Super Soft Snickerdoodle Cookies

Snickerdoodles

Some people just love snickerdoodles. I wouldn’t say I love them, but the spices used in them (cinnamon and nutmeg) remind me of autumn, which is clearly the season superior to all the others. The nice thing about them is the spice is present but not overwhelming and the cookie isn’t heavy at all – all the while being easy to make! What else could you ask for?

From The Kitchn website, here is the recipe I used:

Ingredients:
For the cookies:
1 c (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1/2 c dark brown sugar, lightly packed
1 c white sugar
3 c flour
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract

For the cinnamon sugar:
1/4 c white sugar
1 tbsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg

Instructions
Preheat the oven to 425° F.

Melt the butter in a saucepan or in the microwave and let it cool while you mix the dry ingredients. Stir together the sugars, flour, spices, baking soda and salt. Whisk the eggs into the cooled butter and add the vanilla. Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until just incorporated.

In a shallow bowl, mix together the white sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. Form 1 1/2-inch balls of dough and roll them in the cinnamon sugar. Place them on an unlined, ungreased baking sheet and flatten slightly. Bake for 7 minutes then remove and let cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes. Remove to a wire rack.

London

Wimbledon

I love London. I had the opportunity to live and to study there earlier in life. It’s a full, vibrant, ever-changing city. I had a large trip planned to visit the capital and then see southern Spain, but with additional expenses forthcoming (post about that soon), I decided to change the trip to only see London. I still have some friends there and my friend Claire was going to be there around the same time so the trip worked out well.

A highlight of the trip was getting lucky enough to get tickets to see Wimbledon on the second Monday of the tournament. The matches on this day, known as “Manic Monday,” are some of the best in the sport. Plus, getting to be at Centre Court, probably the most famous address is tennis, was something special.

I was able to see Serena William, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, who went on to win Wimbledon!

Check out Flickr for some pics.

Oatmeal Cookies With Peanut Butter M&Ms

oatmeal cookies with peanut butter M&Ms

I really love M&Ms (who doesn’t?) and perhaps my favorite M&M variety is peanut butter M&Ms. They have just enough peanut butter so you know they’re peanut butter M&Ms, but not so much that it takes away the chocolate from the M&M itself.

Thus, I felt it right to make oatmeal cookies featuring peanut butter M&Ms. I’ve made peanut butter chocolate chip oatmeal cookies before (basically my favorite cookie ingredients all rolled into one) but thought I’d go with simple here.

I enjoyed the cookies, and the M&Ms were enhanced by virtue of being with the dry oats in the cookie. However, I felt the cookies had too much oatmeal but others didn’t seem to have that complaint.

The recipe follows:

Ingredients
1 c butter, softened
3/4 c packed brown sugar
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 1/4 c flour
1 tsp baking soda
3 c oatmeal
1 tsp vanilla
2 c peanut butter M&Ms

Instructions
Prehat the oven to 375° F.

Cream the butter and sugars. Add the eggs. Mix in the flour, baking soda and vanilla. Add the oatmeal. Stir in the M&Ms.

Drop the cookie dough by rounded spoonful on a greased baking sheet. Bake at for 8 minutes or until the bottoms are starting to turn light golden brown.

Remove the pan from the oven and let the cookies cool on the pan for 5 minutes. Transfer them to a wire rack and let them cool completely. The cookies will firm up a little bit as they cool.

Mt. Rushmore

My parents and I always wanted to see Mt. Rushmore. Honestly, I was mostly intrigued by the idea of four men’s faces being blasted into the side of a mountain. I see it as the next step Americans would take after doing the normal statue-of-men thing. So, I went into the experience pretty skeptical as to if I would enjoy it.

And, truth be told, I actually enjoyed the monument a lot. It has a gravitas and really doesn’t come off as imposing or overbearing the way a statue of Lenin in the U.S.S.R. might. You can view the monument from a viewing platform and also walk along it’s base via the Presidential Trail.

Additionally, the area around Mt. Rushmore, especially Custer State Park, is very scenic so we also took the opportunity to visit Devil’s Tower in Wyoming (made famous by the film “Close Encounters of the Third Kind“) and Badlands National Park. Living in the densely populated East Coast, you forget how vast parts of the United States are.

