"Baking With My Daughter" by Joseph Robert Mills + Sarah's Chocolate Chip Cookies

Sarah's Chocolate Chip Cookies (Eat This Poem)

When I first met Sarah, we shared a bowl of terrible guacamole. (Here's a picture to prove it.)

I was in Minneapolis for work and in the sliver of free time I had one evening, Sarah drove to the suburbs and met me in the hotel restaurant where I was staying. It was dark and lightly sprinkling, so the whole thing felt sort of moody and cozy while we sat next to the window overlooking a courtyard fountain. There may have been a fireplace, although my memory escapes me now. 

The wild rice soup wasn’t memorable either, but the company was. We talked about blogging, about writing, about our future books, the things we had in common, and as I expected, Sarah had the same warmth offline as she projected online. 

We both wrote our cookbooks around the same time and occasionally exchanged exasperated and/or encouraging emails about the process. I’ve been eagerly awaiting this arrival because I know how hard Sarah worked on it. She was committed wholeheartedly to creating the best book possible, with well-tested recipes and thoughtful writing. Putting a book into the world is an enormous task requiring devotion, time, energy, and in Sarah’s case, pounds and pounds of butter and flour, plus grateful friends and neighbors who could take pies and pastries off her hands. 

If you followed her Instagram at all this past year, you would have seen the occasional face and frequent stray hand of her son or daughter and read notes about her family life. I love how her kids were such a part of this process, and although my own son isn't old enough to help much in the kitchen, I look forward to the day when he stands next to me adding flour to a bowl or mixing dough, and today's poem captures this special moment so beautifully. 

Baking with My Daughter

by Joseph Robert Mills

I want to do it, she says at each step
of the recipe, and I try to let her
even if it means broken eggs on the counter,
too much salt, and too little flour.

She splays the dough onto the cookie sheet,
using the wooden spoon as if it’s a combination
snow shovel and mallet. When she turns away,
I try to perform a kind of cookie triage,
finding those blobs with a chance at survival
and nudging them into a vague roundness.

After they’re finished, she holds one aloft
like a medal and tells her mother,
I did these all by myself, right Daddy?
I nod, saying nothing, and, for the first time,
wonder how many of my own victories
were smoothed into shape behind my back.

From Love and Other Collisions (Press 53, 2010). Reprinted with permission from the author.

The first stanza delicately illustrates the never-ending dance of embracing childhood impulses alongside the patience we must summon as adults. No, the counter will not always be clean. No, the toys will not always be picked up. No, the laundry won't always be folded. No, they will do it this way or that way. But it doesn't matter, does it? 

I chuckled a bit in the middle, after the girl's father comes in to try and salvage the cookie dough, to give it "a chance at survival." It's an illustration in our daily task as parents: letting go of the should, and embracing whatever comes, even if it includes misshapen cookies. 

By the end of the poem we're privy to an insight only made possible by having a child of one's own. That is, the question of how many times the father's own parents did something similar, creating small victories in the midst of chaos. It's a beautiful tribute to the magical yet complicated relationships between parents and children, and one so many of us can relate to.

That is the job of the poet, and the role I like best of all: To make the mundane meaningful. Time stops, if only for the twelve minutes or so it takes for a tray of cookies to bake. And whether they are perfectly round or thick blobs on the sheet pan matters little. They will be eaten and loved because they were made by a father and daughter.

Sarah's Chocolate Chip Cookies (Eat This Poem)

When it comes to dessert, I tend to be a purist. You won’t find me adding avocado to brownies or making vegan birthday cakes. My sweet tooth isn’t strong, so when I do have a craving, I want the real deal. I can’t think of any circumstances under which chocolate chip cookies are not appropriate. It’s one of my favorite things to make, and I’m known for saying things like “It feels like a cookie day,” or “I just need a chocolate chip cookie” around the house. No one ever complains.

So, of course, this chocolate chip cookie recipe was the first treat I made from her beautiful cookbook. I’ve also bookmarked lots of goodies for the future. And as someone who occasionally feels daunted by the task of baking anything elaborate, Sarah actually makes me feel like I can do it. Her photos are beautiful yet welcoming, her voice is encouraging, and I might have found my absolute perfect birthday dessert, in the form of her raspberry cream cake which I’ll be making next May. 

But back to the cookies, which remind me of two things. 

