Happy New Year! (Goodbye, 2009. You Wanker.)

I have a post in the works about the end of what I consider to be one of the worst years of my life. (It’s not even a downer! Can you believe that?) It appears I won’t have it done in time, and I really want to take a minute to wish you all a very happy new year. I don’t know about you, but I’m really looking forward to 2010.

Thank you for reading, putting up with me, being there. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Tuesdays With Murray (Chapter 120) Tunnels, Toddlers and Cats

We celebrated Christmas at grandma and grandpa’s house this year. It was sort of a last minute decision so my brother emailed Santa personally letting him know that Emory would be in New Jersey instead of Brooklyn. It’s true. My brother Ryan told Emory this two days before xmas. He said, “Don’t worry, Emory. I emailed Santa and let him know how urgent this is.”

Having been a blogger since the beginning of the decade, I am an expert where urgent and corrective emails are concerned. I reckon my brother’s email looked something like this:

DEAR SANTA,

EMORY IS IN NEW JERSEY!!!!! NOT BROOKLYN. PLEASE MAKE A NOTE OF IT, YOU IDIOT MORON. EMORY IS NOT IN NEW YORK CITY BUT IS IN NEW JERSEY, YOU TWAT.  MAKE SURE THE PRESENTS GO TO NEW JERSEY!!!! I REPEAT: NEW JERSEY!!!! DON’T MAKE ME BLOG ABOUT HOW YOU F*CKED THIS ONE UP, SANTA.!!!!?!

love,

someone who THINKS U R FAKE!!!!!

And it worked! Santa knew to deliver the presents to New Jersey instead of Brooklyn and Emory was happy.

One of the items Emory received for Christmas was a tunnel. (Incidentally, I’m pretty sure that’s how Santa got into the house seeing that my parents ain’t got no fireplace and all.) Emory loves tunnels. He loves choo-choo tunnels, tunnels that take place beneath a cat’s belly, human leg tunnels, couch cushion tunnels and now he loves his plastic play tunnel. He played with the entire time we were at G-Pa’s and G-Ma’s house.

Then we returned home. And, wouldn’t you know? There’s another member of our household that finds the tunnel pretty rad.

Mom It Down: A recipe for laughter.

What you will need:

  • 1 toy tunnel
  • 1 toddler
  • 1 curious cat

I will it make it my goal to get this on video if it’s the last video I ever take because it’s awesome.

Mom It Down: Mini Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins.

If all things go according to plan, I’m going to start selling a few of my baked goods at a local business here in Brooklyn. It’s not going to be much, but I’m excited. I love baking but I need people to eat all of this stuff! So, this works out really well for me and hopefully makes people smile as well. All that said, I’m currently putting together a list of baked goods that travel well, sit pretty and taste great.

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Today I made lemon poppy seed muffins. I hope to make these regularly for this new adventure. It’s simple and I don’t think I’ve ever met a person that doesn’t like lemon poppy seed muffins.

I should mention that the original recipe was taken from The Food Network. All I did was tweak the process.

What you will need

  • Muffin tins (regular sized or miniature)
  • Mixer (not necessary but easier!)

Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter (room temperature)
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs (room temperature if possible)
  • 4 teaspoons poppy seeds
  • 1/2 cup milk

Mom It Down!

Preheat oven to 375.

Place the unsalted butter into your mixer. Let that sit for a bit so it’s easy to spread.

Grease your muffin tins.

In a separate bowl, add flour, salt and baking powder. Give that a quick mix. Set aside.

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Add sugar and zest to the butter in your mixer. Beat that up until it’s creamy.

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Add eggs, one at a time, beating between each one. Remove bowl from mixer. Add the poppy seeds.

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Measure out 1/2 cup milk. Add flour in three stages adding the milk in between. Stir it up, but be careful not to over mix.

Fill muffin tins at least 2/3 full.

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Bake for 25 minutes or until golden brown.

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Overcoming Obstacles

I used a canola spray on my muffin tins. It was much quicker than having to butter each one. They popped right out—simple and without a mess.

Also, my eggs were not at room temperature and they turned out just fine. But, next time I will plan ahead and let them sit out. But just an FYI: they will work cold if you’re in a hurry. ;]

Variations

Vegans! These can easily be made vegan. Just use an egg substitute and substitute soy milk for cow’s milk.

I’d also like to try a version using orange zest. In time. In time.

As always, please let me know if you have any suggestions and/or comments.

Give Me A Bappy!! I Want A Bappy!

Today is Tuesdays With Murray, which means I’m supposed be writing about Murray. And I have a story to share. But Internet? It’s been a really rough four days and my brain is out of batteries.

