Sunday, January 5, 2014

Shifts I've Made and Cookies I've Baked

I was reoriented to a term when I spent four months back in a land I love, New Zealand, a few years ago. The term was shift, which, of course, is familiar to my ears, but the way it was used confused me initially.


Over there, when you move from one house to another, you ask your friends if they'll help you "shift." I would hear this and picture a person shifting their weight from one leg to the other. How could such a subtle movement, essentially stationary and ineffectual to those around you, be equated with boxing up nearly your entire life, possibly organizing a garage sale, and spending days lifting heavy containers and foregoing decent sleep to uproot and re-root?

I struggled to not get distracted in conversation when "shift" was used in this way, as inwardly I wanted to insist that the word move held more weight. I like the idea of something of greater importance and drama, of braving new territory and discovering great new things. Over time, though, the verbs have become interchangeable to me as well.


I occasionally use "shift" when talking about my transition to California, and it seems to suit.

This word has not changed in its subtly as it has crept in; rather the concept of making a geographical move (whether house to house or country to country) has needed less weight and significance applied to it. For perhaps obvious reasons, we can get carried away with the expectations in making a move. A new home becomes a new start with fewer possessions (yet don't they too easily begin to accumulate again?). A new city becomes a new picture of self and dreams, goals, and identity (inevitably a new wardrobe and different body creep into this fantasy too...). Scooting off to a different country is so tied to the notion of adventure that we forget that loneliness is a universal experience.

The realist in me seems to be quite present as I look over the last year and all the shifts in life that have happened. They have indeed impacted my life significantly, but in and of themselves, they have not been able to go deep in making any lasting changes. It's still me in this body with these moods and opinions, journeying through these days. I still put on the same three bracelets every day, drive on American freeways, am within easy access of Starbucks, and crave pastries for breakfast.

I'm thrilled to have made the shift I did when I look around at the relationships that have begun in this city; I already cannot imagine going without them. I am entirely content to be where I'm at when I can coordinate a fairly simple road trip four hours south to hold a newly born niece and nephew (compared to being a plane flight away).


Not-so-old memories creep in as I lay my head on my pillow and give a brief thought to the option of setting an alarm. I used to live by alarm clocks and never felt rested enough -- six months ago, my life as a pastry chef required setting my alarm for within the five o'clock hour. I would even come home after certain shifts and crawl right back into bed, squeezing my eyes tight to shut out the daylight. Last January I was living on an entirely different schedule as the manager of a small business with varying work shifts day-to-day at a place that was open from noon to 10 P.M.

There have been so many changes which could be accentuated and dwelt upon! But as the years add up and the number of transitions in life become impossible to count, a fluidity connects it all, and I recognize that the measure of movement within that comes from these shifts is mostly up to me.

One delightful way to hold together these chapters is through food memories. Each country, city, group of friends, or season can be associated with particular food and drink interests and enjoyments at the time. As I was wrapping up my life in Bellingham in June, I made a trip to Seattle to visit my cousin, and we discovered this memorable combination of flavors at Arabica Lounge on Capitol Hill in Seattle.

We were catching up over delicious espresso and beautifully presented egg-y breakfast dishes while seated at the bar seats facing outside and passers-by. We returned to the counter to pick out sweet treats to-go after our meal, and I am so glad I chose the Mango and Chili Crackle. It was deeply cocoa-y, studded with nibbles of dried mango and dark chocolate, and had a confident presence of warming chili powder.


The metamorphosis of my recipe came from a small amount of macadamia nuts in my kitchen and a craving for dark chocolate. I started thinking of adding mango and then recalled these cookies and knew chili powder needed to go in too. Just a couple weeks before, and I had been perusing the archives of a beautiful blog, Local Milk, and come across these enticing cookies. I figured they would be the perfect platform to work from for my own creation.

Double Chocolate Mango Chili Cookies
Adapted from Local Milk Blog

I brought these cookies to two different groups, and both were raving about them for the next few weeks (and beyond). I used 1/2 teaspoon of a strong chili powder that created a lovely effect of warming the back of the throat distinctly in the course of eating the cookie, but by the end the lingering flavor was more deep chocolate and salty-sweet than burning heat.

Yields about two dozen cookies.

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup cocoa powder, sifted
1 tsp kosher salt
3/4 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2-1 tsp chili powder (increase or decrease depending on heat of particular spice and personal preference)
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs, room temperature
4 oz. dark chocolate chips
4 oz. milk chocolate chips
2/3 cup dried mango, finely chopped
1/2 cup macadamia nuts, finely chopped (optional)
raw turbinado sugar, to coat (optional)
flaky sea salt (e.g. Maldon) to garnish

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Whisk together flour, cocoa powder, salt, baking soda, baking powder, and chili powder in a bowl.

In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, cream butter until pale and fluffy. Scraping down as needed, beat in sugars until very smooth and fluffy again, 2-3 minutes.

On medium speed, add vanilla and one egg at a time until incorporated. Slowly add dry ingredient mixture on low speed, stopping right before it is entirely incorporated. Remove from machine and use a large spatula or wooden spoon to fold in chocolate chips, dried mango, and macadamia nuts.

Spoon dough into Tablespoon-sized balls, roll gently between palms, and place in freezer for about 20 minutes if wanting to bake immediately, or allow to freeze completely, move to zip-lock for longer storage, and freeze for up to two weeks before proceeding to next step.

Once the cookie balls are chilled to almost-firm, remove from freezer, roll in turbinado sugar to coat, and space evenly on a baking tray lined with parchment. Sprinkle the top of each with flaky sea salt, and bake for 10-14 minutes, until edges are set and the top looks just barely wet.

Allow to cool slightly on their tray before moving to a cooling rack. Once completely cool, store in an airtight container for up to 24 hours...if there are any left to store!


Rachael said...

Thanks for coming back to your blog :) It is always such a pleasure to read, listen to you, and imagine tasting your delicious baking. Thank you for the delight.

Grant Meidal said...

Ahhh, I always relax when I read your blog

La deco de N said...

I love cooking but i'm actually really bad at it...