just bones | tahini chocolate chip cookies

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When I was young we had a picture book called Birthday Bear. I don't remember much of the actual story but the family lived on a farm and the book had the most beautiful illustrations - every time fall reaches this nook of Norfolk I think of those pages. The pictures were those quintessential countryside images: rolling fields that stitch together into a valley, patches of green and brown and maybe some gold, a blue gray sky, birds, maybe the skyline punctuated by a distant chapel. There’s a scene just like that one of the places where I walk the dogs - the landscape just flattens out and you can see far away. By fall the tones are more muted, if summer was a yell then by fall you have the whisper. Sage and faded olive from the winter beet crop, squares of field left fallow, plump soil in chestnut, coffee and hazel. A tractor ploughs, red and cheerful, alabaster gulls ride the wake, dipping and diving, bright against a concrete sky. There’s rain in the air, still a drizzle, lacing the wind like a promise.  A skinny stretch of tarmac traces alongside, a seam on the quilt. Pulling it all together.

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There are days when the sky is alive - Norfolk is empty, so there is a lot of sky. Early mornings they’ll be streaky gray and inky blue, scattered with whispy pink and coral. And there’ll be traffic. Swallows swoop and doves dive and the air is just filled with chatting geese. Hundreds and hundreds of geese, in their perfect formations, circling the fields to land or passing through or taking off again, as they have always. Compared to the quiet colours on the trees and on the ground sometimes the sunset seems overly loud - pyrotechnic violet and red, with the orange sun dipping below the tree line. Most of the trees are now just bones and black silhouettes but there are a few trees along the highways that are still fall poster girls - the whole spice cabinet of earth tones. Basil and dusky thyme green, saffron and turmeric, smoky red cayenne and paprika. As much as I love art I was never very good at it, forget being able to draw well. But I’ve always noticed colours and shapes and movement so when I look out at this time every year, I always wish I could draw. There's something about drizzle, moody light, ground frost, that sits well with creativity. It would be nice to draw, to capture the muted and the quiet and the feeling of more to come. 

“He found himself wondering at times, especially in the autumn, about the wild lands, and strange visions of mountains that he had never seen came into his dreams.” - J.R.R. Tolkien

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In my spare time (there's not much of that, trust me) I study cookie science. Yeah, it’s a thing. Cookies are intricate pieces of chemistry, or so you'll find if you read around. I may only have one real cookie recipe here and they’re honestly not my favourite sweet but I think about cookies a strange amount of time. They’re fascinating. So tahini cookies. You a tahini fan? I love middle eastern flavors - tahini, cardamom, pomegranate, cumin, sumac, things like that. A trick to cookies that spread well is sugar - you need a lot of it, and the bitter edge of tahini takes away from the cookies becoming sugar bombs, while adding some fat which also helps the spread. Hence palm-sized chewy cookies with cute bulldog wrinkles and soft centers aahhh so good. They're sort of nutty and... interesting. Much more three dimensional than your average ccc. Chocolate chip cookie. Anyway things to note: I don't like a chocolate overkill so I go on the lower end of the chocolate spectrum but take your pick - though use a dark (like 70% cacao) bar and not chips because chips are made to be un-melty and therefore un-photogenic. And this is by far my favorite brand of tahini, I order it from the States which may seem strange but it's like 500x better than anything I've found in Europe.

Also, the recipe is somewhat specific with the whole thing of taking the cookies out early, dropping them on the counter to remove air, and leaving them to firm up, but it's necessary for cookies that hold up but are still flat, soft and perfect. These cookies are so good, idk if I can now go back to the regular kind. A bit like once you've listened to the remix of a song and then when you hear the original it just doesn't sound right?
Ok good talk. Love you guys xx

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tahini chocolate chip cookies

makes around 10 biiiig cookies  // dairy free

1 1/4 cups (137g) spelt flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 c (120ml) tahini
1/4c (60ml) coconut oil, soft room temp (solid)
1 free range egg
3/4c (150g) coconut sugar
1/4c (50g) turbinado sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
60g-100g (2oz-3.5oz) dark chocolate, chopped coarsely from a bar (70%-85%)


Preheat the oven to 180'C, 350'F and line two cookie sheets.
In a large bowl, whisk together the first three ingredients.