You see, Toby and I decided (out of nowhere) that we were going to take away the bappy. Y’all are like, What the hell is a “bappy?” That’s what my son calls his pacifier. He loves his bappy especially when it’s time for night-night or he needs to calm down.

Well, we decided it was time. Just like that. We figured we’d see how it goes for a day. And then when the world didn’t end, we kept going. This is day four and it’s been OK. I won’t try and make things sound too terrible. He has slept relatively well. Things are OK at night. We’ve gotten several desperate pleas for a pacifier, but we usually distract him until he forgets. And those pleas (not to jinx it) are becoming fewer and fewer in number.

But, what’s a nap?

There hasn’t been much napping and when he does nap, it’s a fall asleep where you’re sitting type of thing and it usually takes place the hours right before the bedtime safety zone. The other night he fell asleep eating at 5 PM. I knew that was going to mean later we’d face a great deal of trouble getting him to sleep, but at that point? I so needed a few minutes to myself that I just let him sleep for a while.

The part that’s been REALLY difficult are the tantrums. They don’t happen all the time—most of the time he’s wonderfully funny and sweet and I mean that. But when the tantrums do happen? There’s absolutely NO calming him down. I swear there are dozens of Brooklyn residents that think we beat our child. But that’s a story for another day. I’m not sure if it’s that we took the pacifier away, or if we’re just knee-deep in the terrible twos, but lately the tantrums have been brutal.

So, my days have been tiring and rough lately. And I need a break. I haven’t said that in a long time, but I do. I need a break. And now that winter is upon us and he isn’t in school at all (I will explain whole not moving situation soon) and we don’t have the ability to hit the playground, the days are killing us both. I need to get lost in a movie or something, with a pacifier.

Quite frankly, I have no idea how the anti-TV parents do it. Because the only (and I mean ONLY) downtime I get is when he watches Sesame Street or Night At the Museum for the 100th time. (Incidentally, whomever gave that movie an abysmal 2.5 stars was not a child nor did they speak to children. Stupid, adult movie reviewers.)

Some of you are probably wondering how I’m writing this post—like, what’s he doing right now. He’s building a choo-choo track in his room and begging for me to join him. So, I gotta go lay down some railroad, my friends. But I’ll try my damnedest to have a halfway literate Murray post up later today.

Because this one? Not so much.

Mom It Down: Mini Cheesecakes

Cheesecake is tricky. But when it’s good, it’s worth the frustration. Cheesecake can crack, cave in, or just taste bad. And even when you think you’ve got it figured out, someone tells you they prefer New York style over the Italian variety or vice versa. Maybe they don’t like it baked, and someone else hates when it is. The point is: there are a LOT of different ways to make a cheesecake. I personally prefer the creamy, sweet variety. That’s where this recipe falls. But it can be temperamental.

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Today’s recipe is not the easiest when one was has a child to tend to. It’s not that it’s difficult, it’s just time consuming. I wouldn’t turn this into a weekly thing. But it’s really quite nice for special occasions. I’m planning on baking some for a party we will be attending next week.

What you will need

  • Mini muffin pans and liners
  • Food processor
  • Mixer

Ingredients

Crust

  • 1 cup graham cracker crumbs
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped walnuts
  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 5 tablespoons melted butter

Cake

  • 3 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 3 eggs

Mom It Down

Line mini muffin tins with papers. Set aside.

For the crust…

Using your food processor, grind up graham crackers until you have a cup. Transfer to another bowl and set aside. Grind up your walnuts. (A handful of walnuts turned into a little more than 1/4 cup.) Add your graham cracker crumbs and give that a quick stir. Add all the rest of the dry ingredients. Give it a stir. Add the melted butter. Put some into each mini muffin paper and delicately push it down. Set aside. (You do NOT need to pre-bake the crust in this case since the size of each cake is so small.)

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You’re done.

For the cake…

Preheat oven to 350.

Add sugar and cream cheese to the mixer. Beat it until creamy. Add sour cream, vanilla, flour and heavy cream. Beat that. Add 3 eggs, one at a time, beating between each one.

You’re done.

You can distribute the batter any way you’d like. I used a pastry bag because it mess-free. (TIP! If you don’t have a pastry bag, you can cut the tip off one corner of a large freezer bag and use that.)

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The batter will settle. If it doesn’t, you can either smooth it down using a knife or lightly tap the bottom of the muffin tin onto the counter.

Bake for 20 minutes. DO NOT open the door if you can help it. Turn the light on and keep an eye on them. If it looks like the outsides are browning too much and too quickly, lower the temperature a bit. I ended up lowering mine to about 340 the first time because I got worried.

