just make mine vanilla

Love ice cream.
I let myself have that about once a week.
Vanilla.

Tim Tebow


(three old shots from back in 2013 when I was first making my vanilia extract–the longer it sits,
the better it gets…just add a new bean or two over time and top off with the sprit of choice)

I like to cook.
This much we know to be true.

I use to post a good bit about my cooking exploits but over time I’ve obviously shifted my
focus and attention to issues I find more pressing…
issues like those concerning Christianity
and the practicing of our faith in a post-modern, post-Christian era.

However, I will still raise the battle cry over other issues I think pertinent to this good fight
we call life…

Take today for instance…(or yesterday if you’re reading this on Saturday)

I ran to the grocery store to pick up a few items.
I needed some cat food and Grapeseed oil so while I was over in the cooking oil aisle,
I decided I needed to check out the spices.
I needed to peruse the spice area as there seemed to be a mental list somewhere nagging
in my brain, begging me to remember something from this particular section that I needed…

I grabbed some Adobo chili powder.
I’ve never used it before but I’d seen a recipe for slow-simmered chicken…a recipe for chicken tacos…remember, I’m trying to reduce the iron content while looking for foods that will avert the absorption—spicey things supposedly help.

While still perusing, my eyes stopped on a bottle of Vanilla beans.

Ahhh, the mental alarm clock sounded.

Yep, I needed some more beans as I’d used the last two I had in the recently poached pear recipe.
(also a tasty recipe I once posted)

I grabbed the bottle.
There were two measly beans in the bottle.
Vanilla beans are a precious commodity.
But why companies are so chintzy I’ve never figured it out.

I looked at the price—they are usually costly as I’ve paid almost 10 bucks a bottle before,
but I was wondering just how high they might be now.
I do prefer ordering my beans in bulk as it’s cheaper but I needed to have at least two on hand.
One never knows when an unctuous creme brulee is calling…

What to my wandering eyes did appear but a 2 and a 5 joined together…as in
25 dollars for the bottle!!!!!!

WHAT?????

Is this a misprint??? my panicky brain wonders.
I march myself, with the bottle in hand, over to a gal at a register.
“Is this price correct” I practically screamed at the unsuspecting cashier.
She scanned the bottle.
“Oh my gosh” she practically screams back.
“25 dollars for Vanilia beans???? she nervously screams again.

“That’s what I thought” I reply almost exhausted from our heightened sense of distraughment.

I use vanilla beans a lot.

I’ve actually made my own vanilla and bourbon vanilla extracts, a recipe in which
I’ve shared in prior posts from back in 2013.
A homemade vanilla extract is the best of the best!! And it lasts forever.

Making the extract required my having to buy a bunch of beans…
beans I had actually ordered from Amazon–
I used Tahitian and Madagascar beans as each offers a different floral warm scent and taste.

Once home from the store, I decided to go check out the Amazon site,
just to see what they were currently selling my bulk bag of beans for as I was going to order
a new batch just to store for when I needed them—

Immediately I see that 5 beans, just 5 little beans, were going for a whopping 27 bucks.
Which did, however, beat the grocery store’s two beans for 25 bucks.
My regular ordered batch of shrink-wrapped beans was going for…
sit down before I tell you…
1/4 of a pound of beans at $115.00 while a full pound of beans listed for $400!!!!!!!!

For a batch of homemade vanilla extract, you need a good 15 to 20 beans…
of which maturate in a bottle that is large enough to contain them with enough vodka or
bourbon poured over to cover…as they are left to steep until a deep rich brown color
appears and the heady spicy aroma of delicious warmth wafts from the uncorked bottle.

WHAT IN THE WORLD IS GOING ON????? I practically wail.

I immediately race to the trusty all-knowing Google to type in ‘vanilla bean prices’
and sure enough, I found many articles and news stories regarding the exponentially
skyrocketing prices

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/vanilla-bean-shortage-madagascar-drives-up-us-prices/

A precarious commodity that is a fragile commodity.
A product that is prone to drought, fickled growing seasons, poaching, farmers who don’t
allow the pods to fully mature in a race to get the pods to a demanding market and finally
it is simply a matter of time…for it takes three long years for a plant to produce a pod.

