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Thursday, January 23, 2014

If You Like It Then You Shoulda Put a Label on It

Now that we are almost a month into 2014, you should have had plenty of time to come up with a brilliant New Year's Resolution, and you have likely spent time and money pursuing it.  Bravo!  As of this week, you have probably let yourself off the hook and settled back into being you, for which you get an even bigger and more heartfelt "Bravo!"  I've been waiting for you.  Welcome back!

I am many things, but I am not a Resolutioner.  God knows over the years I tried.  I came up with good ideas--read more, learn to play the piano, check my bank balance daily--and I never did them. NEVER.  Because I don't like being told what to do, even by myself.  I get ornery.  And rebellious.  Any why resolutions only now, at the beginning of the year?  Why can't I have a resolution in April? So I stopped resolutions altogether.  

That doesn't mean I don't have a New Year's ritual.  Actually, it's a year-round thing, but it kicks into high gear every January.  I love to organize.  I tell myself it's not in an obsessive and perfect Martha Stewart kind of way, though I confess to one of the addictions most organizers have:  labels.  

Come with me, if you dare, to witness the January 2014 "This is NOT a resolution;  this is my life" organizational frenzy....(Fear not: NO label makers appear in this blogpost).

This season, it all started in November with a cookie jar--two months before my annual organizational frenzy.  A very special cookie jar from Capital Kitchen in Montpelier, Vermont:

A cookie jar with a chalkboard:  BRILLIANT!  Like so many other things in life, I didn't realize how much I needed it until the moment I saw it.  And then I was all weak in the knees and longing to run straight home with it (a 4+ hour drive) and bake cookies and fill it and write on it.  So, I took a deep breath, which did absolutely nothing, because I was completely giddy over a cookie jar with a chalk board on it.  It was, I realized, irrational.  So, I called over Kelly and Lori, who were shopping with me.  Kelly and Lori both work in the mental health field.  Kelly and Lori could help calm me down.

Aren't they the picture of mental health?

They were brilliantly useless:  "Buy it!  It's great!"  The best friends are the ones who enable your healthiest habits.  Having satisfied my need to label cookies, I felt calm and safe in the world.  Until the next day, when I encountered these:

What's that?  Chalkboard LABELS!?
OhmydearsweetJesus.  ARE YOU KIDDING ME!?  How is it possible that I did not know that such things exist in the world?  (I realize that Martha has probably been selling them for years, but I was blissfully unaware.)  I felt like President Bush The First, who walked into a grocery store and was fascinated by the high tech world of check-out scanners.  Except that chalkboard labels are decidedly low tech.  I was on a slippery slope...a few weeks later, my kitchen cupboards looked like this (and it wasn't even January yet):

Aren't they lovely?  In a fugue state, I attacked every possible canister in my house with labels and chalk.  I couldn't move fast enough.  When I was done, I sat back and surveyed the labeled, organized wonder that was my kitchen.  Then I cooked dinner and noticed this:

Reality bites.
No.  I am not simply showing you a picture of my disorganized shelves.  I am showing what happens as soon as you use your brilliantly labeled canister--in this case my glass milk bottle full of jasmine rice.  How do I know it has jasmine rice in it?  Clearly NOT because of the chalk label, which was completely erased as soon as I carefully plucked it from the shelf.  I know what's in it, because I put it in there!  Which made me realize something essential:  I don't really need the labels.  They aren't telling me a damn thing.  But here's the thing:  I still love them!  Completely irrational, I know.  

Facing an existential crisis, I sat down with my (unlabeled) glass of Cabernet and started thinking...what does a label really tell you?

Maybe it was the wine or the harpy in my brain who regularly screams "Organize! Now!", but the bottom line was this realization:  I love labels, useless or otherwise.  Apparently labels that I make have a curious, dopamine-like effect, which calms my soul and the harpy.  Especially when they are cute and they don't rub off like chalk:

A label may or may not tell you exactly what is inside--it just needs to look good and sell.   