In the bowl of a stand mixer or in a large bowl (with a hand mixer), combine the tahini, coconut oil, sugars and egg . Mix on low speed until the batter is dark and smooth. Add the vanilla and mix once more.

Add the tahini mix to the dry and using a wooden spoon, combine the two. The dough will be very stiff and will look like it won't turn out because there's too much flour, but keep at it. It will come together. As it does, fold in the chopped chocolate. It's a good arm workout.

Once you have a dough ball, portion it out into large balls of 3 tablespoons or so each (I smoosh two scoops together) and leave a good amount of space in  between because they will spread.

Bake for 14-16 minutes, they will have spread. This is important - they will not be fully set yet, so drop the pan on a hard surface (scare the family dogs) for nice pug-like wrinkles. Allow to cool at least 10 minutes so they are set - otherwise you will have a puddle. Granted, a pretty tasty puddle, but if you want to hold your cookie rather than lick if off a baking sheet, wait a bit.

They taste best right after they're baked (obviously) but they still taste amazing a couple of days later. Try to make them last one afternoon.

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more chocolate

can we dumb it down | chocolate + cherry rye oatmeal cookies

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I don't love talking about politics, not here or anywhere else. I also don't love valentine's day. But I think, considering everything that's going on right now, that it's a bit hard to miss the irony. I walked into the store the other day and looked at the news stand at the front. The newspapers, headlines to the back page, filled with hate. Hate from the people for a campaign that's built on it; the words of its supporters. People killed, families torn apart. The shelf next to the papers, the valentine's cards. The pinks and reds and roses, telling husbands and wives and friends you love them.

I don't propose we all start to love everyone, because we don't all live in some fair trade commune in southern Philadelphia. Maybe we need to rethink about how we think about love. Perhaps it's been over complicated. Perhaps we should just dumb it down to acceptance and quiet respect. Not even acceptance, just tolerance. That there will be people who don't want to celebrate valentine's day. That there'll be girls who want to show off their hair and others who'd prefer to keep it covered. That there are happy families with parents who never married and content kids with parents who married in a church. That there are some guys that love toting guns and driving tractors and there are some who curate art and live in lofts with exposed brick.

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chocolate + cherry rye oatmeal cookies

Maybe it's because we're actually scared. Maybe have good reason to be. Maybe we're not as accepting as we thought we were. Maybe it's because fewer and fewer families are actually composed of a mother, a father, two kids, a dog, a suburban detached house with a double garage and a toyota. Maybe the acceptance of change is on the outside. Maybe we did it because it's the cool thing to do, to feign openness; maybe it became trendy. Maybe, deep down, we cling to tradition. The tradition that love is romance, or perhaps duty to care. For soul mates, your children, a sibling. Maybe it's what we were taught. We grew up watching TV shows were people give each other candy hearts and pink cards and wait breathlessly for the popular boy to ask them to the dance. But maybe things have changed. Maybe now there are people getting hurt, pushed aside, loosing opportunities. And there's no moral high ground. You know how you read everywhere, every day, that we can't go on eating processed wheat and sugar because it's just not modern? Not sustainable. Not healthy. People have seemed very happy to jump off the ship of what health food once was, into a very stormy sea and onto a very shaky lifeboat that is what eating well has now become. In the same way, maybe love as it once was isn't sustainable, healthy or modern. Would we abandon our ship of chocolates and slinky black dresses and acceptance being cool? Watch the sinking of the concept with which we're comfortable? People will moan that we have jumped ship and that I said it myself. That we're not all married in churches anymore, we're ok that some people don't marry at all, some of us are hipsters these days. But love was simply supposed to keep people afloat, stop them from getting hurt, stop the coldness. Whatever we've done, then, is far from love.

