waiting for her.  The hand felt heavy as if it was asking too much of her to keep going, to keep pushing through when she was bone tired and heart-broken.  Anne kissed him goodbye, relieved the weight was gone if only briefly.

Anne drove in silence to her mother’s house.  The land looks different at two in the morning.  Twisting and turning in unexpected formations, shadows throwing off perspective.  So much unexpected life!  Random cars on the highway.  Where are you headed? Did you just lose the love of your life too?  The serpentine road that took Anne to Tess’s house was full of nocturnal animals, shocked by the car’s headlights, watching Anne pass, pausing to acknowledge her existence in their world, seeming to pay homage to Tess, as if they knew a good soul had passed.

Anne pulled into the driveway.  Tess’s house looked so alive with nearly every light on as if letting anyone who passed know something was amiss.  She steadied herself, walked in, said hello to the old cat purring by his water bowl, and the night nurse sitting in the rocking chair.  Anne’s father stood before her in a t-shirt and pajama pants looking older than he had a week prior.  They hugged briefly before Anne went into Tess’s room.  Tess looked beautiful with the covers up around her shoulders and the pink rosary beads Anne had just given her lying across her chest.  The giant seventies lamp cast a warm glow on the entire room making Tess look as if she was just resting, certainly not dead.  Anne collapsed on her mother’s bed and held Tess, crying like a wounded animal.  Tess’s forehead was still warm but her cheek was cool, almost waxy.  Anne gently rubbed Tess’s hair and cheek just as Tess had done so many times when Anne was a child.  She put her head on her mother’s chest.  The weight of Anne’s head pushed the remaining air out of Tess’s lungs making a ghoulish, cinematic sound and yet Anne felt nothing but comfort resting against her mother.  The last of Tess’s breath exiting and Anne breathing in all she could, taking some of Tess with her.  Internalizing her.  She closed her eyes and may have slept. 

Anne remembers the hospice nurse arriving, removing her stethoscope, and checking for a heartbeat that no longer existed.  I’m sorry for your loss.  God those words feel empty tonight. 

Anne remembers falling asleep next to Tess listening to the sounds of her father weeping upstairs.

Let’s wait until morning to call the funeral home. 

Try to sleep. 

Ok, Dad. 

Anne woke a couple hours later to find Tess very cold and pale.  Mouth firmly open, one eye half parted.  She was gone.  There is a difference Anne now understood in acknowledging the love of your life will soon be gone and living with their absence. 

After months of no tears, the tears came and Anne worried they may never stop.

Anne watched the funeral home director and his assistant place Tess’s body into a black, sterile body bag.  The sound of the zipper so decisive.  A folksy blanket placed over the bag, over Tess, so it didn’t look quite so unnerving.  Tess was wheeled out to hearse and that was it. 

It was over now. 

Something Anne had wished for repeatedly.  Be careful what you wish for because you just might get it.  Anne drove home, stopping at Dunkin’ Donuts for a coffee and thinking how funny it was to do something so ordinary when something so life-altering and extraordinary had just occurred.  

The months that followed Tess’s death were foggy.  Anne could barely remember the details of those initial days.  She slept and cried.  Ate when she felt like it and drank too much.  Spring turned into summer and then into fall.  The kids went back to school.  Her husband checked in daily, tending, as best he could, to her grief.  The days passed and Tess was still gone.  The saying life goes on is so horribly true and gut-wrenching when you lose someone you love more than yourself.  The reality of so much life continuing without Tess, some days, just too much to shoulder.

Today Anne’s house was quiet except for their old dog snoring and farting in the hallway.  Christmas had passed and Anne somehow managed to push through it all.  Expectations remained intact.  Expectations are worthless, Anne believed, something she learned shortly after her mother died.  Keep your expectations of other people low and you won’t be disappointed.  Anne’s new mantra, if you want to call it that, brought a sense of peace to her.  She could let go of the raw hurt she felt from those who had disappointed her.  Those who didn’t show up.  How great it felt to be free of everything unnecessary.  Is this what Tess felt now? It was a relief for Anne to rid herself of that weight because there was just too much to carry.  The grief had changed her but into what she was unsure.

Anne made the halfway cookies.  An Avett Brothers song repeated in her head like a tripped record.  Like a prayer.  “No hard feelings, Lord knows they haven’t done much good for anyone.”