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When the time is up, turn off the oven and open the door a little bit. You can either let them cool in the oven with the door ajar, or if you’re worried about someone getting burned by the oven (like the cat), you can remove them and let them cool on the counter. That’s what I did. After they were perfectly cooled, I put them in the refrigerator to cool for several hours.

Since every single last cheesecake I made yesterday sunk at least a little bit (some even cracked, I’ll get into that a bit later under “Overcoming Obstacles”) I used that opportunity to add a dab of fresh strawberry jam.

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Overcoming Obstacles

I took the original recipe from All Recipes. It was for one large cheesecake. I knew I wanted to make mini muffin-sized cakes, so I thought I’d give it a go. There was a great deal of the criticism that the cakes cracked and/or fell in on themselves. This did happen to me especially with the larger sizes. I read that you have to lower the temperature and I did that for batch two. I lowered it from 350 to 320 and it still fell and cracked—worse even. The good news is, not one of my mini muffin-sized cheesecakes cracked. They did fall in on themselves a bit, but not too much. Plus, I knew I’d be adorning them, so this actually worked out quite well.

I made two larger ones (shown below) and they both cracked and sunk in a great deal. But here’s the skinny: they tasted freaking fantastic. And you guys know how I feel about how things look, right? I’m not planning on winning awards for these. They look OK and they taste awesome. So who cares? Here are pictures of that cake. (Keep in mind, I pre-baked the crusts below for 10 minutes in a preheated 350 degree oven.)

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Not the best looking cake, right?

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But OMG so good. One bit in and I totally didn’t care what it looked like anymore.

I’m still very much learning all things cheesecake. In fact, last week I tried a non-bake variety and HATED it. It’s not often I throw out desserts, but that entire cake went into the trash. It was terrible, in my opinion. I will not be attempting the non-bake cheesecake ever again. Not my thing.

Otherwise? I love the stuff, but man can it be temperamental. I am researching ways to overcome the whole cracking situation and judging by what I’ve read so far this is a common problem that people are constantly trying to work out through trial and error. I do plan on doing this again and very soon so I will keep you posted on what I find. In the meantime, feel free to school me on this, cheesecake veterans; I’m all ears.

Also, these did freeze fine overnight. I thawed them to room temperature and baked a batch the following day—it worked out perfectly. So, you can always cut your day in half if you’d like.

Variations

Haven’t gone there yet! I want to try and perfect the technique first. (So, it’s likely I’ll never try a variation. heh.) Again, learn me something, Internet.

  • 1 cup graham cracker crumbs
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped walnuts
  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 5 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 3 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 3 eggs

Tuesdays With Murray: Chapter 119 (A Video)

I watched this video today and realized that from an outsider’s point of view, it’s a little sad. Hell, it even makes me a little sad and I know the truth, which is that 9 times out of 10, Emory wants Murray to do something and Murray does it and everyone is happy.

But then I started to imagine a grown up (and slightly sarcastic) Emory watching this and saying, “Oh, great. The only friend I had when I was little was a cat and even he wouldn’t play with me. Thanks, guys.” But I picture my younger brother’s voice in this imaginary conversation because my brother Ryan is the king of sarcasm and would totally say something like that to my mother. This is the same brother who recently taught my 2-year-old to say, “Oh my. Life is so hard.” And my son says this so full of lament, you’d have guessed him to be an old man who has spent his entire life working in a coal mine, supporting a family of five living in a Brooklyn, three-floor walk-up right near the sewage treatment plant. (There are coal mines in Brooklyn, right?)

Actually, that’s what he’s going to say to us whenever he’s older and watches this video: “Oh my. Life is so hard.”

Life can be hard sometimes, Emory. But it’s so worth it.

Also: Don’t believe anything Uncle Ryan tells you.

Mom It Down: Homemade Xmas Ornaments

Last week, Emory and I had fun with flour. We made christmas tree ornaments! I hadn’t done this since I was a kid, so my skills were rusty at best. But, boy was it ever fun!

I know this recipe isn’t edible, but if you’re anything like me, you’re looking for ways to amuse a toddler during the cold winter months. So I thought that given the season, I’d share this as today’s Mom It Down.

What you will need

  • Cookie sheet
  • Cookie cutters
  • Cabin fever
  • A little bit of patience

Ingredients

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 cup salt
  • 1 1/2 cups warm water

Mom It Down!

Sift the flour and salt together. Add the water. Mix it up.

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When the dough begins to form, you can start using your hands. If it’s too sticky, add some more flour.

Please note: You’ll want to knead the dough for as long as possible. (At least 10 minutes.) You don’t want the dough to rise while it’s baking.

