The Gleeful Gourmand: July 2014

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Best-Ever S'Mores Cookies

Once upon a time (this past Christmas), I was on the hunt for a new cookie recipe. I always like to switch it up at Christmastime - I enjoy making recipes that we have loved over the years, but I also love tackling something new and fresh. That way, when it comes time to give baked goods as presents to friends and neighbors I know I'm sending out one tried-and-true goodie, and one fresh and exciting goodie (at least to me). Yes, friends, there is a method to my madness.

Bon Appétit usually has some of the best new recipes for thinking outside the cookie/bar box during the holidays, what with their annual holiday cookie editions, but it was actually Pinterest that helped me to find one of the best cookies I've ever had in my life, hands down.

Maybe you saw it floating around on the web last December - The Hot Cocoa Cookie. Featured on the blog Glorious Treats, this delightful cookie has it all: decadence and whimsy all bundled up together in one chocolatey little present.


It starts with a basic chocolate crinkle cookie, and then gets ramped up with a half a marshmallow, and topped off with chocolate sauce. I know that sounds very rich, but the truth is, it all works together so that it's not completely overwhelming. I mean, one cookie at a time is enough for me, but it's just sinful enough, if you know what I mean. Like Glory's recipe, I topped it with Christmas sprinkles. But I noticed that she suggests using all sorts of different colors and themes, so that the cookie doesn't have to be just a Christmas cookie.

That's when it hit me: Graham Crackers. What if instead of sprinkles I crushed up some graham crackers to make the perfect S'Mores Cookie? I mean, yes, I know, it's summer and every other recipe and brownie and dip out there is s'mores this, and s'mores that. And let's not forget the traditional s'more, which, let's face it, no cookie or bar or brownie could ever hold a candle to (due directly to the perfectly singed nature of the marshmallow which is crucial to maximum sweet/salty/smoky flavor).

Yum. That is all.

But there's a catch. Melted marshmallows are messy. With three kids, I get tired of trying in vain to clean their little faces of chocolate and mallow. Have you ever noticed that the more you try to wipe, the more marshmallows cling defiantly to their faces, until you're just at that point of ordering a hose and a tarp to get the job done?

These cookies don't produce that type of epic mess*. The marshmallows, thanks to only being in the oven for about 2-3 minutes, don't really melt. They puff, and then reset, even when you drizzle the chocolate sauce over them. They are soft, and chewy, and oh-so-good; and with the hit of crushed graham cracker you get the taste of s'mores. My only problem was that I crushed the graham crackers to finely. I very highly recommend crushing them so that there are big chunks to let the graham flavor shine through.

Trust me, you want to try this now. You can find the recipe by clicking here. Simply swap toppings and you're on your way to S'More Cookie Heaven.

Note: I found that her recipe for the chocolate icing tends to get a bit thick as you work. Adding about two tablespoons of warm water helped thin it out to continue icing. Be sure to sprinkle with graham crackers before the icing has a chance to set.

* Disclaimer: They actually do get quite messy when your toddler insists that she doesn't like marshmallows after all and attempts to pull all the marshmallow off herself. Then it's a problem. 

Best-Ever S'Mores Cookies

Friday, July 11, 2014

Our Perfectly Imperfect Vacation

2:30 a.m., and as the Weather Channel had predicted, Hurricane Arthur was upon us: a Category 2. Peering through the blinds in our bathroom yielded very little. I couldn't see what was happening outside, but I could hear it just fine. It howled. It roared. It whistled shrilly, and as it did, the house, perched right on the beach, shuddered and swayed. The rain pounded fiercely, and as I crawled back into bed, I wondered if we had made the right decision in staying.

Several hours earlier, we had the kids out on the beach wrapped in sweatshirts against the chilly breeze. Plenty of people milled the beach in Duck, North Carolina, enjoying themselves in the twilight as an eerie mist settled over everything, obscuring the ocean. But it was still reassuring: Not many people were evacuating. On the other hand, I watched as others scurried to secure storm and hurricane shutters over their windows. We didn't have those types of sliding shutters - or any shutters at all, so that was unnerving. They were prepared. Were we? We had battened every hatch we could think of, secured everything that was loose, turned outdoor furniture on its side and slid them flush with the house. The bunting and flag we had put up to celebrate the Fourth of July were tucked away safely inside.

What had seemed like fun hours ago now seemed a lot like fear. My parents came down around 3:00 a.m. from their master bedroom on the top floor. "I didn't like the way it sounded up there," my Mom explained. Too much swaying and creaking. Water started seeping under the downstairs door leading out onto the porch thanks to the slant of the pounding rain. The storm raged on, louder than ever, and I crawled once again back into bed next to my snoring husband. I shivered as the house shuddered, and at one point tried to burrow into him. He patted my head gently and said, "Don't be afraid. You can't do anything about it anyway," and promptly resumed snoring.

I dozed lightly on and off until about 5 a.m. when the eye finally blasted offshore, and the wind changed direction, now hammering our bedroom window. I finally fell into a fitful sleep.