 

Chocolate Half Way Cookies

Makes 24 bars

Recipe slightly adapted from Evelyn Hamilton, my grandmother

Ingredients:

1 cup or 2 sticks of unsalted butter, at room temperature

½ cup of sugar

½ cup of brown sugar

2 egg yolks, slightly beaten with 2 tablespoons of water

1 teaspoon of vanilla

2 cups of all-purpose flour

¼ teaspoon of kosher salt

½ teaspoon of baking soda

1 teaspoon of baking powder

1 package of chocolate chips

Ingredients for meringue topping:

3 egg whites, beaten stiff

¾ cup brown sugar

Directions:

Preheat your oven to 350F.  Lightly grease a 14×10 jelly roll pan and set aside.

Add the flour, salt, baking soda, and baking powder to a medium bowl.  Blend together using a whisk.  Set aside.

Using a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugars on medium speed until light and fluffy, scraping down the sides and the bottom once or twice.  Add the egg yolks (with the water), one at a time, until well blended.  Next, add the vanilla.  Beat for a few minutes until everything is blended.  Reduce the speed of your mixer and add the dry ingredients.  Mix on low speed until everything is well combined.  Add the dough to the prepared pan.  Spread it evenly across the pan using your fingertips until the dough covers the entire pan.  Spread the chocolate chips evenly over the dough.  Press the chips into the dough gently.  Set aside.

Beat the egg whites on medium speed until stiff peaks form.  Add the brown sugar.  Beat for an additional 2 minutes.  Spread the meringue across the prepared dough.  Bake until the meringue and cookie dough are golden brown, about 20 to 25 minutes.  Cool on a wire rack completely before cutting.  Once cool, cut into squares and serve.  Halfway cookies are best the day they are made but taste damn good the next day as well.  Enjoy!  Store any leftover cookies in an airtight container at room temperature.

5 Cookie Links

Indulge a bit this holiday season and make The Vanilla Bean Blog’s holiday cheesecake cookies.  Yum!

Fudgy brownie crinkle cookies- yes they exist and they look divine!  Head to Mike Bakes NYC for the recipe.

Oatmeal lace cookies are a holiday classic and a sure winner.  Head to Julie Banner for the recipe.

If you love red velvet cake, why not make red velvet cookies?  Food 52 has the recipe for you.

Six years ago, I made these Italian lemon ricotta cookies and they were a huge hit.  Check them out!

Favorite Chocolate Cake with Rich Chocolate Frosting + 5 Must Make Chocolate Cake Recipes

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While everyone else was grieving Tess, Ann made a chocolate cake, after all, it was her mother’s birthday.  Birthdays were celebrated in her family, Tess made sure of it, before cancer began a tug of war, taking much of Tess and leaving some.

[Crumbs left to feed those who loved her: an occasional kiss, a smile, a half-hearted laugh, maybe, on a good day, a story that made sense;  stories where time and place were accurate, not distorted by eighty-nine years of living. But, now, memories, people, places in time met as if in a bizarre dream, making sense only to Tess.  And when her children said no Mom that doesn’t sound right, no I don’t remember it that way and I think you mean…, Tess became agitated and angry as if her children were trying to rewrite her stories.  So they stopped correcting Tess, allowing her to hold onto the bits and pieces of her life as she saw them, painful, but a necessary mercy.]

Ann poured the chocolate batter into the prepared pans, moving the bowl slightly back and forth, watching the batter make ribbons and fold into itself.  Tess was still alive, god damn it.  A medical mystery! Some asshole somewhere would say, as if it were a good thing.  [Why is defying odds when the end is known and hope is absent a good thing? Breath entering and exiting Tess’ lungs, a strong heart still beating despite her mind saying I want to die.  Plastic rosary beads and a beat up bible offering nothing to her weary soul and failing mind…and yet she continues.]  Ann couldn’t understand why her mother never sought treatment, allowing cancer to eat her breast while her family watched, and cried, and grieved.  How selfish, Ann thought.

While the cakes rose in the oven, Ann cleaned the dishes.  The breeze coming through the kitchen window was warm and humid.  A drop of sweat slid down her breast dissolving into her t-shirt.  A night swim would feel so good.

