Baking Builds Community

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If I ever needed evidence of how cool and community-building Twitter can be, the last couple of days are a case in point. I exchanged a couple of not terribly meaningful Tweets with thinkspace (a company in the Seattle area that is a kind of office space/tech accelerator). I had heard of them but had no real reason to interact. But yesterday having crossed paths on Twitter thanks to the Mink 3D printer story making headlines in the tech world, I checked out thinkspace (awfully cool the work they’re doing in my old stomping grounds – western Washington).

But one of the coolest finds was an article in the thinkspace blog about how “baking builds community” – and this is something I can attest to – having started this blog back in 2009 or so because of my own baking obsessions and inclinations. Earlier parts of the blog are all about baking, recipes and pictures of cookies – 2014 has been almost bake-less, but somehow seeing the mention of baking mania on the thinkspace site makes me think it might be time to come out of hibernation.

Bear with me a minute – I am going to reach a point but before that will discuss a bit about the operational side of my weekly commuting life, a very impersonal and faceless grind. Each week, I spend one night and two days in Gothenburg, Sweden (where I work). Almost every week now, I stay in the same spare, no-frills hotel on the edge of the city. I don’t mind it; it is one of the least expensive options and the staff is pretty friendly. I would never go so far as to say that most Swedish companies, even those squarely in competitive consumer markets, are particularly friendly or service-oriented, but this low-end place has actually been friendlier and offered better service than I got at a lot of the city’s more upscale places.

Generally, in the year+ that I have been doing this “commute”, I have stayed in at least half of Gothenburg’s 90-ish hotels and in all parts of the city. In many cases, I have stayed in the handful of places that are actually whole apartments, which is always more comfortable for slightly longer-than-overnight stays – but they are generally expensive and impersonal, if you can actually book a flat (they are often sold out, as is almost always the case with one specific place in the city center).

This week I got an apartment that is a tiny bit off the beaten path but is nevertheless quite central – a really beautiful flat with the most personal and attentive service possible. The people running the flats (there are, I think, four or five flats there for rent) are personable and really strive to make the stay at their place fantastic. And it was. I fell in love with the apartment I stayed in (it is not one of the more spa-oriented flats that they have fashioned on the lower floor) – it was compact enough that it was not a huge amount of space but had high ceilings and skylight windows and a small loft just for sitting in natural light. It made me feel almost sad that I never found a flat just like it when I was looking to buy a flat in Gothenburg (not that I would have managed to win a bid in the cutthroat real estate market here).

The whole reason I digress and go off into this story was because I had a long conversation with the proprietress of the place – a gregarious Australian woman, and we got onto the subject of baking – my industrial-level baking habit/hobby and how I give all of it away. How it builds bridges, opens doors and of course (as she noted) probably gave me away as an American like nothing else does. Haha. I commented that Australia Day had just passed and I felt bad that I had not made any Anzac biscuits for the first time in years – and she lamented that she had not even had an Anzac biccie in 20+ years.This exchange – discussing baking – yes, just discussing, opened the door to further conversation and personalization. That really made a big difference – a human connection. And it makes me want to fire up the oven and make some cookies right now. Peanut-butter-cup-stuffed chocolate chip cookies anyone?

Baking really does build community – whether you are offering up 20 different kinds of cookies and cupcakes to the office or whether you are just discussing what you like to bake with the people you happen to meet in your daily life. Suddenly I feel inspired to get back in the kitchen.

Here’s another little piece of advice…

Baking ideas for peanut butter chips?

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I am blessed because I have almost always had friends and colleagues who keep me supplied with some of the hard- (or impossible) to-get baking supplies (that is, impossible to get in Sweden – they bring back some of the more toxic or unusual American products) that sort of define my unique baking repertoire.

One good friend recently returned from the States and very kindly brought me peanut butter chips – which are wonderful, but what I had actually wanted was miniature peanut butter cups. I like baking massive chocolate chip cookies with a mini peanut butter cup baked inside. It’s overkill to some, heaven to others. Alas, I won’t be making the stuffed cookies but am dreaming and plotting about creative ways to employ the peanut butter chips. (I still have some peanut butter chips from the last time the same friend’s husband went to the States and was like a dedicated baked-good-supply mule for me!)

Normally I make chocolate cookies with peanut butter chips, but I would like to branch out and need to think of some good ideas.

What should I do?

Peanut butter chip brownies?

Chocolate peanut butter filled oat bars?

Peanut butter cookies with peanut butter chips?

