Troll Cave

The Care and Feeding of Barbarians

To Whom it May Concern:

Your teas are a disgrace. Either that, or your advertising is a crime. I’ve yet to find a single one of your “fruit” teas that didn’t taste hibiscus with only slight, mild aftertastes that may or may not reflect the claimed flavor of the tea. This fact is unfortunately backed up by your ingredient lists. Examine, please, your own ingredient listing on your “Fruit Tea Sampler”:

Rasberry Zinger: Hibiscus, Rosehips, Roasted Chicory, Orange Peel, Blackberry Leaves, “Natural Raspberry Flavor with ‘other’ Natural Flavors (contains soy lecithin), oh, and raspberries and raspberry leaves.

Country Peach Passion: Rosehips, Hibiscus, Orange Peel, Roasted Chicory, Chamomile, Blackberry leaves, “Natural Peach and Passion Fruit Flavors with ‘other’ Natural Flavors (contains soy lecithin), oh, and peaches and citric acid.

Cranberry Apple Zinger: Hibiscus, Cinnamon, Roasted Chicory, “Natural flavors” (contains soy lecithin), Chamomile, Blackberry Leaves, oh, and cranberries and apples.

Tangerine Orange Zinger: Hibiscus, Rosehips, Blackberry Leaves (again), “Natural Tangerine Flavor with ‘other’ Natural Flavors (contains soy lecithin), orange peel and hawthorn berries.

Black Cherry Berry: Hibiscus, Rosehips, Roasted Chicory, Blackberry Leaves, Hawthorn Berries, “Natural Black Cherry Flavor with ‘other’ Natural Flavors (contains soy lecithin), Chamomile, oh, and sweet cherries.

One would think one could at least expect that if a tea was describe as “Raspberry flavored”, some form of raspberries would appear before the last ingredient. One might think that if a tea was named “Cranberry Apple”, it’s dominate flavors would indeed be cranberry and apple. Instead, what one finds is that the tea is largely cheap fillers, much like putting sawdust in bread. There is very little to differentiate the tea flavors, except perhaps the illustrations on the box. If you take a mouthful and close your eyes, the dominate flavors have nothing to do with the advertised product. Sampling all five of these teas finds them more similar than dissimilar in flavor.

As a warm liquid fairly high in vitamin C, I suppose you excel. If your goal was actually, as claimed, to produce varying flavors, each enjoyable and distinct from one another, you have failed abysmally. If you won’t change your ingredients, at least change your names. “Hint of Cherry Hibiscus” or perhaps “Naturally Flavored Hibiscus.” Then your customers will know what to expect. Honesty is always a good policy.


The Troll

Yes, I wasted 42 cents mailing this out. I have nothing more to say, except to point out the obvious: it’s the middle of Febuary in the frozen North. Plus, having informed them of their abominable product, I no longer feel the need to seeth every time I see the box. They have been notified of their failure; to think of it now only wastes time and energy, of which I have plenty of other uses.

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I know I claimed it was against my religion (or something like that) to tell people what was or was not the “best” of anything. So. . .

(1) I didn’t name them this. It’s not my fault, I swear!

(2) Even if I had named them this, I would make an exception for these brownies. You have to make an exception for these brownies. They are the standard by which all other brownies are judged. Make these brownies and you will never, ever again say “Why bother make them from scratch? It’s so much faster from a box, and they taste just as good!”


You simply don’t understand the full meaning of the word “brownies” until you’ve had these. Come with me on the path to enlightenment, my friend. This is where the good life starts:

cast of characters

5 1/3 sticks butter
5 1/3 cups sugar
2 tablespoons vanilla
6 eggs
2 2/3 cups flour
2 cups cocoa
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
dash of salt salt (original called for 1 1/2 tsp., but I never do)
2 2/3 cups chopped nuts (optional, if you’re allergic or don’t have them. Otherwise, stand up straight and take your medicine!! Or not.)

And this, my friend, is the foundation of all life:

melted butter

Melt your 5 1/3 sticks of butter.

One time someone had these, and the boys heard her raving about them to someone else. The list of wonderful attributes included everything from tasting good, curing cancer, and being low-fat.

Whoa, now! Not low fat. Not on your life.

Curing cancer, maybe, but no, not low-fat.

See, the problem with a lot of brownie recipes is they either make them too sweet or too chocolatey, or both. I know some of you are crying “Heresy! Burn her at the stake!” when I say too chocolatey, but have you ever had chocolate that is 98% cocao? There is such a thing as too much of a good thing. You can’t enjoy it when it’s that powerful; the human senses weren’t designed to take it. It’s like being hit over the head with a sledge hammer. I have had a lot of low-fat brownies that were simply too intense. It was like eating cocoa out of the box. I think they were attempting to compensate for the lack of fat by distracting you with such powerful doses of chocolate.

Anyway, my point was, this recipe is in balance. You will not be killed by over-doses. Unless you eat a lot of them. Each bite is balanced. How many you eat is the point of your own responsibility. I bear absaloutely one hundred percent no responsibility if you eat both 15×10 pans of brownies yourself, in one sitting. That’ll probably take you down. But you will die happy.

We do believe in sugar around here:


Put your 5 1/3 cups of sugar in a great big ol’ bowl.

Yes, I have dirt under my thumbnail. That’s the real home-place of life. I was starting seeds earlier in the day. But don’t worry, it was sterile seedstarting mix. Sterile, ya hear?! It means everything in the dirt was killed dead. It’s clean dirt. Don’t worry about it.

If it bugs you, remember to clean out under your nails before you make this recipe. Me? I’m a Troll. And I bake for Barbarians.

Pour your melted butter on top of the sugar.

adding the butter. . .

This is the foundation of all that is good and right in the world. . .