Tess set two towels on the kitchen table letting Ann know it was time to put on her bathing suit.  Ann loved swimming at night with her mother, watching her float around the shallow end of the pool, making sure not to get her freshly permed hair wet.  Tess’ huge smile made Ann’s heart weak.  She loved her so it felt unbearable.  Ann knew someday the weight of their love for would crush her. Ann swam around her mother, porpoising through the dark water while Tess watched.  She turned onto her back and floated with her ears submerged, the sounds of the crickets and the bullfrogs muffled.  Ann stared at the black sky and the overcast moon.  And when Ann floated too far away from Tess, she could feel it without being told: “Don’t go so far away, old girl.” 

The memory of swimming with her mother made Ann feel sick.  If only she could do it all over again and be cared for by Tess, swallowed by her mother’s fierce love, and relinquish her newfound role as her mother’s caregiver.  But there is no starting over, one more time or do overs.

The dish soap left tiny bubble mountains on Ann’s hands.  She rinsed the soap off.  The oven timer blasted its horrible beep.  The cakes were ready, waiting for Ann to carry on.

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Birthday Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Frosting

Recipe barely adapted from Food and Wine’s Mom’s Chocolate Cake

Serves 8 to 10

Ingredients for cake:

 2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon kosher salt

2 cups sugar

4 ounces unsweetened chocolate

6 tablespoons butter

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 eggs, lightly beaten

Directions for cake:

Pre-heat the oven to 350F.  Butter and flour two 8 by 1 ½ inch cake pans and line bottom of the pans with parchment paper.  Set aside.

In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and ginger.  Set aside.

Grab a medium saucepan and combine the sugar with 2 cups of water.  Bring to a boil and stir until sugar dissolves.  Pour into a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer.  Add the chocolate and butter and let sit.  Stir once in a while until the butter and chocolate are melted and slightly cool.  Add the vanilla and stir.

Using a paddle attachment beat the eggs on medium speed into the chocolate mixture until combined.  Add the dry ingredients and beat on medium speed until well combined and smooth.  Pour the batter evenly into each cake pan.  Bake for about 25 minutes or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean.  Allow the cakes to cool in their pans on a wire rack for about 25 minutes.  Next, invert the cakes onto the wire rack and cool completely.

While the cakes cool, make your frosting.

Ingredients for Chocolate Frosting:

1 + 1/3 cups heavy cream

1 + ½ cups sugar

2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped

4 ounces dark chocolate, chopped

1 stick + 2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Pinch of salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Direction for frosting:

In a medium saucepan, bring the cream and sugar to a boil over medium-high heat.  After it comes to a boil, reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally.  Simmer until the liquid reduces slightly, about 5 or 6 minutes.  Pour the liquid into a medium bowl.  Add the chocolate, butter, vanilla, and salt.  Let sit until the chocolate and butter are melted.

Place the bowl in a larger bowl of ice.  Using a handheld electric mixer beat the frosting on medium speed, scraping the sides and the bottom a few times, until the frosting is very thick and glossy, about 10 minutes.  (You can also use a stand mixer fitted with the beater attachment.  Be sure to surround the mixer with ice packs or a bowl of ice.)  Use immediately.

Assembly Time!

Place one cake layer on a cake stand.  Using a metal spatula spread 1/3 of the frosting over the cake.  Place the second cake layer on top and frost the entire cake with the remaining frosting.  Add fresh flowers to decorate, if desired.   Store cake, covered, in the refrigerator until ready to use.  Bring to room temperature before serving.

The cake will last stored in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for 2-3 days.  Enjoy!

5 Must Make Chocolate Cake Links

The classic chocolate cake roll was on heavy rotation in my house growing up and I loved it.  Check out Smitten Kitchen’s version of the classic recipe here.

A go-to flourless chocolate cake recipe is a must for any baker.  Head to the Tartlette blog for a flourless chocolate cake served with a butter caramel sauce.  Yes!

Overrun with zucchini?  Make Zoe Bakes chocolate zucchini bundt cake.

Need a vegan option?  Check out Food 52’s vegan chocolate cake.

My new favorite cake blog is Cake by Courtney.  Her cakes are absolutely beautiful and look delicious.  Check out her chocolate dulce de leche cake recipe when you need a special treat.