New School Rules

October 17, 2011

It’s a new school year and we have a new rule in our house.  This rule has to do with treats in lunch boxes.  Although my children have been in some kind of school since they were three years old, I am relatively new to the whole packing-a-lunch thing.  The preschool that Spencer goes to, which is the same one that Graham attended, serves the kids a hot lunch every day.  So in preschool days, I only pack a lunch when there is a field trip.  Packing a lunch – having a lunchbox, getting to drink juice at lunch, my food instead of the school’s – is special for Spencer just as it was for Graham.  I started a tradition in Graham’s first year of  preschool – including a special treat in his lunchbox.  That treat, when packed lunch was something that happened without regularity, was a chocolate kiss.

Once Graham started kindergarten last fall, I wanted to keep up the treat tradition.  As a child, I remember looking forward to lunch even in first grade, and I know my little foodie first grader is the same.  For the first few months of kindergarten, I stuck with the chocolate kiss.  Then, after Halloween, it was a piece of his Halloween candy.  And then Valentine’s Day candy.  And then Easter candy.  And then whatever candy we had lying around the house.  Now, I am fine with my kids eating candy.  I ate candy as a kid and I turned out all right.  But when I would offer him a homemade cookie as a treat and he chose some disgusting artificially flavored and colored thing instead, my feelings got hurt.

Hence the new rule.  It is hereby declared that all treats in lunch boxes must be homemade.  I will relent for a few weeks after Halloween because it is a BIG DEAL for my kids (most kids) but then it’s back to homemade.  I know, for us adults being force to bring a homemade cookie is hardly a hardship but for a 6¾ year-old, it might take some getting used to.

When Randy started his new job in January, I decided to send him in with treats every week.  I was good for the first couple months and then as my classes started getting busier I just couldn’t fit it in.  So it is now my hope that I can combine the lunchbox treat for Graham and the office treat for Randy and still have a few left over for Mommy.

I have a lot of baking books.  And yet, I can sometimes find making cookies uninspiring.  I look at recipes and my thinking is, “yep, seen this all before”, so I resort to tried and true favorites.  There is nothing wrong with those favorites but when I am feeling stuck, I often turn to Martha Stewart’s Cookies.

These cookies could easily fall into the “look pretty but taste boring” category.  But they don’t.  Cashews play a role in one of my all-time favorite cookies and they are wonderful here as well.  There are chunks throughout but you also purée some down with a bit of oil to make your own cashew butter.  The chunks and the butter, combined with the caramel drizzle on top, make for an addictive cookie.  These guys are sticky though.  I made them small so that I would get a large yield and they kind of wanted to just all stick together in one massive cookie.  I’m a little tired these days and finding a plastic container where I could lay them between layers of waxed paper seemed like a little too much effort.  Hence, they went to work with Randy in a foil-wrapped cookie ball and they are sitting in my cookie jar en masse.  You’ve been warned.

One Year Ago:  Cranberry Bean Soup with Farro and Fresh Tomatoes
Two Years Ago:  Creamy Blue Cheese Dressing and Holly B’s Cappucino Bars
Three Years Ago:  White Beans with Tomatoes and Sage

Cashew Caramel Cookies
Martha Stewart’s Cookies
Makes about 3 dozen

1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
½ tsp. coarse salt
2½ cups roasted salted cashews
2 tbsp. plus 1 tsp. canola oil
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
¾ cup packed light brown sugar
½ cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract
24 soft caramel candy cubes (7 ounces)
¼ cup heavy cream

Preheat oven to 350ºF.  Sift together flour and salt.  Coarsely chop 1 cup cashews; set aside.  Process remaining 1½ cups cashews in a food processor until finely chopped.  Pour in oil; process until creamy, about 2 minutes.

Put cashew mixture, butter, and sugars in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  Mix on medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 2 minutes.  Mix in egg and vanilla.  Reduce speed to low; gradually mix in flour mixture and reserved chopped cashews.

Using a 1½-inch ice cream scoop, drop dough onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper, spacing 2 inches apart.  Bake 6 minutes; gently flatten cookies  Bake until bottoms are golden, 6 to 7 minutes more.  Let cool on sheets on wire racks.

Melt caramels with cream in a saucepan over low heat, stirring.  Let cool a bit.  Using a spoon, drizzle caramel over cookies; let set.  Cookies can be stored in airtight containers at room temperature in single layers up to 3 days.


