Sunday, March 28, 2010

dn’s Chocolate, Chocolate Chip Cookies (and Variations)

Easter is only a week away and for many that means finding a mouth watering chocolate treat! Today, I thought I would share one of my favourite cookie recipes and some variations to tempt all the chocolate lovers! I recently created a Black Forrest version of these and received rave reviews from those who tasted them!

The original recipe for these is from “The Search For The Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie” by Gwen Steege. It can be found on page 6 and is called “The Orchards’ Chocolate – Chocolate Chip Cookie”. I pretty much followed the original except for two things. I use a combination of all purpose and whole wheat flour and of course added more chocolate chips! Over the years, I have also come up with a few variations on this recipe.

This recipe makes a huge amount of cookies and requires a good quality stand mixer such as Kitchen Aid to mix the dough thoroughly. If you do not have a stand mixer, I highly recommend that you use the half batch quantities that are listed at the bottom. Depending on your hand mixer, you may need to stop and rest the mixer motor if it starts to overheat.

dn’s Chocolate, Chocolate Chip Cookies (and Variations)

2 ½ cups all purpose flour
2 ¾ cups whole wheat flour
1 cup + 2 Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2 ¼ teaspoons baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
2 ½ cups block margarine, softened
2 cups granulated sugar
1 ¾ cups brown sugar, firmly packed
5 eggs
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups chocolate chips

Combine the flours, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt and set aside.
In a stand mixer bowl, beat the margarine till light and creamy. Gradually add the sugars and mix well. Add the eggs, one at a time – beating well after each one. Add the vanilla and mix in. Gradually add the dry ingredients and combine. Do not overmix! Stir in the chocolate chips. Transfer the dough to a bowl that you can cover with saran and put in the fridge. Chill the dough for 2 hours or up to one day.

Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Roll dough into small balls about 1 inch round and place about 1 ½ inches apart. Flatten slightly. Bake in preheated 350F oven for about 7 ½ to 8 minutes. DO NOT OVER BAKE! Let cookies sit on the pan on the cooling rack for a minute or so after removing from oven, then carefully slide the parchment paper and cookies off of the pan onto the cooling rack to finish cooling.
The full recipe makes about 13 ½ - 15 dozen depending on the size.

Once the cookies are completely cooled, they can be placed in freezer bags and frozen.


dn’s Chocolate, Chocolate Chip Cookies (Half Batch)

1 ¼ cups all purpose flour
1 ¼ cup + 2 Tablespoons whole wheat flour
½ cup + 1 Tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
1 ¼ cup block margarine, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
¾ cup + 2 Tablespoons brown sugar, firmly packed
3 eggs
¾ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 ½ cups chocolate chips

Follow directions as above. If using any of the variations, use the amounts in brackets. The half recipe makes about 6 ½ 7 ½ dozen depending on the size.



dn’s Chocolate Chip Combo: Try combining two or more different types of chocolate chips such as bittersweet, dark, semi sweet, milk, white or mint. Also try different size combos such as mini, regular and chunks. As long as the total quantity is 3 cups (1 ½ cup for half version), you can use whatever amounts of each you want.

dn’s Peanut Butter Chocolate – Chocolate Chip Cookies: Reduce the margarine to 2 cups (1 cup) and add 1 cup (½ cup) crunchy peanut butter. Also add 1 cup (½ cup) chopped blanched peanuts with 2 ¼ (1 cup + 2 Tablespoons) cups chocolate chips.

dn’s Nutty Chocolate – Chocolate Chip Cookies: Reduce chocolate chips to 2 ¼ cups (1 cup +2 Tablespoons) and add 1 ¼ cups (½ cup + 2 Tablespoons) finely chopped almonds, pecans or macadamia nuts. For added flavour, toast* the nuts beforehand and allow to cool completely before adding to the dough.

dn’s Black Forest Cookies: 2 cups (1 cup) mini dark chocolate chips, 1 cup (½ cup) toasted chopped almonds and 1 cup (½ cup) dried cherries**. The method listed below for the cherries, may seem tedious, but doing it this way, will ensure a more flavourful cookie with bits of cherry in every cookie.