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On the one hand we've hijacked the concept. Not just that it's cool to claim tolerance. The number of bloggers and social media people who sign off with a 'love you friends'. People ask you in class whether you know the funny guy, and you're supposed to say 'him? I love him! he's so funny'. We're supposed to love our friends, right? So is this our broader, trendy definition? If it is, why I am I so put off by saying that I 'love' the neighbours? They're fine, but to say I love them would be going a bit far. Because, like everything else, we've taken love out of context sometimes, when kicking the tradition is cool and ok, detached. On the internet, it goes out to too many people to really think about. The funny guy? He'll never find out you said that.

Your friends? Well, maybe, you love them in a way. If love can encompass actual, quiet tolerance of individual quirks, warmth and acceptance, then it's there. Acceptance of differences and that you'll never see some things the same way, that your values and priorities might even clash. Maybe it's just not been something people think about. That love could be much simpler than the marriage-or-not debate, than a cold analysis of the number of broken families, and a whole lot more simple than dinner dates and bouquets. More rational than trying to make acceptance the new in thing. Maybe it could just be letting people walk down the street without feeling unsafe; or being able to take public transport without funny stares or being asked where you're from. Maybe we do love our friends because we put up with all their eccentricities, like we do our own family. Tolerance for differences has always been there, as part of love, in our living with kids and siblings and soul mates. Maybe we can stretch that out a bit - just the tolerance, to all the people around us. The hate has evolved, maybe it's time that love does too. It's not love as we know it. But then it's not just candy hearts and popular boys and the world as they said it was, either.

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But there are cookies and there will be cookies as long as I'm around :) since I posted the house loaf cake a few weeks ago, I now present the house cookie. I pretty much sum up its amazingess in the recipe header but seriously. So good. Rye flour isn't bitter as you may have thought, it's actually quite mild if used with sweet, rich goodies (cherries, hi) and the cocoa really highlights the beautiful colour. The little flecks of oatmeal add some chunky texture and the cherries are so moist and sweet. They'll be a bit more puck-like than regular cookies because of the oil but still. So good. To share, on Valentine's Day. Whether with your little loved crowd or a bigger crew. treat yourself. Big hugs and cookies for you all xx

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Ps. I would've made something for any doggie loves you have but Prune is meant to be on a diet (!!!!) so you could make these if you'd like, my monkeys are crazy about them.

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chocolate + cherry rye oatmeal cookies

Little pucks of goodness - slightly malty rye, the color and richness of dark cocoa. Plump, velvety, sweet cherries. Light flecks of chewy oatmeal. Infinitely loveable. 
// makes 18-20 medium cookies // dairy free

1 cup (110g) rye flour
2/3 cup (70g) rolled oats
1/3 cup (40g) natural cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup (100g) dark muscavado sugar
1/4 cup (50g) turbinado sugar
1 free range egg
1/3cup (75g) melted coconut oil
1/2 cup (75g) unsweetened dried cherries, coarsely chopped if large
1 -2 tablespoons of any milk, as needed


Preheat the oven to 180’C, 350’F. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the rye flour, rolled oats, salt, baking soda. Add the cocoa powder, you may need to sift it into the bowl if it’s very clumpy. Mix together so evenly combined and set aside.

In a small bowl, add the melted coconut oil and the two sugars, stir well with a flexible spatula. Beat in the egg and vanilla extract.

Combine the wet mix with the dry oat mix and stir together well, you may need to use a stiff wooden spoon for this since the dough is quite thick. If it’s way too dry (this depends on the cut of your rye flour) slowly add a little milk, teaspoon at a time. Fold in the dried cherries.

Using a medium cookie scoop or heaped tablespoons, portion out the dough. Use the bottom of a glass/measuring cup to flatten each poof into a disk, leaving about 3cm/ an inch between.