According to Wikipedia, vanilla is the second most expensive spice coming in right
behind saffron.
And gathering a ready pod is extremely labor intensive because these pods of
this particular species of the orchid family are each hand pollinated…pod per pod.

Vanilla, just plain old vanilla.

Consider its humble base taste…it is often the brunt of those who refer to things as
just being average..as in vanilla, as in plain jane, as in generic, as in nothing special,
as in the bottom of the list.

Yet vanilla is a great building base—a needed and important humble building block.
Imagine Chocolate chip cookies without that added splash of vanilla.
Think vanilla bean ice-cream, sour cream pound cake, pannacotta, rice pudding,
milkshakes, protein shakes, puddings, eclairs, cookies, candy, yogurt, chewing gum,
cosmetics, perfumes, aromatherapies…the list is nearly endless….
all without their needed vanilla.

There are four main types of vanilla beans used in our consumption: Tahitian, Indonesian,
Mexican and Madagascar

http://www.foodandwine.com/blogs/4-kinds-vanilla-beans-know

There are however those purists out there who do indeed favor the unadulterated flavor
of that simple, smokey, sweet, floral flavor of just plain old fashioned vanilla.
No swirls of caramel, no colorful sprinkles, not bits of cookie or peppermint or toffee,
or chocolate syrup or diced fruit…just simple, plain old vanilla.

So I suppose I might just have a little problem…a little expensive problem…
As we might all just have a largely flavorless problem…

Here’s to hoping the current growing crop thrives…
hopefully in time for this summer’s long-awaited and even yearned for home-churned ice cream…
because it just won’t be summer without a bowl of fresh homemade vanilla ice cream!!!

There is gold and abundance of costly stones, but the lips of knowledge are
a precious jewel.

Proverbs 20:15

pecans and prayers

“The function of prayer is not to influence God,
but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.”

― Søren Kierkegaard

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( our first crop of pecans / Julie Cook / 2016)

First of all let’s start off on a positive foot this morning…

Look at our first pecans on our little pecan tress.

You may remember the post I did about a year and a half ago regarding the whole buying, planting and caring for our little grove to be of 15 pecan trees…

People are all the time asking
“what are those cute little stick-like trees out in the field…?”

And I like to tell them that they are my little green topped Q-tips—
because that’s what they look like, an orchard of 15 little green topped Q-tips…

But how exciting it is that one tree out of 15 has decided to bless us with pecans…
However the jury is still out on whether or not they will actually mature into full fledged nuts…

Now on to the more serious…

I arrived at Dad’s early this morning, just on time to get him up and out the door to head off to the doctor’s for a scope procedure to figure out why he’s bleeding so much upon urination.

Dad had his prostate removed almost 30 years ago so that’s not the worry.
His late brother did have a kidney removed, due to a contained kidney cancer, when he was about Dad’s age and did fine with all of that—but he was always much more spry, active and more positive than dad.

So let me just say that I have been frustrated by the lack of speed in which these doctors seem to be operating.

Over a month ago I called Dad’s primary doctor telling him about the blood we’ve all been seeing and wondered might Dad not have another UTI?
He says he doesn’t have time for Dad to come in that particular day, how about in two days…

Ok, really???…you don’t have time for an 88 year old man who is losing blood from a rather odd place to come pee in a cup?

Ok
Whatever…

So when we finally jump through that little hoop, the labs come back negative for infection.
Henceforth we are referred to a specialist urologist—
A specialist who doesn’t have an opening for 3 weeks.

REALLY???

An 88 year old man is now bleeding every time he pees and is leaking blood on his clothes and sheets and you don’t have something sooner than 3 weeks???!!!

I know I’m surely not the only one thinking that Dad is
now more pale and much more frail and feeble.
I am not a rocket scientist but if I had an 88 year old patient losing blood,
I think I might consider that he could now be anemic and that maybe, just maybe,
he might need to get said 88 year old in the office asap…
(after today’s event, I will be calling the primary doc back tomorrow for some immediate labs)

So anywhooo, we wait.
Meanwhile Dad is calling daily to inform me that he is now not long for this world.