Now add your 2 tablespoosn vanilla. The real stuff, not the fake stuff.

add vanilla

Did you know that every vanilla flower lasts for only a day—and sometimes less? And that every blossom has to be hand pollinated? There is one type of bee that will pollinate vanilla blossoms, but they don’t believe in being exported. So all the vanilla plantations need every single flower (and ONE flower equals ONE bean) pollinated by hand.


You can read more about it here.

Thar. I hath educated you. You’ll never again look at vanilla in the same way.

Stir it all together. . .

stir butter

When you’re all done mixing it, it should basically look like. . .


. . .applesauce!! Isn’t that funny?

I always think that’s funny.

It’s especially funny ’cause lots of low-fat brownie recipes use applesauce as a fat replacement. There, applesauce masqurades ad fat. Here, fat masqurades as applesauce. Tee-hee!

Nobody gets my sense of humor.

Now you have to add in your half-a-dozen eggs.

added the eggs

Mix it all together with sturdy spoon.

stirring eggs

If you don’t have a sturdy spoon, get one. You need it like, um, like birds need feathers. You and they will have a much easier time of accomplishing what you need to do.

another step

Actually, if you don’t have a sturdy spoon, you can use an electric mixer here. But later on in this recipe, YOU WILL NEED TO USE A SPOON! Brownies are allergic to overmixing. It doesn’t matter till we get the flour added in, but once that flour is wet, you must learn the meaning of gentle.

Even if you are a barbarian.

Okay, before we get any further in our mess-making, we need to attend to some other important matters.

Like thoroughly greasing two 15×10 pans with lots of butter. No sissy baking spray. The real deal, man.

grease the pans

Another important matter is preheating the oven to 350.

preheat oven

Guess what? It really is 8:54. PM. Isn’t that awful?

I mean, it was when I took the picture. It isn’t right now.

Actually, it wasn’t when I took that picture. I forgot. We set all of our clocks ahead by 15 or 20 minutes.

Because it’s funny, that’s why.

Why not?

It’s our own little safe, secure alternate universe. No one in the world is on the same time as us.

And then we have one clock set to real time, and then we always get confused when we’re talking about time.

“When you said we should leave by 9 o’clock, did you mean real-time, or kitchen-clock-time?”

So it was probably closer to 8:35.

Real time.

Anyway, I blame that as the reason why all my pictures were blurry this time. The barbarians would undoubtably say that I ought to make brownies all over again and take better pictures, but guess what? These pictures have been sitting on the hard drive for almost a year now. If I am ever going to educate this world to the secret of happiness, it’s now or never!!

(And, no, I did not have a sudden break-down need for brownies; the boys needed to take them to work for a party the next day. I’m sure there is some reasonable reason why I’m doing it sooooooo [kinda] late at night. Like maybe they forgot to tell me until they came home that evening. Or something. I don’t really remember, but neither do they, so I’m pretty sure I can make up whatever reality I want. So they didn’t tell me until 15 minutes previous sounds like a good reason to me.

I am pretty sure them taking my brownies to work is the only reason they are so popular and famous.

And I am pretty sure no one will argue with that, because guess what? Not arguing with that is a good way to get more brownies.)

Now it’s time to mess with dry ingredients. In a seperate, smaller bowl, add your 2 2/3 cups of flour.

flour in a bowl---exciting!!

Now add the cocoa. 2 cups of it.


And you thought I didn’t believe in chocolate!! Hah!

The reason why we can get away with adding almost as much cocoa as flour without killing ourselves is because of this:

love that butter

It’s all about balance, man. Yin and Yang. Harmony and love. All that good stuff. No, really!

I don’t know if you have ever noticed it before or not, but if you put a scant 1/8th of a teaspoon of cayene powder in a thin broth, it burns your throat going down. However, if you really load the cayene onto a piece of chicken, and that deep-fat fry it, it’s much more mild. Or if you put an 1/8th of a tsp. of cayene into a creamy-based sauce—you’ll find that a lot more mild than the 1/8th of a tsp. in a fatless broth. Fat has a reconciling effect on powerful flavors. If you put this much cocoa in a lowfat brownie, you will have trouble trying to figure out what the difference is between making brownies and skipping the fuss and bother and just eating cocoa out of the box. The same goes for the sugar.

All this butter makes the ingredients play nice. They’re just too harsh, otherwise. Too bossy, too overpowering. You should try it; if you know someone who is too harsh, too bossy or too overpowering, get them to eat these brownies. It’ll probably work.

As long as their mouths are full.


Add in your 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder. 1 1/2 teaspoons is the same thing as half a tablespoon, did you know that?

add baking powder

Probably not. Most people don’t even make 1/2 tablespoon measurers any more. It’s like they don’t expect people to be using 1 1/2 tbl. of ingredients. What do they know?

Oh, yeah. Add a dash of salt.

just salt

People nowadays use too much salt. Name three places you can eat out (or three prepared processed packaged foods) whose predominate flavor is NOT salt. And then tell me, ’cause I can’t do it. Salt is good when used in moderation. Does anyone know what moderation even is any more?

Guess what, guys. I just put 5 1/3 sticks of SALTED butter in there. It doesn’t need a whole lot more salt.

Mix the whole mess up:

here we're mixing the dry ingredients

Try to get your cocoa lumps out now, because you won’t have a second chance once we add the dry ingredients to wet ingredients. If you’re really worried about it, you can sift it. If you’re not, you can have little lumps of dry cocoa in your finished batter, and that’s okay. You won’t even be able to notice them in the finished brownie. The cocoa soaks up all that butter. . .

Anyway, this is what it looks like when I’m done stirring them together:

here we're mixing the dry ingredients

Now we have to chop the nuts. Even if you don’t believe in nuts.