  1. I, too, let my daughter have treats in her lunchbox, and I’m with you: I ate plenty of sweets as a kid and I’m fine (still have a raging sweet tooth). And I’m also with you on the homemade thing. Though I don’t mind if she has store bought candy, cookies and other treats are ALWAYS homemade. It’s just better that way :)

    Comment by Janae — October 17, 2011 @ 4:55 am

  2. Sticky cookies sound better to me than no cookies :)

    Comment by Maris (In Good Taste) — October 17, 2011 @ 5:53 am

  3. I’d go back to school if I had these in my lunchbox every day. Maybe. ; )

    Comment by Amy — October 17, 2011 @ 3:11 pm

  4. Wish you were my mom! These sound heavenly. My sister and I loved the Mrs Fields cookie cookbook when we were kids (yet old enough to follow a recipe). Yes you read right, Mrs. Fields. Her cookies pretty much rocked.

    Comment by Lisa — October 17, 2011 @ 3:41 pm

  5. Dana, I wish you were my mom too or at least we were closer neighbours! We never got treats as kids and then on the rare occasions we did, we’d inhale them and they’d be gone in milliseconds. A treat for lunch sounds good, regardless of age! And these cookies look amazing.

    Comment by kickpleat — October 17, 2011 @ 5:00 pm

  6. I am a big believer in teaching kids about eating whatever they want in moderation. I don’t want to generalize but I think it is pretty safe to say that in NYC the school and the parents would not allow you to pack that fun little piece of candy. After Halloween one year, I packed a piece of candy in my son’s lunch and it got returned to me with a stern reprimand that candy is not allowed. This seems to be more of a preschool trend since they can’t control the elementary school kids as much but I have also gotten comments of disbelief when I have mentioned that I take my kids to the candy store occasionally or purchase cotton candy at a fair. It makes me sad for the kids. A childhood without visits to the candy store just seems wrong.

    Comment by Jody — October 17, 2011 @ 7:12 pm

  7. Love it. My kids get a treat in their lunch box too. Although, I must confess that sometimes it’s “semi” homemade. For example, today they got half a slice (thick slice mindyou) of pumpkin bread (mix from Trader Joe’s) and I added chocolate chips to the batter. :) They were thrilled. :) Those cookies look amazing!

    Comment by angie — October 17, 2011 @ 7:19 pm

  8. I love caramel and these are calling my name, yes I hear them, I will make you tomorrow! Thanks for sharing such a lovely recipe!

    Comment by Nettie Moore — October 17, 2011 @ 8:40 pm

  9. You’re a great mom and I’m sure when the other kids see the awesome homemade treats your kids pull out of their lunch boxes, they’ll be wishing they had the good stuff too! This would be the perfect treat for adult packed lunches as well!

    Comment by Emily — October 17, 2011 @ 8:52 pm

  10. I always thought packing interesting lunch boxes was so hard. And I certainly didn’t make myself provide only homemade. You are setting the bar very high–hope your peeps are fully appreciative. BTW, those cookies look just great!

    Comment by nancy baggett — October 17, 2011 @ 8:59 pm

  11. More often than not when I set out to make cookies, I end up with that book. But, I haven’t made these yet. I need to! The double-dose of cashews plus caramel sound fantastic.

    Comment by lisaiscooking — October 17, 2011 @ 9:40 pm

  12. Homemade treats are the best! I can’t wait to make lunch treats for Caleb:) Will have to save these for him:)

    Comment by Maria — October 18, 2011 @ 2:46 pm

  13. I must confess the treats in my son’s lunchbox are not usually homemade. But I will start trying a bit harder to make them as his school seems ok with treats (as long as they are without nuts). When he was in preschool he usually got homemade muffins in his lunchbag but he doesn’t seem so keen on those lately so I’ll have to branch out. These look delicious – clumpy or not.

    Comment by Charlotte — October 19, 2011 @ 2:51 am

  14. That caramel is making my mouth water!

    Comment by Rachel — October 19, 2011 @ 3:17 pm

  15. Sounds delicious! I love cashews and caramel, so together how could they not be awesome? I find it hard to convince little ones that homemade is better. I don’t have kids, but I often watch my niece and she would pick store bought junk over homemade goodness any day of the week…they are always a sucker for the packaging with cartoons and superheros on them…darn the packaging : )

    Comment by Dagny — October 19, 2011 @ 3:36 pm

  16. It’s so sweet that you put treats in your kids’ and hubby’s lunchboxes… And, these cookies certainly beat anything store bought, if you ask me. Great recipe… Definitely one that I will have to try!

    Comment by Jen @ My Kitchen Addiction — October 19, 2011 @ 5:33 pm

  17. These sound amazing!! Although here in Ontario, we are not allowed to send anything with nuts to school. Even if the package says “may contain nuts” or “not made in a nut free facility”. Sigh….

    Comment by Lisa — October 23, 2011 @ 2:53 pm

  18. I love the rule you’ve instilled in your house with lunchbox treats! :)

    Comment by Ashley — October 31, 2011 @ 11:11 pm

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