Bake the cookies for 13-15 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through.

Allow to cool on the sheets for about 2 minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.

The cookies will keep for about 4 days in an airtight container, but are something else straight from the oven 

notes

I think these could take some other goodies as add-ins too – about 1/2 cup worth. Hazelnuts might be nice. If you’re feeling decadent, half a cup (75gish) chopped dark chocolate would be amazing. Next time…


more chocolate

in the back of my mind | Gingerbread cookies

nutmeg and pear|whole grain coconut oil gingerbread cookies - dairy & refined sugar free
nutmeg and pear|whole grain coconut oil gingerbread cookies - dairy & refined sugar free
nutmeg and pear|whole grain coconut oil gingerbread cookies - dairy & refined sugar free

They asked me to be Mary. I think it came more down to the fact that I was one of the few dark- haired girls, but the others were jealous anyway. All I really had to do was sit on the stage in some kind of a gown, behind the 'manger' and rock the baby every now and then. The village school was a Church of England School (I only recently realized I spent two years of my life saying a prayer every morning, without having any idea of what I was saying. ah the innocence of primary school ) so the annual nativity play was quite a show, even more so when you're five years old.

Most winters in that part of Suffolk weren't too cold. Usually clear, bright winter sunshine, sharp wind off the North Sea, I managed in tights and black suede boots and somehow avoided wearing a winter hat. Still, I was a sickly kid, one of those who was perpetually out with an ear ache, a scary cough, on antibiotics, vaguely asthmatic. The year I was Mary it was a chest infection. I remember the burning pain, like my little ribs were a cage, a cage too small for the bird that was valiantly flapping its wings to escape. I coughed so hard my whole body shook, I couldn't leave my bed, my mum gave up going to work and read books with me, my dad stayed up all night watching The Wombles (does anyone else remember them?). This year it was a gray winter, there was no watery sunshine through milky clouds to dry out my damp lungs, that ever-present wind left people hurrying from house to car with scarves up to their ears, hands shoved deep in pockets.

nutmeg and pear|whole grain coconut oil gingerbread cookies - dairy & refined sugar free
nutmeg and pear|whole grain coconut oil gingerbread cookies - dairy & refined sugar free

Those low hanging gray clouds were like the feathers of the doves that sat on our fence, cooing softly, like snowfall on a slate roof. My dad would look up at the skies and say "snow skies", my chest would burn, I'd hope he was right, I wanted a white Christmas, I spent another December afternoon at the doctor's office and coughing myself to sleep.

The other girls were probably hoping that I'd be too sick to come in and play Mary. It was clear that I wouldn't be in the choir, singing Little Donkey and We Three Kings, but the teachers said I could just come in and sit on stage as planned. My grandparents plied me with marshmallows 'for strength', I wore the gown and sat behind the manger, the others sang about Bethlehem and yonder star. I wondered if it snowed there, if Mary had been able to cough on her donkey ride, whether yonder star was that brightness I saw from my bed when I lay awake at night, the white light that left little pools of silver in the puddles.

nutmeg and pear|whole grain coconut oil gingerbread cookies - dairy & refined sugar free
nutmeg and pear|whole grain coconut oil gingerbread cookies - dairy & refined sugar free

It started to snow. I was back to school by the last week of term. Forced to wear a hat and scarf. I wasn't happy because it's not the kind of thing that princesses wore and jeez mum I am a princess. It was just a light flurry, airy white flakes, like the dusting of flour on country bread. I was sitting by the window, they were playing Christmas songs, I was making an ornament out of dried pasta and silver spray paint, then a chubby fairy. By the time it was break, the snow was gone, but it was like a promise. The skies were still dove gray, small puddles on the ground were freezing, I could feel the burn through my jacket.

nutmeg and pear|whole grain coconut oil gingerbread cookies - dairy & refined sugar free

One morning it started in earnest. I dropped my cheese on toast to climb up onto the couch by my sister, to watch the fat flakes come down hard. It was like those American tv shows we watched, where they could build snowmen and throw snowballs. We went to school feeling light, cheery as the Christmas mantel. The adults murmured on the playground that we'd be home by lunch, the boiler was on its way out. Our dad came to pick us up and we told him our big plans. We needed a snowfort, to make snow angels, teach us how to throw a snowball. My mum provided the warm clothes and wrapped a woolly, musty scarf around my neck, gave dad explicit instructions that I wasn't to get wet.