* To toast nuts: Spread the nuts out on a shallow microwave safe dish. Microwave on high for about 5 minutes – stirring every minute or so. Your nose will tell you when they are done. I personally like them quite toasted – just to the hint of a burnt smell for the almonds in particular.

** Dried cherries: Place the cherries in a single layer in a shallow dish. Cover with hot tap water. Soak the cherries for about 20 minutes then drain and rinse. Cut each cherry in half or thirds depending on size. Spread cut cherries out on a paper towel and cover with another paper towel then pat dry. I start the cherries soaking before I even measure anything else as they take the longest to prepare.



Sunday, March 21, 2010


Today, I’m going to let my friend Judy share one of her experiences. Judy and I met on line a couple of years ago and became fast friends through emails and postings on a couple of web sites that we are both on. We’ve never actually met or even talked on the phone at this point, but we think of each other as sisters! I love reading her emails and posts as she has a way of telling a story – sometimes it is even one about herself! A few weeks ago, she sent an email to a few of us called “The Princess And The Pea”. It was hilarious but at the same time I had a feeling that it was just one of those things that seems to happen to her. So I asked her and sure enough – this is a true story about her! She was also willing to let me share the story here! So here’s Judy:


Remember the story of the Princess and the Pea? It tells the story of a girl and the problems she has with her bed. That story could have been about me last night.

My living room recliner has been my bed of choice for the past 10 years. Night before last it took its last breathe and "died" lowering me unceremoniously to the floor. Oh! what will I do now? Where will I sleep? I then remembered the lonely hospital bed sitting forlornly in my back room and having no other options I made plans to spend my nights in that bed.

I have had this bed for a few years, but was very unhappy with the hard mattress encased with a plastic cover that sounded like breaking glass with every little move. In an attempt to remedy that problem, I covered it with a full, quilted cover and 2 sets of sheets. That didn't do much good at all. I next added a bedspread and finally gave up and made my way back to my beloved recliner. On hearing my sad story, a generous friend gave me a thick foam covering with egg crate "bumps" that gave it a really good cushion.

So, last night - feeling very tired, but comfortable after a soothing shower - I said my prayers, turned out the lights and made my way to THE BED I attempted to sit on the edge and found it was too high......even standing on tiptoe I still could not sit on IT. Turning around I tried to crawl in and .....

OUCH! ow.....ow......ow.... I think I've broken my toe! ow!..........
Breathe, Judy, Breathe!

......on the next try I reached across the bed and attempted to pull myself into IT.........and jammed my thumb into the wall......aayeeee more pain!... (I will not cry)

Now I was getting angry! I went in search of my step stool and finally found it. By now it was nearly 2 in the morning.

Wahoo! it worked - I won - I'm in THE BED! Now, to raise the head (since lying flat cuts off the air supply to my finicky lungs) ....I grope for the hand control.....I can't find it. It must have slipped down the back to the floor! Oh to heck with it.

I tried to lie down but couldn't breathe so after a valiant fight I retrieved the control and raised the head of the bed. I sighed with relief and closed my eyes and...... felt myself slipping down the I raise the foot of the bed. OK that helped - that is, if contorting yourself into a V helps! Now I am totally exhausted. I closed my eyes to finally go to sleep ..... I began to get drowsy, then moved ..... and almost fall out of this cursed tomb! I'm fully awake .... again, and really angry now. It's 3 AM and I can't get comfortable - my thumb and toe are throbbing! Finally I drift off to sleep and what seems like 10 minutes later awaken to a bright light - oh no the sun is focused on my eyes. I crawl out of my Bed of Misery and write this tale of woe.

Tonight I'm sleeping on the floor!

The Next Night:

THE BED may have won last night’s match but tonight, I am determined to find a comfortable spot and dream the night away.

I look longingly at my beloved recliner across the room and wonder if I can salvage it and sleep again in peace. With sorrow I look at the broken arm which is dislocated from its back and scold myself...........I really should have stuck to that diet!