Just kidding. These brownies are borderline miraculous even without nuts. They’re just even better with nuts. We use walnuts, because for the longest time they were the cheapest. Now, who knows? But our palate has already been trained to think that nuts in brownies = walnuts, so that’s what I do. Feel free to use pecans. Or almonds. Or peanuts. Or pistachios. Or even leave them out, I guess, but I think you’re really missing out.

walnuts awaiting execution

I chop them by hand, because that works best. No, really! If you try to use the food processor, you get big chunks and saw dust! And chopping them by hand is really very easy, and very fast.

chop chop chop

This is what it looks like after I chop up 1 1/3 cups, and think, “There! I’m done.” Then I remember, “Oh, yeah, I’m making two 15×10 pans! I need to cut up twice this!”

more nuts

That’s better.

Yes, the picture is blurry and out of focus. It was after 9 o’clock at night, for goodness sakes. Besides, that camera hates me.

And now the magic begins! Behold, the marriage of wet and dry ingredients!

dry and wet are combined into one in a solemn ceremony

The Fleur de Lis continually protests “sugar” being counted as a wet ingredient.

This is the part where you MUST NOT USE AN ELECTRIC MIXER! YOU MUST USE A SPOON! Using an electric mixer at this point will help you acheive hockey pucks. Not slightly chewy, melt in your mouth brownies.

like thus. . .

Stir gently. . .

and so. . .

STOP!! That’s good enough! Yes, there are little lumplets of cocoa. Lumpettes. But we do not under any circumstance try to get them out now. If we keep stirring till we get them worked out, we will have doggy-chew toys. Remember that now: we’re making brownies, not doggy-chew toys.

Now add the nuts:


You may be wondering why we didn’t add the nuts back with the dry ingredients. After all, we’re supposed to be spending as little time as possible on the whole mixing deal, now that the wet has joined the dry. Problem is, if we add the nuts with the dry ingredients, the nuts like to protect little pockets of dry ingredients. So instead of biting into the brownie and—Oh! a walnut!, we get—Oh! a pocket of nasty-tasting baking powder. Not nice. So the nuts have to go in by themselves. But still. Don’t fuss too much about perfect distribution. Close enough is good enough.

all done now

Then spread it in your two greased pans. . .

spread it around

See how stiff it is? Don’t sweat it if yours is considerably looser. When you use so much butter, the consistancy of your batter is largely detirmined by the temperature in the room. Winter brownie batter is much stiffer than summer brownie batter, because the warm weather keeps the butter sooooft. But both summer and winter brownies are spectacular. After all, they both wind up in the oven.

toasty oven

Isn’t that lovely? What could possibly be more comforting than a glowing oven full of brownies?

They need to stay in there for about 25 minutes, but that’s just a ball-park number. When you have this much oven space taken up, you really need to switch things around half-way through, to keep one edge from being burned while the middle edge is still a little under-cooked.

You want the edge of the brownie to be firm and crispy, BUT NOT THE CENTER! These will continue to firm up once they’re out of the oven—as they say, if they’re done in the oven, they’re overdone. The top will be crisped over, but if you push on it, it will give way readily.

Basically, they should like this:


Or this:


Or even this:


No matter which way you look at it, they still look good.

Technically, you should wait until they’re at room temperature before you cut them. Only problem: waiting.

Cooled, they well be just a touch more chewy, and hold themselves together well. Hot, they tend to fall apart.

I had to package them up for traveling before I went to bed, so I cut them while still strongly warm—not quite falling apart, but not as firm as they will be at complete cool down.

And did you know these brownies are prescription strength anti-depressants? Downside: very short lived. I think the depression comes back as soon as you finish eating the brownies. Upside? No one has ever reported suicidal thoughts while consuming these brownies.

death by chocolate

life by chocolate

a whole container full

nine square

in the pan

two in the pan

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No pictures as proof, but I recently hosted a pie party. This is where I provide the dough and apples, everyone brings their own pie plates, and we peel and cut apples till everyone has their pies. I made enough dough to use up about 5 lbs. of shortening and 7 lbs of flour, and all told we peeled and cut 90 cups of apples. Between the three of us. And they each only took home one pie. So we’re eating the rest. But we’re not complaining.

Though you actually can eat apple pie to the point you don’t feel like eating any more apple pie. Even if you are a barbarian.

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Though this is technically a non-meat meal, somehow it gets full pass from the barbarians. I think it’s because it has pasta in it, and though I’ve never quite understood the redeeming qualities of pasta, they appear to be quite powerful. (Barbarians will even eat fish if it’s a pasta sauce. I’ll have to share that one with you, sometime.)

But this is a barbarians meal in more ways than one. It is also easy enough that the barbarians can actually make it themselves! Yessiree, it’s a red-letter recipe.

This is the first recipe I train people to cook on. At as young as 3 or 4 years old, kids can begin helping, grating cheese or stirring the sauce. By the time they’re seven, they need supervision and some instruction, but can do most of it themselves. By the time they’re 9 or 10, they’ve basically got it down pat. They need help remembering the exact amount of flour and butter to use, and someone else to transport the 3 gallons of water from sink to stove, but they can be left pretty much on their own.

And by the time they’re 18 or 19, and they suddenly find themselves on their own (albeit even just for a few days), they can fall back on this recipe to survive. The Martlet discovered pasta in the pantry, and made this meal from memory. He even managed to scale the recipe down to one pound, which he found made a sufficient lunch and dinner—half at either meal. And trust me, if he can do it, you can too. Cook it, I mean. I don’t know about eating half a pound of it in one sitting. At any rate, it’s a recipe bachelor’s could survive upon, and it’s good, which, for a bachelor’s recipe, is pretty shocking.

And so, without further ado, here’s the cast of characters:

Messy place

For the cheese sauce, you have:

1 stick + 1 TB butter
1/2 + 1 TB flour
4 1/2 cups milk
1 1/2 lbs. cheddar cheese (we like extra sharp)

Brilliant in it’s simplicity.

