Chocolate Mint Cookies and More

I was feeling a bit sad this morning, because Girl Scout cookie season is over, and we had eaten up all of our Thin Mints. Actually, I don’t remember eating them–one moment we had a full box of Thin Mints, the next moment, two empty cellophane sleeves and some crumbs lay on the floor.

So this morning I decided to ease ourselves through this (very small) crisis and make some Chocolate Mint Cookies from one of my favorite cookie cookbooks, Big, Soft, Chewy Cookies by Jill Van Cleave. I have made many recipes from this book, and each has been delish.

These were no exception. I would say they are better than Thin Mints, but the thought of the delightful little Girl Scout who came to our door selling cookies makes that seem a bit churlish. They are actually different from Thin Mints, being big, soft as feathers, moist and fudgy, with the frosting, made with heavy cream, adding a bright pepperminty touch. And, you get to drizzle! Here is the recipe:

Chocolate Mint Cookies

4 ounces semisweet chocolate, cut into pieces
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, cut into pieces
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup whipping cream
1 teaspoon peppermint extract
1-3/4 cups cake flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
Mint Cream Icing

Heat oven to 350 degrees, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Melt chocolate and butter in the microwave for about 2-1/2 minutes on half power. Stir until completely melted. Set aside.

In a mixing bowl, beat the sugar and egg until blended. Add whipping cream and peppermint extract. Stir in cooled chocolate mixture. In a separate bowl, mix flour, baking powder and salt. Add to creamed mixture. Set mixture aside for a few minutes as you tidy up–it will become quite firm. Using a large ice cream scoop, drop dough onto prepared cookie sheet, about 2-1/2 inches apart.

Bake until top of cookie look crackled, about 12 minutes. Allow them to firm up for a few minutes, and transfer to a rack for cooling,

Mint Cream Icing: Mix until smooth one cup powdered sugar, 5 tablespoons whipping cream and one teaspoon peppermint extract. Cut the tip off of a plastic sandwich bag, fill with frosting, and drizzle over cooled cookies. When drizzling, keep a firm pressure on the bag, and move along quickly. This icing recipe made enough to drizzle over the cookies twice.

Baking Notes: Be sure to use peppermint extract, not spearmint. Peppermint is sharp and tingly, spearmint a bit musty, in my opinion. Be sure to use cake flour, and whipping cream, not milk, because these ingredients make a difference to the soft richness of the cookie.

Pictured below: Ingredients, chopping the chocolate, chocolate and butter ready for microwave, after melting, mixing batter, cookies ready for baking, and baked cookies, showing crackled, domed tops.

The soft, fudgy interior.


I know spring is here when 1) the snowdrops are blooming, 2) the rhubarb is emerging, and 3) robins sit calmly on fence posts, basking in the sun. Here is just such a robin, the sun shining through his translucent beak.


And from the Paper Butterfly Scrapbook, come these pages of the amazing Iris Butterflies. If you have irises, you probably will have these lovely butterflies fluttering amidst the blossoms inconspicuously.

These Iris Butterflies were made from instructions in “Origami Flowers: Fold Beautiful Paper Bouquets,” by Kazuo Kobayashi. I used 3″ squares of rice paper, tinted with violet and blue watercolors.

Peace to you. Fran

Melted Brie in a Box and More

The pathway to this week’s post was short and sweet. I was browsing among our library’s cookbooks (love doing this, could spend the rest of my life doing this) and I ran across two French cookbooks by author Hillary Davis: French Comfort Food and The French Oven. I had riffled only a few pages through the first book when I ran across a recipe for “Brie Melted in Box with Brown Sugar for Two.” Had. To. Make.

Fast forward a few hours, after a quick trip to the store, and Jim and I were snarfing down the melted Brie in box, and I knew I had to make it again and to share–it’s so good! And easy. Here are the particulars:

You could make this with crackers, but the baguette was perfect.
You will need an 8 ounce Brie cheese in a box.
Take it out of its box, and then remove the paper wrapper.
The cheese will be covered with a thin rind.
With a sharp knife, slice off the top rind. (It doesn’t have to be perfect.)
Put the cheese back in the box, and then cover it with one to two tablespoons of brown sugar. Place it in a baking dish and then into a preheated 350 degree oven for about six to ten minutes, until oozy. You can also heat up your baguette at the same time.
The recipe suggested serving the baked Brie with jam, fruit compote, or honey and walnuts. We tried jam, with our favorite being cherry preserves. This raspberry jam was good, too!
The jam stirred and in a small bowl.
Melting, oozing cheese!
Spoon some melted Brie onto the warm baguette slice, then top with a little jam.
The Brie, baguette and jam. Oh, my.
This recipe serves two. You might think it would be impossible for two people to eat all this, including the whole baguette, but there was only a teaspoon of jam and a blob of cheese rind left. You can eat the rind, though it’s optional.