The doves sat on the roof of the garage and watched us. We built the world's smallest snow fort. My dad taught us tactical snowball warfare, involving sneaking up on the opponent from behind the shed. The snow was too shallow for snow angels, it wasn't cold enough for the snowman to last. But the magic was there. My mum wrapped me in fleeces and flannel, we turned on the little gas fireplace in the living room. I sat in that old blue chair and the Christmas tree's lights flickered, mellow, in the corner. It was simple, I was warm, I was wrapped in the quilt of a quiet and gentle childhood, the doves were my friends, at night I could watch the stars, my sister lay in the bed beside mine, my parents were in the room next door.

nutmeg and pear|whole grain coconut oil gingerbread cookies - dairy & refined sugar free
nutmeg and pear|whole grain coconut oil gingerbread cookies - dairy & refined sugar free
nutmeg and pear|whole grain coconut oil gingerbread cookies - dairy & refined sugar free
nutmeg and pear|whole grain coconut oil gingerbread cookies - dairy & refined sugar free

After we left England Christmas was never really the same. We started to travel, we were out in the bush over Christmas more often that not, the lights and trees and bells loose their sparkle. But sometimes I'm taken back to that living room, the Tweety blanket over my lap, red Ikea couches. Doves on the swing-set in the garden, the smell of ginger and cinnamon from the little Dutch pepernoten cookies, the refrain of Little Donkey forever engrained somewhere in the back of my mind.

Little Donkey, carry Mary, safely on her way, they said.

nutmeg and pear|whole grain coconut oil gingerbread cookies - dairy & refined sugar free

It was those little pepernoten cookies that inspired my gingerbread. I've never made gingerbread cookies before but I was curious to try because of their bold spices; the flavours of whole grain flours and unrefined sugar would only make them better. And molasses, obviously. I specify this directly in the ingredients list but there are a few options for flours. I'd planned on tried & trusted spelt flour but then some einkorn flour I'd ordered arrived and I couldn't resist. Einkorn in also an unrefined whole grain, similar to spelt it is an ancient relative of wheat (apparently the oldest strain of wheat) but is low in gluten, higher in protein than wheat and is a source of iron and vitamin B, which is quite special for a flour that's very easy to use. It's similar also to kamut, which would work here, but I understand that spelt it easier to find (I know this would not be of interest to everyone, but for other whole-grain obsessives out there). Even easier to find is whole wheat flour, which will probably work too - you may just need to add a couple of teaspoons of water to the dough if it's very dry. I just hope this gives you a way to have homemade & whole grain gingerbread this Christmas. And I want you to have the best holiday season ever. Laugh a lot, eat lots of good food and keep fingers crossed for snow. Big hugs xx

nutmeg and pear|whole grain coconut oil gingerbread cookies - dairy & refined sugar free

Gingerbread cookies, with coconut oil & whole grains

makes 30-50 cookies, depending on size of cookie cutters  //  dairy free

2 1/2 cups (290g) einkorn, kamut, spelt (or whole wheat) flour
2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon finely ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup (75g) coconut oil, melted and warm
1/2 cup (120ml) unsulphured molasses*
1/2 cup (85g) coconut sugar/ dark muscavado sugar
1 free range egg

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, spices, baking powder & soda, salt. Set aside.
In a smaller bowl or liquid measuring cup, add the oil and the molasses, whisk till thick and combined. Add the sugar and continue whisking - it should be smooth, if your mix refuses to do this (more likely with coconut sugar) pop it in the microwave for a short burst or over very low heat. Once it's smooth (and cool) whisk in the egg thoroughly.