Once you’ve ascertained that you have the necessary ingredients to proceed, the first thing you’ll need to do is fill up a big pot with water. Preferable a 3-gallon pot. This is how you do it:

Running water

Then you realize taking pictures of water is fun. Look, I can catch the ripples of a water drop on camera!


Look at the reflections in the water!

still water

Then you realize that everyone else is probably bored out of their minds to be looking at regular old water, and will probably hate you for taking up so much of their bandwidth with totally unhelpful pictures, so you throw the pot of water on the stove. Not literally. Just like this:

Lighting a fire under the pot

Only take a quick look, and then ignore it. Because a watched pot never boils, and it takes long enough for 3 gallons of water to come to a boil as it is. Even with a super-hot stove. Oh, and put a lid on it, too. It’ll take 60 million years longer without a lid.

Next, throw your butter in a pan and melt it:

Shrinking, melting!

Yes, you do have to throw it. I don’t go quite as far as the Barbarians and say that there are only two temperatures, off and high, but I do think it’s impossible to make lunch for a horde of hungry barbarians and gently and slowly place a stick of butter in the pan. Just chuck it in there.

Much to the horror of the barbarians, I actually have the heat on low, because while the butter is melting I grate the cheese.


And, to their further and continued horror, I grate it by hand instead of the food processor. It makes less dishes. And it’s quieter. And you know what? There’s usually enough ruckus going on without making some more of my own.

Grate job.

And, which would probably make them border on outrage, I get all artsy-fartsy with the camera instead of hurrying up and feeding them already!

Artsy-fartsy cheese grater

Ok, all done tormenting people. Except maybe for those who are getting sick of cheese pictures. This is what 1 1/2 lbs. of cheese looks like after it’s been grated. By hand.

All done!

By now, your butter is probably thoroughly melted, and in great need of attendance. Dump in your flour:

Add the flour

Since the light shines from behind me, it casts everything on the stove into shadow, and makes it really hard to take pictures. A flash washes everything out. Maybe I should use a flashlight.

Stir it all together and let it get nice and bubbly. I let it cook for a minute or two after it’s all mixed together.

Stir in the flour

Here’s a closer-upper picture. If I remember correctly, I cheated and lightened it in a photo program.

Flour power!

Nextly, you need to add in the milk.

Pour in the milk

Traditionally, you’re usually told to pour in the milk slowly, stirring constantly. But actually, I have a higher likelihood of getting lumps that way. I just dump it all in at once. At first, you’ll freak out and think you have lumps:

The milk has been added.

But really, the coldness of the milk has just made the butter harden, and when it warms up, you’ll have a thick, lump-free white-sauce. My take on it is that the butter coats the flour—when the flour binds to flour in the beginning, you get lumps. If you add the milk slowly, you can “rinse” the butter off the flour, and the flour will bind to itself. If you dump it in all at once, the butter “freezes up” around the flour, and when it melts again, it releases the flour evenly into the milk. So no lumps. (I used the flash here. My kitchen isn’t really that dark, honest.)

Just keep stirring that sauce. If you’re a barbarian, you’ll have the heat as high as it can go. If you have a helper, you can do that. If you don’t you, probably want the heat on medium, and you’ll have to keep stirring it in between the following steps.

You need to put a strainer in your sink:


It better be a big one, because you’re going to pour 3 lbs. of cooked pasta into it.

3 lbs. of pasta

Here I am playing Jackson Pollock:


Here I am enlargening to show texture, which, as everyone knows, is an crucial to telling people what your food is like.

Enlarged to show texture

You’re bored out of your mind, aren’t you? Don’t forget to stir the white sauce.

In the strictest sense, this next part isn’t part of making Macaroni and Cheese, but if you don’t do it, you stand in danger of being lynched by an angry mob. Or at least tarred and feathered.

You need to heat up some spicy tomatoes for people to ladle over their macaroni and cheese. You can use your favorite kind. We used to use “Mexican Stewed Tomatoes”, but that was discontinued. Now we use either tomatoes with jalapeños or green chiles, or a can of each.


A can. Of tomatoes,

Let’s take a closer look:

Closer look at the can

And a closer look. . .this one’s kind of Pollock-y, too, isn’t it?

Can of Pollock

Enlargened to show texture. Ewww, gross!

close-up of can label

Look, it’s boring making something I’ve had memorized since I was nine. And it’s boring taking pictures of such mundane things, and it’s boring getting all the pictures ready for the internet. I amuse myself where I can.

Dump your tomatoes in a pan, like so:

from can to pan

Some of us think the squishy tomatoes are a really gross texture, even if we like the flavor. So we scoop up the juice and leave the tomatoes behind. But then there isn’t enough juice to go around. So I rinse out the can with a little bit of water, which gives me the last bit of flavor in the can and more liquid in the pot.

rinse the can

Put that whole mess on the stove, too.

Hot tomatoes 1

By now, your white sauce is probably getting all thick and bubbly.

White sauce is now thick

Isn’t that a horrible picture? Almost not even worth posting.

Now add in your grated cheese:

Don't spill the cheese!

Stir it in. . .

Stir it in

. . .keep stirring. . .

keep stirring one

. . .and stirring. . .

keep stirring two

. . .Okey-dokey, your cheese sauce is finished!

All done with the cheese sauce

Probably at this point, the water is boiling furiously, like this:

boiling water, shocking!

So then you need to add in your three pounds of pasta, like this:

falling pasta

These are elbows, but you can actually use any shape you like. The Martlet and some others much prefer spaghetti, which I think is kind of gross. I like shells, but the Cross Moline thinks that’s gross, because it “holds too much of the cheesy sauce”. I don’t think that’s possible, myself.

still falling pasta

Make sure you stir the pasta, or it will all stick together and fuse into a solid piece.