Roll out some dough for yourself and give some to your little people too. My son made a huge mess. He loved it.

Also, this will happen:

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And they will likely make this face:

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And they’ll probably go in for seconds. And then you may have to take the dough away from them before they get a bellyache.

But I digress…

Roll the dough out as thin as possible. (The handprint on the far right in the picture below is far too thick and inconsistent; that one rose way too much. I lost the handprint almost entirely.)

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We did a few hand prints as well—you know, for the grandparents. (The one below was still a bit on the thick side. I ended up redoing this one and rolling it out even thinner.) Don’t forget to add the ribbon holes!

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Preheat oven to 250.

If time permits, let them sit out on the counter for an hour or so to dry out.

Bake for at least an hour. (I let mine bake for a bit longer. I wanted them good and hard.)

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We haven’t been able to find any food shellac. (I have no idea if that’s what it’s called.) We used poster paint because that’s what we had.

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This week, we’ll buy some ribbon and finalize them. I’ll post pictures of them when we’re finally done!

Overcoming Obstacles

The longer you let them sit out before baking, the lighter in color the dough will be at the end. And the thinner you roll out each ornament, the less of a chance each one will rise and/or crack.

I have to admit, we had several mishaps before we got to anything decent. With the first batch, I hadn’t rolled mine out thin enough so the moisture from the inside began to crack the outsides. It was definitely a learning experience! The good news is, he couldn’t have cared less about all my technical difficulties. He just wanted to play and paint. That said, we’ll probably give it another go this week. I think I have a better understanding as to how this is done and goodness knows we could use the indoor activity!

Variations

I read somewhere that someone added a little spice to the dough so they would smell great while baking. I haven’t tried this. I figure if I want to smell that, I’ll make me some homemade applesauce since it’s so freaking easy!

More than ever, I’d love any suggestions and/or pointers on this. Don’t hold back! Learn me something new, people.

Overcoming His Fear of the Subway

There was a time not so long ago that Emory was terrified of the subway. All we’d have to do is get near an entrance and he’d begin screaming, “NO CHOO-CHOO! NO, MAMA!” Whenever Toby Joe left for work, he’d ask that he not ride the choo-choo. And on several occasions we’d wake in the middle of the night to him screaming about it. It was a little sad.

Something had to be done. It’s downright impossible to live in New York City and not use the MTA. The subway is a must. My son was going to have overcome his fear. But how?

We’ve been working on him slowly over time. At first we just talked about it a lot. Toby would get home from work and talk about how great the choo-choo was. (Which is hilarious for reasons I’m sure you are all aware.) We’d discuss its tracks and where it would take us. We told him there was nothing to be afraid of. We compared them to Thomas and his brood. And then we started taking him on it again.

At first, he was guarded and pensive. But we talked him through it and once he was on, all was well. That took a couple of weekends of riding it together as a family.

On Saturday, we set out early to see the ice skaters and tree at Rockefeller Center. We rode the L train to 6th Avenue and then the F Train uptown. He loved it. He loved every minute of it. When we arrived at our destination, he didn’t care about the tree or the skaters; he wanted to continue riding the choo-choo.

My son’s fear has folded in on itself and has turned into a passion. Instead of throwing fits for suggesting he ride the subway, he’s throwing fits when we’re done for the day.

Now, Mama has to overcome her biggest fear: maneuvering toddler and stroller all by myself, up those stairs, and safely.

Tuesdays With Murray: Chapter 118 (Oreo's Law.)

I had a pretty great video to post today, but I really need to use today’s Murray post to talk about something else. I do hope you’ll forgive me, my fellow animal lovers.

You may already know this, but Murray was a feral kitten. Which means he had two options: he could have ended up the way that he is, which is to say loving and awesome; or he could have ended up becoming a feral cat, which is to say distrusting of humans and unfriendly. Thankfully, some kind and patient humans gave Murray a second chance.

Please note: THIS IS NOT ABOUT MONEY. :]

The Story

In June of this year, Oreo, a one-year-old pit bull was thrown off a six-story Brooklyn apartment building. Oreo suffered broken ribs and several broken bones, but miraculously survived the fall. She was rescued by the ASPCA and nursed back to health. Happy ending, right? Nope.

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A few weeks ago the ASPCA deemed her too violent and beyond emotional repair.  They ended her life. The dog that healed physically and still had a great deal of trouble trusting humans, was not given the chance to heal emotionally. This pains me beyond words. The thing that gets me the most about this story is that several smaller organizations begged the ASPCA for a chance at rehabilitating Oreo. Pets Alive, a reputable organization from New York state, offered to take Oreo and give her a second chance at life. The ASPCA refused and instead chose to end her life.

