Rainy Day Activities

What to do when the weather’s cold and miserable?  It’s that terrible in-between season.  Too cold for comfortable cycling.  Too soon for snow and skiing.  I’ve returned to my old faithful running routine to fill the gap and get in shape for the ski season.  Fortunately, I’m fine with running in marginal weather.  In fact, once I get out there I rather enjoy pushing through the dreary skies and wet pavement and enjoy running for the pure exercise.

But days on end of gloomy weather do invite restlessness.  With few mid-week offerings on the cultural scene, I decided we should make our own fun.  What better cold weather activity than making homemade pizza?  Normally, it’s reserved for our traditional dinner on Christmas Eve.  I know, kind of strange for the Christmas holidays.  But the boys love it, and request it every year.  So when they read this, I’m sure they will be envious!

It’s really not all that difficult to make, so I’m not sure why we don’t do it more often.  I rounded up the ingredients, and prepared the dough.  From there, it was a group activity, layering on the toppings and shuffling the pizzas in and out of the oven.  Voila!  Homemade pizza dinner and a good evening’s entertainment.IMG_4804 trimmed IMG_4803 trimmed

Another rule of pizza, at least when it’s just the two of us – we settle ourselves by the fire in the great room, in more relaxed environs rather than the dining room table.  It all started when we were first commuting up to Duluth.  We’d arrive in the evening with hot pizzas straight from Sammy’s that we’d consume as soon as we carried in our worldly goods.  Now that we’re permanent residents, it’s a ritual we have continued.  A good one.

The weather is still gloomy, but we did enjoy our pizzas.  In the event that the sun doesn’t shine for a few more days, here is my recipe for homemade pizza, adapted from a Blackwoods Restaurant recipe.

Homemade Pizza

This is a version of the recipe you can print or save: Homemade Pizza

Cookie Help

That search for the ultimate cookie recipe?  I guess I have been at it even longer than I thought.  Just recently, while browsing through a shelf of my lesser-used cookbooks, thinking it was time to prune the collection, I came across a thin volume titled The Complete Chocolate Chip Cookie Book.  Inside was an inscription from my sister and a date – December 30, 1982 – for my wedding shower!  It would appear to have all the advice I need.  Chapter headings include Tools, Ingredients, Worries, People and An Everyday How-To.  Oh, and it even has a definition, complete with illustration: “The perfect chocolate chip cookie is not so crispy as to be dry, nor so gooey as to be wet.”  Hmmm, close enough to my own personal view.  Clearly, this deserves a reread, and perhaps a promotion to my “current” cookbook shelf.  It’s worth a try…  And best of all, my find triggered warm memories, almost as delectable as a chewy chocolate chip cookie!

Cookie Perfection

What’s your definition of a perfect cookie?  Mine would include words like chewy, thick and substantial.  I like a cookie that you can bite into and feel its heft, but not experience a crunch.  It would include lots of chocolate chips, probably oatmeal, and sometimes peanut butter.  So how come it’s so hard to get them to turn out right?  What makes a cookie dribble out into flatness, or turn crisp when you give it just a few more seconds in the oven?  How do you find that fine line between doughy and overdone?  Over the years, I have tried innumerable recipes in search of that perfect cookie.  I even lured over my elderly former-cateress neighbor to give me baking lessons, as her cookies always defined perfection.  But once back on my own, even her recipe failed to achieve.

I do have one secret remedy.  Those overly-crisp cookies?  Just sneak a piece of bread into the cookie jar with them – and voila, soft cookies!  Works every time, and infuriates my son who happily devours my trials and happens to prefer crispy cookies.  But still, I persist.  I’m determined to get it right.  And there are far worse endeavors and by-products!

An Invitation to Dinner

I’ve always been an organizer.  So it probably was no accident that soon after we moved back to Minnesota in 1985, I started up a “Gourmet Dinner Club.”  It seemed an unlikely group, with three other couples whose only common bond was their connection to me and an invitation to a trial dinner at our house.  But somehow it all worked.

Before going any further, I should quickly dispel any notions that this was a high-brow, strictly silver palate group.  The concept was simple: The host chose the theme, planned the main course and provided the wine.  The other accompanying dishes were provided by the guests.  Sometimes assignments were made, occasionally recipes were provided (by those who required control!), and at times it was left up to participants to choose.  Most often the meals were delicious.  A few were marathon sessions of overly rich foods.  Occasionally a dish was a complete flop.  Once we even took ourselves out to dinner.

We’ve seen plenty of change over the years.  In the early stages, dinners often required a trip to the library to research ethnic recipes.  Themes were sometimes elaborate – remember those “Mystery Dinner” games?  Yes, we did them in full costume.  Then children came along, and recipe selections were based on what could be prepared between a soccer game and driving carpool to music lessons.  Since then the internet has simplified everything.

And here we are, 27 years later and still going strong!  We’ve seen each other through raising children, weddings and now grandchildren.  We’ve shared the loss of parents, and the stress of job changes.  We’ve marveled at tales of exotic travel, and agreed on the simple pleasures of going Up North.  We came together for the food, but we’ve stayed together for the friendship.