Stir the pot

When the pasta stops feeling so hard and solid against your spoon, you have to start fishing pieces out to see if it’s done. When it is, it’ll look like this,

al dente pasta

which isn’t very informative. You want the pasta to be totally non-crunchy, but not anywhere near squishy or soggy. Chewy is about what you’re going for, and it’s what some people refer to as al dente. (Which means “to the tooth” and makes no sense at all, unless you’re Italian.)

When it is done, dump it in your strainer, like so:

strainer full of pasta

Then dump the pasta back into the empty pot,

pasta in pot

and pour the cheese sauce over it.

pour the sauce

Then stir


and stir

stir again

and you’re done.

all stirred

By this point, your tomatoes should be hot, too.

hot tomatoes 2

So now you can call all your barbarians, and tell them the most wonderful meal of their lives is about to commence, so come eat. Don’t worry about being held to that claim, because all they will hear is “Food”.

Here’s what it looks like plain:

macaroni and cheese

Here’s what it looks like with tomatoes and freshly ground pepper:

mac and cheese w/ tomatoes

Here’s what it looks like enlarged to show texture:

close up mac and cheese

Food. Can’t beat that.


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Here we are, back to our regularly scheduled program: food. Mostly dessert. Not because I mostly make dessert (much to the great disappointment of the horde), but because it takes a looooooonnnnng time to take all those pictures. The barbarians generally know that they are lucky to be getting dessert at any time, so they’ll take it when they can get it. But they believe they are entitled to regular meals. “Regular” and “take lots of pictures” is pretty hard to get going at the same time.

This is a recipe we originally found in a, believe it or not, Consumer’s Reports magazine, and they’re they one’s who named it “Practically Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies”. I’m usually against calling recipes “the best” or “the perfect”, because usually everyone has different ideas on what things are supposed to be like. But in this case, I would have dropped the “practically”. In my very completely and totally humble opinion, the ingredients are at a perfect balance. But I do admit that a large part of getting them truly perfect is baking them to the exact right point. You don’t want them under or over cooked by even a few minutes. But if you learn what a perfectly cooked chocolate chip cookie looks like, and you watch them like a bunch of vultures over road-kill, this recipe makes a perfect chocolate chip cookie—A cookie that is crispy and crunchy on the edges, and soft and chewy in the middle. A cookie that’s so tempting, my mouth kept watering as I tried to sort through the over 100 pictures I had taken.

cookie bite

A cookie that’s so good, it’s almost bad. Almost. But not quite. How can anything that leaves the brown paper looking like this be bad for you?

greasy paper

How can anything that uses this much butter be bad for you??

butter wrappers

A cookie that’s so good, I think everyone should have some before they die. I told that to the Martlet, and he said “You think so, huh?”

“Well, I don’t think they need to be eating them on their death bed or anything, but everyone ought to know what a real chocolate chip cookie tastes like.”

“You think so, huh?” He clearly thinks this is a bad idea. I pause and reflect for a moment.

“You think it’s a bad idea to let anyone else have any, don’t you?”

“Well, yeah, this whole sharing idea sounds like something a girl would come up with!”

The ultimate incredulity. But rather obvious, really. Of course I am a girl—Why else would I go and make 200 chocolate chip cookies for absolutely no reason at all? That’s how many cookies this recipe makes, by the way.

endless chocolate chip cookies

It’s enough to keep your entire office party eating cookies for days, or enough for a houseful of barbarians to devour in a scant 24 hours and still complain you didn’t make enough. Though, after the first seven cookies, even barbarians concede a glass of milk is called for.

milk and cookies

You will need:

6 3/4 cups flour
1 tbl. baking soda
1 tbl. salt
2 1/4 cups white granulated sugar
2 14 cups dark brown sugar
3 cups (6 sticks) butter, softened
1 tbl. vanilla
6 eggs, at room temperature
3 12 oz. packages chocolate chips (or, if you buy them in bulk like we do, 36 oz, that is 2 1/4 lbs.)

Get out your butter and eggs to warm up. I usually still have to microwave soften the butter. Maybe the house isn’t warm enough; maybe I’m just impatient. Maybe I usually forget to take it out.

soft butter

I’m not 100% certain why the eggs are supposed to be at room temperature. I think it’s because eggs beat better when they’re not cold. But in a pinch I have (1) put the uncracked eggs in a bowl of warm water to warm them up, or (2) used cold eggs. (Shocking. Horrifying. And all that.)


Next all the dry ingredients need to be mixed together. Remember to measure the baking soda into your hand, and push all the lumps out with your fingers.

Baking soda

Mix the flour, soda and salt in a bowl. Set aside.

dry ingredients

Preheat the oven to 375, and pack your brown sugar.

brown sugar

Measure your white sugar.


Dump both sugars in to the super-duper huge mixer. Trust me, nothing short of a super-duper huge mixer can handle this much batter. If you don’t have a super-duper huge mixer, you’ll need to at least halve this recipe. The batter won’t fit in a smaller stand-mixer bowl, and if you try to use a hand mixer on it, you’ll kill your mixer and, even worse, you’ll over-beat the mixture.

mixed sugars

Then you add in all your butter,

butter and sugar

and beat the mix till it’s pale, light, and very fluffy.

creamed sugar and butter

Add the vanilla and mix that in.


Add the eggs, one at a time, and mix them in. Basically, you beat this whole mix as much as you want (it just whips in more air) until you add the flour. Once you add the flour, you want to be very delicate, because the more you beat it, the more you will develop the gluten in the flour, the tougher your cookies will be.

Add eggs

After you add in the all the eggs, the batter will still be very light and creamy.

cookie batter

Then you add in the dry ingredients, about a half a cup at a time. Make sure you’re mixing at a slow speed.

add dry ingredients

This is what the batter looks like at this point:

before chips

Then the best part: the chocolate chips!

chocolate chips

We buy them in bulk, so I have to weigh them out.