Pour the wet mix into the dry mix and start to stir. It will be hard work, but resist the temptation to add water! (I did, then it was too wet and I had to mess around with more water, so this is proven). When you're relieved it's finally coming together, ensure it's all combined. Cut two large pieces of plastic wrap and divide the dough between them, shaping into two discs roughly 2 1/2cm (1 inch) thick. Wrap tightly in plastic and refrigerate till firm and cold - at least one hour, or overnight is nice for really complex flavours.

The next day or once fully chilled, remove one piece of dough from the fridge and allow 5 or so minutes to come to room temperature.
Line 2 cookie sheets and preheat the oven to 180'C, 350'C. Adjust two racks to the lower shelves of the oven. 

Lightly flour a flat surface and a rolling pin. Take the dough and gently roll it out, remember that einkorn, spelt etc are much lower in gluten than wheat so the dough will be more fragile. Check that it's not sticking to the surface but don't add too much flour since you don't want to dry out the dough. It should be under a centimetre thick - about 1/4 inch.
If the dough isn't cooperating because it's too stiff and cold, allow it a few minutes to warm up. If it's very sticky, pop it in the fridge for a few minutes.

Once rolled, dip your cookie cutters of choice into some flours and cut away. Place on the baking sheets, they don't spread really, so don't need huge space. 
Re-roll your dough scraps, flour your surface, roll again and repeat with all the dough. You may need to rest the dough in the freezer for a few minutes as you sort the scraps, and you may notice it starts to dry out because of the added flour but it'll go a long way.
Once all the cookies are cut, bake them for 10-12 minutes, till a shade or two darker and firm but not yet crisp, they will crisp as they cool. You may need to do this in batches depending on how many cookies are preparing at a time and how many pans you have.

Allow to cool about 5 minutes on their sheets then transfer to a cooling rack carefully (an offset spatula is useful for this to avoid too many fatal casualties damaging the fragile shapes too badly) 
They'll keep in an airtight container for about 5 days and freeze well.
If you have small kids around (or you're just an icing person) you could make a simple icing/glaze with powdered cane sugar, water and lemon juice and maybe give the caribou some eyes and things.

a few things to note

The number of cookies will depend on the size of your cutters. I used these adorable ones and I had something like 50 cookies, but they're quite small cutters. I'd say around 30 would be expected, it's a big batch but it's the season for sharing (and treats).

I decided to only bake one disc because I knew I'd have a fair few cookies already (25) and fresh gingerbread is kind of unbeatable. If you'd like to do the same, just freeze a tightly wrapped disc and the day before you plan to bake it, allow it to sit in the fridge. Then just continue as normal and you've got fresh gingerbread to order. 

I specify this directly in the ingredients list but there are a few options for flours. I'd planned on tried/ trusted spelt flour but then some einkorn flour I'd ordered arrived and I couldn't resist. Einkorn in also an unrefined whole grain, similar to spelt it is an ancient relative of wheat (apparently the oldest strain of wheat) but is low in gluten, higher in protein than wheat and is a source of iron and vitamin B, which is quite special for a flour that's very easy to use. It's similar also to kamut, which would work here, but I understand that spelt it easier to find (and equally tasty and nutritious) but even easier to find is whole wheat flour, which will probably work too - you may just need to add a couple of teaspoons of water to the dough if it's very dry. I just hope this gives you a way to have homemade & whole grain gingerbread this Christmas. 


PS. I have a really fun mini-post that should come out on Friday. Pup friendly ginger oatmeal cookies, so no family member is left out of the fun this christmas. Keep an eye out for a newsletter! Also I'm leaving for our trip to India tomorrow, so the next post will be scheduled, but I'll be back with something special before Christmas. Gingerbread shall grace the subcontinent and a long haul flight.


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