Hoping I can salvage the recliner I put a short footstool under the broken back that was listing dangerously to the right. I gathered a variety of pillows to fill in and level the seat and back and since I can no longer lay the recliner back, I pull a hassock up to the chair......

Good heavens I'm beginning to look like Jabba the Hutt in Star Wars!

Gingerly, I lower myself to the little space that is left for me, slowly raise my feet to the hassock the chair moans and creaks............shhh..... it has quieted down.........but I'm afraid to move......I realize that I am feeling faint and remember that I had stopped breathing - softly I begin to breathe. So far so hasn't bucked me out yet. Ah, it has accepted this new challenge and slowly I fall to sleep.

Good night Recliner, Good Night World.........Good night, John Boy.

A few weeks later:

Not too much has happened in the last few weeks since the collapse. I'm still in the recliner, which is on borrowed time, as the gap between arm and back has widened and I've added another pillow. I just hope when it gives up completely that my own arm and back are still connected! What happens then? Who knows – I’m living one night at a time!


Oh how said is the end of a love affair. I am forsaken and deserted by the side of the road. No longer will my arms enfold her, nor lie with her through the night and cradle her body. She is walking away but looks back with tear filled eyes as one little tear escapes.

Goodbye, my Princess.................sleep well tonight.



Alas, not all tales have a happily ever after. This may be the end of The Princess’s Bed but fear not - for this is not “the end” of Princess Judy! Is she going to replace her beloved recliner? Well, she probably would, but the Princess has some big plans in the coming months! You see, a few months ago ... wait ... on second thought, I’ll let her tell that tale further down the road!

Sweet dreams Princess!

dn (... and Judy!)

Sunday, March 14, 2010


Three thousand, six hundred and fifty two! That is a lot isn’t it!

A lot of what you may ask. Well that number is actually 3,652 days and that is equal to 10 years – including two leap years!

Okay, so what is so important about 3,652 days or 10 years?

Ten years ago tomorrow, on March 15, 2000, I started a fitness routine. It started slowly. It had to start slowly, as I was very much overweight and really didn’t have the ability to move very quickly or with any agility. I started with five minutes on an exercise bike. Within a couple of weeks, I was up to 10 minutes and gradually added some resistance to the pedals to simulate rolling hills and other increments. I used that bike every day for the next year and lost 40 pounds.

In March 2001, I got my first Tony Little Gazelle. That gave me the freedom to simulate all the walking that I LOVED and used to do for exercise and relaxation prior to 1990. The combo of the bike and the gazelle really helped me to drop some serious pounds. I used both EVERY DAY for the next year. In March 2002, I mixed things up a bit. On one day, I would use the gazelle and then added some resistance training with the bike on the alternate days.

That has pretty much been my workout regime ever since. Of course, the amount of time I spend on the gazelle and the bike have changed over the years. I now do 3 miles on the gazelle which can take between 34 and 36 minutes on any given day. I do 15 minutes of a rolling hill ride on the bike on the opposite days. The bike ride is usually about 3.7 – 4 miles depending on my energy. The days that I do the bike, I also do about 15 – 20 minutes of resistance.

Over the years, the methods of resistance have varied. I have tried several pieces of fitness equipment. Some were better than others. Some wore out in a few months and some lasted for several years. They pretty much all kicked my butt and challenged me to increase my muscle strength.

One of the pieces that I really liked was the Easy Shaper Pro from Fitness Quest. It was a great challenge and I’d still be using it except for one major problem. It has developed a nasty squeak that I can’t seem to fix with lubrication. It needs to be completely taken apart, cleaned and lubricated. I just don’t have the physical and visual capability to attempt that type of a challenge – let alone the space required to keep track of all the nuts, bolts, screws, springs and other fittings. So for now, it stands - folded and covered - in a corner of my living room hoping to someday be of service to me again.

I used resistance bands for awhile, but they eventually wore out. I also used something called an AB GYM which was great, but the bungee like cords that came with it also lost their oomph after awhile which really takes any challenge and benefit out of the product.