Mix them in, but just barely. You don’t want to overwork the batter at this point. Careful, careful!

with chocolate chips

Okay, now it’s time to make cookies. Which scoop is better to use?


The bigger one? No, you foolish barbarian. A bigger scoop does not magically multiply the batter; it’s still going to be the same amount. And if you use the bigger scoop, the edges of the cookie will start over-baking before the center is finished. So use the smaller scoop for a larger number of perfect cookies, rather than the larger scoop for a smaller number of huge-but-not-perfect cookies. In case you’re wondering, the bigger scoop is supposed to be a meatball scoop. The smaller scoop is supposed to be a cookie scoop. Trust me, they knew what they were doing when they made it that size.

Uncookies waiting to go in the oven (these ones are really kinda too close together; see below).


Use the thickest cookie sheets you can find, but scorn “air-insulated” sheets. I’ve never been satisfied with their performance. Light cookie sheets will cook the cookies a little slower, dark sheets a little faster. If you put two sheets in the oven at the same time, the one on the bottom will get it’s cookie bottoms cooked faster, and the one on the top will get it cookie tops cooked faster. You really need to switch them half-way through, or else half of your cookies will be burned on the bottom, and the other half burned on the top. I check them after about 7 minutes, but they can take up to 11 minutes or maybe possibly more.

My camera kept lying, lying, lying about the colors. On one setting, it took so much color out of everything it was bordering on grayscale. On another set, I got a lot of color—almost too much, really. So then I tried to get the right color in Paintshop, and I’m still not sure it’s right. So, here’s a verbal description of when the cookies are done. Don’t cook the cookies until they are evenly brown, from rim to center. That’s overbaking, and they will hard, hard, hard and very crunchy. Maybe even burnt on the bottom. You want a rim around the edges that’s a dark brown (it basically reflects the color of the bottom of the cookie), but the center should only be a very pale golden color, and still look soft. It will firm up slightly after it cools. If you eat them as the come out of the oven, pretty soon you can get a good idea of which ones came out perfect, and which ones were only almost perfect.

This is what the bottom should look like:


This is a cookie sheet with cookies properly placed.

cookies on a sheet

This is a cookie sheet with cookies place as close as they possibly can without merging into one big cookie (which would be a bad idea, because then you wouldn’t get the crispy-crunchy edges). You should really only do this if you’re baking 200 cookies and supper is waiting on it’s chance in the oven.

full tray

Let them cool for a minute or two, and then scrape them off the tray and onto brown paper. (I cut open a paper grocery bag, so it lays flat.)

Cookies in all their perfection.


more and more

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One of the age-old complaints of woman against man has been that man leaves the toilet seat up.

I have never, ever, ever understood that complaint.

Yes, I am female. And yes, I have been the victim of toilet seats left up. In fact, I probably lowered more toilet seats in my first year of potty training than most women do in their lifetimes.

But you know what? For every toilet seat I’ve lowered, someone had to raise it.

And if men are obliged to raise the darn toilet seat every time they want to go pee, there is nothing unfair whatsoever about women having to lower the seat every time they want to go pee. In fact, making man have to do all the raising and lowering himself is discriminating against him. If both have equal rights to the toilet, both have equal responsibility to the position of the toilet seat.

Guess what, ladies? Equality ain’t all peaches and cream.

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hope in the dark

hope in the dark

ready for the sun


watchful snowdrops

longing for light

light pours in

light pouring in

forsythia in the sun

drink it up

well lit



back-lit snowdrops

single beauty

* * * *

Yes, I know I broke the mold. I couldn’t bear to post them any smaller, and I’ve been meaning to adjust this template wider. Maybe this will actually get me to do that.

A new camera has entered the household, and it makes it very easy to experiment with f-stops and shutter speeds. I always thought that “stuff” was too complicated for me, but I don’t think I’d have ever been able to get these shots without it. Naturally, I’m pleased out of my poor little mind that they came out exactly how I’d wanted them to. My one complaint is that I still sometimes have a hard time getting it to focus on what I want to focus.

None of these photos have been touched up in the least; they’ve just been reduced and compressed for the web. I didn’t think they needed any improvement, apart from sometimes being in better focus. And after the picture has been taken, it’s a little late for that. The one photographer’s trick that I did employ was taking lots and lots and lots of pictures. Like, 60 of them. Those were just my 10 favorite.

And yes, I did take a bit of poetic license calling this post “In the Bleak Midwinter” when, for goodness sake, it’s in the middle of April. But, also for goodness sake, we’re supposedly supposed to have 10 to 16 inches of snow in the next 24 hours. I don’t believe it, in case you’re wondering. But I did think that the flowers looked like they were bravely facing up to the bleak midwinter. They’re surrounded by darkness, but basking in a light all their own, the light of Spring on it’s way.

Here’s three more, for a bonus. They almost made the cut, but didn’t quite fit.


I took this one after I had figured out how to focus better, but by then the lighting had changed, and it lost some of it’s magic. Sharper, but not so radiant.

Under the snowdrops

I liked the angle of this shot. I love seeing the inside of the snowdrops, so often overlooked by the towering human perspective, but really quite captivating. Unfortunately, it didn’t have the breath-taking sunlight catching in it’s petals. I’m pretty sure I could have adjusted the lightness in a photo-editing program, but you know what? There’s no good substitute for the real thing. I could have made the picture lighter, but I couldn’t have shot it through with beams of sunlight. Better luck next time, I guess.

stems in the water

It’s the stems of the snowdrops! The same light as before, but the shutter speed and f-stops have been monkeyed with. I love how it looks like I’m taking a picture underwater, but really it’s just the texture of the glass vase they were in.