Or should I be trying to think up something entirely new?

peanut butter chips

peanut butter chips

“Nothing clings to you like laughter…” – Full list of 2013 holiday baking

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I started off today in the office exchanging messages on Facebook with a colleague who was on a bus – it was unintentionally stalker-like to see her progress as her public transport made its way to different parts of the city, and I could track her, thinking, “Oh, she must have stopped responding because she is walking up the path to the office now…”. In any case, our conversation started the day off on the right foot because it sparked laughter. And, as Robyn Hitchcock sings, “Nothing clings to you like laughter…“. Too true.

I also noted that the 24 kinds of baked goods that I brought to the office yesterday – the logistical nightmare that that was – has been reduced and fits nicely on two long tables instead of three. Progress!

Christmas 2013 spread - three full tables

Christmas 2013 spread – three full tables

The final list of stuff baked and brought along with links to recipes (where they exist – some I was making for the first time so will post in new posts in the coming days)…

COCONUT-MACADAMIA COOKIES

CHRISTMAS M&M COOKIES (I know this links to a white chocolate macadamia cookie recipe, but I have been using it for M&M cookies for a while – prefer it to the one I used to use. Just eliminate the macadamia and white chocolate and put M&Ms in instead!)

VANILLA ORANGE ALMOND BISCOTTI   

CRANBERRY PISTACHIO BISCOTTI

TART CHERRY & PINE NUT BISCOTTI      

GINGERBREAD

THUMBPRINTS (WALNUTS & CHERRY)  

RUSSIAN TEA CAKES (ALMOND)

SHORTBREAD                            

CHOCOLATE MINT COOKIES

SNICKERDOODLES                    

RASPBERRY OAT BARS

PEANUT BUTTER CUPS                  

CHOCOLATE TRUFFLES

OREO TRUFFLES           

MAPLE PECAN COOKIES

PUMPKIN PIE                             

RAFFAELLO CANDY CUPCAKES (ALMOND, COCONUT)

BROWN SUGAR CUPCAKES W/ MAPLE FROSTING AND CANDIED BACON

GUINNESS CUPCAKES W/ BAILEYS FROSTING

OREO CHOCOLATE COOKIES-AND-CREAM CUPCAKES

EGGNOG COOKIES                    

PUMPKIN DOUGHNUTS

HONEY ALMOND SHORTBREAD

Laziness of baking follow-up

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Baking ambitions – Almost reached! Sweets for Oslo on Thursday

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Oslo folks, so deprived all summer, will welcome the return of my obsession with baking. Probably. 🙂

I did not get as far as I wanted with my baking plans. It amazes me, though, that I got as far as I did. I really did not have that much time but still managed some of the plan. The final list is below with my wishful-thinking plans crossed out (undoubtedly to be baked sometime soon).

My ambitious baking plan included:

Shortbread
Carrot-sandwich cookies
Anzac biscuits
Cranberry-pistachio biscotti (altered: Cranberry-blueberry-cashew biscotti)
Tart cherry, blueberry and toasted pine nut biscotti
Oreo-stuffed chocolate chip cookies (altered: Oreo-stuffed peanut butter cookies, recipe provided in another post)
Smil-filled chocolate cookies (Rolos really would be better! But it is yet another thing unavailable to me in Sweden! How can I do my biggest, best bakes without Rolos? Without endless waterfalls of chocolate chips?)
Samoa cookies
Nanaimo bars
Mini cheesecakes with Oreo crust
Oatmeal lemon cream bars*
Caramel apple crumble bars*
Kahlua coffee cupcakes*
Malted milk chocolate cupcakes*
Brown sugar cupcakes with maple frosting and candied bacon*
Carrot pineapple spice cupcakes*

Added after the fact: Peanut butter cup-stuffed M&M cookies! (I used the linked recipe but used M&Ms instead of chocolate chips since I can’t easily get chocolate chips here in Sweden; used Reese’s peanut butter cups instead of brownies as the stuffing.)

*recipe, photos and taste-test verdicts to follow

Oh and how Canadian of me to have both Nanaimo bars and maple frosting!

Watching Al Jazeera English program Witness: Truth on Trial about an international war crimes tribunal, prosecuting a Rwandan priest for allegedly perpetrating acts of genocide.

Sometimes when I watch things like this or think about things like what happened in Rwanda – and things that happen all over the world all the time, I wonder how it is I can bother with baking or care about some of the petty things I bother with.

Dashes of sugar, dashes of travel: A stuffed life

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