The winter season is upon us and the colder weather may bring individuals further into isolation. Many Americans have been hunkering down amid the COVID-19 pandemic since early March and this prolonged isolation may take its toll on individuals, especially the elderly population.
Before the COVID-19 Pandemic, many of us had a notion of what “frontline” or “essential” workers meant. Who they were, what their jobs looked like. But, for many around the world, this pandemic has clarified, and majorly expanded the definition and understanding of these roles in our society.
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Heather Boyd, a resident of Pisgah Forest, has been hired to serve as the first executive director of Smoky Mountain Housing Partnership (SMHP), the affordable housing division of Mountain Projects, a community action agency serving Haywood and Jackson counties.
By Dee Burrell
At the end of the year, a lot of different celebrations are happening for various reasons. Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanza and Winter Solstice, or Yule. When people use the phrase, "The reason for the season," I immediately think the reason for the season is well… the season! The winter season. The Yuletide, which means the time of Yule.
It’s cookie season. And with all that 2020 has thrown at us, I am so glad we have finally arrived here.
If you’re like me, and have inherited a culture of decadent eating from the women in your family, you may not be too keen on waiting for Christmas to roll around before you start making plates of holiday cookies.
My mother, aunts and grandmother are nothing if not experts in the art of celebration. There really doesn’t even need to be an occasion. Or rather, they will make an occasion out of the seemingly mundane. Me and all my cousins have benefitted from growing up surrounded by this gusto for life.
Every year, as soon as the weather gets cold or the first day of fall comes around, whichever happens first, mom (Loretta) makes pounds of pumpkin cookie dough and stores it in the fridge for fresh, warm pumpkin cookies throughout the season.
As late November approaches we switch back to the familiar world of chocolate chip cookies. After all, there will be pumpkin or sweet potato pie with the Thanksgiving meal. This year Loretta blew us all out of the water with the simple addition of espresso chocolate chips to her chocolate chip cookies. My favorite breakfast is a chocolate chip cookie and black coffee, but throw in some espresso chocolate chips? Wow.
As December opens its doors, so do the floodgates of holiday goodies. Just this weekend, celebrating Thanksgiving with our family, Loretta was already prepared with jars of homemade Irish Cream for everyone.
Soon too there will be the famed sugar cookies. A recipe from Loretta’s great aunt Ginny. Ginny was the sister of my grandfather’s brother in-law. So she came to us through marriage and I’m ever so grateful she did. Her sugar cookies are crisp yet chewy, thin and not overly sweet. I’m not sure if a sugar cookie can be refined, but if one exists, it is Great Aunt Ginny’s. Every year we spend time cutting them out into different shapes and adding decorative sprinkles, a task that hasn’t lost its appeal as we grow older.
My sister’s favorite holiday cookie has always been walnut balls. These are saved for closer to actual Christmas Eve. More decadent than sweet, the dough is filled with chopped walnuts and butter, and once rolled in powdered sugar they are simply irresistible.
But if I know anything as a cook and a member of a big family, I know that those recipes should be reserved for Loretta — for all of us to make when the family is together. Hers will always turn out better, and there is no need to add my sub-par offering to an already abundant mix.
So this year I have been playing around with my own cookie recipes. Not pumpkin, sugar, walnut or chocolate chip — but mint and dark chocolate. I am guilty of craving a piece of chocolate every night, and I almost always give in to that craving without a fight. Hence, I decided to make these small, rich, dark chocolate, thin mint cookies. They are not as heavy and filling as other holiday cookies, so they serve as the perfect slice of holiday goodness for otherwise “average” December days. Each of which can, and should, be celebrated in little ways.
There is no need to wait for specific days or events to start your holiday celebration, especially not this year. My mother, grandmother and aunts have all shown me that celebration is important. Even the small instances. It is this attitude that brings zeal, energy, excitement and compassion to everyday life.
For the cookies:
2 C. flour
½ C. cocoa powder
½ tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
1 C. butter
1 large egg
¾ C. sugar
1tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. peppermint extract
For the coating:
2 x 4 oz. package baking chocolate (I use one 56% cacao and one sweet german’s 48% cacao)
1 tsp. vegetable oil
1tsp. peppermint extract
1 tsp. vanilla extract
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees
- In a mixing bowl, combine flour, cocoa powder, salt and baking powder
- In a separate bowl, beat together butter and sugar until creamy. Add in egg, vanilla extract and peppermint extract until well combined
- Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture, bits at a time until well combined. The dough should be thick
- Chill the dough until hard
- Roll dough out to ½ or ¼ inch sheets and cut into desired shape
- Bake in the oven for 8-10 minutes. *Don’t walk away from the kitchen during this step! The cookies may take less time depending on cookie thickness and oven temp. These cook very fast!
- Let cookies cool completely before coating
For the coating, melt baking chocolate, extracts and oil in a saucepan, over low heat, until well combined. Dip cooled cookies into chocolate mixture with a fork.