And what, you may ask, does any of this have to do with cooking? Nothing. I’m branching out. My life has to do with a lot more than just cook, and it’s giving me mind cramps trying to stay on topic. The barbarians may need their stew, but I’m filling up just fine on these.

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Or rather, a complimentary list:

*They don’t melt.

*When you leave them in a pot, they don’t get hot and burn your fingers when you come back.

*If you drop them in the gravy by accident, they float.

*They don’t get bent out of shape when you apply stern pressure.

*When you lick the chocolate pudding off of them, it reminds you of eating a fudgsicle.

They are nice in every way. So why, why, why are they so hard to find? I especially like the “paddles”. The closest I’ve been able to find are bamboo utensils, but those are usually meant for “stir-frys” and are huge and unweildly.

Bah, humbug.

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“You have lived the life of a nun: no doubt you are well-drilled in religious forms;—Brocklehurst, who I understands directs Lowood, is a parson, is he not?”

“Yes, sir.”

“And you girls probably worshiped him, as a convent full of religieuses would worship their director.”

“Oh, no.”

“You are very cool! No! What! a novice not worship her priest! That sounds blasphemous.”

“I disliked Mr. Brocklehurst; and I was not alone in the feeling. He is a harsh man; at once pompous and meddling: he cut off our hair; and for economy’s sake bought us bad needles and thread, with which we could hardly sew.”

“That was very false economy,” remarked Mrs. Fairfax, who now again caught the drift of the dialogue.

From Jane Eyre, chapter 13, by Charlotte Bronte.

Oh, the cruel, cold and senseless things done in the name of economy. This dreadful topic was brought to my mind as I attempted to read America’s Cheapest Family Gets You Right on the Money, by Steve and Annette Economides.

Before currency, there was a barter system. With the barter system, everyone knew what good economy was: get the most of what you want, while giving away the least of what you want to keep. Now, with all buying power “standardized”, people seem to have totally forgotten what economy really is.

Let’s say you want to buy a car. I offer to sell you one for $100. What a deal, right? Hah! Everyone knows better than that. Unless you are looking for a complete fixer-upper-hobby car, you know that any car being sold for $100 is incapable of meeting the needs you have for a new car. It won’t run, or it will keep breaking down, or perhaps it’s just been stolen and somebody needs to unload it fast. In other words, since the car doesn’t accomplish your goals, it doesn’t matter how cheap it is, it’s still a bad idea—false economy.

Now, let us consider chapter 2 of America’s Cheapest Family wherein they tell you how to be economical with the grocery money. I quote (from page 35):

9. Picky Eaters

DON’T allow them! Period!

DO encourage kids—and spouses, for that matter—to try everything that is served. We have a three-bite rule at our house. Steve [that is, Mr. Economides] has learned to “enjoy” beets, even though he used to think they taste like “dirt.” Now he thinks they taste like “sweet dirt.”

Now, we must ponder, is this economical? Leaving aside all questions of the ethics and rights of picky eaters (when I was a child, onion physically hurt my tongue, it was so strong. I wouldn’t eat them; now I do—they no longer cause me pain) and the merits of canned beets (never mind tasting like dirt, I have to suppress a gag instinct just to get a bite down), let us focus on the question of whether or not it is economical to eat things you really do not enjoy.

If buying things that do not accomplish your goal—whether it is worthless thread that won’t hold a mending job, or a car that won’t run—is bad economy regardless of price, then the question becomes this: What is the goal of obtaining edible substances?

Does it have anything to do with flavor? Of allowing people to have unique and individual tastes in everything, including food? Does it have anything to do with texture? Does it have anything to do with enjoying yourself? Is is it meant to nourish, encourage good health, and provide for a body’s specific need?

Or is it merely meant to keep you physically alive, and at the least monetary cost possible?

No matter which way you answer the question, it is still false economy. Why? Because if food has anything to do with first set of questions, being forced to eat cheap but disgusting food is not fulfilling the purposes of buying food.

And if you answer yes to the second question, it is false economy because there are much cheaper ways to accomplish that goal: allow me, for instance, to introduce you to some dumpsters. Foreign dignitaries have long marveled at the things Americans throw away; they could easily feed their villages with it. Why not? You doubt that dumpster-diving is capable of sustaining life?

Allow me to introduce you to Malika Oufkir, who has written two books, Stolen Lives and Freedom: The Story of my Second Life. (Incidentally, it is rather disturbing how many unique hits you will find on Amazon when searching for “prison diary”—and I’m sure that there are many more that didn’t turn up under those keywords; Stolen Lives didn’t.) Now, I do not remember which book it was in—I think it was Freedom, but perhaps she mentioned it in both, but Malika shared her culinary accomplishments that she achieved during the imprisonment of her and her family. I don’t own either book, so I cannot quote directly, but it was a vivid enough description that it has quite stayed with me.

First she takes the bread, quite stale, and she scrapes off as much of the rat poop and mold as she can. Then she breaks open some rotten eggs, which are quite black inside, and lets them sit in a shallow dish until the powerful stench has dissipated somewhat. She adds a few pinches of sugar, and I think powdered milk? Then she soaks the broken bread in this mixture, and cooks it. Sort of like a prison version of French Toast. She reports that her family loved it—the closest thing to a culinary treat they could get.

Is that foul mixture capable of sustaining life? Apparently. She’s still alive to relate the tale. But is that all food really needs to be? Certainly not! All members of her family have severe health problems left-over from their time of malnutrition (though certainly not all of their problems can be traced back to malnutrition). But do we fault any of them for eating it? Why would we? Their only other choice was no food at all.

So while I certainly recognize that there is a time and place for eating detestable things, I don’t believe “economy” counts as a good reason. The money is short, and all you are able to buy is canned beets or nothing? Bring on the beets! But that’s a question of necessity, not economy, which is simply getting the most of what you want while giving up the least of what you want to keep.

