Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Superpower Performance Cookie

We’re halfway through April and I haven’t cookied for you yet! Unbelievable, Anne. What have you been doing?! Well there was the cruise, then moving, starting a part-time real job, and best of all – rehearsals&shows!!! I’m in the performance groove between my group’s sketch show at Second City (Sunday night at 7pm, and almost every Sunday hereafter) and rehearsals for the upcoming season at Theatricum Botanicum (stay tuned for show dates!) And these are by far the happiest places for me to be.

That being said, I want to dedicate a cookie to the power of performing. I am also dedicating this recipe to the Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum Cookbook – because the theatre is at the heart of this story. I tailored this cookie very specifically to honor one of my favorite, most meaningful performances of my life. I wrote about this experience in a grad school application, (I didn’t get in – but we don’t care about that anymore). Here is a shortened version of that story. (some of you may have read this before):

The time in my life when I knew I wanted to be an actor, was the time I knew I needed to be. The spring of 2008 had been chugging along so gloriously well, every new years resolution met, every goal achieved: lose ten pounds? Done. Get my own apartment? Done. Get cast as Phoebe in As You Like It with a professional Shakespeare repertory company? Yes! I was young and independent, busy professionally and socially, and I’m not ashamed to say, pretty proud of myself. When all of the sudden at 11:04pm on June 27th, my world was rocked forever.

“Annie?” my mom’s quavering voice spoke, “it’s Daddy. Hurry. It’s bad.” “Is he okay?!” I ask in instant hysteria. “Just hurry.” Ten minutes of life later we learn that my Dad had such an irregular heart beat, it fluttered erratically until it stopped, cutting off oxygen to his brain and leaving him dead for 10 to 12 minutes until the paramedics arrived. Three shocks later, my Dad was in a coma. Three days later, he was in a persistent vegetative state. And 12 days later he was a human being again, but one with significant brain damage and memory loss.

An only child, and a complete definition of a Daddy’s girl, my absolute worst case scenario was this night. My life from that moment on became entirely about my Dad. Everything else was meaningless. My only objective was to be by his side throughout the day. It is very easy to lose yourself to someone you love so deeply, but you have to recognize that they silently are telling you not to do that. And I had another job to do, I was supposed to go on as Phoebe at that Sunday matinee of As You Like It. The thought of leaving my father for more than two hours was almost unbearable, laughable even. Then my high school drama teacher, Mr. Bailey had a little heart-to-heart moment with me on the phone. “Anne - do your show. I think you need to do your show” he said. “No no, I can‘t yet… I don’t know” I stuttered. “Go escape. It’ll make you stronger. It’ll make your Dad stronger. He wouldn’t want you to sacrifice this.” Mr. Bailey, of course, was totally right. Every day before his incident Dad would say to me, “hey Kiddo, did ya Phoebe today?” as if it was a verb, so excited for me that I was doing what I loved. And up until then he still hadn’t seen me perform. My friends in the cast were all on Mr. Bailey’s side. And I told the Stage Manager that Friday, “okay… I think I should do it. I think I can.”

That Sunday, I spent the whole morning with my Dad as per usual, reading him the sports section, sharing a lame egg sandwich from the cafeteria with my mom, watching the Olympics on the mounted TV in his room, all while harboring this inner nervous anxiety about stepping back into my old world. I was more nervous for that than performing. But as I stood in front of the dressing room mirror tying my big pink sash around my waist, precisely placing flowers in my hair that I had taken from Dad‘s hospital room, brushing on the last touches of blush, I kept thinking, “Daddy, this one’s for you. You’re gonna see me “Phoebe” one day before the run is through.” And then I raced on to that beautiful outdoor stage to play with Sylvius, and I escaped.

I returned to the hospital that night and rushed to my Dad’s side with that post-performance high pulsing through me and a surprising smile on my face, “I did it!!!” He turned his usual vacant gaze swiftly from the TV, his face awash and bright-eyed with the radiant energy I threw at him upon my entrance. “There’s a cutie.” he smiled and said casually after taking me in and processing who I was. Then I knelt by his bed, took his hand, and told him all about it. My strength renewed, and pulsating from my hand to his.

