Summer Days and School Days

School started this week in our area. Calvin started ninth grade this year – the dreaded and exciting high school. Though he has been in the same school district since kindergarten, and he has always started school this early in August, it still seems insanely early to me.

School, when the summer cicadas and katydids are still singing? School, when it is still blazing hot? Well, not this year, but I’m not complaining at all about the beautiful weather. School, when we are still eating summer produce in all its glory?

DSC_0053Though the school year is in full swing, and our activities feel like fall, I am hanging onto summer at least a few more weeks. The fall spices, pumpkins and apples can wait a while, as far as I’m concerned. Summer is still here and I’m hanging on to it – long days, garden vegetables, lemonade and all.

Summer cooking for me has involved a lot of zucchini this year, and not quite as many tomatoes as usual. It all comes down to what is doing well in the garden. We have had spotty success with tomatoes for the past few years, so this spring we decided to give the soil a rest from tomato plants and raise them in pots.

Well, that was a failure – we had a grand total of eight cherry tomatoes and one larger one. The plants just never took off in the pots, and the deer took care of most of the fruit we did get on the vines. To top off the season, a deer ate two of the plants down to stubs. I bagged the whole experiment in mid July. I am trying a second, fall crop of tomatoes, but in the garden this time, behind the lattice fence that was supposed to keep out the rabbits. It seems to be doing a fine job deterring the deer too.

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We have had good luck with zucchini this year, at least. I have one plant, count it, one. It currently is taking over the garden. We have had several huge zucchini that escaped our notice under the insanely huge leaves. One weighed three pounds and the other was over four. There really was nothing to do with those but shred them, since they were so big. They found their way into zucchini tots, lemon zucchini muffins and the freezer. We have had a lot of smaller zucchini too, using those on pizza, and in zucchini chips and zucchini planks.

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Calvin’s first week of school is just about over. I think it calls for a celebration, which in our house usually means something special from the kitchen. I wonder if he’d go for zucchini cake? Probably not. Guess it’s time to break out the chocolate.

Last Days, First Days and Chocolate Chip Cookies

IMG_4380Yesterday was Calvin’s last day of school, so today is the first day of summer for us. To most people, summer starts Memorial Day weekend, so we get a one-day jump on it. Summer means no alarms (at least for Calvin), lots of reading and lots of playing in the kitchen, of course.

We usually give homemade gifts to Calvin’s teachers at the end of the school year. Last year we gave each teacher a stack of homemade chocolate chip cookies. Calvin decided he wanted to do the same thing this year. And he wanted to make the cookies himself. Of course we waited until the last couple days of school to do this and time was working against us. Calvin had time to make the dough Tuesday evening and I baked them the next day, while he was at school.

Note to self: make sure the kid can read your notes in the family cookbook if he is working by himself. The cookies were a little flat because Calvin couldn’t decipher my scribbles that indicated the dough needed extra flour. But they tasted as fabulous as they always do, so to school they went. Calvin reported compliments all around, so they were a success.

All the cookies went to school, and I forgot to take pictures of their crisp, buttery flatness. You will have to imagine the above cookies a little flatter and darker brown. If you make them as written, they will look like the pictures. If you only use two cups of flour, they will be flat and crispy. I understand there are actually people who prefer them that way. I have even met a few of them, and they seem perfectly normal. Can you tell I am in the tall, soft cookie camp?

No matter how you like them, chocolate chip cookies are always a hit no matter where you take them. If you are short on time, press the dough in a sheet pan and make cookie bars. Pick up a few bags of chocolate chips the next time you are at the grocery store. Summer is here and you never know when you will need a quick dessert for a spur of the moment backyard barbecue, or teacher gifts, if school isn’t out already for you.

Download or print the recipe here.

Chocolate Chip Cookies
Adapted from Nestle Tollhouse Cookies by The Cook’s Life
4-6 dozen, depending on size

You can use all-purpose flour in place of the white whole wheat, but it adds a nuttiness to the cookies. Everyone who tries them will wonder what your secret ingredient is.

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, room temperature
¾ cup granulated sugar
¾ cup packed brown sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup white whole wheat flour*
1½ cups, plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1½ cups chocolate chips, semisweet or 60% dark

*White whole wheat flour can be found in the baking aisle, next to the other flours. Store any unused flour in a zip-top bag in the freezer to keep it fresh for up to a year.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Beat butter, sugars and vanilla at medium high speed of a mixer until well-combined and fluffy. Add eggs and beat until fluffy again. Add white whole wheat flour, all-purpose flour, baking soda and salt and beat at low speed until mixed. Stir in chocolate chips.

Scoop dough onto ungreased cookie sheets by teaspoon, tablespoon or 2 tablespoons. Flatten larger cookies slightly before baking. Bake 7-8 minutes for smaller cookies, 9-11 minutes for medium and 11-13 minutes for larger cookies. Remove cookies from oven when they are lightly browned, but still slightly soft in the middle. Let cool on sheets for a few minutes and then remove to racks to cool.