About a year ago, my amazing friend Jen told me her vision for quarterly day-long yoga retreats at her studio. She wanted to theme each one around the season and asked me if I would participate and also cook lunch for the yogis. Jen is one of my very closest friends and one of my favorite people in the world, so even if I hadn’t thought it was a good idea, I would have said yes. But I thought it was a terrific idea and the first retreat happened the Saturday before Mother’s Day last year. We did one in July, one in October and now, one in February.
Yesterday was the winter one – she called it Moving Into Stillness. Jen emphasized the need for us to embrace winter and find beauty in it, instead of waiting for it hurry past. She mentioned the importance of home at this difficult time of year and welcomed us into hers.
Parents of small children – I know you can understand when I say having a day away is one of life’s greatest treasures. Even just being by myself in the car is precious. Then throw in a ferry ride, a challenging and invigorating morning of yoga, a lunch prepared by me, time to just hang with incredible women, and then another yoga class, another ferry ride, and more time in the car by myself. Nirvana or what?
Now that I have done four of these, I have a rhythm down. I get to Jen’s house early and unload my car. Everything cold goes in the refrigerator and everything else goes on the counter in groups of how it will be served. The menus I plan need to be as simple as possible in terms of last minute prep because I only have about 45 minutes to get it all out and that includes a shower (Jen teaches hot yoga). Then, I go down to the studio to secure my mat space and Jen and I get a few moments of talking time before she and I are both “on”.
If you are lucky, you have had a wonderful teacher in your life. Maybe you have had several. I had a tremendous 3rd grade teacher, a 9th grade English teacher who taught me how to write, math teachers all through high school who sat with me patiently and explained things over and over, and a physics professor in college who gave me a “B” even though I was doing “C” work because I tried hard. And now, Jen. I have taken and taught a lot of yoga classes in my life. I have never had a teacher like her. She manages to make the class extremely challenging and extremely approachable. She gives very clear and yet minimal instructions on the poses and talks more about real life. Honoring yourself. One of my favorite things she says is, “Try easy. We are always told to try harder. Try easy.” She speaks in English, not yoga speak and she is very real.
After a morning of intense self-focus using poses and breath, it always feels a bit weird to change into frantic trying-to-get-the-food-out mode. But I know everyone is hungry (including me) so I do my best to hurry. I worry the entire time that I don’t have enough food. If I made enough to feed 100 (we were 21 this time), I would still worry.
One thing I never have to worry about is dessert. Things can be made in advance and people are so appreciative of a home-baked treat. Especially after sweating their guts out in a challenging class. This time I made Honey Nut Bars (recipe coming soon) and these cookies.
Sometimes making choices is great and sometimes it is nice to have a choice made for you. This cookie makes a choice for you. Rather than having to decide between a cookie and a brownie, this recipe just combines them for you. Yes, those chunks are brownies. There are lots of nice things about this recipe, one of them being that you only use half the pan of brownies in the cookies. The other half can either be served just as brownies, or you can freeze them for next time.
One Year Ago: Oatmeal Chocolate Chunk Cookies
Adapted from Bon Appétit
Makes approximately 30 cookies
Take note that you will need to refrigerate the brownies overnight before using them in the cookies.
2½ cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
½ cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
½ recipe (½ sheet) chilled Old Fashioned Brownies (recipe follows), cut into ½-inch pieces
Preheat oven to 350°F. Whisk first 3 ingredients in medium bowl. Beat butter and both sugars in large bowl until smooth. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Sir in dry ingredients, then walnuts. Gently fold in brownies cubes (brownies may crumble).
Fill a small bowl with water. Dip ice cream scoop in water, scoop batter; drop onto cookie sheets, spacing about 2 inches apart and dipping scoop as needed. Using moist fingertips, flatten mounds to 1-inch thickness.
Bake cookies, 1 sheet at a time, until just golden – 15 to 18 minutes. Remove cookies to cooling rack.
Makes one 13×9 – inch brownie sheet
5 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, diced
2 cups sugar
2 tsp. vanilla extract
4 large eggs
¼ tsp. salt
1 cup flour
Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 13x9x2 – inch metal baking pan with foil, leaving overhang. Stir chocolate and butter in heavy large saucepan over low heat until melted and smooth. Cool 15 minutes.
Whisk sugar and vanilla into chocolate mixture, then whisk in eggs and salt; stir in flour. Spread batter in prepared pan.
Bake brownies until tester inserted in center comes out with moist crumbs attached, about 20 minutes. Cool in pan. Cover and chill overnight.
Using foil as aid, lift brownie sheet from pan and cut in half to use in cookies. Serve other half (cut into squares) or wrap well in foil and freeze for up to one month.