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Cookies Are My Heroine

This recipe has been dubbed “best ever” by my husband, who gets to eat Tiff’s Treats on a regular basis. I surprised him with a box of freshly baked cookies a couple weeks ago when he had to work late (I so rock).

I love cookies. I love them in an indecent and dangerous way. And warm, homemade cookies are really just the bees knees. This recipe is adapted from a Cooking Light recipe, but there’s nothing light about them when I’m done with it, other than the texture which is a little airier and chewier than your average cookie. Enjoy!

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (about 5 1/2 ounces)
1 cup quick oats

3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed brown
1/3 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 large egg
1/2 cup chopped pecans, toasted
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips 1/2 cup white chocolate chips
1/4 cup finely shredded unsweetened coconut

Preheat oven to 350°.

Combine flour and next 4 ingredients (through salt), stirring with a whisk; set aside.

Place sugars and butter in a large bowl (I use my KitchenAid mixer); beat with a mixer at medium speed until well blended. Add vanilla and egg; beat until blended.

Gradually add flour mixture, beating at low speed just until combined. Stir in pecans, chips and coconut. Drop dough by tablespoonfuls 2 inches apart onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Bake at 350° for 12 minutes or until edges of cookies are lightly browned (they usually take a couple minutes longer in my oven, make sure they’re not raw in the middle). Cool on pans 2 minutes. Remove cookies from pans; cool on wire racks.


Spirituality and Chocolate

One of the things that confirmed my former distrust of religion took place when I was in the second grade. My best friend was a little girl who lived near me. She and her parents were very Christian, and my parents were very not. I didn’t ask my friend about what she believed, but I knew that I, and my family, did not hold the same beliefs. My friend decided one day that she couldn’t reconcile the fact that we were best friends and that I didn’t believe in God. She told me that if I didn’t start believing, we couldn’t be friends. With infallible seven-year-old logic, I told her that that was absurd, and it would be like me telling her she had to stop believing to be my friend. This did not go over very well, and we stopped talking for a few days. Her parents subsequently convinced her that she should make up with me and stop pressuring me to have the same beliefs as her.

Until recently, I have steered very clear of discussions pertaining to religion with people who adhere to a specific church. But in the last few months, since my own spiritual awakening, I have cautiously stuck my toe back into the theological discussion pool. This is because my own experience has caused me to reframe how I interpret a lot of my past experiences, and to reconsider the judgments and assumptions I made about others’ beliefs.

The first few discussions I had were very validating and open exchanges with other people whose path to spirituality had also been fairly winding and not always conventional. But more recently I’ve had some conversations with people who are stricter adherents to one specific religion or another, and those conversations have been frustrating and confusing.

Let me preface this by saying that I experience what many call God as a universal consciousness that, if I clear my head enough (or sometimes even if I don’t), I can recognize is part of me, and that I am a very small part of it. The sense of “I” that separates me from everyone and everything else seems less substantial than it used to, and I also am capable of feeling more compassion and acceptance of myself and others than I did previously. Most religions, including Christianity, have something to say about God as the unnameable, unfathomable source of all existence. They also usually say, at some point, that God is love, and that God is accessible to everyone without any external help. So I think that the major religions have much in common, and are different culture’s ways of interpreting what is a universal experience. That is why the same themes, archetypes, and stories show up in totally different regions at different points in history.

So to me, and many others, one religion does not invalidate another. Experiencing a profound sense of connection to the Virgin Mary does not mean that someone who connects to Ganesha is wrong and is worshiping a false God. It just means that the Virgin Mary is a symbol that resonates most closely with your experience of Spirit, while Ganesha is what provides that connection for someone else. Others connect to spirit through nature. Some religions don’t anthropomorphize God at all, claiming that doing so may limit our ability to experience spirit.

The thing that is really giving me trouble these days is this very idea, that one path to spirituality is “better” than the next. And in this age of diversity and political correctness, it is rare that someone would come out and say that their religion is the only way. But I’ve had some conversations lately where that has been the not so subtle subtext.

So substitute “Chocolate” for your specific religious institution of choice, and the conversation goes something like this:

Me: I’ve discovered ice cream lately. Boy, is it great! I’ve tried several flavors, and I like home made vanilla the best so far.

Them: I was raised with Hershey’s chocolate ice cream, and it makes me really happy. I don’t know that much about your vanilla, but I’m sure it’s fine.

Me: I don’t object to chocolate, there are qualities I enjoy, but vanilla is what really works for me. I’ve also tried coffee and pistachio so far. I’m going to try some other flavors too, and see how I like them.

Them: But Hershy’s chocolate is the original flavor, you can’t really like ice cream unless you like chocolate.

Me: Actually, there were flavors before chocolate that shared similar qualities, and all ice cream is made of the same basic components, they just have different flavors.

Them: Just try some more chocolate. I’m sure you’ll come to love it the way I do, and then you’ll understand. All those other flavors are just poor imitations, you can’t really love ice cream unless you love chocolate ice cream.