In high school, I usually brought a packed lunch, but once a week I bought lunch from the cafeteria. It was always the same: a personal cheese pizza and a cookie. The cookie was slid into a brown bag made translucent with oil remnants seeping through, and like Sarah's cookies, it was a size that could comfortably feed a family of three. That's the first thing. These cookies also remind me, strangely, of my French bulldog's wrinkles. I know, it's a stretch, but if you happen to have a French bulldog of your own, you might understand why. 

Sarah's Chocolate Chip Cookies (Eat This Poem)

Now, a few baking notes.

First, read the recipe. It requires some freezing, several baking sheets, and whatever you do, DO NOT bake the cookies close together. They spread. 

If you, like me, have a side-by-side fridge/freezer situation that won't accommodate a large sheet pan, use a half-sheet pan instead. I possess only one, so I cooked two cookies at a time. It will take longer this way, but if you have a relaxing afternoon at home, not to worry. You can also bake them in the usual way (without freezing in advance, which I tried), by scooping rounds onto the baking sheet with a cookie scoop and baking for 14 minutes. They won't be as craggy, but as Sarah says, they will still be quite good.

Sarah anticipated readers' reservations about lifting up the tray and slapping it down, but it works. You'll see the bubble flatten out, and after three or four times of this, those edges will push out and get wrinkly, which is a very satisfying sight. 


Barely adapted from The Vanilla Bean Baking Book by Sarah Kieffer

Makes about 10 extra-large cookies

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 large egg
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons water
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped into bite-size pieces (not chips)

Preheat the oven to 350°F and line 3 baking sheets with aluminum foil, dull side up. (If you don't have this many sheet pans, or a small freezer, do this one at a time with a half-sheet pan instead.) 

In a small bowl, whisk the flour, baking soda, and salt.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle, beat the butter on medium until creamy. Add the granulated and brown sugars and beat on medium until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the egg, vanilla, and water and mix on low to combine. Add the dry ingredients and mix on low speed, then add the chocolate and mix until just combined.

Using a 1/3-cup measuring scoop, place balls an equal distance apart (2 cookies for a half sheet pan; 4 cookies for a regular sheet pan). Transfer to the freezer for 15 minutes. After you put the first baking sheet in the oven, put the second one in the freezer.

Place the chilled baking sheet in the oven and bake 10 minutes, until the cookies have puffed slightly in the center. Lift the side of the baking sheet up about 4 inches and gently let it drop down against the oven rack once or twice. This will feel strange, but you'll see the cookies flatten out, and the crinkly edges begin to form. 

After the cookies puff up again in 2 minutes, repeat lifting and dropping the pan. Repeat a few more times to create ridges around the edge of the cookie, baking a total of 16 to 18 minutes. Repeat with remaining cookie dough.

"When I Rise Up" by Georgia Douglas Johnson + Strawberry Buckwheat Cake

Strawberry Buckwheat Cake | Eat This Poem #cake #strawberry #summer #baking

It's hot and I am alone, shoving arugula, eggplant, basil, cherry tomatoes, and romaine in my tote bag. I drop my wallet on the asphalt after reaching for a bunch of cilantro, and crunch down to pick it up before fumbling for a twenty dollar bill and offering my piles of produce to the vendor for weighing.

Anything else? she asks. I shake my head.

Does it look like I can carry anything else? I think.

I stuff the change in my back pocket and sling the bag over my shoulder. Next, a loaf of bread. I clutch it to my chest and want to stay, linger, and try the honey and granola and chai tea samples that beckon. But I'm still sweating, and my bag is heavy. I have to remind myself that I'm pregnant and should take it easy. 

Back to the car. On my way out I see a crate of strawberries, and decide I deserve a little something for my troubles. For the sweat running down my neck. I wish I had worn sandals instead of sneakers and tied my hair into a ponytail before leaving.

At home, fan running, no longer sweating, I weigh strawberries to pass the time, waiting for Andrew's flight to land. He's been in Stockholm for work, and I try not to think about how if I weren't pregnant, I would have met him there and we would have jetted off to Prague or Rome or somewhere else we've been wanting to go together. Another time. With our son in tow, most likely, which I do like the sound of, come to think of it.

Having a baby, or in my case so far, growing a baby, has made me want to travel more, actually. Just in a general sense. I have nothing booked, no research started, and don't plan to worry myself with the challenges of flying or driving with a little one.