You might notice something in the above photos: I forgot to put the Brie back in the box before putting it in the oven! My only defense is that sometimes my kitchen turns into Grand Central Station, with Puff wanting out, and then in, and then out, Jim circling like a buzzard over the cheese, the news on . . . and well, I forgot to put it back in the box. But I can testify that it works beautifully and is delicious either way!


Wild Starling Free-for-All

The sparkle of Spring is in the air, and birds have returned. I had never thought of starlings as beautiful birds until I saw them close up. They are so handsome! Here is a wild starling free-for-all with suet.


Page from the Paper Butterfly Scrapbook

More pages continue to fall from the old Paper Butterfly Scrapbook I found in a dusty attic. This page actually features moths. An old clipping, dated February 1962, noted the following: “A squadron of young moths, inspired by John Glenn’s orbit around the Earth in Friendship 7, are on their way to the moth constellation Noctuoidea. This constellation will not be found on any human celestial map. Bon Voyage, Moths!” It is not known if the moths reached their destination–perhaps another clipping with reveal this. Peace to you. Fran



Coconut Macaroons and More

A platter of coconut macaroons.

The moment I saw the bags of organic, unsweetened coconut flakes sold at Aldi–they are something new–and noticed there was a recipe on the back of the bag for Coconut Macaroons, I had to try them. I had a vague, childhood memory of macaroons–that they were chewy and delicious with the fresh flavor of snowy white coconut. And I liked the simplicity of this recipe–just egg whites, powdered sugar, coconut and salt. At any rate, I was soon in the kitchen, baking.

They are delicious! The outside is toasted and crispy, the inside chewy. The chewy coconut center is so good. You could dip these in melted chocolate, but sometimes sweet and simple is best. Here is the recipe.

Coconut Macaroons

4 egg whites
1-1/4 cups powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
7-ounce bag of organic coconut

Preheat oven to 325 degrees, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Sift together the powdered sugar and salt. Beat egg whites until very stiff, gradually adding the sugar mixture while beating. Fold in coconut. Using a small cookie scoop, drop batter onto prepared baking sheet. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until bottoms are golden brown.

Baking notes: There are quite a few recipes out there for Coconut Macaroons–some made with sweetened condensed milk, some with more coconut, some with flour or granulated sugar. But I do like the easiness of these, and that they are not overwhelmingly sweet–the coconut flavor is front and center. They will become softer and chewier the next day.

Ingredients, and the copper bowl I used.

Since I had a copper bowl, I used it, but you could use any bowl. There is a scientific reason why egg whites beat up really well in a copper bowl–something to do with copper ions and the protein in the egg white–but my eyes glazed over as I read about it, so I won’t include it here.

Separate the eggs before you do anything else–they will warm up a bit and have bigger volume when beaten. Also, be sure the bowl and beaters are super clean.
Add the sifted sugar/salt as you beat.
The egg white foam will expand as you beat in air.
Beat at high speed for about five to six minutes, until the egg whites are stiff.
Fold in the shredded coconut, scooping under the batter with a spatula. This is the fun part!
Scoop batter out onto the baking sheet. I used a small cookie scoop, but you could use a tablespoon.
Baked macaroons fresh from the oven.
I sprinkled some powdered sugar on the macaroons.
The chewy center, the crispy crust.
Coconut macaroons and snow drops–a nice combination.

And the birds are back, including a large flock of red winged blackbirds roosting in our juniper tree. And here is a sweet little female goldfinch. We’ve survived winter!

I still am poring through the Paper Butterfly Scrapbook, and finding new pages. A faded newspaper clipping fell out the other day with an item about the debut of a tissue paper butterfly in Swan Lake. Apparently, she was a wild success. To quote: Beating her wings and antennae in time to the limpid strains, the ravishing butterfly enthralled the crowd.

Another scene, with the corps de ballet. Note: We know that she went on to dance with both Nureyev and Baryshnikov, but has recently retired to Costa Rica.

Peace to you. Fran

Jammy Muffins and More

Spring paid a fleeting visit yesterday, just long enough for its sunbeams to point out the dusty corners in my kitchen and the windows that need washing. But instead of sweeping and window washing, I found myself making Jammy Muffins. This is another recipe from Muffins A to Z, by Marie Simmons. (I just checked, and it’s available for 15 cents plus shipping at Amazon. A bargain.)

Jammy Muffins are made with an insane amount of sour cream, and then topped with a jewel of sparkling jam. They are moist and delicious, and are so perfect 1) to eat, of course and 2) for a brunch. I baked these muffins in PaperChef parchment tulip cups. I recommend these cups, even though they cost more than the usual cupcake liners, because they make any muffin look cute and festive, and like they come from a pastry shop. So here’s the recipe for twelve jammy, sour-creamy toasty muffins.