We stayed in Rapid City which was only about 30 minutes from Mt. Rushmore. The town was small, but the downtown area was pretty quaint. People were very friendly, too, which is a nice change.

A few pictures are below and more can be found on Flickr.

rushmore
Mt. Rushmore

devils tower
Devil’s Tower

badlands
Badlands National Park

Chocolate-Crusted Banana Blondies

I wanted to try a new blondie recipe I read about in the New York Times recently and used a coworker’s birthday as an excuse to do just that. The recipe included many things I love in sweets, especially chocolate, sugar and rum. The recipe was surprising easy for a New York Times recipe, which I often find to be complicated to make and difficult to find ingredients for. The blondies were delicious. The banana in the “middle” coupled with the chocolate crust on the bottom really balance together for a complex taste.

This recipe, unlike most American recipes, uses mass to measure most of the ingredients. While it was not something I was used to, I actually found the process of weighing the ingredients faster than the process of measuring each ingredient. Plus it saved time on cleaning up all those measuring instruments.

The recipe and pictures of the process are below.

Ingredients
2 1/2 sticks unsalted butter (1 1/4 c), more for greasing pan
200 g chocolate wafer cookies (to make about 3 c crumbs) (I used Nabisco Famous Chocolate Wafer, found either in the cookie aisle or near the ice cream)
55 g light brown sugar (about 1/4 c)
3 g fine sea salt (about 1/2 tsp), plus a pinch
2 ripe bananas, mashed
2 large eggs
455 g dark brown sugar (about 2 1/2 cups)
2 tbsp dark rum or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (obviously, I used rum)
130 g all-purpose flour (about 1 c)
80 g toasted walnuts, chopped (about 1/2 c)
Flaky sea salt, for sprinkling (optional)

Instructions
Heat oven to 375° F. Line a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with parchment, and grease with butter.

Melt 1 stick of butter in a saucepan over low heat or in microwave. Put the chocolate wafer cookies in the bowl of a food processor and process to make fine crumbs. Add the light brown sugar, melted butter and a pinch of salt. Process until the mixture is the consistency of damp sand. Dump the mixture into the pan and press it into an even layer. Bake for 7 to 10 minutes, or until the surface is firm. Remove the pan and set aside.

crust
Crust ready for the oven

Reduce oven heat to 350 degrees.

In a large skillet over medium heat, melt 12 tbsp butter, then let it cook until the foam subsides and butter turns a deep nut brown, about 5 minutes. Cool.

butter
Browned butter

In a large bowl, whisk together bananas, eggs, dark brown sugar and rum. Whisk in brown butter. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour and fine salt. Fold into batter along with the toasted walnuts. Pour the mixture over the prepared crust and spread evenly. Sprinkle top with flaky salt if using.

Transfer pan to oven and bake until the top is firm and a toothpick inserted in the center emerges with a few crumbs attached (or clean) but not wet, 45 to 55 minutes. Cool completely on a wire rack; cut into 24 bars.

blondies ready for oven
Blondies ready for the oven

finished blondies
Finished blondies

Japan

I recently got back from a trip to Japan that I took with my friend Debra. The trip was planned since July, and I was really excited for it. I had not been to east Asia yet, and I was looking forward to seeing a very different culture. We went for ten days at the end of March, and we both thoroughly enjoyed our trip. Debra lives in San Francisco, so we flew separately to Tokyo and met at the hotel we were staying at.

The flight over to Japan was a particular treat as I cashed in some miles to fly Japan Airlines first class to Tokyo. The service was so outstanding it really must be experienced to be believed. Hopefully everyone will be able to experience something like it at least once in their life. When I was making my seat into a bed to get some sleep, one of the three flight attendants who were serving me asked if she could make the bed. She then brought out a mattress, made the bed, and tucked me in! They were very attentive to my seafood “allergy” (that I don’t like to eat it) and it was just out of this world over the top.

