There’s really no better time to visit Ohio than in the fall. Bright oranges, reds, and yellows are burgeoning, and the temperatures have been cool and crisp in the 50′s. It’s the kind of weather that I like to be out in, as long as I can bundle up in a scarf and my North Face fleece, but it’s also comforting to come inside and enjoy a warm cup of tea near a crackling fire.
While the scenery is perfect, the experience is made better by the fact that we are visiting Dan’s parents for a month. Stereotypes would suggest that I might lose my mind living under the same roof as my in-laws for such a duration, but frankly, there’s nowhere I’d rather be right now. Grandma and Grandpa Ellis have so much love for their grandkids, they are generous and considerate toward us, and the company is really nice. As a stay-at-home mom, I’m constantly near the breaking point of my sanity, so I am grateful to not be the only adult in the house during this season.
Every time we visit, we have the same conversation. Should we move here? What about Dan’s job? It would be so great to live near the grandparents, we think. The cost of living is much lower, and there’s something about how people do life here that is calming. It’s true what they say about life going faster in the city; the countryside is strangely therapeutic in a way that makes rushing around seem out of place. We like it. A lot. I don’t know whether God will direct our steps to live here someday, but if he did, I’ve decided that’s fine by me.
And it’s not just us, the kids are loving it, too. Since our arrival a week ago, Eowyn has learned the art of the tea party (thanks Grandma!) and can now confidently tell the family dog to “stay!”, though Zia doesn’t really seem to get the message. Elijah, of course, is happy everywhere he goes. Both children are getting in lots of snuggles and story time with the grandparents, too; it’s a precious sight to see.
Combine the beauty of the autumn leaves, the help with the kids, and the creativity that suddenly appears by merit of being in Grandma’s house, and within days, we were ready to take on a seasonal project. I came across the concept for fall-colored leaf cookies on Pinterest, but it wasn’t until I saw them again in a cookbook owned by my sister-in-law that the deal was sealed. Eowyn is just starting to be able to participate in cooking, and I thought cutting out multi-colored shapes would be an activity she’d enjoy.
As anticipated, she took pleasure in the process, especially the parts where she through flour on the floor and stuffed huge quantities of raw dough between her tiny lips. Thankfully, there are no eggs in it, so I wasn’t too concerned, but it’s times like these that I think God is trying to help me relinquish my issues of control. Messy is going to happen, and that’s okay. I’m constantly having to remind myself that my sweet girl is more important than order and tidiness. I was a little frazzled by the end of it, but since Eowyn had fun, we’re calling it a win.
The recipe here isn’t complicated, though as with all cutout cookies, there are a few steps involved. The dough is made simply from flour, butter, water and flavorings, and while I was expecting the texture to be like shortbread, it was in fact much better. The cookies have a tender bite, and the spice and sugar are just enough and not at all overwhelming. A hot cup of vanilla chai, which is perennially available in the senior Ellis household, makes for an excellent accompaniment.
- 1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) salted butter, softened
- 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
- 3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 3 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon ground (or freshly grated) nutmeg
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
- 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
- Liquid food coloring: green, orange, red, and/or yellow
- 1/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips
- In a large bowl, beat together the butter, brown sugar, and vanilla with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add the flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves, and beat until incorporated. *Note that at this point, the mixture will not yet resemble cookie dough; it will be like coarse crumbs.
- Divide the dough into 5 equal portions (the total quantity is around 6 cups, unpacked, so each portion should measure just over a cup). Leave the first portion uncolored, but add water to it in a small bowl, a half tablespoon at a time, stirring until the dough forms a ball. Set aside. To color the second portion, stir together the dough mixture and the cocoa powder. Again, add water, a half tablespoon at a time until the dough comes together. For the remaining three sections, add 10-15 drops of food coloring to the dough and as much water is needed.
- Form all 5 dough portions into ball shapes, and then cut them into fourths. Taking two quarters from each color, press the dough pieces together into a mound or ball, taking care to intermingle the various colors. Repeat with the remaining dough quarters, and set in the refrigerator for 1-2 hours until firm. (There’s no need to cover the dough if it is refrigerated for this short duration, but if you opt to prepare it in advance and wish to store it longer, it’s a good idea to wrap each dough ball individually in plastic wrap.)
- When you are ready to bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
- Remove the dough from the refrigerator, and roll out one of the multi-colored mounds to a ¼-inch thickness on a lightly floured surface. Use leaf-shaped cookie cutters to cut the dough. Place cookie cutouts 1 inch apart on an ungreased cookie sheet.
- Bake the cookies for 11-12 minutes until set and dry. Allow the cookies to rest on the cookie sheet for a couple minutes after baking, then carefully transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely.
- To create the vein decoration on the cookies, place the chocolate chips in a resealable plastic bag and microwave on high in 30 second intervals, kneading the chips between each interval, until they are completely melted. Use scissors to cut off a tiny corner of the bag, then pipe the melted chocolate onto the cookies in the desired pattern.
Recipe adapted from The Cookie Bible.
Tips and Tidbits
- Change the flavor of these cookies by omitting the nutmeg and instead adding 1/8 teaspoon ground ginger.
- I used salted butter because that’s what I had on hand, but if you are using unsalted butter, add in ½ teaspoon of salt.
- Note that after you complete your first pass of cutting leaf shapes from of the dough, you can gently form the scraps into a ball, roll the dough out again, and cut more shapes. One neat thing about this is that the colors will swirl together to create a marbled effect, but the down side is that the dough will toughen the more you handle it (in other words, the cookie won’t melt in your mouth as much). The moral of the story? It’s best to cut out the dough in as few passes as possible.