“DAD…will you stop that!!!”
“Let’s try and think positive shall we….”

So today when my son and I show up at Dad’s door,
in order to whisk him away for the 20 minute drive north for this procedure,
Dad is still sitting in his chair.

“Dad, come on, we’ve got to go….”
“Uh, I need to go shave”
A collective “WHAT??!!” is bellowed throughout the room by me, the caregiver, my stepmother and my son.
As in what have you been doing all morning but sitting in that chair waiting on me to come
get you and you still need to shave?!

“Well just go get my electric razor and I’ll shave in the car…”

Really?!

I tell my son the grab the walker, I grab dad, who grabs his razor and out the door we go.

Walking out the door I see that Dad is wearing a very dirty pair of khakis—
“Been sneaking more chocolate again Dad…?”
“Uh, do you want me to change pants?”

“Heaven’s no, we don’t have time–maybe no one will notice you’re wearing both last night’s supper, a bag of candy and this morning’s breakfast….”

Once in the car, I need to use my trusty little Mapquest app to find where we’re going as it’s north of Atlanta, somewhere way up 400.
However I can’t hear the lovely Mapquest woman talking for the loud buzzing of Dad’s razor.

“Dad do you need to use the mirror?”
“No”

Great, he’s now going to look like some Chinese Crested Chihuahua dog…

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(not exactly dad, but very close)

We finally arrive at a massive array of office buildings, high up on a hill, perched off a very busy road.
A, B and C.
We need building C.
Upon seeing building C’s drive, I turn immediately.
Luckily no one is behind me to rear-end me.

I stop the car long enough for my son to get both walker and Dad out of the car, allowing them to head on up into the massive maze while I go to the massive maze of a parking deck.

By the time I rendezvous with my people, it’s time for Dad to head back for the procedure.
The nurse takes us back to a room where she tells Dad to drop his pants and hop up on the table.

Really???!

She then ushers me out into the hallway to wait in a chair as I explain to her that she might want to help him with that whole dropping of the pants and hopping up on the exam table…
you saw the walker right?

Barely 5 minutes pass and I see dad exiting the door, holding his unzipped, unbuttoned, unbelted pants as he shuffles at breakneck speed down the hall.
I jump up but some nurse voice from behind me tells me not to worry he just needs to go empty his bladder.

Oh, that’s reassuring.

Dad makes his way back down the hall in order to take a chair by me.
I notice that the entire backside of his pants is soaked.

Really???

I tell the nurse we seem to have had an accident.
She then asks if Dad would like a pair of scrubs.
“No” he wearily replies as he tells me the doctor found a tumor.

WHAT???

Finally the nurse comes to check his blood pressure and to give us his discharge papers.
Discharge papers????
He wasn’t back there 5 minutes!
She again asks about the scrubs.
He declines so she gives me a pad to put in the car.

Great.

The doctor, with hands stuffed in the pockets of his white coat, saunters down the hall
to where we sit and pulls the curtain—
So now we can’t see anyone around us but we can hear everyone loud and clear as they can hear us.
Funny how we fearfully fret over HIPAA laws, yet we leave nothing to privacy in hospitals and procedure facilities…
perfect sense…just like this country, but I digress.

Mr personalityless doctor tells me he wants dad back—they will call me in about 5 days to schedule a procedure to remove what they can of the tumor and send it off for a biopsy and hopefully it will curtail the bleeding.

I look at the doctor explaining to him that Dad has a tendency to gravitate to the negative and fixates on all things cancer, and that I’ve explained to Dad that not all tumors mean a person has cancer…right?!
The doctor offers a dry and unreassuring “yes”

Great.

After leaving the maze of a building, finding the car, getting Dad and walker back in the car, we prepare for our drive home.

“So Dad, what would you like for lunch?

“I can’t think about lunch right now, I have cancer.”

“DAD, no one said you have cancer.”

“I think you should call the church and put me on the prayer list.”

“Dad, you aren’t dying, you don’t need a prayer list…and anyway, you’ve not been to that church
in over 20 years, you don’t even know who the priest is up there…”
“We’ll call Martha and get her to put you on her list”
“Now what about lunch…”

Finally getting a very dejected Dad back home with his soaking wet pants, to the safety of his chair,
my stepmother greets us at the door…

“well, how’d you make out?”