JAL Legroom
Tons of legroom

First Class on JAL
My first class seat on Japan Airlines

dinner
Steak dinner

dessert
Dessert

Tokyo was our main shopping portal to Japan. While there were plenty of the “normal” international shopping stores in the city, what’s great is there is so much you’ve never seen or heard of before. It was fun to take in these new shops and items, and I did restrain myself pretty well. But, when there are amazing stores like Tokyu Hands and Loft, it was easy to get a little carried away.

One thing about Japan was immediately evident: the Japanese love to serve you, they love stationary, and above all they love to wrap up your purchases in as many layers as possible. One item I purchased as a gift was wrapped in wrapping paper, placed neatly with a bow inside of a shopping bag, and then covered with a plastic bag to protect the shopping bag as it was drizzling outside. And honestly, they took such pleasure in offering that service.

We next went to Kyoto via the bullet train, or Nozomi Shinkansen. These trains go 190 mph, and what was amazing to me is the frequency at which they run. Not only are there bullet trains leaving every 3-10 minutes during rush hour, but also there are the slower version of the bullet trains and the “regular” commuter trains. Obviously Japan chose to invest in this mode of transportation long before other countries and that investment has clearly paid off with nice, fast, reliable train service. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a similar train service from Washington to New York?

Kyoto was simply stunning. We had the good fortune (and planning efforts!) to be in Japan during the height of their cherry-blossom season, and Kyoto is particularly well known for these gorgeous trees. I had pictured the trees showing up in large parks in Japan (similar to how they’re around the Tidal Basin in D.C.) but instead I was pleased to see they were just everywhere, lining streets and canals all over Japan’s cities.

Some of Japan’s largest and most significant temples were in and around Kyoto, and they all had such lovely gardens that were very well maintained. We even took a nice day trip outside of Kyoto to a monkey park and bamboo forest.

Lastly, we had a few days in Osaka before we headed home. It is Japan’s second most populous city and it felt very futuristic. The highways were elevated through downtown, so it felt very “Jetsons”-like at night seeing the cars “fly” through the metropolis.

All-in-all the trip was great. I was pleasantly surprised to find Japan not too expensive, either – definitely not cheap, but probably cheaper than most European cities.

We flew home via San Francisco, where I said my goodbyes to Debra. I’d love to go back and see Japan’s countryside so hopefully that wish can be fulfilled soon.

A number of pictures from the trip are below and more can be found on my Flickr page. The entire Japan album is on Shutterfly.

Cherry blossoms in Ueno Park
Cherry blossoms in Ueno Park

Tokyo Metro
Me on the Tokyo Metro

Mirrors
Debra and me reflecting through ceiling mirrors

Kumano Shrine
Kumano Shrine in Tokyo

Seikanji
Seikanji in Kyoto

Kinkakuji
Kinkakuji Temple in Kyoto

Cat
Cats in Kyoto

Kyoto Canal
Cherry-blossom lined canal in Kyoto

Tenryuji
Tenryuji outside Kyoto

Tenryuji
Debra and me in Tenryuji

Monkey park
Monkey park outside of Kyoto

Monkey park
Monkey park outside of Kyoto

Outside Kyoto
Outside of Kyoto

Vending machines
Debra loves vending machines

Osaka Metro
Debra on the Osaka Metro

Glica
Glica running man in Osaka

Ireland

I went to Ireland earlier this month. I flew in and out of Dublin but I had visited the capital city about 10 years ago on a long weekend when I was studying in London so, I took the opportunity to quickly catch up there, but I tried to spend the rest of my time in other parts of the country. In that vain, I took a daytrip to Belfast, Northern Ireland, and then went to Cork for one night (basically two days). I enjoyed my time in all the cities. Cork was very quaint and Belfast was larger than I imagined. All of the political murals in the city are pretty far from the city centre and I took a Black Cab tour to see them.

The visit there was pretty quick and there was a lot of time spent on Irish Rail, but it was nice to get away and relax and not be hurried into seeing a million things.

A few photos from my trip are below and the rest can be found on my Flickr page.

The MAC
Lobby at The MAC

streetlight
Streetlights in Cork

Cork
View of Cork from the Church of St Anne

pews
Pews in St. Fin Barre’s Cathedral in Cork