[This month I was very excited to participate in my first Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap! I sent a dozen cookies each to three bloggers (The Dreamery, Karis' Kitchen and The Hungry Hutch) and then while I was visiting my family in Michigan, I received a dozen cookies each from three different bloggers (brown butter cookies from The Healthy Helping, ranger cookies from Sterling and Oates, and vegan sandies from The Pancake Princess — thank you!). And we did all of this while raising money for Cookies for Kids' Cancer. Not a bad way to kick off the holiday season! These are the cookies I sent out.]
Peanut butter cookies with dark chocolate kisses
There are plenty of songs I can relate to based on personal experiences, but it’s rare that an entire song parallels my own story rather than just a few lines taken extremely out of context. The most recent time it’s happened was this fall with Angel Olsen‘s song “Lonely Universe,” from her incredible album Half Way Home (on my best-of-2012 list). It’s a gorgeous song about losing a loved one, and while I don’t know Olsen’s story behind it, for me it’s about the day my mom died, in July 1999, a few days after I turned 12. She had been diagnosed with cancer almost a year earlier, and just a month before I’d learned that she wasn’t likely to make it through the summer. My sister and I were at my dad’s house for the weekend and got a call to come home because she’d gotten weaker, could no longer speak and our then-5-year-old brother wanted us there. The house was crowded with aunts and uncles and grandparents; my most vivid memory of the day was when my grandma pulled me out of the room as my mom took her last breaths, so I couldn’t watch her go, and I tried looking back but couldn’t see through the crowd. The kids were carted across the street to our neighbor’s house while her body was taken to the funeral home.
There’s a line in “Lonely Universe” about not knowing what you have until it’s gone, and while I don’t feel that way about my mom — as far as I can remember, we had a good relationship and I certainly knew how significant of a loss it was at the time — there are still things I didn’t fully appreciate while she was around. Most relevant here is that I missed out on helping her in the kitchen and letting her teach me how to cook and bake; instead I did it largely on my own many years later. Olsen sings about finding the way home after a loss, and part of my finding a way home — since I found my way around the kitchen — has been learning some of the recipes I remember from when I was a kid. As more memories fade through the years, it makes me feel more connected to her, and among many other things, I know she’d be proud that I learned how to fend for myself, or at least learned how to feed myself (and, just as importantly, others). Peanut butter kiss cookies were a favorite from my mom’s kitchen; they’re a tried-and-true classic, and this is (somehow?!) the first time I’ve made them.
There’s another part of the song where Olsen sings, “The winter months, they do make you feel stronger.” The holiday season can be tough (and was especially so in the first few years without her), but it’s also a time of year that I feel the strongest because even more so than usual, I’m consistently reminded of how blessed I am to have so many people who are here to share food and gifts and good times. I picked these treats because they’re traditional — and I’m a sentimental sucker for family and holiday traditions — and making them myself definitely got me a little bit closer to home.
Makes 4-5 dozen. Adapted, just slightly, from my mom’s cookbook.
60 dark chocolate Hershey’s kisses, unwrapped (milk chocolate are fine too)
2 2/3 cups AP flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon (optional)
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
2/3 cup creamy peanut butter
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
2 teaspoons vanilla
More sugar for rolling cookies in
• Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit and line two cookie sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.
• In a medium bowl, sift flour together with baking soda, salt, and cinnamon (if using), and set aside.
• In a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed, beat together butter and peanut butter until well mixed.
• Add white and brown sugar and beat until light and fluffy.
• Add the eggs and vanilla and beat again until smooth.
• Stir in the flour mixture until well combined.
• Use a level tablespoon or batter scoop and then your hands to form the dough into balls. Roll each ball in sugar and place 2 inches apart on the cookie sheets.
• Bake for 8 minutes, then remove from oven, press a chocolate kiss into the center of each (the subtle cracking noise this makes is my favorite part), and return to the oven for 2 more minutes.
• Move cookies to a wire rack and let cool completely.