“The doctor says Dad has a tumor in the bladder…”

“A container in his bladder??”
(she can’t hear and refuses to get hearing aids)

“NO, A TUMOR”
“oh” as she chuckles to herself…as I figure she has no clue as to what I’m talking about.

Asking again what everyone wants for lunch, the consensus is Chick-fil-A.

As I head out the door, dad hollers out “DON’T FORGET THE COOKIES”
Nothing like a little sweet to take the worry out of the day….

So let’s put dad on the prayer list here please—

I’ll keep you updated….

Meanwhile may we all be mindful that something as simple as a cookie or
something even nice and chocolatey, as Dad will testify,
can definitely help cure what ails you!

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I love you so much. . .I gave you my cookies

“Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.”
― Lao Tzu

“Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind. “Pooh?” he whispered.
“Yes, Piglet?”
“Nothing,” said Piglet, taking Pooh’s hand. “I just wanted to be sure of you.”

― A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

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(a nibbled box of Sprüngli Amaretti cookies / Julie Cook / 2014)

About two years ago I took a little trek along with my two traveling companions, my aunt Martha and long time friend Melissa—a journey that became known as the Grand Retirement Trip–whereas they had each been retired for several years, the trip was to mark my rite of passage of catching up with them– prompting the adventure.

We kicked off the trip by spending two days in Zurich, Switzerland. While in the picturesque Swiss city, we wandered into the most delectable shop known as Confiserie Sprüngli—a part pastry / part snack shop complete with its very own confectionary store right next door. You and I may not be familiar with the name Sprüngli, but we are familiar with Lindt Chocolates—of which are actually, one in the same. The Sprüngli side maintains the pastry confection part of the business while Lindt is strictly the chocolates. Sprüngli remains in Switzerland while Lindt is in the US.

And of course I had to buy some goodies to take along for sustenance during the extensive trip. One item in particular caught my fancy. It was a small package of about 3 little cookie stacked on top of one another packaged in a cellophane wrapper with a pretty light blue bow and burnt orange tag. They were called Amaretti, an almond like macaroon, and of what I now know to be similar to the Italian treats by the name Amaretti di Saronno. The Sprüngli version however has a creamy cherry kirsch center covered in a delectable bottom layer of decadent rich dark chocolate

I stuffed them in my travel bag, wanting to save them for when I finally made it back home.

After almost three weeks on the road, we finally arrived home. Upon unpacking I sadly realized my once beautiful cookies had gotten sandwiched at the bottom of my backpack leaving me with a sufficiently crushed bag of crumbs.
No matter. . .I tore into the bag, savoring each delectable morsel.
Ooooo, I had to have more.
I went online to the Sprüngli website. Yes, I could order a box or two and they would indeed ship to the US, but. . .I figured it all up, the cost to ship the cookies would far exceed the cost of the cookies themselves. How was I going to rationalize this little spending spree?

Needless to say, I wasn’t. I decided that the only way I’d get any more of these lucious little treats would be if I ever found my way back across the ocean, landing in Switzerland. And that wasn’t happening anytime too soon.

Fast forward to last weekend.
My husband has a really good friend who was born and raised in Switzerland who now make his home in Florida.
It just so happens that this friend travels back home at least once a year to visit family and I just happened to know of his latest trip’s plans. . . I asked that if he happened to wander by Sprüngli’s while in Zurich, would he be so kind as to pick me up a box of the cookies. . .

Long story short, our friend came to visit us last weekend with my box of cookies in tow!!!
Wooowhoooo!!

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Delicious and delectable!
To be savored with deliberate patience, one by one—spreading out the consumption over time, slowly so as not to hurriedly eat them all up. . .as who knows when, if ever, I’ll ever have such a treat again.

I hesitantly offered one to my husband, pretty certain, praying, he wouldn’t like them.
His palate is a more Oreo and Chips Ahoy sort of palate and not the delectable cream cherry kirsch filled almond macaroon leaning of a more patient and delectable palate.
Thankfully, he made a face after his first little tentative bite, putting the remainder of the cookie back in the box.
Whew!
I and my cookies were safe. . .or so I thought. . .