A couple of months ago, I saw a new product from Tony Little that almost looked too good to be true. It was called The Easy Shaper Bar. Basically, it is a free form bar with two resistance bands connected to either end. At the end of the bands are loops to either slip over your feet or to grip with your hands. You can increase the amount of resistance just by turning the bar to wrap the bands around it. Each full wrap adds a few more pounds of resistance. Sounds pretty simple to really work right? Well, maybe – except that I had seen a similar and simplified version of this a few years ago and always regretted never trying it.

Fitness Quest is well known for having quality products and I also knew if Tony Little was behind this, then I was making a safe investment. The Easy Shaper Bar was only $49.95 CAN so I ordered it.

I’ve only been using it for a few weeks, but it is everything that Tony says it is! This simple little piece of equipment can really give you a great workout! You can increase or decrease resistance on the fly and switch between various positions and exercises quickly. I used the DVD the first few times to get the hang of the various positions and now do it while watching TV or listening to my own music.

Staying fit hasn’t been easy. To be honest, I have regained about 25-30 of the 100 pounds that I lost in those first 2 ½ years, but I have pretty much maintained my current weight for several years now. Aging and low metabolism makes things more challenging but I don’t give up.

Ten years ago, I made a conscious decision to do something about my weight. I did the research, checked out fitness equipment, bought what would work for my limitations then got off my couch and actually used it – EVERY DAY. It wasn’t easy by any stretch of the imagination, I hadn’t done any regular workouts in almost 10 years at that point. I had gained a lot of weight in the years following my retinal detachment in November 1990.

I detailed most of this story in a six part story called “The Journey” back in March 2008. But here are the basics: before 1990, I walked everywhere. I walked about 20 – 25 miles/week. I also had an old exercise bike that used every day. I had actually gone just over 500 days at the time of my retinal detachment. Having to give that up was heartbreaking and I basically gave up. I’d never done any fitness regime for 500 days before. I usually never made it past a couple of months!

So, when I finally got off my considerably large ass on March 15, 2000, I made a promise to myself that I wasn’t going to quit again. Sure there have been days I didn’t want to work out. There have been days that I honestly was sick or that I was restricted from workouts due to medical procedures and recovery times. BUT – and this is the important part here – I have made up every single one of those days that I didn’t work out! I have done double workouts for a couple of weeks ahead of procedures when I knew I’d be restricted. If I knew it was going to be a very hot or hectic day, I did a double workout the day before. I take occasional days off to rest my body, but I make those days up as well, so I can honestly say that I have done 3,652 workouts in the last 10 years!

Tomorrow is day 3,653 and the beginning of year 11.....


Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Night Shift

The night shift is the only job I’ve ever had. Those first few years were long hours and every move I made was strictly supervised by an external supervisor. The supervisor or relief staff were there 24/7 and watched me and the dayshift like a hawk while we learning our way around this new structure and what it would take to make it function. As I said, those first few years were long and hard. I never knew when I might be called in to do maintenance while the system was down.

Over time, the dayshift and I gradually took over full control of the structure and were given the freedom to run the system independently of external supervision. From what I hear, we were luckier than many others who do this job. Our structure was fairly cooperative and didn’t need a lot of extra supervision. Dayshift has the hard part though as they are on duty for about 16 hours/day and sometimes more depending on the circumstances. I get called in for occasional relief work for a system recharge but that is usually a day or so here or there or maybe an hour in mid afternoon when the system was running low.

I’ve been on this job over 50 years now. Am I going to retire? No way – that’s not what this job is all about. When you accept this assignment, you sign for the entire existence of the structure.

That may sound pretty extreme, but here is the good part. When this job was offered to me, I was told that if I could help run the system smoothly for the first forty some years, then I’d get more flexibility with how I did things. As the system ages, certain functions aren’t as reliable as they used to be so I get to step in and do things manually. Now that may not sound like fun, but my job could get pretty boring at times as the system was pretty much run on autopilot during the nightshift. It was basically a glorified desk job that even I could sleep through! Sure I was here, but all I had to do was scan the various controls and watch for errors. Yawn!

The overall physical structure has changed greatly over the years. Dayshift let things slide for a number of years back in the 1990’s but things improved greatly in the new millennium. By then though, the structure was starting to show its age. The windows have never been good but the nuts and bolts that hold the beams together are starting to wear out and make odd noises!