January was approaching quickly, and my label-loving need to organize kicked into high gear, which explains these:

Find these babies at Home Decorators Collection
I know. I know.  More chalkboards.  But these are different.  They are on crates.  Crates are useful, even when the labels are not.  So now my chalkboarded canisters are in good company:

Hungry?  Snacks are here!

Need a cookie cutter?  Of course you do!

Surely you are not surprised I need two bins for all my cookie cutters.

This makes me incredibly happy--a home for all my sprinkles! 

Admission: I spent far too much time on this.
So here I am in January, organizing and compartmentalizing my life to my heart's desire.  Labeling everything in site with chalk, digging through the crap on my desk so I can see the bottom again, and finally--now that I am organized--baking.   What's in the cookie jar this week?  So happy you asked! 

Empirically proven (by me) sustain you through any organizing project.

Chocolate Sugar Cookies
For this recipe, I take the traditional sugar cookie recipe from Judy Rosenberg's Rosie's Bakery Chocolate-Packed, Jam-Filled, Butter-Rich, No-Holds-Barred Cookie Book and kick it up a notch with chocolate.  The dog cookie cutters (like my chocolate lab above) are not required, but I do highly recommend them.  For cookie cutters, I love Ann Clark, Ltd. They make an excellent product in many shapes and sizes (like this precious dog), and they are located in Vermont.

The Cookie
2 c. flour
¼ c. Dutch-processed cocoa
½ c. granulated sugar
½ c. confectioner’s sugar
1/8 tea. Baking soda
1/8 tea. Cream of tartar
½ tea. Salt
12 ½ tbs. (1 and ½ sticks plus ½ tbs.) unsalted butter, cold, cut into 12 pieces
2 ounces melted and cooled semi-sweet chocolate
1 lg. egg
1 tbs. vanilla
The Glaze
1 cup minus 2 tbs confectioner’s sugar
¼ c. heavy (whipping) cream
food coloring (optional)
Rosie's cookbook suggest using a food processor with the dough attachment for all the mixing.  It is not necessary—you can use your standing mixer.  I like to use the food processor, though—it is really fast.
1.     Place the flour, cocoa, both sugars, the baking soda, cream of tartar, and salt in a food processor and process for 5 seconds.
2.     Distribute the butter over the flour mixture, and process until the dough resembles coarse meal, about 30 seconds.  Scrape it down from the sides as needed.
3.     Stir the cooled semi-sweet chocolate, egg and vanilla together in a cup.  With the processor running, pour this mixture through the feed tube and process until the dough comes together, about 35 seconds.
4.     Remove the dough from the processor, place it on a work surface, and knead it for several seconds.
5.     Divide the dough into two slabs, wrap each in plastic wrap, and refrigerate 1-2 hours.
6.     When you are ready to bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Line several baking sheets with parchment paper.
7.     Remove one slab of dough from the refrigerator and place it between two fresh pieces of plastic wrap.  Roll it out 1/8 of an inch thick.
8.     Remove the top piece of plastic wrap and cut out your cookies.  Gather scraps and refrigerate for re-rolling.  Repeat with second slab of dough.
9.     Bake the cookies until firm with lightly golden edges, usually 8-10 minutes.
10. The glaze is wonderful.  Whisk the confectioner’s sugar and cream in a medium-sized bowl until smooth and creamy with a consistency you like.  However, the chocolate cookie is delicious on its own.

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip

This recipe is the one I use after years of tinkering. It's a "cakey" oatmeal cookie.

1 stick unsalted butter
1/2 c. brown sugar (packed)
1/2 c. white sugar

2 eggs

1 1/4 c. flour
2 1/2 c. quick oats
1 tea. baking soda
1 tea. salt
1 ½ tea. vanilla
1 c. semi-sweet choc. chips
1 c. dark chocolate chips
½-3/4 c. milk chocolate chips

Drop cookies by the teaspoonful onto greased cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 12-13 min. or less, depending on your oven. Makes about 1 1/2 doz. to 2 doz., depending on how big you make the cookies.

Happy 2014! Resolutioners and other useless labels welcome here. Just be sure to share the love!