The Proposition

Assembly Member Micah Z. Kellner and Senator Thomas K. Duane have come up with “Oreo’s Law“. This law would give animals the second chance they deserve.

From Mr. Kellner’s Web site:

The bill, modeled on an existing law in California, is named Oreo’s Law in memory of the pit bull mix who became well-known after she survived abuse at the hands of her former owner, including a fall from a six-story building, but was eventually euthanized after the ASPCA determined that she was untreatably aggressive. Pets Alive Animal Sanctuary, a no-kill animal shelter located in the foothills of the Catskill Mountains, specializing in the rehabilitation and care of abused animals, offered to take Oreo, but the ASPCA refused the request.

As a dog owner and a foster parent for an animal rescue group, I was heartbroken to learn that Oreo was euthanized. When humane organizations volunteer their expertise in difficult cases, shelters should work with them to the fullest extent possible. This legislation will give tragically abused animals like Oreo another chance at life.

The Call To Action

That’s where we come in, my friends.

Please contact Assembly Member Micah Z. Kellner and State Senator Thomas K. Duane and thank them for giving a voice to those without one. You can leave a comment. Or you can contact Micah Kellner one of the ways listed below:

315 East 65 Street
New York, NY 10065
Tel 212-860-4906
Fax 917-432-2983
Email KellnerM@assembly.state.ny.us

If you’re a New York State resident, please take a few minutes out of your day and write to your Assembly Member and/or State Senator and ask them to support Oreo’s Law. If you know any New Yorkers, please let them know about this law and have them speak up about it. Even if you are one of those folks wary of pit bulls, this is about every animal out there—every last one.

This law will make it so other organizations are given the chance to give abused animals a second one.

If you have a blog, please write about the law and help get the word out. The biggest concern right now is getting some voice behind this. They need to know that we care. This law needs to come to life, in the absence of Oreo’s. If you need some more information or a link, Empty Cages Collective wrote a great post.

Other Ideas?

If you can think of other ideas, please post them. If you think of anything I missed, please let me know. I am new to this. And believe me, I know how hard it is to find time to reach out to people, so if there is anything I can do to make it easier, let me know. We need to get the word out there about this law.

Because really, who doesn’t deserve a second chance?

———————-

P.S. The video scheduled for today, will be published next week. I promise.

Mom It Down: Lady Grey Cookies

This is a perfect cookie for Santa. They’re easy to make, bite-sized and not too heavy. They remind me of Royal Dansk butter cookies. Plus, they go really well with a hot cup of tea or a glass of milk.

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I lifted this recipe from Twinings and modified the technique ever so slightly. I hope you find it as easy as I have!

What you will need

  • Mixer
  • Cookie sheet

Ingredients

  • 1 stick (4 oz) butter
  • 1/2 cup (4oz) sugar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 4 Lady Grey teabags
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp lemon zest

Mom it Down!

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Take 1/4 cup hot tea water and add four Lady Grey teabags. Let that sit for a bit. The bags will absorb a great deal of the water. You should be left with a concentrate that’s at least 1 tablespoon. (We used loose tea and therefore made 1 big bag.)

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While your tea is steeping, cream together butter and sugar.

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Add egg and lemon zest.

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Add tea concentrate. Mix that up.  Add flour (half cup at a time) and baking powder. Mix that until dough forms.

Remove the dough from the mixer. Flour a board and roll out your dough. It will be wet to the touch, so you should do this quickly. I feel it’s easier to form it now rather than wait until it’s chilled. It’s up to you.

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Loosely wrap it in Saran wrap and refrigerate for at least several hours or overnight.

Later

Preheat oven to 350.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator. If necessary, reform the dough into a nice circle. Cut off cookies up to 1/2 inch thick. (Thinner the crispier. I mixed mine up a bit.)

Bake on ungreased cookie sheet for 12 – 15 minutes. (Mine needed 13)

You’re finished!

Overcoming Obstacles

I can’t really think of much that gets in the way here. They really are simple. I already included What I feel makes these even easier by forming the cookie dough before it’s chilled. This cuts down on forming the dough later.

Variations

I want to try these using chai. (Remember the chai muffins I made last spring?) I’m also thinking combining orange zest with Lady Grey’s lover, Earl would work well. In fact, I kind of want to try these using a bunch of our favorite teas. We’re tea lovers over here.

These cookies are so versatile, I think you could steer them in several different directions when it comes to flavor. But Lady Grey works perfectly.

These can also be made vegan really easily.

As usual, let me know if you have any comments or suggestions! And thanks to Twinings for the recipe!