Two months later, and one week out of the hospital, he got to see me “Phoebe.”

Whew!!! Okay – back to my cookie. I’ll list the significance of each ingredient as we go. This cookie is more like a sweeter more buttery, round granola bar because it packs so many nutrients. But I wouldn’t call it “healthy.” I’d call it the perfect cookie that gives you that energetic jolt you need before a performance, complimented with the right amount of sweet encouragement.

Or how about, The Superpower Performance Cookie. (cause I'm pretty sure it has super-powers)


1 ½ cup unbleached all purpose flour

½ cup whole wheat flour

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp baking powder

½ tsp salt

2 sticks room-temp unsalted butter

1 ½ cup brown sugar

½ cup white granulated sugar

2 large eggs

1 ½ tsp vanilla extract

2 cups rolled oats (not quick), or this oat mix of oats, barley, and wheat

(oats are full of energy and nutrients!)

1 cup dried cherries (for a springy, chewy, bright and tart bite!)

1 cup chopped chocolate covered espresso beans (I always pop a few of these before a show for a little caffeine boost. Either that or Excedrin. But Excidrin probably wouldn’t taste as good mashed up in a cookie…)

¾ cup chopped white chocolate chips

¼ cup sunflower seeds (I always carried a sunflower or gerbera daisy as Pheobe.) ((these also have a lot of protein!))

I think that’s it!

Preheat oven to 350°

1st) Mix together the top list of dry ingredients and set aside.

2nd) Do yourself a favor and combine all the bottom ingredients now. Starting with the oats.

Pour into a separate bowl.

Next - pour out a cup of the espresso beans.

Aren't they beautiful? Now, give them a rough chop. This isn't easy. They like to roll off the board.

Next, add in your white chocolate chips (and remember to chop them up a little bit first)...

Then the sunflower seeds...

And finally -- give those cherries a chop before you drop them into the mix.

Whisk it up big time and set aside!

3rd) Now back to your butter. Go ahead and beat that up with your brown sugar.

4th) Add in your white sugar...

5th) Drop the vanilla and beat the eggs in one at a time...

6th) Beat til creamy and smooth...

7th) Next you would obviously slowly add in the flour mixture from the top. But I forgot to take a picture of that. Silly me. So just refer to a previous cookie recipe to see what it looks like when you add the flour to the butter/sugar/egg mixture and you'll get the gist.

8th) And once the flour is all beaten in - go ahead and slowly start to incorporate the crazy chocolatey, cherry, oat and seed combo you put together earlier. Just let the mixer get it started... don't let it do all the work. It'll stress out and smush all the goodies.

9th) Grab your wooden spoon and dig in there. Seriously this dough is THICK - my arm was shaking after mixing it. So not only does this cookie GIVE you energy and protein, but you burn calories making it!! woohooo!!! see it does have superpowers.


10th) Okay now, get your scooper, spray your baking sheet and align those babies up!!!

11th) Bake for 12-14 minutes depending on your oven. Or until the edges are browned and crisp and the middle looks just baked through. (this image is 6 minutes into baking...)

12th) Once baked, let cool for a minute on the cookie sheet. Then loosen with a spatula and transfer to wire wrack to cool completely!