Of course, you may have discovered the loop-hole by now. Good economy is “getting the most of what you want, while giving away the least of what you want to keep”. In other words, it has very little to do with money at all. If you value, as they say on p. 34, “always be eating food that was purchased at the lowest possible price” more than you value the enjoyment of the life, food, and personal tastes that you have—well, it would seem to say that eating canned beets is indeed economical.

The important thing is to realize that there is a difference between being “cheap” and being “economical”. Just because something is “the lowest possible price” doesn’t mean it’s economical. Looking for coupons, clipping coupons, remembering what coupons you have, finding the products you can use the coupons on, not loosing the coupons and remembering to use the coupons at the check-out are only economical if you value what ever amount of money is saved more than you value your time that you could have spent on other things. Eating fresh fruits and vegetables for only the first two weeks out of a month is only economical if you don’t mind eating processed fruits and vegetables, which loose some of their nutrients, taste and texture the more they are processed.

You must keep in mind what purpose it is that you have set out to accomplish. For example, on p. 15, they tout that “By comparison, we spend just $350 per month to feed a family of seven, including three growing boys!” Yeah? There’s a little picture of their family on the front cover. I’ll admit the females look perfectly well-fed, but compared to the growing boys and young men I need to feed, their boys all look like scarecrows without enough straw. Of course, not everyone is feeding a bunch of hulking, muscle-bound barbarians like I am, but I can promise you that if I tried to serve, as they recommend, “yogurt with fruit and crackers” for lunch, many of them would wind up being shaky from hunger by supper. I’ve seen it happen before, and I can tell you that such a “light” meal is not capable of sustaining the crowd I’ve got to feed. It’s a snack, nothing more. It is not economical when it doesn’t accomplish it’s purpose.

The plain fact of the matter is that different people have different nutritional needs. Another effective version of false economy is to only have female children, and give all the males up to adoption. Females eat a lot less than males. But even among males, there is a huge range of nutritional needs (some people will always be naturally skinny as a fence rail, but don’t expect everyone to live up to that). Even among any given individual, a persons needs will vary dramatically depending on what they’ve been doing that day.

Perhaps the most money-saving advice would be to do as they do, and “live in a suburban area where six to ten chains compete for market share” (emphasis mine). That would be very economical—provided you had no problems living in a suburban area (and it makes me a little sick to think of it). Location does play a part. I imagine it’s even cheaper to sleep on a park bench, but, if I have I choice, I’d rather pass on both of them.

What it comes down to is this: There Ain’t No Such Thing As a Free Lunch. You will always be paying somehow. The only question is how you will chose to pay. If you accept their economical system that “low dollar cost trumps all”, then most of their food shopping advice makes sense. But if anything—nearly anything at all—means more to you than hording all the little pieces of green paper that you can, you will find that most of the food shopping advice they give is as worthless to you as a car that won’t run.

I have had people tell me before, “Why don’t you buy bottled spaghetti sauce? It’s actually cheaper than making your own!” Because I don’t think that U.S. dollars spent is the most important factor. The quality of homemade sauce far exceeds that of pre-bottled sauce. Therefore, I am getting more of what I want (good food), and the few pennies different is not enough to out-weigh it. You can buy chocolate eclairs for a fraction of the price and time it would take to buy it—but the store-bought ones will be insipid in comparison.

If you want to save the most money, you might try looking in the dumpster out back to see if they’ve tossed any that were a day past expiration. If you want a true treat, something that is full of flavor and rich (as opposed to being full of fillers—commercial production specializes in keeping the cost of ingredients down), something that is truly extraordinary to eat. . .try making your own.

Only you can decide which is most economical.

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Last weekend, I was making pancakes to send to a relative. Multiple barbarians came by and said things like “Yum!”, “Yay!” and the like, and all were met with “These aren’t for you”, which was responded directly with snarls and grumps. Finally I said if someone else made the batter, I’d make pancakes for lunch. That’s no small offer; it means making over 200 pancakes, with enough batter it wouldn’t fit in most peoples’ dishpans.

Usually when I make pancakes, I keep them warm on platters in the oven until I’ve got them all made. Nobody can eat them till I’m done cooking. It takes about an hour of constant, high speed pancake turning to get them all made, and about 15 minutes for them all to disappear.

I began turning out dozen after dozen of pancakes onto a platter on the counter. Everyone hung about like a flock of vultures, but not a one of them was fool enough to touch the pancakes (past experiences indicating it not a wise idea). After I had a small lead, I decided to allow that they could start eating them hot—and so I entered Pancake Purgatory.

The lead that I had established disappeared in the time it would take an average human to sneeze, and people hadn’t even been called from the four corners of the house yet. Ever after that, any time I put down a pancake, it was snatched up off the platter in less time than it takes a germ to move (3-second rule, don’t cha know).

When you are turning pancakes onto a platter, you can see your progress. The platter becomes increasingly more full, and you can see yourself coming closer to achieving your goal. When you allow them to be eaten as soon as they are cooked, you never see anything but an empty platter. It’s like like a scene from a myth, were the guilty party is condemned to preform a meaningless task forever—like carrying water to fill a basin with gaping holes in the bottom. While you stand over the hot stove turning out pancake after pancake, you can feel the the passage of time without seeing any progress. Then you begin to think, “I’m not gaining on them at all. Since they’re eating them as I’m making them, they’re burning off calories as fast as they are eating them. At this rate, they will be hungry enough to keep on eating forever, and I shall never satiate their appetites.”

I finally confessed I felt like I’d been sentenced to purgatory for 500 years to work of my sins with pointless labor.

The consoled me that I only had enough sins to keep me there for 437 years.


Did I triumph? Of course not. I stuffed them fuller than a Christmas goose, but they were hungry again in a few hours. As usual.

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