Jammy Muffins

2-1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
16 ounces sour cream
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
12 teaspoons of your favorite jam

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper cupcake liners

Sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the sour cream, eggs and vanilla until smooth. Add to the dry ingredients all at once and stir in just until moistened. Using a mounded 1/4 cup ice cream scoop, divide the batter evenly up among the cupcake liners. Make a small hollow in the batter with the tip of a spoon, and spoon one teaspoon of jam into each hollow

Bake until the tops are golden–about 20 to 22 minutes.

Baking notes: Be sure to sift the dry ingredients together, especially making sure that any baking soda lumps are broken up. I used a fancy-schmancy Four Fruit Jam for this recipe, but any favorite jam will be fine. Stir the jam so it’s smooth, before using. Also, when you add the dry ingredients, there may be a nervous moment when you wonder if there is too much flour, but it will be fine. You might want to scoop up under the dough with a spatula, just to make sure all the flour is mixed in. The dough is solid because the eggs and sour cream are the only liquid.

The muffin revealed in all its glory.
The texture of the muffin is fine and moist.
Muffins on a china platter.
Total jamminess. Big question: Will you eat the muffin and leave the jam for the last bite? Or will you go for the jam first? I’m a jam last person.

PS: Directions for the coiling blue mat seen above can be found at my friend Dawn’s blog. I used a single color of pale blue cotton.

Photos below: Ingredients, sifting the flour, the paper tulip cups, stirring the jam before using, whisking the sour cream mixture, the batter, the filled muffins before baking.



Last step: licking the spoon.

After the silence of winter, it was nice to hear birds singing this morning, when Jim and I went out for our Monday morning breakfast. Here is a female cardinal who appeared at our feeder yesterday. She was in a hurry to leave when she saw my camera!

Another page from the Paper Butterfly Scrapbook. It shows that rarity of all rarities: fraternal twin plaid butterflies. Identical twins are often seen, but fraternal? Almost never!

Seen yesterday, in the early Spring sky, the moon and clouds. Peace to you. Fran


Little Sesame Whole Wheat Soda Breads and Frilly Butterflies

An article in an old Gourmet magazine caught my eye–it was all about making small-sized quick breads for holiday giving, and their recipe for Sesame Whole-Wheat Soda Bread looked especially good. The loaves, which are about four to five inches across, sounded perfect for wintertime dinners–golden brown and nubby with oats and sesame seeds, and quick to make. And they are so cute! Each chubby little loaf is perfect for two to three diners, and they can be frozen. Oh, and they taste delicious! And slices can be toasted. Here is the recipe.

Sesame Whole Wheat Soda Bread

2 cups whole wheat flour
1-1/3 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) butter, cut into bits
2/3 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1/4 cup sesame seeds
1-2/3 cups buttermilk

Preheat oven to 425 degrees, and line a baking sheet with parchment.

In a bowl, stir together the whole wheat flour, the all-purpose flour, baking soda, salt, and brown sugar. Add the butter and mix and smear it in with your fingertips until the mixture looks like coarse meal. Stir in the oats and sesame seeds, and add the buttermilk. Stir until the mixture forms a rough ball.

Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and knead lightly for about a minute until smooth. Form into a rectangle (see photo) and cut into fourths. Form each quarter into a smooth ball, and flatten slightly. Transfer to the prepared baking sheet, brush the tops with additional buttermilk, and sprinkle with more sesame seeds. Cut an 1/8-inch deep X into each loaf and bake the breads for about 25 minutes, or until golden brown.

Baking notes: I made a number of changes to the original recipe, mainly reducing the amount of sugar (the one tablespoon rounds out the flavor of the bread), added a bit more buttermilk and baked the breads longer. The mixed dough should be fairly light textured and wet–only slightly sticky.

Photos: The butter before and after being mixed into the flour, the type of oats to use, the mixed dough, the dough cut into fourths and the breads ready for the oven.


Fresh from the oven.

Is it done? Check out the bottom–it should be golden brown.

After baking, I set aside a loaf for dinner, and then allowed the rest to cool. Then I placed them in a plastic bag–twisted it tightly, and placed the bag in the freezer. I have a loaf out on the kitchen table right now, defrosting. We will have it with homemade chicken soup and a fruit salad for desert.

Frilly Butterflies

More pages have fallen out of the inexhaustible Paper Butterfly Scrapbook that I found a few weeks ago, and I particularly liked this frilly butterfly, which can be used as a bookmark.

Frilly butterfly

Again, I determined to make my own. Fortunately, I have a Fiskars Corner Punch, and plenty of origami paper. This corner punch may be available at craft stores, and is also available on Etsy and eBay.