Now that's one tough cookie.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Orange Bittersweet Biscotti

The rain is gone and it couldn’t be a more beautiful, crisp, clear day!  I’m sitting on the patio of my backyard being hit by blasts of wind carrying little seeds and an assortment of pollen, feeling very thankful that I don’t get allergies.  Melvin and Jenny are both grazing the grass like cows, and there’s a humming bird buzzing around the magnolia tree.  It’s not really a day to hole up in the kitchen, but I think I’ll swap out spring cleaning for spring baking and honor the entrance of the new season.  For in these coming months, the wind will no doubt bring along some life-changing turns.  My Mom and I depart for our Mediterranean cruise in less than a week, and following that I will be moving out of my parents house and into a new life for myself again.  I’m excited for a fresh start and new environment.  We’re approaching two years since my Dad’s incident, and now we’re in a place of contentment and control.  Instead of helping him everyday gain his life back, it’s time for me to think more about my own.  I will miss living in my beautiful room and walking my dogs every morning in this neighborhood, and I will miss cooking dinner for my parents at night.   Regardless, I will not be too far away that I can’t come home to do my laundry and mooch off my parents.  But it’s time to kickstart my future again.

So to usher in this fresh, but bittersweet start, I thought an Orange Bittersweet Chocolate Biscotti would be a nice, sweet crunch to get me going.  Probably delicious dipped in coffee for an extra jolt.  Enjoy!


(basic dry ingredients and procedure based off of Giada’s biscotti recipe, but I tweaked it to make it my own.  Just had to give the girl a shout out. Love her.  Wouldn’t wanna steal her thunder.  Not yet at least. ;)



2 cups all-purpose flour

1 ½ tsp baking powder

¾ cup sugar

½ cup (1 stick) room temperature, unsalted butter

1 tbsp grated orange zest

¼ tsp salt

2 large eggs

4 oz shaved/chopped bittersweet chocolate


Preheat oven to 350°

1st) Whisk together flour and baking powder.

2nd)  Beat the butter and the sugar until fabulously fluffy.

3rd) Head outside to your orange tree and pick an orange.

4th) I'm using two small ones.  (But if you don't have an orange tree one large naval orange will do the job.)

5th)  Grate the oranges on a cheese grater.  This is the part where nine times out of ten I grate my thumb knuckle.  So I caution you.

Tart!!! but sweet!

6th)  Add the orange zest (it can be a little over a tablespoon) to your butter and sugar and whip up.  mmm it smells fresh.

If you look close you can almost see the flecks of zest!
7th)  Beat in your room-temperature large eggs one at a time.

8th)  Then gradually add your flour mixture.

9th)  Chop up your chocolate.  I just take a knife and graze the edge of it.  Some chunks are good, but a lot of flakes help distribute the chocolate through the dough. (and this step could have definitely been done ahead of time. :)

10th)  Mix into the dough.

11th)  Mmmm!!!! sooo good!  only thing better than the chocolate orange combo is chocolate orange dough!  use a spatula to really incorporate it all.

12th)  So pretty.  Now on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, form two long logs of dough.

13th)  Bake logs until golden brown about 35-40 minutes. Leave space between them they spread out like mad.

14th)  When baked, lift with the parchment paper and move the loaves onto a wrack to cool.

15th)  Once cooled for about twenty minutes.  Slice the biscotti loaves on a diagonal into 1/2" slices.  

16th)  Then arrange cut side down on a baking sheet to pop back in the oven for about 13-15 minutes or until lightly browned.  (bi-scotti = twice baked!)
Once cooled, enjoy these fresh, orangey, chocolatey, crunchy, stylish, spring cookies!!! ;)

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Bakersfield Cookie

(Though the story is hard to swallow, the cookie is not!!! it's quite delicious and comforting.)

I can’t think on this time last year without feeling a huge knot forming in my chest.  I’m slapped with a painful mirage of images; my father’s sterile apartment, his wheel-chair bound roommates planted in front of the TV, the teenage resident assistants scribbling in their binders in the corner, a shelf in the pantry meagerly filled with items that had “Nemer” inscribed by Sharpie on the side.  I see the desolate and depressing strip malls of Bakersfield and the hideous 70’s carpet that lined the halls of the Double Tree hotel.  I see the appetizer special and that beautiful beacon glass of chardonnay at the Black Angus bar.  I see the unexplained scrapes and bruises on the side of my Dad’s face.  How did we endure it all?  How did we all endure it?  How did time fly so fast to a year later?