I think only about the fact that I want him to see the world, to be a global citizen, to taste spices in Morocco or drink tea in London, to see the dense streets of urban cities like Kathmandu, the dust, the traffic, the people who do not look like him but who want the same things in life. To stand in front of things that have survived, the monuments and castles and temples that tell us stories. To breathe it all in. 

For now, I inhale the sweet scent of strawberries, and eat as many as I can fit in my mouth before my stomach, my crushed, compressed stomach, says enough, enough for now.

Strawberry Buckwheat Cake | Eat This Poem #cake #strawberry #summer #baking

This is how I want the day to end: Eating pizza on our couch with dough I had lovingly made the day before so the yeasty flavor would be stronger, enjoying strawberry cake with whipped cream, and looking at photos from his trip.

But the day unfolds another way.

A few minutes before Andrew's plane lands, I take Emma outside for a quick walk. As we trudge back up the stairs, I reach for the keys in my back pocket and my keychain falls apart.

Two keys fall on the ledge below and I grab them before they spill over underneath the stairs. I put my keychain back together, grateful I found all the keys.

Except I don't find them all.

I don't notice until we're halfway down the hall, but the key to our condo is missing. 

I tug Emma's leash to scurry back outside. She sits sweetly on the top step while I crouch down as best I can (for the second time today), trying to spot the silver metal key among bark, dirt, old candy wrappers, and such. I can't fathom it has flung so far away to have been buried and become invisible. Yet it is. There is no glint, no shimmer, no hope in this dreadful moment.

Strawberry Buckwheat Cake | Eat This Poem #cake #strawberry #summer #baking

Andrew lands. I text him the bad news while he's in the line at customs. At least I have Emma, my car keys, the building key, and my sunglasses. I pick him up from the airport and we drive home, where he finds long sticks we use to push away old pine cone branches, searching again. Andrew even crawls halfway underneath the stairs to get a closer look. Nothing.

We call a locksmith. We are quoted $75 and end up paying $225. (This company, although timely, will be receiving a bad review on Yelp in the near future for poor communication about its pricing structure.) 

It could be worse. I tell myself this over and over.

I am reminded of a poem sent to me earlier in the week by It's a short, simple poem, about standing back and looking down at yourself from a vantage point that offers true perspective. It doesn't talk about what those things are. The reader may fill them in. As you read, you'll find the poem to be a reminder that in certain difficult moments, of which our lives are filled with many, we can choose how to respond to any situation. 

When I Rise Up

by Georgia Douglas Johnson, 1880 - 1966

When I rise up above the earth,
And look down on the things that fetter me,
I beat my wings upon the air,
Or tranquil lie,
Surge after surge of potent strength
Like incense comes to me
When I rise up above the earth
And look down upon the things that fetter me.

Strawberry Buckwheat Cake | Eat This Poem #cake #strawberry #summer #baking

This particular day, there is plenty to fetter me. Our evening turns into a long, expensive lesson learned, but it could be worse. Much, much worse. 

I try to be grateful for the following:

1) We have the money (not that we want to spend it on new locks, but still).

2) This crisis occurs the day Andrew comes home, instead of on Tuesday, when he is at a conference halfway around the world.

3) We have to change the locks and get new keys, and politely argue with a locksmith about the price we are quoted on the phone and the price he is insisting it costs for an emergency visit on a Saturday afternoon.

But then the locksmith leaves and we make pizza and eat strawberry cake as the sun goes down, and we resolve that Sunday will be a new day.


Slightly adapted from Smitten Kitchen, who adapted it from Martha Stewart

I used a 10-inch springform pan, and I liked how a thinner batter cradled the heavy, jammy berries on top. Deb suggested using barley flour, but since I love strawberries on top of my buckwheat pancakes, I decided it would be a good addition to cake, too, and loved the slightly nutty result.

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature, plus extra for pan
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup buckwheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup granulated sugar, plus 2 tablespoons for topping
1 large egg
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 pound strawberries, hulled and halved

Preheat oven to 350°F and butter a 10-inch springform pan. 

Whisk flours, baking powder and salt together in a small bowl. In the bowl of a standing mixer, beat butter and 1 cup sugar until pale and fluffy with an electric mixer, about 3 minutes. Mix in egg, milk and vanilla until just combined. Add dry mixture gradually, mixing until just smooth.

Pour into the buttered pan. Arrange strawberries, cut side down, on top of batter, as closely as possible in a single layer. Sprinkle remaining 2 tablespoons sugar over berries.

