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By Elizabeth Terry Joyner Elizabeth Joyner holds a Ph.D. in Musicology from Duke University and Bachelors’ degrees in Piano Performance and German from the University of Arkansas. A proud North Carolina transplant, Elizabeth lives in Chapel Hill with her husband, Andrew, and serves as Audience Development and Engagement Coordinator at UNC’s Carolina Performing Arts.

A New Family Recipe

By Elizabeth Terry Joyner Posted May 20, 2014 at 6:00 am

It’s funny the little things one remembers from landmark moments in life. My memories tend to have a lot to do with food. Thinking about life-changing events almost always conjures up a meal or dessert I had. The events of this spring – most notably the birth of my son Thomas – will be remembered, among other things, by some extremely delicious meals and two outstanding batches of chocolate chip cookies.

Thomas will be 3 months old soon, and it seems like everybody – friends, websites, Facebook acquaintances – has opinions on feeding, sleep schedules, crib training, diet, losing the “baby weight,” and so on. Sound familiar? I’m just now getting to the point where I have let go of some of that frantic initial mom guilt that comes with caring for a newborn. (Don’t get me wrong – I am well aware that most of my mom guilt is here to stay.) But I can happily say that I love the time I am spending at home with my little son. I love facing the day with him, singing to him, playing with him, seeing his little personality develop, wondering how in the world my baby turned out so sweet and calm. Our routine is much better now than it was two months ago, so I’m not going to feel mom guilt for not going outside at all one day last week. Not too much, at least.

In that first week home with Thomas, we were exhausted and desperate for sleep. Our saving comfort, besides having a sweet healthy child to care for, was Foster’s Family Dinners, which we ordered the day after he was born. It was one of the best decisions we made in those heady first 24 hours as new parents. Once we finished that first week of meals, friends stopped by to make sure we had plenty of food and weren’t venturing out much to the grocery store. In those days I was rarely even venturing downstairs, much less outside. They were intense days, filled simultaneously with joy and stress. And Foster’s Market, of course.

At the end of Thomas’ first month, just as I was starting to sleep more than 4 hours a night (albeit only 2 hours at a time), my parents flew in from Arkansas and my mom took charge of the kitchen for the next few weeks. She cooked every day for us, and we were ravenous. Our refrigerator was soon filled with homemade granola, beef bolognese, mushroom risotto, roasted chicken and sweet potatoes, salmon filets and cheese grits. And there was a double batch of chocolate chip cookie dough stocked in the freezer. We baked a few every night, testing one recipe against the next.

cookieThe cookie taste test was one of the most memorable things we did while my mom was here cooking for us. She used two gourmet chocolate chip cookie recipes, one from The New York Times (made famous a few years ago by Jacques Torres) and one from Charles Kelsey of Cook’s Illustrated. We froze both batches and baked a few every night, trying to decide which one was better. I had already tried The New York Times recipe, which uses both cake and bread flours, bittersweet chocolate discs, and a rest time in the refrigerator of at least 24 hours. The cake flour gives these cookies the most beautiful pillowed texture, and they look like chocolate chip cookies are supposed to look – thick, cracked in all the right places, and packed with chocolate. But the Cook’s Illustrated cookies – which the recipe writer claims is the best chocolate chip cookie yet – surprised me. With a browned butter base and semisweet chocolate, they had a rich toffee flavor and soft, crumbly texture. The browned butter made them look very grown-up, and even more chocolaty.

We had cookies for dessert almost every night for a couple of weeks. In the end, we decided that maybe a hybrid recipe would be interesting to try – one that used the cake/bread flour combination to get the texture of The New York Times cookie, but with a browned butter base. Interestingly, a version of this hybrid has already been researched, by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, founder of Serious Eats’ James Beard-nominated food website, The Food Lab. Lopez-Alt conducts extensive tests of recipes in attempts to, as he puts it, “unravel the science of home cooking.” (Just looking at his post on chocolate chip cookies might drive you back to the Toll House chocolate chip bag for its no-nonsense recipe.) But at the end of all his cookie testing, Lopez-Alt identifies the two best chocolate chip cookies in recipe-dom today: Jacques Torres’ from The New York Times and Charles Kelsey’s from Cook’s Illustrated. So I knew we had good taste when it comes to chocolate chip cookies! (Then again, who doesn’t?)

Next time I have a browned butter chocolate chip cookie, or homemade granola or mushroom risotto, for that matter, I will no doubt be taken back to those early weeks with my son, when all we worried about was sustaining him. Thankfully, someone else was cooking in my kitchen sustaining us; chocolate chip cookies will always remind me that that memory is equally precious.

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