The paper corner is inserted into the punch, and then the punch is pressed down.
After punching.
Prepare the paper by cutting off a 2″ strip.

The directions for folding the butterfly can be found here, or in the book Minigami by Gay Merrill Gross. The book is available on Amazon for $3 + shipping, and is a good buy–lots of fun projects.

Before folding, punch each corner, as shown.
This is what it should look like, halfway finished.
Back of finished butterfly, showing pocket.
In use.
Another example, in brown.

I found more pages of frilly butterflies, perhaps a subspecies, that I also sought to replicate. It’s only function is to be pretty. Here is one cavorting in a field of watercolor flowers.

The directions for this butterfly, which apparently comes from Australia, can be found here. This calls for a square of paper, again, with the corners punched.

The paper for this butterfly is called “Kraft” and is from Yasutomo. It’s available at Joann’s craft store.
Another frilly butterfly.

One thing I learned while doing this project–the type of corner punch makes a difference. The Fiskars punch shown here makes a nice frilly edge. If you have a different corner punch, try it on a piece of scrap paper to see if you like it. Peace to you. Fran






Making Your Own Watercolor Origami Butterflies

While leafing through the dusty old Paper Butterfly Scrapbook (featured in last week’s post), sheaves of photos fell out, all showing that rarest of species: watercolor butterflies. Their translucent wings glowed with color, and I became determined to create my own.

After much experimentation, I came up with the following instructions for creating our own watercolor butterflies. But be forewarned! As you can see above, as soon as they are created, they fly away.


Watercolor Origami Butterfly Instructions

The butterflies are made with Oriental Rice Paper, which can be obtained at your local craft store: look in the calligraphy department.


This paper is soft, and is difficult to cut if your paper cutter is not razor sharp. I used a T-square, pencil and scissors to cut my squares into 6″ and 7″ squares.


You can use watercolors or inks for this project. You will also need a paint brush.
Have ready a thick sheaf of newspaper on your work surface. (If you use ink, you might want to first cover your work surface with a piece of plastic, as ink can stain.) Then, totally wet your paper square. Just hold it under running water in your kitchen sink. Shake the wet paper out, and lay it on the pad of newspaper.

Note: The paper must be moist for this process to work. Handle the moist paper gently, as it could tear. The newspaper will absorb extra moisture.

I am making morning glory paper here. Just dab circles of blue dots, and then dab in a yellow center.
The finished morning glory origami paper.
You can also carefully fold your moist paper and dip the edges into ink for a tie-dyed effect.

Or, your can simply drop blobs of ink or watercolor onto the moist paper and see what happens. Here are some things I came up with.

Let the paper dry, and then iron it to make it smooth for folding.

Here are some butterflies I folded with these papers. The large butterfly is made with the morning glory design.

Last week I made another group of these butterflies. (Most of these butterflies are folded from a pattern created by Akira Yoshizawa. You can round off the wings with scissors, if you wish.)

A squadron of butterflies.

A closer look.

One last page fell from the scrapbook. It told of a butterfly who had flown so many miles that her wings had became torn and tattered. But she is still beautiful!

Peace to you. Fran


A Paper Butterfly Scrapbook

Found in a dusty attic, a scrapbook of paper butterflies. Where did it come from? Who was its author? I don’t know. There was no date or name given, though I continue my research. As I leafed through its photos and its tableau vivant¬†of natural history displays and ephemera, I thought I would share just a fraction of its pages here, along with a few of its scribbled comments. The scrapbook was so fragile that the cover came off in my hands . . .

On the first page: A great blue-winged butterfly, alighting after its travels.
. . . butterflies from far flung climes . . .
They may have come from the Galapagos Islands, as a tiny map of those islands was found clutched in the wing of one of these intrepid flyers. (This may be the first incontrovertible proof that butterflies use maps when they migrate. Who knows?)
A rare “lacey wing” butterfly–so few of these still survive!
Another rarity–the Mariposa butterfly, his wings adorned with birds.
Supposedly rare, these waxed paper butterflies are everywhere–but you can only see them out of the corner of your eye.
The sky is always blue when this happy-go-lucky butterfly is aloft.


A wonderful collection of watercolored butterflies–something to emulate in our spare time?.
Butterfly No. 298. That’s all we know about him.
A singular beauty suspended in glass. It may be that rarity, the cherry blossom butterfly.
Three crisp little butterflies, thought to be from Australia.
An Australian butterfly, posing upon its favorite book.
A page from the book, as though come to life.
Here we may have the first evidence of interplanetary butterflies.

At this point, I am sneezing from the clouds of dust that arise every time I turn a page, and will leave off for dinner. I will post more discoveries soon . . . Peace to you. Fran

If you are interested in making your own rare butterflies, please check out the butterfly page of the Origami Resource Center.