Bake cake for 10 minutes then reduce oven temperature to 325°F and bake cake until golden brown and a tester comes out free of wet batter, about 50 minutes to 60 minutes. Cool on rack before serving with a dusting of powdered sugar, or freshly whipped cream.

"Search" by Hester Knibbe + Einkorn Oatmeal Cookies

Einkorn Chocolate Oat Cookies

Can you think of a scenario when cookies do not provide comfort? I cannot.

Cookies are simple yet complex, nuanced with echoes of vanilla or spice. They are tender and chewy, yet firm around the edges. They can be singular. One can make us whole again. If one cookie is not enough, there are others. It's how they are made.

Cookies have also changed. While my heart still holds true to the classic chocolate chip variety, my baking has shifted over the years, incorporating more whole grain flours, healthier fats, and less sugar, so naturally the variety of cookies I consume has changed as well. And not only me. As a nation, as a family, as food bloggers, there has been a collective awakening about food in recent years that I've enjoyed being part of. 

Especially around this time of year, we're looking for foods to be more wholesome. It doesn't mean we don't indulge now and again, but there are solid alternatives when a craving strikes. Like these cookies from Tim and Shanna's debut, The Einkorn Flour Cookbook

Our entire relationship was made possible by the internet, I should note. I reluctantly joined Twitter when a friend (the same friend who encouraged me to start blogging) said at the very least I should create an account and claim my name before someone else does. Fair enough. That was February 2010. In the months that followed I, also reluctantly, began sharing posts and replying to tweets of bloggers I admired. Over a long period of time (we're talking years, not days or weeks), I even became friends with some of them.

That's how many of us food bloggers got to know each other at first. It was an easy way to have a short conversation or say hello without screaming "be friends with me!" in an obnoxious fan kind of way. Shanna was one of those people. Tweets turned to reading each other's blogs. Reading turned to emails. Emails turned to one crisp afternoon in Chicago when we finally met face to face (along with her husband Tim, Erin, and Alex and Sonja, too!). So now we're real life friends, which is the best. I love that about the food blog community.

So you can imagine my delight when this cookbook arrived at my door. And after I'd read through it, made my notes, and ordered a bag of einkorn flour, I settled on cookies. And when I took a bite, standing alone in the kitchen gazing out at the trees beyond my kitchen window, I sensed a poem should be found and the search began. It's title then, is entirely appropriate. 




Wandered tonight through a city
as ruined as a body with broken
ribs and a bared heart. Looked for you 

there with cookies in my pocket, searched 
for a sigh, for movement in demolished 
streets and alleys. Tonight

since I’d forgotten for a moment where you are,
I searched for you with hope in my bones.
But no matter how I lured you with my voice
and my eyes, walls of debris 

grew up steadily around you, cellars seemed
to creep around you. I remained alone
with those cookies in my pocket
and kept calling and walking.

Source: Poetry (May 2010).

Einkorn Chocolate Oat Cookies

In this poem we return to comfort. The cookies in the speaker's pocket are desperately needed on a cold night when she is wandering through a ruined city. A war? An earthquake? A relationship broken into pieces? We might never know, but the cookies are symbolic enough to trigger memories in each of us. Whether we're sitting around our childhood table dunking cookies in milk, smearing rounds with ice cream, breaking a off a warm piece to share with our spouse, or walking around a deserted city with crumbs in our pockets, cookies lead us home.

Einkorn Chocolate Oat Cookies


Einkorn was new to me until Tim and Shanna introduced it on their blog Food Loves Writing. Although I don't have gluten sensitivities, I do appreciate having a variety of flours to call on in my baking. 

These cookies bake up thin, crisp on the outside where the edges turn a bit golden, and tender in the middle. The hint of coconut reminds me faintly of one of my favorite girl scout cookies, Samosas, but far more healthful. The chocolate adds a nice decadence, too. 

Recipe slightly adapted from Tim and Shanna Mallon, The Einkorn Cookbook

1/4 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup coconut oil, softened
1 cup cane sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup all-purpose einkorn flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups old-fashioned oats
3 1/2 ounces dark chocolate, chopped

Preheat oven to 325 degrees and line two baking sheets with parchment paper or a silpat. In a large bowl, use a wooden spoon to sir together all ingredients except the oats and chocolate, until well mixed. Finally, add the oats and chocolate and stir until just combined.

Drop dough by the spoonful onto prepared baking sheets, leaving at least an inch between cookies (they will spread). Bake for 12-15 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through, until firm and golden.

Makes 20 cookies