Even with better day maintenance, a few years ago this job started getting more interesting. The nightshift autopilot started having minor malfunctioning. These have increased with time. For a long time now, I’ve had to alert plumbing once or twice per night to come in and get the structure up to drain excess levels in the reservoir. We haven’t had any floods, but that could have happened without close supervision. There would be royal hell to pay if I ever let even a minor flood happen! The owner of this system really doesn’t like being disturbed in night mode but understands and reluctantly accepts the reality of the aging plumbing fixtures.

At this point, the biggest problem for the owner of this structure though are the issues with the heating system. The furnace is just not running properly and has to be manually stoked several times in any 24 hour period. Dayshift gets the brunt of this with at least 8 -10 bursts of heat that overwhelm the system for about 5 -15 minutes. Then comes the cool down and chills. I have to stoke the furnace at least 2 – 3 times/night and I try not to overlap that with the plumbing alerts so as not to overwhelm the system. The owner would prefer them to coincide, but that just isn’t the way these things are done. Besides, running them independently keeps me from getting bored!

There are issues with the main frame memory. Things from dayshift weren’t always being saved in the correct files and some data was not transferred correctly to the hard drive memory for permanent storage so some things were fragmented. There was so much information there that some older data had to be purged. Dayshift wasn’t happy about losing backup data but there wasn’t much that either of us could do. This happens to all the structures eventually. Sometimes we get lucky though and an external sensor can trigger a recovery of some information. It’s when the system is trying to recall those lost bits of info that can be the most frustrating for all involved. It can even prevent dayshift from switching over to my nightshift.

Part of my duties now include sifting through files and trying to decide what to keep and what to toss. I’m finding odd little bits of info in the strangest places. I try to sort them out and put them into coherent summaries to present the owner for final decisions. Some nights though, there is just so much info that the system goes into default dayshift and neither the owner or dayshift is happy about being disturbed on their down time. It used to be quite easy to switch back to nightshift but the last year or so I’ve had one heck of a time trying to override default day and restart nightshift. It can take two or three hours sometimes to get back to my duties. I don’t like this much more than day or the owner but that is what happens with an aging structure.

Sorting through the tidbits has been kind of fun as I sometimes take the info and try to create a little mini movie to amuse myself. Sometimes I’ll flip a switch and let the owner watch what I’ve created. Unfortunately the owner isn’t always that pleased with my work. They’d prefer something that actually made sense. Well that is too bad as I kind of like art noir over logical plots.

It can get really enjoyable and interesting though as I do occasionally get the opportunity to create a more intimate scenario. I can’t really go into too much detail on those scenes but let’s just say that the owner is quite pleased when I deliver a – let’s see how can I phrase this - stimulating and satisfying plot that includes nocturnal interaction with the owner of a suitable and compatible structure! Ooh la la!! It’s a real “I’ll have what she’s having!” moment!

From what I’ve been able to gather, most structures of this nature eventually work out the heating/cooling system but the plumbing and memory formatting issues will continue and may get worse. I knew from the beginning that this wouldn’t always be a smooth ride but it is a kind and friendly atmosphere to work in most of the time. There have been some misunderstandings with memory and perception that have caused some tension and anger but it gets worked out. Dayshift gets the brunt of the situations and has even said that anger and frustration can bring on a flood of reactions that can cause the windows to leak something fierce! I’ve had a few experiences with the flooding windows as well but nothing like dayshift has dealt with.

I don’t know how long these malfunctions will last. Some structures only experience technical difficulties for a short time and others deal with it for years. I do know that the owner is not planning any major restructuring or any reformatting to overcome the issues I’ve described. I think for the most part, they have grudgingly accepted that this is a part of their natural evolution and that they should just go with the flow. I also don’t know how long this structure will be in existence. I’m not privy to that data so I just have to make the most of what I am given to work with while it is here.

So that is my story – a little longer than I intended but it’s an interesting and challenging job. And in case you haven’t figured it out by now, I live and work in the brain of a fifty-something woman!