My father’s two-month stint at cognitive rehab in Bakersfield was probably the most painful and inexplainable experience we have ever had to endure.  Due to a halt in progress in outpatient therapy, doubled with extreme aggression and lashing out, my father’s prescription pointed to inpatient therapy in Bakersfield.  The routine and intensity was intended to give my Dad greater clarity, function, and independence.  If anything it simply traumatized him. 

We visited him every weekend.  Making the hour and half drive through the grapevine a daunting and endless ride.  What would we expect when we reached his apartment?  What mood would he be in?  Would he be crying?  He cried almost all the time.  We would check in at the Double Tree because it was the only hotel that would allow Jenny and Melvin.  And thank God for them.  The saviors of the trip.  These two would cram into my Prius and then patiently hole up in the hotel room while we spent time with Dad.  We usually went to Black Angus for dinner – me, my Mom, Dad, and his caretaker, Sarah. She’d fill us in on the progress and activities Dad participated in during the week.  Sarah said he always rose to the occasion and stopped crying when we were there.  Then we’d go back to the hotel and Dad and I would take the doggies on a little walk through the parking lot before he would have to get back in the van and be taken back to his apartment.  The whole time not understanding why we were where we were.

Last Sunday I stayed by his side to watch the Superbowl.  I had three party invitations, but between the memory of last year and having a show to perform in the evening, I opted to stay on the couch next to my Dad.  (He didn’t get invited to any parties this year, even though he enjoys sports with the same enthusiasm and commentary that he had pre-brain injury.) Regardless, the memory of last years Superbowl was so palpable.  I was visiting him that Sunday on my own, and I was supposed to meet my running buddy friends to watch the game later.  So after some time with my father, I left him in his room in front of the TV with a pathetic bowl of pretzels at his side, his roommate and resident assistants all in their own corners of the tiny apartment, no one really talking, no one really caring.  I cried in my car driving away – as I did almost every time I was alone – thinking with hope, that this too shall pass.  It’s just a game, it’s just another Sunday, four more to go and then he comes home.

I’m glad I stayed home on Sunday.  We made a frozen pizza together – and by make I mean he put it in the oven and sliced it in perfectly equal triangles.  I also made chocolate chip cookies. Which Dad helped me assemble as well: he whisked the dry ingredients and helped scoop them onto the cookie sheet.  Then we watched the opening ceremony of the Superbowl, cried at the National Anthem, and chomped away on fresh-baked cookies and milk. 

As I bit into my chewy chocolate chip cookie, I remembered the one redeeming thing I looked forward to when checking into that hotel in Bakersfield:  the Double Tree chocolate chip cookie.  They always give you a big fresh-baked cookie at the desk when you get your key.  As if they knew I needed something sweet to take the sting out of the weekend.  I would never ever go back to that place just to experience the cookie again, but chocolate chip cookies have a way of combating pain.  So here’s my double-tree cookie recreation, the baking-equivalent of a band-aid for an unhealed cut made 12 months ago.    

Preheat oven to 350°



2 ½ cups of flour

1 tsp baking soda

½ tsp baking powder

½ tsp salt

2 sticks unsalted, room temp butter

1 cup brown sugar

¾ cup white sugar

1 ½ tsp vanilla extract

2 eggs

1 10 oz. bag semi-sweet chocolate chunks

1 cup chopped walnuts

1st) Whisk dry ingredients together, set aside.

2nd)  Beat butter til nice and fluffy.

3rd) drop in your brown sugar.

4th) Once blended add in your white sugar.

5th)  Next add your vanilla.

6th)  After combining, drop in the eggs one at a time blending well after each addition.

7th) Once all wet ingredients are well blended...

...gradually beat in your flour mixture.

8th) and once that's all lovely and combined - throw in the chunks and walnuts!

9th)  Get in there with a spoon and some muscle to incorporate.

10th)  Drop the bundles onto your cookie sheet!11th)  Bake for 10-12 minutes until golden brown.

  12th)  Let cool on wire wracks before enjoying.