Me: Check, please.

After a while, I find myself wondering why the fact that a different flavor of ice cream (spirituality) is most appealing to me (after a lifetime of searching for one I like) should be so difficult for someone else to accept. The conclusion I tend to jump to is that the fact that I believe in something that on the surface seems different (or really just less clearly defined and dogmatic) is unsettling to them and may call into question their own beliefs. Which is weird to me, because I can’t imagine telling someone that their connection to God isn’t as strong, or valid, or advanced as my own. That would just be lame. I’m not questioning the validity of their relationship with God, why should they question mine?

And to get back to the chocolate metaphor, who can say what anything in this world smells, tastes, looks or feels like to another. One of my ex-boyfriends was red-green colorblind. He literally and provably saw the world differently than I did. Does that make what he saw a lie? Of course not. What I respond to and how I experience the world is not exactly the same as anyone else, and is not subject to debate. It just is. Perception by its nature can not be anything but individual and subjective.

So I guess I’m a little sad that I haven’t been able to have a more constructive conversation regarding religion so far with people who are less universalist than I am. But I’m also kind of amused that in some ways, those conversations have born a striking resemblance to the one I had with my friend in the second grade. I’m just glad that her parents’ take on their religion left room for people with different views, so we could still be friends.

Brave Sir Robin, no longer

Loki has come along tremendously in the last few months. When we left for Hawaii in December, I was terrified of leaving him alone with a stranger (Bill, our house/dogsitter is possibly the most dog-friendly person EVER). Loki had never gotten comfortable with anyone besides David and myself. Sure enough, he didn’t come out from under the bed and make friends with Bill until 5 days into our trip. (Yes, I called almost every day. Yes, I know I was on my honeymoon. I’m just crazy that way.) Eventually he decided that Bill was okay, but he would hop up with him on the couch at night to sleep and shiver for the first ten minutes. That’s m’boy.

But after we got back, he seemed to have made some steps forward. He tolerated my parents’ presence in the house for several days, and was more outgoing with visitors. We decided it was time for him to have a companion, and got Persephone. Backsliding commenced.

Loki seemed terribly hurt whenever we gave Persephone affection, and was more twitchy than ever. Lots of shaking, and when we had to correct Persephone for being a crazy terrier puppy, he was more traumatized than she was. So we hired a trainer.
At the same time I started reading Caesar Milan’s book and watching his tv show. Blending the lessons from our trainer with Caesar’s dog psychology approach, we realized that part of Loki’s fearfulness was our over-nurturing behavior and lack of strong leadership. It took a while to change our habits, but we took his philosophy to heart and instituted stronger boundaries and rules, and more exercise for both of the dogs.

Today, Loki is almost a different creature. When we left town for our reception, we had a new dogsitter. I called after we got to California, dreading that Loki was cowering under the bed again. Brett said he’d taken about ten minutes to warm up. Both dogs slept with him every night. Loki has made friends with our trainer (dubbed FoodMan), is downright affectionate with my friend Emily, and totally loves playing with other dogs.

The clincher was this weekend. Usually I put off taking Loki to Petsmart for a nail trim because of the total carnage that ensues. He refuses to walk, barfs in the car, and struggles madly. It takes two groomers to clip his nails. This weekend there was no car barfing, I didn’t have to carry him through the store, and the groomer practically berated me for warning him that Loki would struggle. He was a total lamb. David and I were both amazed. He didn’t even sulk afterwards!

I used to think that you could love the trauma out of pets (and people), but really, that makes little sense. A toddler needs strong, clear boundaries to be healthy and safe, and so do dogs. If you don’t dwell on their issues, neither do they. Go figure!

Weddingstravaganza, Part the Second

We spent Friday through Monday in Santa Barbara doing the wedding thing all over again. My parents threw us a couple of great parties. They hosted a rehearsal dinner at the house, which my brother Shaun cooked a stupendous Ethiopian Feast for, and a luncheon at the Harbor Restaurant which is right down on the water. David’s parents came out with us and got to enjoy a trip to the Botanic Gardens, The St. Barbara Mission (very historical), a whale watching trip, and a winery. David and I also went to the SB Zoo and took some cool pictures.

I went to the Botanic Gardens, and my friend Roxanna took me for a Bachelorette Breakfast and spa treatment. David and I ate some awesome food while we were there as well, we had a great Mexican dinner on Friday, I grabbed my favorite peanut butter banana smoothie from Blenders on Saturday, when we also enjoyed Shaun’s feast, and we had some amazing sushi on Monday. So enjoy the photo tour below, lots more pictures on my Flickr page if you want to see more.

Santa Barbara Botanical Gardens:
The view
California State Flower
Ethiopian Feast:
Festivities in progress:

Iron Chef Shaun

Amber inspects the fish centerpieces for the reception:

Reception Day
Serenaded by Kaleo, longtime friend of Shaun and a native of Hawaii:
The amazing cake baked by my mom:

Last day, trip to the Zoo:
A final sushi lunch before the airport