Later that evening, as we were sitting, well after supper, watching Monday Night Football, he gets up from his chair heading for the kitchen.
“Where are you going?” I nonchalantly ask.
“No where” comes the response.
No where?. . . my mind muses, hummm, odd. . .
When it hits me like a ton of bricks. . .
“Tell me you’re not getting my cookies!!!!” I shout toward the kitchen.
He re-enters the room holding something clutched in his hand, the hand he’s trying oh so hard to just hold by his side as if nothing is there.
“YOU DO HAVE A COOKIE, DON’T YOU???!!! I practically scream.

Now mind you it’s not that I don’t want to share my cookies with him, but you must understand, this is a man whose idea of a cookie is a handful of about 5 or more and not the single little special savoring variety cookie that only happens into one’s lifetime once, maybe twice if one is so lucky.
“AGGGHHHHHHH” I scream jumping up as he pops the whole thing in his mouth as he closes with a huge grin.
NOOOOOOOOOOOOO—YOU DON’T EAT THEM LIKE THAT!!!
He’s poised to pop another in his mouth when thankfully sanity regains its hold on him.

With a triumphant smile on his face, he offers me the now melting remaining cookie.
Ugh, I hang my head.
“Go ahead, you can have it” I sheepishly mutter.
Again, popping the whole thing in his mouth, he grins
Oooo the agony of it all. . .

Now that he has sufficiently tormented me, he proceeds to munch on the handful of Fig Newtons he had originally gathered. Who can follow delectable wonderment with a fig newton??!!
See what I mean??

Hours later, as I crawl into bed, with my husband fast asleep and snoring like nobody’s business, I wonder, as well as marvel, how in the world he can be in the bed no more than 5 minutes and he’s already sound asleep, I turn out the light.

Situating myself under the covers, through the darkness I utter a soft “I love you” as I’m certain he’s sound asleep.
Suddenly I hear a very groggy muffled, as if far away, “. . .love you too. . .”
I counter with my familiar “love you more”
again a groggy “no you don’t”
“oh but I do”. . .I whisper, “I love you more because I gave you my cookies”
And with that the heavy snoring resumes as I contently smile in the darkness.

As I lie there in the dark staring up at the ceiling, pondering the thought of what it means to love someone so much so that you’d give away special cookies, I am suddenly struck by the enormity of what has been done and given to me in the name of that same Love I casually wrap myself in like a warm blanket.
Giving and Sacrifice, each on a massive scale.
My thoughts race across time to an ancient form of torture and capital punishment, a cross with a lone figure hanging by 3 piercing iron nails—first in agony, then limp in the utter and total betrayal of loneliness and isolation, cut off from any and all.

With a sudden rush of tremendous clarity, I am overwhelmingly struck by what “loving someone more than” is really all about. . .

“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.”
1 John 3:16

Loving and being loved even more than a box of cookies. . .

In need of a little comfort?

As the years pass, I am coming more and more to understand that it is the common, everyday blessings of our common everyday lives for which we should be particularly grateful. They are the things that fill our lives with comfort and our hearts with gladness — just the pure air to breathe and the strength to breath it; just warmth and shelter and home folks; just plain food that gives us strength; the bright sunshine on a cold day; and a cool breeze when the day is warm.”
― Laura Ingalls Wilder

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(Freshly baked Breton Biscuits / Julie Cook / 2014)

Where do you go when you find yourself out of sorts, stressed, tired?
Where does your heart wander when it is wounded, sad, heavy?
Where do your spirits travel when your world is rocked, your day is shot, your feelings weary?

To the kitchen, that’s where!!

I confess that I’ve been feeling a bit blue and out of sorts as of late. . .blasé
—the trees didn’t help. . .
. . .but I don’t want to talk about that.
I was flipping though my most recent edition of Saveur Magazine when I found myself stopping on one particular page.
One word stopped me. . .
Butter

If there is one little thing that screams “let me comfort you my dear” it’s the real deal unctuous amalgamation of cream and salt.
Butter.
YUMMMMMMMM

The article was entitled Butter Queen showcasing a Brittany (region in France) specialty, Gâteau Breton or Gallettes bretonnes–better known as a light, delicate, sandy textured butter cookie.
That’s what I’m talking—-a light hearted version of a shortbread!!
Comfort is now a recipe away!!