I woke up a few hours later when the windows were bright with light and trudged upstairs. Our kids, who had slept through the entire thing, bless them, were bouncing off the walls with excitement and energy. We got them out onto the beach where lots of people roamed watching the waves, huge and furious. The wind still whipped our hair into a frenzy, but it was nice to be out, and for the storm to finally be over. We could even see slivers of blue sky amongst all the gray.

Later as I sat at the breakfast table with my Mom I said, "I think God has been trying to tell me something this week."

"What's that?" She asked. I tried to explain it as best I could, as the thought solidified in my mind.

It was all about not putting my eggs into one basket, I told her. The vacation basket to be more specific. All year I wait to get back to the Outer Banks for our week-long vacation. It's a place I grew up going to in the summers; a place where the minute we drive over that bridge and we're finally on the barrier islands, I just feel better. My whole body relaxes and my soul rejoices that I'm finally back in a place where I feel best of all. And part of that feeling is not just because I'm on vacation. It's because I love the Outer Banks fiercely, and I feel it's a place where  I belong. A place where I could move to and live there year-round. I've been there in every season, and besides the occasional hurricane, there's very little about it I don't love. Its wildness and rugged beauty; the charm of the small town, Duck, that we reside in for one week; and its deep history - the stuff that legends and ghost stories are made of.

The kids and I had been talking for weeks about what we were going to do once we were there, and how much fun we were going to have. But then we got there, and stuff started to go wrong. Like our son coming down with a horrendous cold that turned into a raging sinus infection complete with fever. Like a Tropical Storm that they said wasn't going to impact Duck much that turned into a Category 2 Hurricane.

The morning after Hurricane Arthur

I remember saying at one point during the week when a fever-induced crabby kid attitude started to take over that: "It wasn't supposed to be like this."

But the truth is, it was never supposed to be like anything other than it was.

Look, I am always grateful that I get to go on a weeklong vacation at all. I know it's a privilege and a luxury that many people don't have. And even though as a Mom it's still a lot of work, it's often the best week of the year because the kids are happy, we're happy, and we're surrounded by beauty and good times. But what God was trying to teach me was that I can't put all of my eggs in the vacation basket. I can't put so much faith into one week. It's not like that one week is going to fix everything, or be perfect. Life still marches on, even at the beach, or in the mountains, or wherever it is that you love to go. Life is imperfect, and when I start putting so much hope into one week at the beach, I end up missing the larger picture. I had often thought to myself in the months preceding our trip, "If I can just get to the beach, everything will be fine. I will be fine."

I couldn't even see how naive that was as I tried to hang onto every precious moment, but failed because of the simple fact that "vacation" always comes around so slowly, and always slips away so fast. I never realized how tightly I was holding onto our week at the beach, and how much faith I was putting in it until last week.

Beauty is everywhere, but especially in imperfect moments.

And that's precisely what I know God was trying to teach me: Don't hold on so tightly. You can't make it perfect. Enjoy every sweet moment that comes along, and let go of the imperfect moments. One week can't fix your stressed out, pushed-to-the-limits soul when you have 3 small kids...but it can help. Make the most of ordinary days.

Praise Him when the sun is shining, you've got a book in your hands, and the kids are having a ball digging in the sand. Praise Him when you get to take a 3 mile walk on the boardwalk that follows the Sound all by yourself. Praise Him for the best doughnuts in the world. Praise Him when you get to walk down the beach hand-in-hand with the love of your life, and the kids are playing with the Grandparents. Praise Him when you stay up late watching the brilliant night sky, and you wrap your 6 year old in your arms and point out constellations to him. Praise Him for the geniuses who came up with that constellation App so you can tell your son which constellations are which. Praise Him for great food and good wine. Praise Him for pelicans. Praise Him for good friends you only get to see once a year.

Praise Him when you have to blow your son's nose for the billionth time. Praise Him when you have to hold your son who is crying, and has a fever, and is scared that he'll miss out on all the fun. Praise Him when you're trying to slather not one but two wriggling toddlers with sunblock. Praise Him for the Independence of our country, even though the town's beloved Fourth of July parade was cancelled. Praise Him as the house shakes and sways in the middle of a Hurricane.



That afternoon the sun came out, and Liam came inside from playing on the beach, complaining about his ear hurting. An hour later the pain was so bad he was in tears. After a quick trip to Urgent Care, they confirmed what I expected, an ear infection. It could have ruined the rest of our Fourth of July, and what little was left of our trip, but it didn't. He got some medicine and felt immediately better, and we carried on our festivities as planned - with the exception of doing all our cookout food indoors because the wind was so high we knew we'd never get the grill to light. That night, we sat out on our porch and watched spectacular fireworks go off up and down the beach, as far as the eye could see. Liam ran around with his buddies shrieking in happiness, and the girls clapped and screamed for more - not a bit at all afraid for their first fireworks show. The ocean pounded just beyond, a wonderful soundtrack to echo the booms across the sky.

And you better believe that I praised God for every beautiful, perfectly imperfect moment of it.