So let’s make a little comfort shall we. . .

This particular recipe is originally from Le Cordon Bleu’s cookies edition as taken from the Joy of Baking
A recipe for Sables—the French Butter cookie (how many names can a little butter cookie have?!)
It’s a simple no fuss cookie. It can serve as a canvas for the adventuresome and creative, or simply as pure pleasure for the purist.

Here’s what you’ll need:
–10 tablespoons (140) grams unsalted butter, room temperature (Plugra, Presidents or other European brands)
–1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated white sugar
–1 large egg (organic)
–1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (my homemade brew)
–2 cups(260 grams) all purpose flour (unbleached King Author
–1/2 teaspoon baking powder
–1/4 teaspoon salt (Real Salt Kosher)
Egg Wash–1 large egg
1 tablespoon water

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Is it just me or is red a dominant color on the pallet of my products of choice?
When you make something as simple as a butter cookie, it is key to have the very best ingredients in your repertoire available as there are so few ingredients involved. With butter being the primary , the best butter you can get your hands on is crucial. Plugra is a great US butter which is out of Texas and handcrafted in the tradition of European butter–meaning it has a higher butter fat content–making for a richer, more savory creamy product—
(see the previous post:
https://cookiecrumbstoliveby.wordpress.com/2013/03/02/butter-and-lent/ )

I’ve chosen President, a French butter for a French cookie, mais non?

I’ve copied the original recipe here:

Sables: In the bowl of your electric mixer (or with a hand mixer), beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy (2-3 minutes). Add the egg and vanilla extract and beat until blended.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and beat just until incorporated. Do not over mix the dough.

Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface, knead the dough a few times to bring it together, and then divide the dough in half. Wrap each half in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm (at least an hour).

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (177 degrees C) and place rack in the center of the oven. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

Remove one portion of the dough from the refrigerator and place on a lightly floured work surface. Roll out the dough until it is 1/4 inch (1 cm) thick. Using a lightly floured 2 inch (5 cm) round fluted cookie cutter, cut out the cookies, placing them on the prepared sheet. Place the baking sheet of cut out cookies in the refrigerator for about 15 -20 minutes to chill the dough. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk the egg with the water for the egg wash. Remove the cookies from the refrigerator and brush the tops with the egg wash. Then, with the tines of a fork (or I like to use the end of a toothpick), make a crisscross pattern on the top of each cookie. Bake cookies in the preheated oven for about 12 – 14 minutes (depending on size of cookie) or until golden brown around the edges.

Cool cookies on wire rack. Store in an airtight container for up to a week.

Makes about 3 dozen cookies.
(using a 3 inch cutter gave me a larger cookie which numbered 18 total)

My organic eggs, since I’ve yet to procure “my girls” for the very real deal :

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The recipe calls for the use of a 2 inch cookie / biscuit cutter however I used a 3 inch cutter, making for a tad larger cookie. Instead of 3 dozen cookies I had 18. If you wanted to be festive, I don’t know why you couldn’t use fun cookie cutters, say pumpkins, or leaves, or turkeys, or snowmen. . .as these are not sugar cookies but a rolled and cut cookie all the same.

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I’m not a big fan of egg wash as I think it “yellows” the top of the cookie and “seals” the tops often allowing the cookies to get mushy after a day or so rather than staying nice and crisp–when I make these again, I won’t use egg. . .

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When you use a fork to crisscross the top of the cookies, use the back of the fork–the front of the fork will cause the soft raw cookies to pull–the back keeps the lines smooth.

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Not too sweet with a slight saltiness offering a clean buttery finish.
These could be fun little ice-cream sandwich base cookies or another type of filling sandwiched lovingly between theses thin little butter wafers of wonderment or even dipped in melted chocolate for a chocolate dipped sandy. . .skies the limit, but I prefer the simple buttery goodness.

Pure Comfort to be sure
Bon Appétit

If You’re Afraid of Butter, Use Cream
Julia Child